California has the highest gas tax in the United States. Opponents are hoping to repeal it via a ballot measure this November. I filled up my mid-sized Chevy sedan's tank this morning, something I do every two weeks or so. I was stunned to see my local gas station, which usually sells gas at the lower end of the prevailing price scale, had regular unleaded going for $2.63 a gallon. That's a more than 50-cent hike from my previous tank top-off in April. It also put the Austin area (or at least my neighborhood) closer than it's been for a... Read more →


Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exit St. George's Chapel as husband and wife. (Photo: Kensington Royal Instagram) I'm not a fashionista, but I was impressed with Meghan Markle's wedding dress. The simple, elegant Givenchy gown was perfect. So what happens to the hand-stitched dress that reportedly cost around £100,000 (almost $135,000 U.S.)? Will it be sent to a museum? Sealed, boxed and stuck at the top of a closet for use by a next-generation bride? Lent to a friend for her coming wedding? There's another option, maybe not for the new Duchess of Sussex, but for us commoners. Donate your... Read more →


Bicyclists' fringe commuting benefits were eliminated under the new tax law. Other commuters also could find their workplace transportation perks slashed, too. Woman on bicycle by Sunny via Flickr CC It's forecast to be, for the third straight day, near 97 degrees this afternoon in the greater Austin area. It's also National Bike to Work Day. That is, shall we say, a pungent combination. Yet another reason I'm glad I work from home! Biking benefits are ending: Despite the hot Texas summers (and springs and falls), the Austin area is bicycle-crazed. Folks two-wheel it all over the place, undeterred by... Read more →


Teachers give more than their time and energy to students. They literally pay in many instances to help their students learn. That's why educators were pleased when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act left the above-the-line deduction for their out-of-pocket expenses in the tax code. This tax break, which is claimed directly on Form 1040 with no need to fill out a Schedule A, lets a single filing teacher claim $250 spent toward classroom supplies. For married educators, $500 in personal payment for school supplies can be deducted (or more technically subtracted from filers' gross income) on their joint tax... Read more →


They're baaaack! Actually, they never left. They, of course, are tax scammers, who the Internal Revenue Service says have tweaked an old scheme using a form used by international taxpayers and non-resident aliens in their latest effort to steal taxpayer identities and cash. As is the case in many tax scams, the form used in this latest identity theft iteration, the W-8BEN, is real. That's an excerpt of the real IRS document, which is titled Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding, below. You can click on it to see the full form at IRS.gov.... Read more →


Actress Meghan Markle may give up her U.S. citizenship after marrying Prince Harry this weekend, but other American expatriations so far this year have slowed. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle join the rest of the British royal family at Sandringham Christmas Day Services last December. (Photo by Mark Jones via Flickr) Great Britain's Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle will tie the knot this Saturday, May 19, (note the international time change if you, like I, plan to watch) at St George's Chapel on the grounds of Windsor Castle. After Markle answers the wedding vow questions about having and holding... Read more →


Every bettor in the United States after today's Supreme Court ruling that opens up sports betting nationwide. (Source: Giphy.com) That whoop you heard this morning was celebrating sports fans all across American who like to drop a few (or more) bucks on their favorites sports match-ups. The possibility that they can do so closer to home now an option thanks to today's (May 14, 2018) Supreme Court decision. Place your bets: The nation's highest court ruled 7-2 that a federal law that has effectively limited sports betting to Nevada for more than a quarter century is unconstitutional. The case, brought... Read more →


Jacksonville, Florida, officials might have trouble keeping their lights on if some of the city's residents don't pay their delinquent tax bills. (Photo courtesy Visit Jacksonville) Jacksonville, home to around 880,000 residents, is the largest city in the Sunshine State. It takes a lot of money to run a municipality of that size. Some of its residents, however, have decided not to pay. Their free ride, though, won't last for much longer. $58 million unpaid: More than 35,000 people owe a combined total of $58 million in unpaid taxes to the city of Jacksonville, according to WJXT News4Jax. That's almost... Read more →


