April 18, 2015

AAA: Gas prices may drop toward $2 a gallon by summertime

gas-pump-111Nebraskans may not have to budget as much money for driving during the upcoming summer vacation as they did last summer.

Gail Weinholzer, at AAA-Nebraska, says all signs point to stable or lower gas prices in the months ahead.

Oil refineries have switched from the winter blend to the summer grade of fuel and there’s already an abundance of crude oil and refined oil, keeping gasoline prices low.

“There’s no reason to expect any significant increases, and in fact, we may actually see a slight decrease as we approach $2 a gallon perhaps, as we head into the summer driving season,” Weinholzer says.

She says the fuel cost forecast is based on what’s known right now.

“There’s always some exceptions to that should anything significant happen to the oil fields in the Middle East. Once we get into the summer season, of course, we always have to keep an eye on the hurricanes in the Gulf,” Weinholzer says. “Aside from those two things, the increased supply and relatively stable demand will keep prices low.”

The national average for gas is now $2.38 a gallon, while it’s $2.36 in Nebraska. That statewide average is down from $3.61 a year ago, or, lower by a $1.25 a gallon.


Tax procrastinators need not panic; just file an extension

IRS LogoFederal tax returns are due by midnight tonight and officials with the Internal Revenue Service expect more than 48,000 Nebraskans will request an extension this year.

IRS spokesman Bill Brunson says you can go the antiquated route, filling out a paper form that needs to be put in an envelope, stamped and postmarked before midnight, or speed up the process with a few clicks on the agency’s website.

Brunson says, “All you need to do is go to IRS.gov and click on the Free File icon where you can choose to request an extension automatically for an additional six months online at no charge.”

You have until midnight to make the request, which will push your federal tax deadline back to October 15th.

While it used to be a circus-like atmosphere on April 15th, with procrastinators rushing to the post office late at night, most of those offices now keep regular business hours on tax deadline day.

Brunson notes e-filing has all but eliminated that urgency and Nebraska is one of the nation’s e-filing leaders.

“You’re looking at approximately 901,000 returns to be submitted to the IRS for the 2014 tax period and of that number, some 826,000 Nebraskans are projected to electronically file,” Brunson says. “That’s a rate of 91%.”

E-filers also have until midnight to complete the tax task, which Brunson says is more accurate, since the program won’t let you make a math error. He touts another benefit:

“Your electronic return is secure in the sense that, if you have a refund coming, you can choose to have it directly deposited in your savings or checking account, and that item won’t get lost or stolen like an old-fashioned paper check,” Brunson says. “You can expect to get a refund from the Internal Revenue Service in 21 days or less.”

E-filing saves the IRS a bundle. Processing a paper return costs $3.54 on average, while an e-filed return costs more like 18-cents.

Morel mushroom season approaches as hunters guard their hoards

Yellow MorelsNebraskans who love to hunt, cook and eat morel mushrooms are ready to start scoping out their secret areas in hopes of finding their prized growths of fungus.

Maxine Stone has hunted the elusive mushrooms for years and says they have a distictive look.

“A morel is either black or yellow or grey and it has ridges and pits, definite ridges and definite pits,” Stone says, “and when you cut it down from the top to the bottom, it’s totally hollow inside.”

Stone says those who are morel hunting for the first time should go with people who know what the mushroom looks like. She says you should never eat a wild mushroom without positively identifying it.

“I think first time around, if you’re going to eat a mushroom, I wouldn’t go by a picture,” Stone says. “I would either take it to someone who knows what they’re doing or take really good pictures of the mushrooms and send them to someone who knows what they’re doing.”

Stone says her favorite way to cook morels is by sautéing them with onion, cream and cognac over pasta and bread. Some people prefer to bread and fry them, but she says that’s too “old school.” Stone adds, you should always cook a wild mushroom before you eat it.

Morel hunter Malissa Briggler says morels can be found near dying elm trees but avid mushroom hunters keep quiet tabs on the places where they hunt.

Briggler says, laughing, “A lot of times they’ll be popping up at the same spot next year so you want to kind of guard your area closely so you don’t let your secret out or you might have somebody beat you to the spot next year.”

Briggler says you do not need a license to hunt morels, but hunters should get permission from landowners and check regulations on public land before collecting mushrooms.



Construction worker killed in weekend accident near Schuyler

Crime Scene TapeAuthorities in northeast Nebraska’s Colfax County say a construction worker was killed on Saturday near Lake Socorro.

The worker is identified as 26-year-old Craig Anderson, of Columbus.

Reports say Anderson was trying to free up a stuck cement truck by pulling it with a payloader when the chain snapped and hit him.

Anderson was declared dead at the scene.

Financial scavenger hunt opens April 15th with $1,000 prize

Dash for the StashA contest will be launched in Nebraska and four other states next week that offers to bolster players’ financial literacy while offering a chance to win a $1,000 prize.

Joanne Kuster is the multi-state coordinator of Dash for the Stash, which sends people to their nearest public library starting April 15th to find a series of four posters that offer advice about things like investing for retirement.

“The point is, you read a poster, you scan a QR code and it leads you to a question that you answer,” Kuster says. “Now, in a scavenger hunt, you’re usually picking up and collecting things, but in our hunt, you are collecting investor education information and leaving your answer.”

The goal is to impart some financial knowledge in a fun way. Dozens of libraries are taking part in the contest, but Kuster says you should first log on to www.iinvest.org to make sure your local facility is participating. Then, you can head to the library in person to find the four posters.

“Topic #1 is finding a good financial advisor and how you sort that out,” Kuster says. “Number 2 is investment fees and what you think you should be paying, or shouldn’t, and some clues on that. Number 3 is investor fraud because there’s so many ways that people like to have you part with your money, and number 4, building a nest egg.”

Iowa first hosted the contest last year as a pilot project and it’s being expanded this year to Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska, as well as the District of Columbia.

One winner in each state — who answers all four questions correctly — will be chosen at random and awarded $1,000 to open or add to an Individual Retirement Account, or IRA. The contest winners will be named on May 16th.