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It’s better to give than receive… Especially if it reduces your taxes!

justin brotton - Monday, December 01, 2008

Vincent F. Orza, Jr.

Dean, Meinders School of Business, OCU

 

With the holiday season upon us, now is the perfect time to review your financial position and do a few things to make or save a couple of bucks on taxes. The very fact that you are reading a magazine the quality of distinctly OKLAHOMA is an indication that you are likely to be well above average financially. No doubt, you wonder this time of year what you can possibly give to friends and relatives who already have it all! Does your boss really need another tie – especially one you feel obligated to pay $50 or $100 for? You’ve been exchanging gifts with close friends for years, and each year you both say, “You shouldn’t have.” Your kids are grown, making good money, and they own a wonderful home. They really don’t need anything… but you still keep looking for something to give them.

Let me make it easy for you – consider making a charitable donation honoring someone. Send a check to the Red Cross in honor of your boss. Send a check to Habitat for Humanity on behalf of a friend. Make a contribution to OCU, OSU, OU, UCO or any other school, with a request that the funds be used for a scholarship in someone’s name. Then send your boss, friends or family a card letting them know you made a gift to a non-profit organization in their name.

This is a wonderful gesture that is much more meaningful than a gift someone neither needs nor wants. It is a true representation of the meaning of the holiday season. The spirit of giving is extended to those benefiting from your gift, to the person in whose name you made the gift, and to you. It might also inspire your boss, friend or relative to make a donation in someone else’s name. The cycle of giving begins with a gift, and you have the pleasure of knowing you started the ball rolling. You also get a tax benefit based on your current tax bracket if the organization meets the definition of a qualifying charity, so be sure to get a written substantiation of the contribution.

The year’s end is also a good time to clean your closets and garage and give to Goodwill, the Salvation Army or other charities your old clothes, furniture or other items. The IRS requires those items be in good condition, but since the IRS decides what’s “good,” make sure you keep a description of your donation.

Remember – you are also entitled to give up to $12,000 to individuals tax-free. Spouses can each make a $12,000 gift to individuals tax-free, for a total of $24,000. Generally, the following are exclusions from taxation: gifts paid directly to educational institutions for tuition, but not books, supplies or dorm fees; gifts paid directly to health care providers for medical expenses; gifts to spouses; gifts to a political organization for its use; and to qualifying charities. The private client advisors at Deloitte are advising their clients interested in family wealth planning to consider gifting appreciated assets, or those expected to appreciate, to their children, who are not subject to the ‘kiddie tax’ and in the two lowest tax brackets.

You might also consider giving U.S. savings bonds. The 2008 stock market has been brutal, but U.S. I bonds earned 4.84 percent from May to October. Interest accrues monthly and compounds semiannually. Keep in mind that bonds held less than five years are subject to a three-month interest penalty, but the bonds are also exempt from state and local income taxes.

Given the nation’s financial condition, income and capital gains tax increases are a possibility. Accelerating income into 2008 is worth considering – take bonuses, dividends and any income this year rather than delaying it until 2009. Tax rates will likely be higher in 2009, so if you have stocks to sell, picking the lowest tax year is part of investment strategy. In fact, it is even more likely tax rates will increase significantly during the baby boomer retirement years, so you might want to visit with a tax expert on your retirement investment strategy.

Deloitte is also advising their clients to perform an Alternative Minimum Tax analysis. The AMT was created nearly 40 years ago to prevent “very wealthy” individuals from avoiding paying income taxes. In 2002, two million Americans came under the AMT; by 2010, it is expected to affect 30 million Americans. If no changes occur, Deloitte says, “about two-thirds of households with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 and over 85 percent with incomes between $100,000 and $500,000 will be subject to AMT before the end of the decade.” The Congressional Budget Office estimates AMT could affect 70 percent of taxpayers by 2050.

Having told you all of this, I am not a CPA or financial advisor, and certainly not a tax expert. Then again, given the complexity of our tax system, is anyone? These are just tips on things you should visit about with your CPA. Rather takes the “merry” out of Christmas! Happy Holidays.

