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July 2008

June 2008

Fuel taxes increase again

The summer vacation driving season is here. Do you know what your state's fuel tax rate is? The American Petroleum Institute (API) does. The national trade association for the U.S. oil and natural gas industry regularly tracks gasoline and diesel fuel tax rates. Today it released its latest data compilation, which reflects changes that take effect tomorrow, July 1. States with fuel tax changes since January include Connecticut (diesel only), Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska and Washington. API also tracks rate increases that are due to sales tax increases or increases in the price of fuel. States in which these... Read more →


Have you called your stock broker yet?

It seems a like a lot of people have been tethered to their financial advisers and stock brokers as the market has slipped into negative territory. With oil prices still climbing, the market's bearishness, and the willingness of investors to make reactionary moves, is likely to continue today, I keep a spreadsheet of our holdings and usually enter the end-of-month values for our investments. Over the years, I've found that's often a discouraging exercise, especially midyear, when many folks make regular portfolio adjustments, and at the end of the year, when investors employ tax-related investment strategies. So rather than see... Read more →


So that's why Mrs. McCain didn't want
to talk about her taxes

Remember when Cindy McCain, wife of presumptive GOP presidential candidate John McCain, took a hard line about not disclosing her tax filings? Of course, that was specifically about revealing her federal tax returns. And, of course, political pressure prevailed and she released a little bit of information. It now appears that Mrs. McCain had good reason to be leery of opening up her tax life. Newsweek reports that the property tax on a piece of California real estate owned by the McCain trust has gone unpaid for four years. According to the article in the upcoming July 7-14, 2008, issue,... Read more →


Wesley Snipes wants to leave U.S.

Action film actor Wesley Snipes wants out of the country. Not permanently. Just for a few months to make some more movies. But since Snipes was convicted in March of three misdemeanor counts of failing to file returns on $13.5 million in earnings, he has to get permission from the court. The next month, Snipes was sentenced to three years in federal prison, but he has been free on bail while his appeal works its way through the courts. Last week Snipes' attorneys filed a formal request with the Florida federal court that would allow the actor to travel this... Read more →


Honda hybrid credit drops again July 1

Attention hybrid shoppers. If you want a gas-electric Honda, you'd better get to a dealership soon. On July 1 the tax credit for all Honda hybrids will be reduced yet again. The Honda tax break started its mandated phaseout on Jan. 1. That day, the original credit amounts for each Honda hybrid was cut in half, and that lower level continues for purchases made through June 30. But after that, the tax savings will be just a quarter of the original amounts. The table below shows the Honda hybrid credits for eligible vehicles bought last year (and which still can... Read more →


Money Hacks Carnival #18

You know it, you love it, you want more of it. I'm talking, of course, about money. So you'll definitely want to visit the Money Hacks Carnival #18. This week's host is Hank at My Investing Blog and he gives us a wealth of financial blogging tips, along with a lesson on the history of money. My post on getting tax help to pay for your kid's day camp is among the many, many, many Money Hacks posts. Here are few timely, summer travel related posts that also are part of the carnival: $$$ Broke Grad Student's very timely 9... Read more →


Another auto expense

All the attention of late has been on gasoline prices, including here on the ol' blog with items on gas taxes (here, here, here and here) and the bump in IRS mileage deduction rates. But as any driver can tell you, another big vehicular cost is insurance. June is insurance month for the hubby and me. We pay half of our annual auto policy premium now and the other half in December. Our homeowners' coverage also is due here in a few days. While our home coverage keeps going up (about $150 a year in 2006 and 2007), primarily because... Read more →


'Four legs good, two legs bad'

I'm sure all you "Animal Farm" fans immediately recognized that headline as a quote from George Orwell's satirical novel. Today is Orwell's birthday. He was born June 25, 1903, as Eric Arthur Blair. Being a writer and semi-successful rabble-rouser myself, I love Wikipedia's description of Orwell's writing style: "Marked by concise descriptions of social conditions and events and a contempt for all types of authority." The "two legs bad" maxim immediately came to mind when I saw a story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on how pets are the foreclosure crisis' other victims. "When a homeowner has to leave his... Read more →


Sept. 28: Politically Religious Day

Or maybe it's Religiously Political Day. Whatever you want to call it, you might want to go ahead and mark that last Sunday in September on your calendar. It could be an interesting one, from spiritual, political and tax standpoints. On that day, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a conservative legal group, plans to have 50 pastors endorse candidates from their pulpits. The goal, according to the New York Times' political blog The Caucus, is to provoke a legal challenge to the tax law that prohibits religious organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. The ADF, in its... Read more →


Documenting your business deductions

The upcoming change in the business mileage rate got me thinking a bit about other tax considerations of businesses. And then, in perusing some other tax blogs this morning, I ran across a very good item about accounting for your business tax deductions. Whoa! Twilight Zone! In "Defending Your Deductions," Joe Kristan of Roth & Company's Tax Update blog cuts right to the chase: Paperwork matters. Some deductions, notes Joe, require support beyond what you might normally get from your company's bookkeeping records. And he elaborates on what the tax law requires you to hang onto when it comes to... Read more →


