Factors That Affect the Price of an Airline Ticket

The wide range of prices encountered when shopping for an airline ticket, make this a daunting task. What factors affect the price?

  • Fuel cost has one of the greatest effects on tickets. As the price of crude rises, so do the airline's costs. Airlines that negotiate fuel acquisitions well into the future can avoid sudden spikes, and pass on savings to the customer.
  • A weak economy causes people to cut back on non-essential travel. This encourages airlines to give discounts to lure fliers back. Conversely, when business is good, and planes are filled to capacity, there is little incentive to offer low price airline tickets.
  • Airport fees are another part of ticket prices. Airlines using smaller airports save on fees.
  • Destination is a factor. Competition will greatly affect price. An airline that enjoys a virtual monopoly for a particular route can charge pretty much what they want. Those flying international routes have stiff competition from other countries, and have to keep prices in line with what they are offering.
  • Budget airlines can sometimes provide the cheapest airline tickets through a "no-frills" approach. This is most effective on short-haul domestic flights.
  • Timing plays a role. If departure time is nearby, and a flight still has a lot of empty seats, the airline may offer them at a substantial reduction. If flying on a particular day is not critical, it may worth holding out until the last minute.
  • Where the ticket is purchased can affect its cost. Travel agents get bargains from the carriers, but charge for their services. The internet produces some bargains, but be careful who you are dealing with. Occidentally the airlines' own websites have unadvertised discounts.
  • Plain, old-fashioned greed. Air travel is a market driven economy, and airlines will charge as much as they can get away with. Do not believe anyone. Do your own research.

When shopping for cheap flights, be aware of what you are actually comparing. One airline advertisements a flight to an Asian destination, as $ 800, while another gives a price of $ 1300. Reading the fine print shows that the "cheap fare" has another $ 700 in hidden fees and surcharges, meaning it is actually $ 200 more than the all-inclusive fare.

There are many factors that affect the cost of an airline ticket. How well the carrier manages these costs will determine their bottom line. Competition is the key, airlines that most want your business will offer the best deals. Careful shopping will help find the cheapest flights.

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Real Estate and the AMT: Rental Or Investment Property

The Alternative Minimum Tax is a very important consideration for taxpayers who own real estate because just about every tax rule applying to real estate is different for the AMT than it is for the Regular Tax. This article on Real Estate and the AMT will address those situations where the individual holds the real estate as an investment, typically as rental property. The differences in tax treatment between the Regular Tax and the AMT can be significant.

Interest expense

Interest paid on the mortgage taken out to acquire the property is fully deductible, both for the Regular Tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax. Unlike itemized deductions that allow a tax benefit for what amounts to personal expenses, the tax law generally allows all deductions a taxpayer has to make in the pursuit of business income. Thus, the limitations discussed in the previous article on home mortgage interest do not apply.

If, however, the equity in the rental property is used as security for an additional loan – a second mortgage, for example – then the taxpayer must look to how the proceeds of that loan are used to determine interest deductibility. If the proceeds are used for a car loan or to finance a child’s education, for example, then the interest is nondeductible personal interest. If the proceeds are used to improve the rental property, the interest is deductible.

Suggestion – it is best that taxpayers keep personal borrowings separate from business borrowings. Mixing the two creates recordkeeping challenges and can result in disputes with the IRS.

Property taxes

Property taxes paid on rental or investment property are allowed in full both for Regular Tax purposes as well as for the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Planning idea – if you have an opportunity to pay your property tax bill either this year or next, pay it in a year when you have enough income from the property so as not to generate a rental loss. This strategy can help avoid triggering the passive activity loss limitations described below.

Example – in Florida property tax bills are mailed in October, and are payable under the following discount schedule: November – 4%, December – 3%, January – 2%, February – 1%. If you have a loss from the property in 2010 but expect to generate income in 2011, do not pay your bill in November or December – forgoing that small discount could help you avoid the loss-limitation rules.

Depreciation

Depreciation is allowed for property held for investment. The portion of the cost allocable to land is not depreciable, but for the building itself and the furniture, appliances, carpeting, etc. a depreciation deduction may be taken.

Real property (this is the legal definition of the house or other building) held for rental/investment may only be depreciated for Regular Tax purposes under the “straight-line” method, over a useful life of 27.5 years. Thus, a property with $275,000 allocated to the building would be depreciated at the rate of $10,000 per year.

