Money Minute: U.S. Workers Take Little Time Off; Average IRS Refund Up

News flash: many of us are working too hard.

American workers take barely half the paid time off they earn. A new report from Glassdoor also says that taking vacation days doesn't necessarily mean leaving the job behind. More than 60 percent of workers admit to doing some work while on vacation, partly because technology keeps us connected to the office at all times. Most workers get about 16 paid days off a year, including federal holidays like July Fourth and Christmas.

Well, if you do want to use up some of that hard-earned time off, you can put your tax refund toward a vacation. The IRS says the average refund so far is $2,831, up slightly from last year. The government has already paid out 73 million tax refunds.

A potentially big victory for environmental group opposed to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Exxon Mobil (XOM) has reversed course and now says it will release, probably by September, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%more details about how it extracts oil and gas using the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing. That includes some of the risks the company sees to air and water quality, as well as other environment concerns. The disclosures are part of a settlement with shareholders who were pushing a disclosure vote at next month's annual meeting.

Here on Wall Street, the three major averages snapped four session winning streaks Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) lost half a point. Just seconds before the closing bell the Dow was in record territory, but couldn't hold there. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 38 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) fell 2 points.

Finally, the Chicago Cubs play their home opener tonight, celebrating the 100th anniversary season since Wrigley Field was built. And the Chicago Sun-Times reports the team is considering selling some shares and using the proceeds to renovate and expand the iconic ivy-covered field. The team is owned by the Ricketts family, which made its fortune from the Ameritrade brokerage firm.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

7 Tax Tips for Investors
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Money Minute: U.S. Workers Take Little Time Off; Average IRS Refund 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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