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Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 01:00
6 percent

That's how now-official presidential hopeful Marco Rubio has been polling, on average, for the past few months. While he's a low-performer in the crowded GOP field, FiveThirtyEight argues Rubio belongs in contention with presumed GOP front-runners like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Rubio has a history of beating expectations and winning important party endorsements, says analyst Harry Enten, and he could be a very electable, middle-of-the-road option for voters.

1: 1.05

That's the euro-dollar exchange rate this morning. If you've been thinking about visiting Europe, but haven't wanted to pay top dollar, now is a pretty good time to take out your wallet. The attractive exchange rate is making everything from paella to rail tickets cheaper. 

$2,815

The average tax refund at the beginning of April, about $20 more than this time last tax season. All told, the IRS refunded about $374 billion last year. So why do so many people overpay? Turns out it has a lot to do with taxpayer psychology. We looked into it as part of our series, "I've Always Wondered..."

April 15, 2015

Speaking of taxes, April 15 is the IRS tax filing deadline. As if you didn't already know. Our own producer Josh Woo was the winner on Wheel of Fortune in the 2014 tax year. And with his tax return now signed and delivered, we look at what his game show victory meant for him this tax season. 

1995

The year Lynda Weinman started Lynda.com with her husband Bruce Heavin. Born out of Weinman's do-it-yourself web design books, Lynda was bought by Linkedin last week for $1.5 billion. The Wall Street Journal has Weinman's story, from doing special effects on "RoboCop 2" to shaping the current landscape of ed-tech.

5.6 percent

That's how much Nokia's stock went down on the Helsinki Stock Exchange today after news broke that the company is looking to buy Alcatel Lucent of France. While negotiations could always break down, Alcatel stock is up 12 percent in Paris now. And there are a few strands of American DNA in there. Lucent is descendent of the old AT&T, bell labs, the people who invented the laser. 

As Country Changes, Rubio, Republicans Try To Adjust

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 01:00

On gay rights and immigration, Republicans running for president, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, are trying to navigate a tricky course between their party and the country at-large.

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Republicans Are Making Foreign Policy The Obamacare Of The 2016 Election

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 01:00

The GOP still has the health care law in its sights, but now also promises to do away with Obama's opening to Cuba and nascent deal on nuclear development with Iran.

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A warning on the bond market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 00:49

The Fed came out with a warning this week about the bond market. Fed executive Vice President Simon Potter expressed concerns that extreme volatility like the October “flash crash” could become more common, perhaps the result of high frequency trading, or more surprisingly, too much regulation. Simon Potter doesn’t know exactly what caused the October spike. It could be because of high speed trading. Or because reforms enacted by regulators after the financial crisis, like increasing the amount of capital banks hold, could have unintentionally created more volatility.

The bond Flash Crash happened past October, actually wasn’t a crash at all, it was the opposite, a spike. In a 15 minute period, the yield on the 10-year treasury jumped more than two percent, which may not sound like a lot, but statistically speaking it was a price swing that should only happen once every 1.6 billion years.

Year After Denying Federal Control, Bundy Still Runs His Bit Of Nevada

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 00:18

Rancher Cliven Bundy successfully stood down Bureau of Land Management agents near Las Vegas. He's considered a symbol for a national movement to wrest Western lands from U.S. agencies' authority.

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Big Bills A Hidden Side Effect Of Cancer Treatment

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 00:17

Cancer treatment is increasingly expensive, even for patients who have insurance. Some doctors advocate discussing the costs of cancer treatment as they would hair loss, pain or other side effects.

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In N.D., Church Ceremonies Push Town To Grapple With Gay Rights

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 00:15

In a small community in southeastern North Dakota, tension between compassion and faith is ever-present in residents' attitudes toward same-sex marriage.

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Volunteer Deputy Charged In Oklahoma Man's Shooting Death

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 23:34

The sheriff's office says Robert Bates, who was volunteering on an undercover operation, mistakenly pulled out his handgun instead of his stun gun and shot the suspect as he struggled with deputies.

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Transcript: NPR's Full Interview With Sen. Marco Rubio

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 19:03

Rubio spoke to NPR about his run for president, Indiana's religious freedom law, the president's deal with Iran and immigration.

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Airplane Makes Emergency Landing After Worker Trapped in Cargo Hold

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 15:56

Alaska Airlines Flight 448 returned to Seattle, after the pilot heard "banging from beneath the aircraft." It turned out that a ramp agent had fallen asleep in the cargo hold.

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Rubio 'Very Confident' He's Ready To Be President On 'Day No. 1'

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 13:39

The Florida senator could be the youngest Republican in the presidential field, but he is fully confident he has the experience to lead.

