Money Minute: Gas Prices Hold Steady; Cost of Food Heads Up

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A mixed outlook for the cost of some key consumer products.

Gasoline prices are expected to hold steady through the summer driving season, compared to last year. The Energy Department forecasts the average price nationally for a gallon of regular will be $3.57 this summer -- right about where it is now. Prices at the pump usually go up in the spring and early summer as demand increases and as refineries switch to a more expensive blend.

Meanwhile, snow has melted in most areas but the damage to crops from the severe winter is just beginning to be felt. Food prices are expected to increase by as much as 3.5 percent this year, and the cost of fruit from California, wheat from the southern Plains, and wine grapes from New York and Ohio could be much higher than that.

A hearing on Capitol Hill today could have implications for millions of American consumers. Comcast (CMCSA) executives are expected to tell a Senate panel that the company's planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable (TWC) won't limit competition for cable or Internet service. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%But critics of the $45 billion deal say the lack of choice for high speed Internet access is the key issue for consumers.

Here on Wall Street on Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) added 10 points, the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) rose 33 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) gained 7 points -- snapping a three session losing streak.

General Motors (GM) reportedly wants to give a charge to sales of the slow selling Volt hybrid by offering two new, cheaper models. Reuters says production will begin in the second half of 2015. The company sold fewer than 40,000 Volts in more than three years on the market.

And just days before the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, the biggest maker of matzo and other holiday foods has agreed to sell itself to a private-equity firm. The buyer believes the 126-year old Manischewitz Co. can broaden its appeal by promoting its kosher products as high-quality, pure and healthy.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

7 Tax Tips for Investors
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Money Minute: Gas Prices Hold Steady; Cost of Food Heads Up
The 1099 forms you received from brokerages and other financial institutions might not be the last ones they send. It's common for them to issue corrected versions a little later. Consider getting your tax return ready to go, then waiting until close to April 15 before submitting it. That way, you can incorporate any last-minute changes and avoid having to file an amended return.
Pay attention to when you sell any holding, because the capital gains tax rates differ for long-term and short-term holdings. Short-term capital gains are taxed at your ordinary income tax rate, which could top 30 percent. Long-term gains (those held for more than a year) get preferential rates, which are zero percent for those in low-income brackets and 15 percent for most of us.
If you own underwater stocks, consider selling them for a loss. You can use those losses to offset gains from other sales, reducing your taxes owed. You can always buy back the asset later, if you still believe in it -- just be sure to wait for 31 days to pass, to observe the "wash sale rule."
If you're planning to sell one or more holdings that will give you a really big gain, submit an amended W-4 form to increase your withholding, or send the IRS an estimated tax payment. Underpaying your taxes significantly during the year can lead to a penalty at tax time. You may be protected by a "safe harbor" provision, though, which can save you from having to jump through those hoops.
If you're planning to buy shares of a mutual fund, determine when it will distribute its dividends. Many funds do so near the end of the year, and when that happens, the fund's share price will drop by the amount of the distribution -- which is taxable to shareholders. It's better to just wait until after that payout to buy in.
Mutual funds with high turnover ratios (reflecting a lot of buying and selling in a fund) have expenses for these trades. It's worth favoring funds with low turnover ratios, especially index funds and index-tracking ETFs, which simply hold onto the mix of securities in a given index, without a lot of trading activity. (Index funds generally outperform their higher-turnover counterparts, too.)
Boost the power of your Individual Retirement Accounts by making your annual contributions early in the year, giving the funds more time to grow. Over decades, it can make a significant difference.
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