Another success story from the federal bailout during the financial crisis.

Ally Financial is alive only because a $17 billion taxpayer bailout. And Thursday’s initial public offering cuts the government’s stake in the company in half to about 17 percent, as the Treasury captures nearly $2.4 billion in proceeds. Before being spun off from General Motors (GM) a while back, the company was known as GMAC. It’s making money now, but still has lots of debt. As for taxpayers, we’ve now made a profit on the bailout of the company.

Activists from the environment action gr
Jack Guez, AFP/Getty ImagesGreenpeace activists hold signs in English and Hebrew as they protest in front of the main offices of Microsoft in Herzliya, Israel, in 2012.

Internet companies are generally considered cool and socially responsible, but the environmental group Greenpeace says Twitter (TWTR) and (AMZN) are among the “dirtiest” companies when it comes to energy use. It claims both have done a poor job of reporting their energy and environmental footprint. However, Greenpeace says Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB) and others have done a good job in using renewable energy.

Walmart (WMT) is going organic. The company is already the nation’s largest grocer, and now it’s moving to dominate the growing market for organic products. Walmart’s line of Wild Oats organic products will cost about 25 percent less than competitive brands — making them comparable to non-organic items.

Here on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rallied 181 points on Wednesday, the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) jumped 71 and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (^GPSC) gained 20 points.

PC sales fell for the eighth straight quarter, as more and more consumers depend on tablets and other devices. The data tracking firm IDC says PC shipments fell by more than 4 percent compared to a year ago, but that’s actually better than expected. Some corporate buyers replaced aging PCs that were still running on Windows XP, which Microsoft (MSFT) stopped supporting earlier this week.

Finally, a survey by Visa (V) finds that prom spending by teens and their families is expected to fall by 14 percent from last year. It’s still a major expense though. The average price for the tux or gown, the limo, tickets and dinner: a whopping $978.


The 1099 forms you received from brokerages and other financial institutions might not be the last ones they send. It’s common for them to issue corrected versions a little later. Consider getting your tax return ready to go, then waiting until close to April 15 before submitting it. That way, you can incorporate any last-minute changes and avoid having to file an amended return.
1. Use the latest forms

Pay attention to when you sell any holding, because the capital gains tax rates differ for long-term and short-term holdings. Short-term capital gains are taxed at your ordinary income tax rate, which could top 30 percent. Long-term gains (those held for more than a year) get preferential rates, which are zero percent for those in low-income brackets and 15 percent for most of us.
2. Time your sales correctly

If you own underwater stocks, consider selling them for a loss. You can use those losses to offset gains from other sales, reducing your taxes owed. You can always buy back the asset later, if you still believe in it — just be sure to wait for 31 days to pass, to observe the "wash sale rule."
3. Make the most of your losses

If you’re planning to sell one or more holdings that will give you a really big gain, submit an amended W-4 form to increase your withholding, or send the IRS an estimated tax payment. Underpaying your taxes significantly during the year can lead to a penalty at tax time. You may be protected by a "safe harbor" provision, though, which can save you from having to jump through those hoops.
4. Don't underpay taxes

If you’re planning to buy shares of a mutual fund, determine when it will distribute its dividends. Many funds do so near the end of the year, and when that happens, the fund’s share price will drop by the amount of the distribution — which is taxable to shareholders. It’s better to just wait until after that payout to buy in.
5. Wait to buy mutual fund shares

Mutual funds with high turnover ratios (reflecting a lot of buying and selling in a fund) have expenses for these trades. It’s worth favoring funds with low turnover ratios, especially index funds and index-tracking ETFs, which simply hold onto the mix of securities in a given index, without a lot of trading activity. (Index funds generally outperform their higher-turnover counterparts, too.)
6. Consider index funds

Boost the power of your Individual Retirement Accounts by making your annual contributions early in the year, giving the funds more time to grow. Over decades, it can make a significant difference.
7. Put your investment dollars to work ASAP

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