Books in Brief

justin brotton - Monday, December 01, 2008

“A Family Christmas” by Caroline Kennedy, Hyperion ($26.95)

This unique collage of Christmas memories is not a history of the Kennedy family holidays. Instead, Caroline Kennedy has shared a variety of poetry, scripture, lyrics to Christmas songs and a history of Christmas around the world in this wonderful publication.

Drawing from authors such as Truman Capote, John Lennon, Pearl Buck, Mark Twain and many more, Kennedy has included letters from political history, an essay written by Rose Kennedy on what parents can best give their children for Christmas, poetry from Shakespeare, the traditional “Night Before Christmas,” the most frequently asked questions of Santa Clause and a history of St. Nicholas, along with several other remembrances.

“A Family Christmas” is filled with stories to read to your children, and is a book that you will want to pass down to your family for generations. Add this book to your holiday purchases.

 

“Dewey” by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter, Grand Central Publishing ($19.99)

On the coldest night of the year in Spencer, Iowa, an unidentified person stuffed a small kitten down the book return chute at the local library. When the staff arrived at work the next morning, they heard a growl from the bin. Almost afraid of what she would find, Vicki Myron, the library director, slowly removed the books until she uncovered a black ball of fur. The kitten was almost frozen and immediately curled himself up under Vicki’s chin. A warm bath was prepared, and his shivering soon turned to purring. After washing and drying him with a hair dryer, he turned out to be a beautiful longhaired orange tabby that immediately won the hearts of the library staff.

In Iowa in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, farmers were struggling to survive; the population of Spencer was moving out of the small town to find employment in the bigger cities. Vicki Myron decided that the library needed to become a focal point for the community. She implemented the purchase of computers so citizens could look for jobs, assisted in supplying resources to develop resumes, and talked the Board into letting her keep the cat in the library. Word soon spread in the community, and people came by to see the new addition. A contest was held, and the cat was named Dewey Readmore Books, Dewey for short.

He was a people-loving animal and greeted all visitors to the library at the door when they entered, sat on their laps while they read the papers and curled up next to the children during story hour. For over twenty years, Dewey was a small-town library cat who touched the world and brought a community closer together. Vicki Myron has written a wonderful book that will touch your heart.

 

“Pieces of My Heart” by Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman, Harper Entertainment ($25.95)

When Robert Wagner was 12 years old, he was living in Bel Air, Calif., next to a golf course. One day while sitting under a tree, he was astounded when a foursome passed in front of him. Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Randolph Scott and Cary Grant, giants of the Hollywood scene, put Robert Wagner on the path to becoming a movie star.

In this biography, Wagner bares his soul when he tells about his difficult relationship with his father. He struggled in his early years of acting, but was mentored by several seasoned players who gave him good advice. His first love was Barbara Stanwyck; however, the love of his life was Natalie Wood. Married when they were young, they divorced, and eventually remarried. They remained devoted to each other until she died in a tragic accident. After a serious bout with depression, Robert Wagner met and married Jill St. John, who helped him keep his family together and regain his life.

After more than fifty years in Hollywood, Wagner is still active in film and television. He has told the fascinating story of his life, including the never-told details of Natalie Wood’s death.

 

“The Lucky One” by Nicholas Sparks, Grand Central Publishing ($24.99)

Nicholas Sparks has written his 14th best-selling dramatic fiction book in 14 years.

During his third tour of duty in Iraq, U.S. Marine Logan Thibault finds a picture of a smiling young woman buried in the sand. He posts the picture on the bulletin board, convinced that someone lost it and would claim it. He can’t get the woman’s face out of his mind, so when no one claims it, he pockets the picture.

During his tour, he escapes injury and death several times. His fellow Marines believe he is lucky; his best friend tells him it is because of the picture, that the girl in the photo is his destiny.

