Here are three of the week's top pieces of financial insight, gathered from around the web:
A $28 billion power bill
Texans were promised that a deregulated electricity market would make power more affordable. Instead, it has cost residential customers $28 billion more than they would have paid at rates charged by the state's traditional utilities, said Tom McGinty and Scott Patterson at The Wall Street Journal. The deregulated system has come under fire after severe weather left millions without power last month. Supporters of deregulation — a push led by Enron in the 1990s — promised more innovation and better service than monopoly utilities offered, because customers could "shop around for the best deals." Initially, "dozens of competitors emerged," but a wave of mergers has left just two, Vistra and NRG Energy, providing three-quarters of the retail electricity sold in Texas. From 2004 to 2019, "rates of retail providers averaged 13 percent higher than the nationwide rate."
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Zillow may want to buy your house
"For certain homes, Zillow's 'Zestimate' will now represent an initial cash offer from the company to buy the property," said Clare Duffy at CNN. The Zestimate cash offers will be available in only 23 markets to start. But they are part of Zillow's ongoing national transformation from "a hub for online real estate data" to "a one-stop shop for home searching, buying, and selling." Zillow has long contended that the pricing algorithm behind its value-estimate tool, or Zestimate, is "reliable," and it's used that data to buy and sell homes for several years. The early results haven't translated into instant success — the buying and selling business lost $320 million last year on revenue of $1.7 billion — but Zillow says growth is the focus.
Bad news about your home office
After a year of working from home, a lot of people are wondering whether they qualify for a home office tax deduction, said Justin Jaffe at CNET. This tax break lets you claim "the space in your home that's dedicated to working as a business expense." The rules, however, are "dramatically different for corporate employees and self-employed workers." Tax changes in 2017 suspended eligibility for home office write-offs for any employee who receives a W-2 from an employer "even if you're working from home." If you are a business owner or independent contractor, you are still eligible. But be aware that the IRS uses tactics such as "checking to see if this is a new deduction" to find potential issues.
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