Insightful high school seniors' essays offer valuable lessons about life, finances and, yes, taxes. As I get closer to retirement, I've begun to think what I'll do with the free time that transition is supposed to provide. One option I've considered is volunteering at tax help sites, like those offered by Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) locations. That's why as I was thumbing through the paper this morning, the story about college essays caught my eye. Ron Lieber, who writes The New York Times' "Your Money" column that runs each Saturday, this weekend... Read more →


You're parents! Congratulations! Now that you've welcomed your new baby with a special name, be sure to get him or her a Social Security card before you leave the hospital. It will help in completing many of life's tasks, including filing taxes. Click image to watch the Social Security Administration's top baby names of 2017 video at YouTube. How did your folks come up with your name? Were you named after a relative? A place? A friend? A favorite movie star? By a random dart that landed on a sheet of potential handles? My grandmother named me. Well, she at... Read more →


Selecting health care coverage definitely isn't child's play. Hey there, Health Savings Account (HSA) owners. The Internal Revenue Service has more numbers for you. Don't freak out. Your 2018 HSA amounts, which were tweaked thanks to changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and then reinstated to the original limits, are safe. This time, it's the inflation-adjusted limits on your high deductible health plan, or HDHP, and its associated HSA for the 2019 tax year. Popular health plan: First a quick bit of background on this health care coverage that is becoming quite popular as medical insurance costs continue... Read more →


Bitcoin fans contend that their currency is just as valid as any other money. But they've not had a lot of luck in convincing most people of that. Cryptocurrency aficionados thought they had taken a major step toward wider acceptance in February when the Arizona Senate approved a bill that would have allowed for, beginning in 2020, the payment of state income taxes in bitcoin or other digital currency approved by the Arizona Department of Revenue (ADoR). Four months later, that's no longer a possibility. Crypto pay stripped from bill: When Senate Bill 1091 went to the Arizona House for... Read more →


Substantially more than half of Americans say recreational marijuana use should be legalized. The October 2017 Pew Research Center survey that found the pro-marijuana majority is the latest analysis that documents a steady increase in weed acceptance over the past decade. The currently slow-but-steady support for weed — the 61 percent approval in the latest survey is up just 4 percentage points from a 2016 poll, but it's nearly double the 31 percent pro-pot results recorded in 2000 — offers hope to the marijuana industry. Part of that pro-pot progress is the herb's prospects as a job creator and revenue... Read more →


Margaret Reid won $1.2 million on an $18 Kentucky Derby bet at Retama Park in San Antonio. It was the biggest payout ever at the track, according to the racetrack's general manager Bill Belcher, who congratulated Reid. (Photo courtesy Rachel Bagnetto, Retama marketing department) The Internal Revenue Service loves the Kentucky Derby. Actually, it loves the full Triple Crown slate. Not only do thoroughbred owners, trainers and jockeys makes big, taxable bucks during the Derby's run for the roses, as well as at the subsequent Preakness and Belmont races, so do some bettors. Few race aficionados, however, are as lucky... Read more →


Lava slowly flows from a fissure that opened on a Leilani Estates street on May 5, 2018, after Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupted. (United States Geological Survey public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons) The United States' 50th state is home to many extraordinary things. Exotic flowers. Magical beaches. Unique birds. An active volcano. It's that last thing that's got folks worried right now. Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupted Thursday, May 3, accompanied by dozens of earthquakes, the release of dangerous sulfur dioxide and lava flows. The 6.9 magnitude Kilauea-associated earthquake that shook the Big Island on May 4 was the most powerful... Read more →


Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Today is a commemoration of the Mexican Republic's victory in 1862 over French forces at the Battle of Puebla. While it's a national holiday in Mexico, festivities in that country are mostly located in and around the Puebla region. Here in the United States, however, Cinco de May is a big deal. That's especially true in Texas, where my native state once was part of Mexico. The Lone Star State's origins and the role of Mexican nationals and other Texians in helping establish Texas' independence in 1836 is one reason why we celebrate Cinco. That, and... Read more →