And so it begins. Uncle Sam is out of money, forcing closure today of many federal operations. How long will this latest government shutdown last? Based on prior shutdowns, it could be just today, or this could drag out for weeks. National park properties, such as the National Mall west of the U.S. Capitol, were closed to visitors in October 2013, the last time there was a federal government shutdown. This time, most national park sites will be open, at least for now. (Photo by Emw via Wikimedia) Welcome to the shutdown of the federal government, version 01-20-2018. While many... Read more →


With the official start of the 2018 tax filing season just more than a week away, folks have been collecting important tax statements they'll need to file their returns. Identity thieves, unfortunately, are among those looking for those documents, particularly W-2 forms that most filers use to report their wage income. That's why the Internal Revenue Service is urging everyone to be on guard against the return of the Form W-2 phishing scam that last year made victims of hundreds of organizations and thousands of employees. Costly employment-related tax scam: The W-2 scam has emerged as one of the most... Read more →


Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr CC The federal government might shut down at midnight on Friday, Jan. 19. What will that mean to your taxes? The Internal Revenue Service has opened its Free File online tax preparation and e-filing program. Since the IRS simply acts as the portal to the dozen private tax software manufacturers who actually handle the returns, things there should operate as usual. That means that the taxpayers' returns now being filed through Free File will still be queued up, awaiting processing when the 2018 tax filing season officially starts on Monday, Jan. 29. But what... Read more →


Anger over the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act's limits on federal tax deductions for state and local taxes (SALT) has spilled over into 2018, with lawmakers from high-tax states still looking for ways to undo this provision. Some have petitioned the Internal Revenue Service for revised, more filer-friendly property tax guidance. Other have introduced legislation to fully restore the now-limited SALT itemized write-offs. You thought the battle over paying 2018 local property taxes so that they could be claimed on 2017 tax returns ended on Jan. 1. You were wrong. Asking IRS to reconsider: Sen. Chuck Schumer, Senate minority... Read more →


U.S. Supreme Court photo by Phil Roeder via Flickr CC Much tax attention has been focused on the new tax law that now limits the federal deduction filers can claim for the state taxes they pay. But another impending state tax decision could affect even more taxpayers across the country. The Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) will decide this summer whether more of us will be paying state sales taxes on our online purchases. That's already a price that folks in the 45 states and Washington, D.C. pay when they buy products from internet retail giant Amazon. If the... Read more →


The Rev. Gilbert Caldwell (left) was part of the civil rights movement led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (center). Click the screenshot above to watch the full CBS Sunday Morning feature on how a group of fifth-graders helped correct a 60-year-old act of discrimination against Caldwell and his wife. As a young man, the Rev. Gilbert Caldwell marched with Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we honor and celebrate on this federal holiday. Racial discrimination was among the many wrongs King, Caldwell and other civil rights activists back then were working to right. It's a... Read more →


A collection of Enigma machines and paraphernalia on display at the U.S. National Cryptologic Museum. New York tax officials seized and sold one Enigma owned by "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli to cover his unpaid state taxes. (Photographs courtesy Robert Malmgren via en:User:Matt Crypto/Wikipedia) It's no mystery why folks intentionally skirt tax laws. They don't want to pay. New York, however, has managed to get back some of the taxes that officials say former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli failed to pay the Empire State. New York state tax officials seized a rare Nazi Enigma encryption machine and three historical documents... Read more →


Homeowners are still trying to wrap their heads — and tax plans — around the many Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes to the Internal Revenue Code that are related to personal real estate. There's the new limit on federal deductions for mortgage interest on future home loans, the cap on real estate taxes on your primary residence and the elimination of the write-off for interest paid on home equity loans. When the new tax law took effect on Jan. 1, the deduction on home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) or home equity loans became a thing of the... Read more →


Free File, the no-cost online tax return preparation and e-filing option, is now open for business. Although there's been no official announcement by the IRS and its Free File Alliance tax software partners, a click on the Free File page at IRS.gov invites eligible taxpayers to, "Click the Start Free File Now button to file your FREE federal return." UPDATE: The IRS has now made Free File official! You can read the announcement, but I'd appreciate it if you'd keep reading here. Those who can click the Free File button this year are taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of... Read more →