Personal property (this is the legal definition of things such as furniture, appliances, carpeting and the like) may be depreciated for Regular Tax purposes under an “accelerated” method over a useful life of five years. An accelerated method allows a larger depreciation deduction in the early years, in recognition of an obsolescence or decline-in-value factor that you see in new property (cars are a good example).

For purposes of the AMT, however, personal property may be depreciated only by using a straight-line method. Thus, an AMT item will be generated in the early years if the accelerated method is used.

Planning idea – for personal property consider electing the straight-line method for Regular Tax purposes. While giving up a little tax benefit from the greater depreciation in the early years, it could mean avoiding paying the AMT.

Active/passive investment rules and the “at-risk” rules

A taxpayer who is not “active” in managing investment property may not use losses from rental property to offset other income such as salaries and wages, dividends, interest, capital gains, etc. Instead, these losses are deferred until the taxpayer either sells the property or generates passive income from this or other passive investment sources.

The at-risk rules similarly deny using these types of losses to the extent the taxpayer has acquired the investment with borrowed money and does not have personal liability on the debt.

Planning idea

If these loss limitations apply, consider the planning ideas mentioned above to minimize the losses being generated each year. They are not doing you any good anyway.

Sale of the property

Several different AMT issues can arise on the sale of rental/investment property. One is that your gain or loss may be different for the AMT than it is for Regular Tax purposes. This would be caused if different depreciation methods were used. For example, if the personal property was depreciated using an accelerated method for Regular Tax purposes, then the basis in that property when calculating gain or loss on sale would be different because the straight-line method had to be used for Alternative Minimum Tax purposes.

Gain on the sale of investment property generally is capital gain, although a portion may be treated as ordinary income depending on the accelerated depreciation method was used. Capital gains in and of themselves are not an AMT item, but nonetheless they can result in AMT being paid. This is because the AMT exemption amount is phased out for taxpayers at certain income levels, so this additional income can have the result of reducing the exemption which in turn increases taxable income for purposes of the Alternative Minimum Tax.

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Life Insurance Fraud

Life insurance fraud is a black eye on both life insurance companies and life insurance customers. Both parties have been guilty of life insurance fraud and will be again–especially since, sadly, fraud seems to be on the rise according to most statistical measures.

Research by the non-profit The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud concludes that life insurance fraud committed by all parties costs an average household $1650 per year and increases life insurance premiums by 25%.

Life insurers are most often guilty of insurance fraud in the form of their agents doing “churning”. This is where the agent seeks to cancel your existing life insurance policy and replace it with a new policy that is paid for by the “juice”, or cash value, in your existing policy. Agents do this to earn more commissions for themselves without having to seek new prospects for business. Churning can result in increased premiums for a customer and clearly costs them out of their cash value.

Another insurance fraud practiced by agents, however, is called “windowing”. This is where, being unable to attain a client’s or applicant’s signature on a necessary document but already having that signature elsewhere, the agent holds up a signed document behind the unsigned document, presses it against a window to make the light shine through, and traces over the signature with a pen in order to forge the signature of the client or applicant.

When big name insurance companies have their agents do bad things it makes big headlines, but the fact is that the public is far more guilty of insurance fraud than companies are. And of course making false claims is the thing they do the most, which is why all claims on life insurance death benefit payouts are subject to investigation.

But falsely stating background or financial income information is another form of insurance fraud often engaged in by consumers. They might be embarrassed by their medical history or income, or they may realize that if they tell the truth they will have their coverage diminished or their premiums will be very high. If a life insurance company finds out someone lied on their application they have the right not to pay the claim or not pay the full death benefit depending on the circumstances and the policy.

But there are things that buyers of life insurance can do to protect themselves against insurance fraud, since they don’t have the great investigative resources that life insurance companies do.

Remember, when it comes to life insurance, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There’s no free lunch.

Save all of your life insurance paperwork, including getting receipts for every penny you give your agent, and never ignore any notifications from your life insurance company.

Life insurance is never free and it’s not a pension plan, although certain policies can indeed become self-funding–but they never start off that way.

Never buy any coverage that you feel strongly is unnecessary, never let yourself be pressured, and never borrow to finance life insurance.

Although it can be part of an investment portfolio, life insurance’s number one role is protection against the unforeseen–and most people don’t need life insurance in their later years. It is intended to be temporary.

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