Money Minute: Why Your Car Is a Money Pit; Walmart Grows a Green Thumb

Your car may be costing you a lot more than you think.

AAA says the average driver driving the average midsize car -- for example, a Toyota Camry going 15,000 miles a year -- will cost nearly $10,500 a year to operate. That includes gasoline, insurance, maintenance, depreciation and some other items. A small car would cost about $2,000 less, but an SUV could cost $2,500 more. These are shocking numbers that could punch a SUV-sized hole in your budget.

Walmart Stores (WMT) wants to become your gardener. The retailer is making a direct challenge to home improvement giants Home Depot (HD) and Lowe's (LOW) by offering what it calls "Black Friday-like prices" on outdoor and garden items such as mulch, lawn mowers and outdoor furniture. The nine-day sale begins Friday, the first full day of spring, with discounts of 30 to 50 percent off regular prices.

Burger King (BKW) is going mobile -- and we're not talking about the drive-through. The company is about to unveil a new app that allows customers to get discounts and make payments via their smartphones. Eventually, you'll be able to pre-order your Whopper, too.

Starbucks (SBUX) already offers those mobile features, and now it's adding a new drink to the menu. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%At the end of April it will offer Oprah Chai, a tea-blend created by Oprah Winfrey. It will be available at both Starbucks and Teavana stores. Separately, Starbucks said it won't raise coffee prices, despite the surge in wholesale coffee prices.

Here on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) lost 114 points Wednesday, the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) fell 25 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) dropped 11 points.

The FAA has put its stamp of approval on the safety of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. Government and company experts have completed a review following a pair of fires involving the plane's lithium-ion batteries. It concludes that the Dreamliner is "fundamentally sound" and comparable in safety to other new Boeing (BA) models, despite some problems with the manufacturing process.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

8 Zen Tips for Tax Time
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Money Minute: Why Your Car Is a Money Pit; Walmart Grows a Green Thumb

Don't parse every receipt and monthly bank statement, says Wenli Wang, a partner in the tax practice at Moss Adams in San Francisco. "Do some homework, so you know what is deductible and what is not," she says. "When you understand what is relevant to your tax prep, you’ll have a game plan."

"Clients spend a lot of time chasing small deductions. I tell them not to go crazy documenting $5 here or $10 there. Concentrate on bigger expenses that save the most in taxes," Wang adds. "And don’t spend money on unnecessary expenses just to save on your taxes."

Start with one of the many free checklists available. Here are a few from the IRS, its affiliate, TurboTax, or FreshBooks.

Avoid such audit triggers as running a cash business, claiming large deductions on minimal income, and reporting dependent exemptions for people who may not actually be your dependents for tax purposes, says Ebong Eka, a Washington accountant and author of "Start Me Up: The No-Business-Plan Business Plan."

If you report a business loss year after year, you risk having the IRS declare your company a hobby, says Mark MacLeod, an accountant and chief financial officer for FreshBooks. "Filling in your Schedule C with nice, even, rounded numbers in the hundreds or thousands is another red flag," he adds.

Buy an accounting system that automates your back office tasks, including tracking income and tax-deductible expenses. There are free and low-cost software packages available, too. FreshBooks' MacLeod -- who obviously has a dog in the fight -- advises business owners to steer clear of software that's designed for professional accountants. "If it's too complicated, you won't understand it and then you won’t use it," he says.
Spare your sanity by hiring a professional who will do right by your tax return while you work for your clients or drum up new business. "What is your time worth?" MacLeod asks. "If you're a graphic designer charging $100 an hour or more, do you want to spend hours on taxes?"

Running late and wilting under the pressure? "File an extension," Berger advises. "If you wait until the last minute, you'll make a lot of mistakes and you could miss the deadline anyway."

If you owe money, pay up. Or at least pay part of your liability and get on a payment plan for the rest. "Clients worry about owing money they don't have. But it's important to file your return on time, or file an extension at least," Berger says. Putting it off will only result in fines and penalties down the line -- not a prospect that invites much in the way of zen.

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