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Clear Fruit Brandies Pack An Orchard Into A Bottle

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 13:23

French-style eaux de vie have made a comeback in the U.S. thanks to the farm-to-table movement. Dozens of distilleries are now crafting dry, fragrant spirits from fruits that might have been wasted.

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Blackwater Security Guards Handed Lengthy Sentences For Iraqi Killings

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:40

Three of the Blackwater security guards were found guilty of manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter, while a fourth was convicted of first-degree murder.

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Why do people overpay their taxes, then get refunds?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:34

As of the first week of April, 2015, 99 million taxpayers had filed their individual returns with the IRS. Of those, more than 77 million—or approximately 77 percent—had received refunds. The average refund was running $2,815, about $20 higher than the same time in 2014.

Overall, 118 million American taxpayers (including individuals and businesses) received tax refunds in 2014 (for the 2013 tax year); they got a total of $373.5 billion back from the IRS. All told, the IRS collected $3.1 trillion in gross taxes in 2014, including business and individual income taxes, estate, gift, excise, and employment taxes.

Listener John Thomas of Nevada asked this question: “I’ve always wondered why so many people seem to overpay their taxes and then have to claim a refund. I’m wondering whether there’s a conspiracy there with the government encouraging people to overpay, because they get free money essentially until people get their refund.”

CPA Rich Sotta in Portland, Oregon, says a lot of his tax-preparation clients intentionally have too much withheld, knowing from prior years’ experience that they will get a substantial refund—often several thousand dollars or more. “It’s so they don’t have a huge tax bill they have to pay in April,” says Sotta. “It’s peace of mind knowing that they’re getting refunds.” He says some taxpayers want a buffer in case their tax situation changes and their tax bill goes up unexpectedly—for instance, if they have sources of income that fluctuate year-to-year.

Sotta says, it’s true, letting the government over-withhold is like giving the government an interest-free loan. But, he says, “if you aren’t of the habit of being able to budget for yourself, I think it’s a way of saving.” Otherwise, he says, those people would fritter away the extra income in their paychecks away.

That predictable April refund windfall can be used by taxpayers to make a big-ticket purchase, take a vacation, pay down debt or build savings.

Hersh Shefrin, a professor of behavioral finance at Santa Clara University, says research shows most taxpayers who receive refunds do indeed devote a substantial portion to intended uses like this, rather than splurging and spending most of it right away.

Shefrin says the refund also triggers a response in our brains: “It lights up the reward centers—the nucleus accumbens is the area that gets activated. And there is a dopamine rush when the check actually arrives and you open it. It has a positive hedonic effect.”

Shefrin says engineering a large refund through over-withholding can also be evidence of smart, self-aware financial planning. “People recognize they have difficulty accumulating enough savings on their own. So they look for ways to help themselves counter the temptations of everyday life.”

Roberton Williams, a fellow at the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center, dismisses the idea of an IRS conspiracy to get American taxpayers to over-withhold, in order to make more money available for government spending. He says if the IRS encouraged more withholding, some taxpayers could wind up in trouble in April if their tax bills were higher than expected.

Williams acknowledges that if the government wasn’t getting more than $300 billion in tax withholding payments that it will ultimately refund, it would have to borrow more. But, right now the government’s borrowing costs are low, less than 1 percent. “Essentially, what the taxpayers are doing is giving the government a short-term loan,” says Williams. “That makes it easier for the government to cover its bills in the short run, it doesn’t have to borrow as much. But in the long run, it all washes out.”

New York Investigates Retailers For Unpredictable Work Schedules

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:33

Retailers rely on systems that require workers to be ready to work a shift — whether or not they end up working. The state attorney general is looking into the way big retailers handle scheduling.

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At 800 And Aging Well, The Magna Carta Is Still A Big Draw

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:25

The Magna Carta is sometimes called England's greatest export. Issued by an embattled King John 1215, the document is now on display at the British Library and is pulling in large crowds.

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SpaceX To Launch A Spacecraft And Attempt To Land Its Rocket on a Floating Barge

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:21

The rocket is carrying supplies to the international space station. SpaceX hopes to land the reusable rocket onto a platform in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Who Needs 1 SuperPAC When You Can Have 4?

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:12

SuperPACs, financed by unlimited but disclosed donations, now appear to be the presidential candidate's new best friend. One backing Sen. Marco Rubio is revving up, and Sen. Ted Cruz already has four.

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Senators Try To Revise No Child Left Behind — A Few Years Behind

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 12:02

Tuesday, senators begin working out the details of a bipartisan update to the No Child Left Behind education law. The proposed revision would give states more control over school accountability.

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Sandwich Monday: Breakfast In A Tin

NPR News - Mon, 2015-04-13 11:54

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try a British delicacy: All-Day Breakfast in a can. We may be using the word delicacy incorrectly.

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