Monday, February 24, 1997
IRS has relaxed its regulations
on refund loans

The Internal Revenue Service strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of many taxpayers, but changes for this year should give some a sense of relief instead.

One major change relates to refund-anticipation loans. This method of receiving refunds allowed taxpayers to go through a lender to get a loan in the amount of their expected tax return, before getting the check from the IRS. Last year, the IRS delayed millions of notices used to alert lenders that the anticipated loan amount indicated by the taxpayer was correct and the refund would be coming; IRS cited the loans as an inducement to fraud.

This year, the IRS relaxed its rules. People who are pre-approved for loans through lenders will be able to get up to $3,500 in a refund-anticipation loan. That includes any money they would get through the earned income credit.

Minivan makers square off

A minivan price war has erupted at the beginning of one of the biggest selling seasons in the car business.

Chrysler is giving owners of its older minivans rebates of up to $750 if they buy new Dodge, Plymouth or Chrysler minivans through April 7. Ford is extending a rebate on its '97 Windstar minivan. Stirring the pot: Chevrolet dealers now have redesigned '97 Venture minivans in stock, and ads begin this month. And Ford replaces its '97 Windstar with a '98 model this month.

The almost simultaneous timing of incentives, new models and ads is no coincidence. Strong sales in middle to late February are supposed to mean a good year.

Contest teaches about money

''What are the most important things you have learned about money and investing, and how will this knowledge help you in the future?''

Those questions were posed by Stein Roe mutual funds, which sponsored a nationwide essay contest for 5th-, 6th- and 7th-graders. Those who entered included about 20 students from Travis Haire's seventh-grade social-studies class at River Valley Middle School in Jeffersonville, Ind.

Mr. Haire incorporated the contest into lessons about the economy, the stock market and business, with the aid of Junior Achievement. Overall, he said, students ''learned that there are ways to save money to make more money.''

His advice to youngsters: ''You need to be aware that money is hard to come by. But the more educated you are about money, the more you will benefit and the better off you'll be when you're 30, 40 or 50. Start saving now; the habit will carry over and pay off.''

Stein Roe expects to announce the winners of its contest next month.

Regional brokerages tops

Regional brokerages from Illinois, Missouri and Florida captured the top four spots during the fourth quarter of 1996 in a continuing Wall Street Journal study of houses' stock-picking prowess.

Their success is striking because New York is headquarters for 11 of the 17 firms in the study, is home to the New York and American stock exchanges and views itself as the financial hub of the universe.

Everen Securities Inc. of Chicago had the best stock picks in the December quarter, with an estimated gain of 10 percent. It was followed by two St. Louis firms, Edward D. Jones & Co., up 9 percent; and A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc., up 8 percent; and by Raymond James Financial Inc. of St. Petersburg, Fla., up 8 percent. Credit Suisse Group's Credit Suisse First Boston also achieved an 8 percent return, but the New York firm's score before rounding was lower.

For the full year, regional firms captured three of the top four spots. Raymond James won with an estimated return of 47 percent on its Focus List. Credit Suisse First Boston was second, but A.G. Edwards and Everen were close behind.

- Compiled from Enquirer news services