When he returns home to Colorado, Logan can’t seem to forget the woman in the photo, and sets off on a journey across the country to find her. Through research and lucky breaks, he finds himself in Hampton, N.C. He is unprepared to discover that Elizabeth is a single mother. Despite her distrust of Marines, Logan soon wins her over; however, her ex-husband has other plans. Logan doesn’t tell Elizabeth about the picture or what brought him to Hampton, which begins to tear their relationship apart.

Once again, Sparks leads the reader along the path of romance and spine-tingling suspense. You won’t want to miss this one.

 

“Moscow Rules” by Daniel Silva, G.P. Putnam’s Sons ($26.95)

Gabriel Allon has just completed another risky assignment as an Israeli Secret Service agent. He is beat up and burned out. Telling the head of his department that he is done, he goes to a small Italian village to do what he loves. Commissioned by the Vatican to restore a painting, Gabriel secludes himself in an out-of-the-way villa with his new wife, Chiara. His peaceful existence, however, does not last long.

When the death of two journalists in Russia leaves evidence that a Russian arms dealer is getting ready to make a major sale to al-Qaeda, Gabriel is forced into service again to save his country.

Pitting his wits against a ruthless former KGB colonel, Gabriel is soon fighting for his life and the lives of millions of people. If he wants to survive, he needs to learn how to play by Moscow rules.

Silva has once again penned a page-turner.

Bill Hancock is doing the best he can, one day at a time.

justin brotton - Monday, December 01, 2008

Jacquelyn Bridgeford

In many ways, Oklahoma native Bill Hancock’s life mirrors the career path that he has chosen – or, that has perhaps chosen him.

As the retired director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’sDivision I Men’s Basketball Championship, and the current administrator of college football’s Bowl Championship Series, Hancock has worked with student athletes, coaches, supporters and fans for two decades to bring the best college sports has to offer to sports aficionados nationwide. His unique position as the first full-time leader of both multi-million-dollar-generating (and superstar-breeding) tournaments has allowed his vision, intuitiveness and imagination to produce legendary success for the NCAA and BCS: Sell-out games in temperate climates, lucrative television contracts and coveted notoriety for participating schools.

As impressive as it is, Hancock takes a simpler approach to his work. In spite of scores of yearly meetings, an ever-ringing cell phone and fervent periods of cross-country travel, he simply wants to ensure that everybody involved in the games has a great experience. Through that process, all else falls into place.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure that the conditions at the games – hotels, tournament facilities, transportation and many other details – are the best they can be for the athletes, the coaches and the supporters,” Hancock says. “I’ve been lucky to get to manage the best college event in football and the best college event in basketball in my career.”

While each tournament seems to transpire as if by magic before the outsider’s eye, ironing out the details is a year-round commitment for Hancock. While director of the NCAA’s Final Four basketball tournament, Hancock’s handiwork was unveiled during three weeks of March Madness each year from 1989 to 2002. As head of the BCS since 2005, the frenzy culminates instead each January with five bowl games in one week’s time: The Orange Bowl in Miami, the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and the Championship Game, which rotates to one of the four bowls each year.

It’s a career Hancock adores and manages from his home in Prairie Village, Kan., where he lives with his wife, Nicki, a retired high school English teacher. Hancock credits much of his success to his upbringing in Hobart, Oklahoma.

“We’re all proud of our home states,” Hancock says. “Oklahomans have a lot to be proud of. I’d be a different person if I’d grown up somewhere other than Oklahoma.”

Small Town Ties

Born in 1950 as the youngest of three children, Hancock considers himself blessed to have been part of a small town environment with a population at the time of about 5,000.

“Everybody knew everybody, and you had about 200 sets of parents,” Hancock says. His family ran the town newspaper, the Hobart Democrat-Chief, which is still published by his older brother, Joe.

Bill Hancock writes a weekly column for the paper, and has written a book, This One Day In Hobart, which shares the history of the century-old community. He is currently writing four more books on Hobart to keep the town’s legacy alive and thriving.

“I think it’s important for someone to write it down before it’s gone,” Hancock says. “History is made by young people who said, ‘I’m going to make sure this road gets built, or this project gets done.’”

