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What you need to know about taxes and travel this week

Natalie Mayrath
Producer/Reporter

Here’s a roundup of the most useful consumer news you need to know as you head into the week.  

The government shutdown might delay your tax refund, but Jan. 28 is the official first day of tax filing season, and there are several steps you can take now to ensure nothing is delaying the tax return process on your end.  

If you’re filling out a more complicated return, schedule an appointment with a tax preparer.

Gather your records, like your prior year’s tax returns, receipts, income statements, W2 forms, charitable contribution statements. About 8% of Americans still file their taxes by paper — this is the year to try to do it electronically if you want that refund sooner. The IRS will not be working through paper returns until at least mid-February.

For those who are self-employed and making quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS – your fourth quarter of 2018’s income tax payment is due Jan. 15.

While most of the IRS is still furloughed because of the shutdown, the tax agency will still be accepting electronic payments.

TSA Lines

TSA workers are calling in sick in droves, prompting a concourse at Miami International Airport to close over the weekend.  TSA lines at other airports reportedly might be closed if the lack in employees continues, so give yourself extra travel time if you’re planning on going through an airport this week.

Stolen passport numbers

The passport numbers of over 25 million Starwood hotel guests were stolen by hackers in November, and Marriott has announced officially for the first time that 5.25 million of those numbers were not encoded to prevent unauthorized access. About 383 million guests who made a Starwood reservation on or before Sept. 10, 2018, could be affected by this breach, which also included credit card numbers, birth dates, and contact information.  

Marriott has set up a dedicated website (https://info.starwoodhotels.com) and phone line (1-877-273-9481), and is offering one free year of guest web monitoring services to those who may have been affected. A lawsuit has been filed in Maryland’s federal district court by more than 150 previous hotel guests who claim Marriott did not adequately protect them from the massive data breach.  

Super bugs

Travelers should beware of SUPER bed bugs, which are building resistance to pesticides. University of Kentucky entomology professor Michael Potter told The Telegraph recently that the mites in the U.S. are becoming “increasingly harder to kill,” and that travelers these days are less vigilant about checking their hotels or luggage. UK pest control experts also report a surge in recent years, and that travelers should always check their sheets and luggage when arriving and departing hotels. Sun Travel Online suggests using the five-step S.L.E.E.P method, which can be used to find and tackle bed bugs.

Food inspections

In recall news, the CDC says the romaine lettuce outbreak appears to be over. There were no reported deaths – but a total of 25 people were hospitalized.

And, the shutdown has suspended part of the FDA’s inspection process. They are working to bring back as many as 150 furloughed workers to restart inspections on high-risk foods like baby formula, seafood, cheese, and produce, but until those inspections are fully operational, grocery shoppers should be careful of these foods.  

If you take a blood pressure medication called Losartin Potassium from Torrent Pharmaceuticals, the FDA announced a recall last week for trace amounts of cancer-causing chemicals in the drug, so reach out to your doctors or pharmacists for an alternative.

Car recalls

Ford and Toyota are both announcing recalls this week for cars equipped with Takata brand airbags, and Toyota is actually confirming on its website that this is the largest recall in automotive history, involving 19 automakers and tens of millions of airbags. For this recall both Ford and Toyota say that they will cover all repair costs, and for the most part they DO have replacement parts readily available.

You can check if your vehicle is affected by going onto either website and enter your license plate or VIN number, or the make and model of your car to find out. Ford is offering free loaner vehicles in cases where replacement parts are not immediately available, and Toyota is offering free loaner vehicles and free vehicle pick-up.

This story was originally published on January 11, 2019.

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