Big Brother appears to be Chase’s newest gimmick

Filed under: Banking & Finance |

Chase bank has launched an interactive TV commercial that allows watchers to use their remotes to extend the commercial’s air time.

For those of you that just can’t get enough of banking and credit card pitches, this might sound like a good thing, but beware, the commercials weren’t created for your viewing enjoyment alone — they’ll be used to gather socioeconomic information about your household.

The commercial is part of Chase’s Freedom rewards program, which allows credit card users to switch rewards programs whenever they want.

When the normal 30-second Freedom commercial airs, Dish Network satellite subscribers will be able use their remotes to launch an extended commercial about the program.

The nation’s nearly 12 million Dish Network subscribers have interactive TV capabilities, and when the extended commercial is activated, Chase will receive demographic information, down to the household level, about those consumers who choose to interact.

In a news release issued this week, Chase officials called the commercial a way to learn about their products in an “entertaining and convenient manner.”

The release said little about the opportunity for the bank to find out how their commercial watchers spend their money.

It’s just market research, right?

Tax-deductible gift giving

If you’re planning to spread some yuletide cheer in the form of a tax deductible contribution this holiday season, there are a few tax law changes that you might want to keep in mind.

Last summer, Congress passed the Pension Protection Act, which, among other things, offers individual retirement account owners a new way to make charitable contributions.

The act also includes rules designed to provide taxpayers and the government with greater certainty in determining what may be deducted as a charitable contribution.

Under the act, an IRA owner, age 70½ or older can transfer up to $100,000 a year tax free to an eligible charitable organization. The option is allowed in tax years 2006 and 2007. IRA owners can take advantage of this provision regardless of whether they itemize their deductions.

Distributions from employer-sponsored retirement plans, including simplified employee pension plans are not eligible.

To qualify, the funds must be contributed directly by the IRA trustee to the eligible charity. Amounts so transferred are not taxable and no deduction is available for the amount given to the charity.

But, do your homework. Not all charities are eligible under this provision. For example, donor-advised funds and supporting organizations are not eligible recipients.

Transferred amounts are counted in determining whether the owner has met the IRA’s required minimum distribution rules. Where individuals have made nondeductible contributions to their traditional IRAs, a special rule treats transferred amounts as coming first from taxable funds, instead of proportionately from taxable and nontaxable funds, as would be the case with regular distributions.

Rules for clothing and household items

To be deductible, clothing and household items donated to charity after Aug. 17, 2006, must be in good used condition or better.

However, a taxpayer may claim a deduction of more than $500 for any single item, regardless of its condition, if the taxpayer includes a qualified appraisal of the item with the return. Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens.

Guidelines for monetary donations

To deduct any charitable donation of money, a taxpayer must have a bank record or a written communication from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution.

Bank records include canceled checks, bank and credit card statements. Bank and credit union statements should show the name of the charity and the date and amount paid. Credit card statements should show the name of the charity and the transaction posting date.

Donations of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction.

For payroll deductions, the taxpayer should retain a pay stub, Form W-2 wage statement or other document furnished by the employer showing the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

Dizzying stock options

Stock options are a good thing — unless they number some 6.6 million.

That’s what Google’s nearly 8,000 employees are facing when considering an investment in their company. So, the company has created a the program to make the value of options clearer to Google employees by offering them new ways to manage risk in a stock that’s been on a tear.

Starting in April, Google employees with vested stock options will be able to sell them directly to a group of financial institutions via an online auction.

Individual investors will not be able to buy the options, and the financial institutions that purchase them from Google employees will not be allowed to resell them.

Under the program, which will be managed by Morgan Stanley, a Google employee will access an online system that indicates the current value of options with various strike prices, including vested options with strike prices below current market prices.

The idea is to give employees an idea about how the market values their options, and help them decide whether to hold them, exercise them or sell them.

Rob Larimer covers banking and finance for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.