A sampling of some of my favorite beers. Yes, this photo is a few years old (note the 2011 Christmas brew label), but rest assured, I regularly restock the refrigerator. Across much of the United States this Memorial Day weekend Sunday it's hot. Very hot. We're pushing 100 here in Austin. That's why many beverages will be consumed by folks out today at beaches, picnics and sporting events. Tax collectors thank you for your thirst, especially if you're slaking it with a cold brewski. Beer tax tallies: Beer drinkers annually make a $5.3 billion excise tax payment to state and... Read more →


Congratulations new graduates! If you're soon marching or have marched down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance to receive your college diploma, welcome to the rest of your life. I remember that first summer after getting my sheepskin. It meant the part-time job I had at the local newspaper became a full-time gig. And that meant more money. That also meant a do-it-myself crash course — pre-internet! — in personal finance. Things worked out fine for me, but I admit it was simpler back then. Not that I'm that old, but college costs for a state university in Texas weren't... Read more →


Packed and ready to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend! Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer and apparently we are ready for the lazy, hazy season. AAA says that travel during this long holiday weekend is expected to be at near-record levels. And it actually began on Thursday. More than 41.5 million Americans will travel this Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA. That's nearly 5 percent more than last year and the most in more than a dozen years. You know what that means. Travel delays, especially in urban areas this afternoon where holiday revelers heading... Read more →


A tropical system off of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula is expected to move north over the Memorial Day weekend. (The Weather Channel screenshot) The 2018 tropical storm season has arrived a bit early. Officially, the Atlantic (and Gulf of Mexico) hurricane season doesn't start each year until June 1. But the weather gods operate on their own schedules, so we often get early forming storms. That's the current situation. A tropical system has developed off the eastern coast of Yucatan, Mexico, and is expected to move north, ruining the Memorial Day weekend for thousands of Gulf Coast residents and vacationers. Depending... Read more →


Expensive real estate no longer provides owners unlimited federal property tax deductions. The Internal Revenue Service announced today that it will make an announcement about states efforts to provide taxpayers workarounds to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act's $10,000 limit on state and local tax (SALT) federal deductions. The issue has arisen as a handful of states have enacted or are considering law changes to allow their residents to make contributions to state accounts, from which their state taxes then are paid. State "charity" workarounds: Essentially, the states' general approaches have been to effectively turn the tax payments into charitable... Read more →


The beach view of the newest Trump South Florida property. (Photo via Zillow) While many homeowners are in the process of protesting their residential property appraisals in the hopes of lowering their tax bills, Donald J. Trump is adding to his potential property taxes. The Trump Organization recently closed on a waterfront mansion just across the street in Palm Beach, Florida, from Mar-a-Lago. The property at 1125 South Ocean Boulevard was on the market for $23.9 million, but the Trumps got it for $18.5 million. Friendly transaction: The price break probably didn't take a lot of haggling. The 8,270-square-feet property,... Read more →


Taxes are complicated. Most filers, however, escape some of the hassle by claiming the standard deduction instead of itemizing expenses. Over the years, around 70 percent of taxpayers annually have taken the standard deduction route. That number is likely to increase next year, when even more folks filing 2018 returns will claim the standard deduction amounts because, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), they have almost doubled. A few of us, though, will stick with Schedule A and our itemized expenses. And we, says the Internal Revenue Service, need to look at our payroll withholding now because of... Read more →


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 →