Nothing beats cabin fever like doing your taxes. OK, we don't really believe that either, but you might as well make the most of the miserable weather and get those 1040 forms filed once and for all.

The only problem is navigating all that paperwork can be more difficult than driving in a blizzard, the white haze of deductions clouding your vision, making it hard to see the forest from the, well, road. Our tax experts can help steer you in the right direction (turn toward the skid, not against).

Miscellaneous deductions are among the most confusing, so check out this extensive list of what's fair game. Our Tax Center can address any other taxing questions. And if you're really baffled, it may be time to bring in a pro. We'll help you decide if it's worth the money.

Good luck, and many happy returns!

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Mixed Results for HP

Earnings are like a box of chocolates. Sometimes they're a little nutty. Tech bellwether Hewlett-Packard(NYSE: HPQ) posted first-quarter results that gave optimists something to cheer about, with ample "boo, hiss" room for naysayers.

Earning $0.24 a share on $17.9 billion in revenue covered both spectrums of prognostication.

HP missed top-line targets but lapped past bottom-line estimates. What does that mean? Spending on information technology continues to be a real burden for the tech sector, but by squeezing more juice out of every revenue dollar, HP's better-than-expected margins seem to vindicate its controversial merger with Compaq.

Well, sort of. While four of the company's five business segments contributed to the bottom line, it was HP's original bread and butter -- printing and imaging products -- that earned the lion's share of operating profits. Critics of the merger can argue HP would've been much happier as a swinging single, as its printing stronghold accounted for nearly three-quarters of the operating profits on less than one-third of the quarter's revenue.

But let's raise a contrarian glass to toast the union. Sure, Compaq was troubled when it said, "I do," but it's just a matter of when -- not if -- the personal computer industry comes back into favor.

In the meantime, it wasn't the PCs that bled during the quarter. That distinction goes to HP's enterprise division, which will actually bounce back the strongest when the economy improves and corporations load up on servers and other technology.

The market may be shaking its head at how HP failed to live up to Wall Street's revenue hype, but it should also commend the company for achieving its goal to consolidate overhead.

Imagine that? A wedding couple that actually slimmed down during the first year of matrimony. Now, about that box of chocolates....

Discussion Board of the Day: Hewlett-Packard

Did Hewlett-Packard do the right thing by buying Compaq? How is the company holding up against Dell(Nasdaq: DELL)? What are the true strengths of the merged companies? All this and more -- in the Hewlett-Packard discussion board. Only on

Gold , or Fool's Gold?

With the world mired in geopolitical and economic uncertainty, investors' thoughts turn to gold, which may seem like a smarter investment than stocks.

And recent corporate scandals make gold that much more appealing. (After all, gold's CEO won't treat himself to lavish compensation while destroying gold's value.)

But inform yourself before you sell everything you own to buy a chunk of Fort Knox. All does not glitter in the world of gold.

Gold used to be the backbone of many national currencies, but for several decades now, that connection has been severed. The price of gold now reflects just supply and demand.

Gold doesn't have an impressive history as a great investment, either. From Jeremy Siegel's seminal book, Stocks For the Long Run, here's what a dollar invested in various things would have grown to, from 1802 to 2001 (Yes, just about 200 years!):

               not adj.           adj.
    for inflation
    for infl.
  Stocks   $8.8 million    $599,605.00
Bonds       13,975.00         952.00

Bills 4,455.00 304.00 Gold 14.38 0.98

Over 200 years, through many wars and economic times even more troubling than those we face today, gold didn't prove to be a great long-term investment. In Fortune magazine, David Rynecki writes, "Gold investors are notoriously bad forecasters. From 1985 to 1987, for example, a collapse in the dollar boosted gold 76% and had many metalheads predicting an extended rally. Instead the price fell 15% the very next year." He adds: "Even bullish gold pros caution the average investor to put no more than 5% of a total portfolio into gold-related holdings and say it's safest to invest through funds."