Small towns breed a sense of responsibility and accountability in its members, Hancock says.

“The leaders encourage people to express their individuality, and to get out, get involved, volunteer and express yourself.”

Joe Hancock, who is 21 years older than his brother, says the two never got to live in the same house because of their age difference, but are close nonetheless.

“I’m so proud of him, my buttons pop!” the elder Hancock says. “He’s got such dedication to his work, he’s well organized and he’s on the job 24 hours a day.”

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett has known Hancock since the early 1980s, when Cornett worked as a sports and newscaster in the Oklahoma City media. He has always admired Hancock’s professionalism and dependability.

“Bill has the respect of a great number of very powerful people as someone who does things fairly, honestly and right,” Cornett says. “He doesn’t play favorites and he doesn’t succumb to political games. He has been entrusted with very important responsibilities and has exceeded expectations.”

The Blue Moth

Hancock graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1972 and immediately entered the world of sports media and management. He joined the Big Eight Conference in Kansas City in 1978 as media relations director and worked his way up to director of the Final Four in 1989, managing a $20 million budget – and the hopes and dreams of hundreds of young athletes.

With high school sweetheart Nicki at his side, the couple raised their sons, Will and Nate, in what Hancock considered a charmed life – four best friends giving their all and taking nothing for granted.

But tragedy loomed. Much like the experience of an athlete, life is a series of wins and losses, victories and unspeakable defeats. The Hancocks’ lives were irreversibly changed in 2001 when Will, at the age of 31, died in the crash of an airplane carrying members of the Oklahoma State University men’s basketball team home from a game in Boulder, Colo. Beloved by all who knew him, Will was the media relations coordinator at OSU, where he directed publicity efforts for the Cowboy men’s basketball and golf teams. His wife, Karen, had given birth to their first child, daughter Andrea, only two months earlier.

Hancock shares his journey of grief and recovery in his book, Riding With The Blue Moth, which was published in 2005 and has sold 20,000 copies.

The book chronicles Hancock’s 36-day, 2,747-mile odyssey by bike from Huntington Beach, Calif. to Tybee Island, Ga., just months after his son’s death. Hancock’s rich and revelatory narrative details his encounters with, and lessons learned, from all walks of life – characters in human form, from our nation’s hidden neighborhoods to the occasional heel-nipping dog and frequent road kill.

Throughout the journey, Hancock is accompanied by the “blue moth,” his euphemism for the frequent sadness and sometimes despair that would sweep down on him as he grieved the loss of his son and discovered hope for the future.

It has been nearly eight years since the tragedy, and the experience has transitioned Hancock from life student to teacher. He still receives an estimated 100 phone calls, cards and e-mails each month from strangers who have met the blue moth and are reaching out to Hancock for wisdom and healing.

“It’s always hard to think I have anything to offer, but clearly I do,” Hancock says. “You don’t ever think you’re an expert in anything, but I tell them that I understand, that they’re not alone. I say to hang on, that things will someday be OK. In the end, I think they help me more than I help them.”

Simple Joys

Despite their irreplaceable loss, Hancock says he has found much left to love and cherish about his life. He enjoys frequent visits with Will’s wife, Karen, and granddaughter Andrea, who is now eight. Son Nate and his wife, Kristin, and their two sons, 6-year-old William and 2-year-old Jack, live nearby in Kansas City. Since his 2001 trek cross-country, Hancock has taken numerous bike tours, including a trip from Mexico to Canada, and plans to someday hike the Appalachian Mountains.

Bill has also served the United States Olympic Committee’s media relations staff at eight Olympic games and two Pan American games dating back to 1984, including the recent Olympics in Beijing.

And when he’s not travelling, Hancock is a faithful singer in the choir at Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, where he and Nicki attend. He’s a baritone.

He jokes about his singing abilities in a quick statement, which could be summed up as Bill Hancock’s philosophy on life: Do the best you can, one day at a time.

“You don’t have to be Pavarotti to sing in the choir.” 





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