July 4, 2008 in Business

FRIDAY FOCUS: PERSONAL FINANCE

The Spokesman-Review
 

You can’t do much about $4-a-gallon gasoline, but you might be able to cut commuting costs in other ways. Here are some not-so-obvious ways to stretch your transportation dollars:

Ask about an insurance break if you drive less. If you’re telecommuting, carpooling, taking the bus or driving fewer miles for other reasons, you might get a discount on your auto insurance premiums. A discount could reflect fewer miles driven generally or a change in your insured category to pleasure driving, says the Consumer Federation of America, which estimates savings in the range of 5 percent to 15 percent. Nationally, the potential savings range from about $47 to $142 on an average $949 auto insurance premium.

Focus on more than just miles-per-gallon efficiency when shopping for a car. With high gasoline prices making daily headlines, you might be surprised to learn that fuel isn’t the top cost of operating vehicles. Fuel accounts for 21 percent of typical ownership costs, according to a recent Consumer Reports study. That was well below depreciation or the gradual loss of a vehicle’s value to wear and tear, which weighs in at 48 percent of ownership costs. Depreciation is a function both of purchase price and resale value. The remaining cost categories are interest on vehicle loans (12 percent), insurance (11 percent), sales tax (4 percent) and maintenance/repairs (4 percent). Consumer Reports based its survey on five-year ownership costs reported by the magazine’s readers last year, assuming 12,000 miles driven each year on average.

Find out if your employer offers tax-deductible benefits for commuters. Although you can’t deduct commuting expenses in general, Uncle Sam offers a tax break on certain costs tied to parking or mass-transit commuting, provided your employer sponsors a program that lets you pay for these services through payroll deduction. You can set aside up to $115 a month before taxes to pay for mass-transit expenses and up to $220 a month for commuter-related parking. IRS Publication 15-B explains tax breaks for these and other fringe benefits. Find out if your employer offers these pre-tax savings plans for commuting costs. While you’re at it, check to see if the firm offers subsidized bus passes or other transit help.

The Arizona Republic


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