UPDATE

January 20, 2006

On finance and practice

"IRS here. Please hold"

Taxpayers who phoned the IRS for help got more-accurate answers during the 2005 filing season, but they waited longer to hear them, says the US Government Accountability Office. Taxpayers waited an average of 4.4 minutes to talk with a customer service representative, up from 2.8 minutes in 2004. But the rate of accurate answers increased to 90 percent for tax-law questions, up from 80 percent in 2004.

Does the Regulatory Compliance Commission vouch for that hot stock tip you just heard? It sure does, but it's not trustworthy. It's one of several bogus regulatory agencies that are really a cover for con artists, says the North American Securities Administrators Association. Other fake agencies include the International Regulatory Commission, the International Compliance Commission, and the International Shareholder Protection Division. To make sure you're not taken in, call the NASAA at 202-737-0900, or send an e-mail to info@nasaa.org.

Little enthusiasm for new pension plans

Beginning Jan. 1, companies can start offering their employees a new Roth 401(k), but only 17 percent of firms surveyed will do so, says the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization. And only about two-fifths of those companies will offer Roth plans on its debut date. For details on how the plan works, see "Roth: A new 401(k) option," in our Nov. 4 issue, available at http://www.memag.com.

Of 425 plan sponsors surveyed in October, 35 percent say they won't offer the Roth plans, and 41 percent hadn't decided. Most sponsors were put off by added administrative burdens, lack of employee demand, and the fact that the tax law governing Roth 401(k) plans is scheduled to expire at the end of 2010.

Use this free guide to lower your heating bills

A new 36-page guide published by the US Department of Energy offers tips on sealing air leaks, buying energy-efficient appliances, upgrading insulation, and even making your own renewable energy. You can download the "Energy Saver$" guide at http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips. You can also get a customized "energy audit" by clicking on the Home Energy Saver link on the home page.

Let your college student share wheels

If you're shelling out big bucks for your kid's car at college, check out this new service. Zipcar lets student-members borrow a car by the hour or the day, and is now available on 23 campuses in 10 states. The car-sharing service operates more than 900 vehicles of various models, including the Toyota Prius hybrid and BMW 325i. Zipcar pays for gas, parking, maintenance, insurance, and satellite radio service. Members pay $75 the first year and $50 a year after that. Rates to use a car start at $8.50 an hour and $59 a day, and vary by campus and type of vehicle. For more information, go to http://www.zipcar.com.