Business briefs 1/11/06

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

IRS freezes some refunds without telling taxpayers

WASHINGTON -- The Internal Revenue Service freezes tens of thousands of tax refunds it deems questionable without telling people that they're suspected of fraud, the nation's taxpayer advocate said Tuesday. Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson detailed the program, called the Questionable Refund Program, in her annual list of the worst problems facing taxpayers. Her office has seen a mounting number of people seeking help to claim frozen refunds. Overall, the program temporarily delays a small number of refunds but stops billions in false refunds from being paid to criminals, the agency said.

Allstate: Reinsurance costs may bring higher rates

CHICAGO -- Allstate Corp. customers living in areas hard-hit by hurricanes and other natural disasters are likely to see their premiums rise this year as a result of the insurer's costly new reinsurance obligations, the company said Tuesday. Allstate, the second-largest U.S. personal-lines insurer behind State Farm, said in a regulatory filing that contracts taking effect in 2006 will triple the cost of its reinsurance to about $600 million a year.

OfficeMax closing 110 retail superstores

CHICAGO -- OfficeMax Inc., struggling to keep up with its competition in the crowded office supplies business, said Tuesday it will close 110 retail superstores across the country and make other restructuring moves. The company also said it will close its wood-polymer building materials plant in Elma, Wash., and five stores in Canada as part of a shake-up that will result in $187 million in pretax charges. The moves represent the latest attempt by the company to shake out of the doldrums after what its largest investor has blasted as a "dismal" financial and operating performance recently.

GM plans to lower prices on most vehicles

DETROIT -- General Motors Corp., which has been losing market share in the United States to Asian automakers, said Tuesday that it will lower the prices on 57 of its 76 models in North America in an effort to boost its sliding market share and wean buyers off expensive incentives. Mark LaNeve, vice president of sales and marketing, said that the program will lower the manufacturer's suggested retail price by as much as $2,500 on some vehicles, but the average decrease will be $1,300. Saab, Saturn and Hummer will be excluded because GM feels they are priced appropriately, he said.

-- From wire reports

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