So, how do you invest in gold in the first place? Well, here are several options, as described by David Kathman of Morningstar:

  • Gold stocks (often very volatile, combining the volatility of gold with the riskiness of a business)
  • Gold mutual funds (generally less volatile than stocks, but still rather volatile)
  • Gold accounts (purchased through bullion banks, usually with large minimum investments)
  • Chunks of gold (in coin or bar form, which have to be stored somewhere safe)
  • Gold certificates and pool accounts (available for those who wish to buy small amounts)

Kathman notes, "Returns aren't the point when you're investing in gold; diversification is... a small amount of gold alongside your stocks can be a stabilizer." He suggests considering these funds: American Century Global Gold(Nasdaq: BGEIX), Vanguard Precious Metals(Nasdaq: VGPMX) and Fidelity Select Gold(Nasdaq: FSAGX).

Learn more about investing in gold from the (somewhat biased) World Gold Council and from this vintage Fool article. Or drop by our Mining and Metals discussion board.

Quote of Note

"Bad weather reports are more often right than good ones." -- Anonymous

AOL Carries a Tune

Will people really pay to download music online? AOL Time Warner(NYSE: AOL) hopes so. The media giant is now promoting MusicNet, owned jointly by EMI, Bertelsmann, and AOL's own Warner Music, to its 35 million America Online subscribers.

The move represents the biggest push for payment thus far in the ongoing battle between the music industry and those naughty file swappers. MusicNet exists alongside two other pay-for-play music services, Pressplay (owned by Sony and Universal) and Rhapsody.

Customers haven't exactly been signing up in droves to pay for music from any of the services, though. An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 subscribers are currently paying to listen. Compare that to the tens of millions downloading and burning to their little renegade hearts' content through the free (and therefore illegal) service KaZaA.

MusicNet offers about 260,000 songs, in line with the other two pay services. Only 55% of Billboard's Top 200 songs are on MusicNet, but AOL promises that by year-end 100% will be represented.

Downloading and burning songs to CDs won't be cheap, though. Limited access for streaming and downloading costs $3.95 a month. It's $17.95 to actually make a CD, and that's just to burn 10 songs in an entire month -- more than the price of most complete CDs sold in stores. However, that price includes unlimited streaming and downloading privileges.

Whether this will fly with AOL subscribers remains to be seen. Hard-core file sharers and swappers aren't AOL's usual customer base, so perhaps AOL members will sign up for the service with enthusiasm.

Whatever happens, you can bet the music industry bigwigs will be watching closely.

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Quick Takes

Those who tried to catch the falling knife of Royal Ahold(NYSE: AHO) are bleeding a little. Two days ago, the world's third-largest retailer, second-largest food seller, and No. 1 U.S. supermarket operator unveiled "significant accounting irregularities" and forced out its CEO and CFO. Today, the Dutch company is down another 10% on news the SEC and U.S. attorney general are jumping into the investigation.

Host Marriott (NYSE: HMT) reported a fourth-quarter loss of $0.04 a share, a significant improvement over last year's $0.12 loss. Still, the operator of the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton brands warned 2003 results would come in lower than expected.

Nearly 31 years after its launch, it appears the Pioneer 10 spacecraft has finally stopped communicating with Earth. Designed for a 21-month mission, Pioneer more than lived up to its name by giving us our first up-close glimpses of the asteroid belt and the planet Jupiter. After exploring the outer reaches of the solar system, it passed beyond Pluto in 1983 and is now some 7.6 billion miles from Earth -- or about 82 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth. Perhaps one day an alien race will recover the craft and, with it, this gold-anodized aluminum plate revealing much about our own human race.

In local news, Mary-Margaret Kline muttered, "If they can send a spacecraft 7 billion miles from Earth, why can't they make an instant decaffeinated coffee that tastes good?"

And Finally...

Today on

  • For updated stories throughout the day, bookmark our ever-changing News section.
  • Bill Mann calculates the total return of the Fool portfolios and bids them farewell.
  • Rex Moore has late-night February thoughts on Bush, Greenspan, barbershop mirrors, and duct tape.
  • Tiffany Sparkles: The premier jewelry retailer manages a shiny Q4.
  • In Fool's School, make sure you're getting the most bank for your buck.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim