If you've suffered a loss because of a hurricane or other natural disaster, the tax code may offer relief. Taxpayers who itemize can deduct disaster losses not covered by insurance or federal aid. You must first reduce the amount of your loss by $100. Then, only the portion of your loss that exceeds 10% of adjusted gross income is eligible. With adjusted gross income of $150,000, you can deduct losses above $15,000. So if you had $25,100 in uninsured losses, you could claim $10,000, says Laurie Asch, senior analyst with tax information provider RIA.
You may not have to wait until you file your 2004 return to claim this deduction. If your loss was in a disaster area declared by the President, you can amend your 2003 return -- and that will speed the refund.
When it comes to liquid investments, nothing beats fine wine. If you don't have the expertise to assemble your own collection or a suitable place to store it, you might consider one of the new wine funds. They work like a mutual fund: investors pool money and a manager buys and sells wine -- mostly from top producers in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Such funds are often based in Europe and the Cayman Islands and they're lightly regulated. That means fees can be high and disclosure spotty.
But wine funds could be heading to the U.S. Richard Bakal, executive director of the Wine Trust, a collector and seller of fine wines in Ridgefield, Conn., plans to launch his own fund, Wine Trust II, in the next 18 months. Bakal, who has been collecting since the late 1960s, says his portfolio increased by an average of 12% a year after expenses since 1980. Annual returns on the 2000 Bordeaux vintage, considered one of the best ever, have been in excess of 20%. Of course, wine is meant for enjoyment, not just for financial gain, so Bakal plans to allow investors to take all or part of their profits in drink.
Diabetics may one day be put on a regimen similar to the daily aspirin taken by heart patients to ward off heart attack and stroke. Researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, have found that salsalate, a chemical cousin of aspirin, reduces a low-grade inflammation linked to Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, which afflicts 18 million Americans. So far the research has focused on mice, but the center has applied for a grant to fund clinical trials in humans.