Gerri Willis Commentary:
Top Tips by Gerri Willis Column archive
Charity deduction rules get tougher
Plus: Answers to reader questions on car gas gauges, opening an IRA and pet insurance.
By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK ( -- 1) Can a gas pump "trick" my gas gauge into showing as full? I fill up my tank on Sunday night and by Monday morning it's one quart short of a full tank. - Flora

It's likely just a quirk, says Phil Reed of Gas needle indicators aren't very accurate, especially in older cars. Modern cars have digital readings, so you won't have much of a problem. Sometimes they appear to burn gas faster and indicate low levels even though there's no fuel consumption.

Another factor that may be contributing to your misreading is the weather. If you fill up your tank when it's hot out, the volume of gas will be less.

2) I just read that the Pension Protection Act requires that ALL charity tax deductions must be backed up with proof. When will this change happen? - Linda, Mesa-Arizona

That's right Linda. The times are a-changing. You now need to have a credit card statement, a canceled check or written acknowledgement from the charity to take tax deductions for charity. That means you can't deduct those few dollars you dropped in a collection bucket without a receipt.

Another change: You have to submit an appraisal to the IRS with your tax return if you donate anything over $500. And forget about writing off those old shoes you dropped off. The IRS only allows you to take deductions for clothes and items that are in good condition or better.

However, the effective date of these changes is next calendar year. So you still have the remainder of this year to donate away!

3) In two months I'll be 18 and I want to choose an IRA fund. What should I do? - Kevin, Vienna, VA

If you have a full or a part time job, an IRA is a great idea. You can put up to $4,000 this year. Since your income is likely to increase, getting a Roth IRA is a better idea than getting a traditional IRA since you don't need the tax deduction as much. You will save a whole lot more money in the future because you won't have to pay taxes when you take the money out.

You'll want to do your homework though. Check out and look at total market funds or target funds that will give you the most diversity in your portfolio.

Call the companies you're interested and make sure you aren't charged any additional expenses for the fund- other than the standard operating costs. According to financial advisor Doug Flynn, some companies do add an extra layer of expense to their target/lifestyle funds.

4) Can you give me information on pet insurance? - Vickie Russell.

We don't just get questions from outside the company - Vickie works right here at CNN. As for the answer, while some companies do offer pet insurance as a benefit, it will probably cost you more money than it will save you, according to a Consumer Reports survey.

Premiums alone can be thousands of dollars (we're not even talking about deductibles and co-pays). But if you still want to go the distance for Pookie, make sure the pet insurance company you're considering is registered with your state legislator.


Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send e-mails to or click here - each week, we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and  Top of page

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