In search of a 'neutral' retirement seminar

Q: I am looking for a course or seminar on financial planning for retirement. So far, I've found only courses where the sponsors are selling something – in other words, brokerage or investment products. How can I find a "neutral" course?
K.R., Princeton, N.J.

A: Call the American Association of Individual Investors at 800-428-2244 and ask for their membership department to see if any seminars are scheduled in your area, says Arlene Zamudio, national meeting coordinator for the AAII. The organization's website (www.aaii.com) also lists local chapters that may be offering retirement seminars in your area.

Still, says Ms. Zamudio, "many well-established brokerage houses offer excellent retirement seminars." These classes are often listed on their websites. Just be cautious about any promotion of investment products, she says.

Q: My sister is trying to start a nonprofit bookstore selling religious materials, among other things. This store would be home-based. Would her income be tax exempt if she were supported by an ordained minister and/or a congregation?
I.P., Florence, Ariz.

A: Under IRS guidelines, no part of a nonprofit's earnings may benefit individuals in the organization. If the purpose of the bookstore is to benefit an individual, then it's not likely to gain tax-exempt status. The IRS uses very strict tests for identifying nonprofit groups

Your sister can file for tax-exempt status for her business by using IRS Form 1023. Instructions for filling out the form are available in Publication 557. Both documents are available on the IRS website (www.irs.gov).

Q: I'm a student and find it hard to quickly get checks to my bank, which is in another state. Even when I mail checks out overnight, I have to wait five days or longer for the bank to clear them. Should I use a check-cashing service?
J.S., Los Angeles

A: About half the states tightly regulate check-cashing services, the other half do not, according to the AARP, a Washington-based retirement group.

California requires check-cashing services to post a permit and a state-approved schedule of fees. Charges to cash government checks, such as those from Social Security, are required to be lower than those for payroll checks. Fees to cash personal checks are the highest.

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