New withholding tables are just phase one of a three-part implementation of the new tax laws' effects on workers' paychecks. Some folks will see more money each payday, but one thing won't change, says Treasury. Adjustments due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes won't stop people from overwithholding to intentionally get a big tax refund check. If you regularly get a tax refund, the new tax law and associated payroll withholding won't change that. That's the word today from the U.S. Treasury and Internal Revenue Service as the agencies released new payroll withholding tables to take the tax... Read more →


Some folks are taking seriously the traditional tax advice to start annual tax filing tasks early. Unfortunately, those folks are crooks. The Internal Revenue Service and its Security Summit partners in state tax agencies and the tax industry have announced that they're seeing early signs that cyber criminals already are working to infiltrate the tax process. Tax practitioners are the prime targets as the 2018 filing season's opening on Jan. 29 nears. Fraudsters are sending a new round of emails in which they pose as potential clients or even the IRS to trick tax professionals into disclosing sensitive information, according... Read more →


Image courtesy 401kCalculator.org via Flickr Ah, January! A new year, new challenges, new opportunities and old tax tasks. The Internal Revenue Service doesn't give us much time to settle into a new tax year. In fact, it's right there, barely two weeks in, reminding many of us that we have a major tax obligation from the prior tax year to take care of or else. I'm talking, of course, about estimated taxes. These four extra tax payments are made by folks who get income that doesn't have income taxes withheld. If you don't pay, or don't pay on time, you'll... Read more →


The Beverly Hilton ballroom was packed on the evening of Jan. 7 as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association handed out its annual Golden Globes statuettes for excellence in movies and television. (Photo courtesy Hollywood Foreign Press Association) I watched the Golden Globes. I am a big movie and television fan, so I wanted to see what one tiny subsection of awards voters, in this case the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, thought about recent entertainment offerings. Plus, I wanted to host Seth Meyers' take on Hollywood's harassment issue. I was thrilled to see his late-night show writers Amber Ruffin Jenny Hagel... Read more →


Welcome 2018 tax year. We know you are going to be crazy, but we are ready for whatever you plan to throw at us. And it will be a lot. In addition to starting out with the usual filing season tasks that focus on getting our 2017 tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service, there also are the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes to the tax code that will affect our 2018 tax bills. The Daily Tax Tip feature is here to help you accomplish both your 2017 filing and planning for 2018, regardless of whether you're confident enough... Read more →


While I make my coffee at home during the week, I'm a Starbucks fan on weekends. During hot Texas summers, those icy Frappuccinos are heaven. Heck, even in our not-that-cold winters, I get them. (Note to Starbucks: I sooo missed the Chile Mocha option this past holiday season. This flavor should be a regular, year-round option, especially here in Texas where chile peppers are one of the major food groups. We even have an official state pepper. But I digress. But bring it back, please!) When we do get the occasional cold spell, I'm an Espresso Macchiato fan. My drink... Read more →


The gambling loss tax deduction likely won't help the country's newest multimillionaire trim his or her 2018 tax bill. The write-off, however, still will help winners of smaller amounts. Professional gamblers, though, aren't so lucky. They'll see a limitation on how they offset their taxable winnings under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes. I've been touching base with my Florida friends and former neighbors and none of them won — or is admitting to winning! — last night's Mega Millions drawing. But some lucky Sunshine State resident is $450 million (more likely $281 million lump sum) richer today. Actually,... Read more →


The Internal Revenue Service will start accepting tax year 2017 returns on Monday, Jan. 29. Other key dates to note this 2018 filing season include the start of Free File (Jan. 12), the earliest some tax-credit-related refunds can be issued (Feb. 15+/-) and Tax Day (April 17). Ready, set, file ... on the 29th: Get out your brand new 2018 calendar and mark Jan. 29. That's the day the Internal Revenue Service will start accepting 2017 tax year returns. That's about a week later than the annual filing season started last year, meaning the agency will be under added pressure... Read more →