$4 per gallon gas prompts increase
in IRS mileage rates

I just got back from a story interview on the other side of Austin. The round trip was 47.8 miles. So you can imagine my delight, upon returning to my office, in learning that the IRS today hiked the optional standard business mileage rate by 8 cents. I was not, however, so pleased to discover upon closer reading of my tax news e-mails that my business travel earlier this afternoon can't be counted under the new 58.5 cents per mile rate. The higher calculation level doesn't kick in until July 1. Guess I'll be pushing off any further face-to-face interviews,... Read more →


Oh BLEEP! George Carlin has died

Iconic counterculture comedian George Carlin is dead. Carlin's publicist said the 71-year-old comic, who had a history of heart trouble, went into St. John's Medical Center in Santa Monica, Calif., on Sunday afternoon complaining of chest pain and died later that evening. Just last week, Carlin was named as recipient of the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, a lifetime achievement award presented to an outstanding comedian. The presentation was to be televised this November. NOTE: Links in the following two paragraph go to YouTube clips, parts of which some readers might find offensive. Everyone has a favorite... Read more →


Chicago demanding amusement taxes
from online resellers

Online entities are becoming the preferred avenue for states and localities to collect much-needed tax revenue. As I blogged about here, Amazon is battling it out with various jurisdictions over sales taxes on its Internet transactions. Now, Chicago says eBay and StubHub owe the city amusement taxes on tickets to Chicago-based events that were sold or resold through the popular Web sites. Technically, Chicago officials are trying to get the money from just one company, since eBay bought StubHub last year. Either way, contends the city in complaints filed in Cook County Circuit Court, eBay and StubHub are "reseller's agents"... Read more →


Rebates could cost IRS $862 million

As IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman was testifying before Congress last week (blogged here) about how his agency was dealing with the delivery of millions of economic stimulus payments, the Government Accountability Office chimed in with its findings on that issue. The GAO report Tax Administration: Data on the Effects of the Economic Stimulus Program on the Internal Revenue Service's Telephone Service and Costs (GAO-08-916T) looks at exactly what the title says. The report's summary notes that the hastily passed rebate measure "created [an] additional, unanticipated workload for IRS and required IRS to act quickly to deal with the public's... Read more →


Tax help for summer camp costs

Summer is officially here and for many kids, that means camp. For a couple of summers, I spent time at Cisco Junior College learning how to twirl. A baton, not just how to better spin around! Although the classes didn't help me make it as a majorette leading the Kermit High School band on parade routes, it was a fun experience. That camp of my youth is no longer around, but another Texas school, Kilgore College, offers a similar baton camp experience. Rock camps, which I blogged about last year, are a big deal here in music-mad Austin. And speaking... Read more →


Storm victims get extra 1040ES filing time

Midwesterners who are coping with flooded homes and businesses have one less thing to worry about right now. The IRS has given taxpayers in some flood-ravaged areas extra time to make their second 2008 estimated tax payment, which was due on Monday. The tax-filing and payment deadlines is postponed in disaster-area counties in Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin. Self-employed individuals, retirees, businesses and others in the affected areas who make quarterly estimated tax payments will have more time to file various returns and pay any taxes due. Due dates vary, depending upon location. Earlier this spring, the IRS granted similar relief... Read more →


Plea entered in foreign tax evasion case

Remember the brouhaha about folks stashing cash and other income producing assets in Alpine bank accounts. If not, you can refresh your memory with my blog post from February about the expanding Liechtenstein tax inquiry and the additional links within that item. Now some of those tax-evading chickens are coming home to roost. Bradley C. Birkenfeld, a former UBS executive, pled guilty this week in a Fort Lauderdale federal courtroom to one count of conspiring to defraud the United States. By doing do, he admitted that he helped California billionaire real estate developer Igor Olenicoff avoid U.S. income taxes on... Read more →


HEART Act now official

This week the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax, or HEART, Act was signed into law. It continues or adds several tax breaks for members of the military. They include allowing combat pay to be counted in figuring the Earned Income Tax Credit; permitting some penalty-free withdrawals from retirement accounts; and easing access to unspent amounts held in health flexible spending arrangements. The new law also will make it easier for thousands of active-duty military families to qualify for the economic stimulus payment. Previously, some families were denied economic stimulus payments because one spouse is an immigrant and does not... Read more →


IRS still looking for 5M rebate recipients

Around 5 million people are eligible for rebate checks, but have yet to file the necessary 1040 forms to collect the money. Some of these folks are like the hubby and me, procrastinators who filed for an extension. But the most of the yet-to-be-delivered checks are destined for individuals who receive Social Security and some veterans' benefits. That group, which usually doesn't have to file tax returns, is still lagging despite IRS rebate notification efforts. IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman (that's him there at right) told lawmakers at a hearing Thursday on the rebate process (blogged about here) that the... Read more →


Congress taking a look at rebate process

As I type, two House Ways and Means subcommittees -- Oversight and Social Security -- are questioning IRS and Social Security Administration officials on the status of the economic stimulus payments. In announcing the hearing, Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis (D-Georgia) and Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Michael R. McNulty (D-New York) noted that, "To administer the rebate checks, the IRS and the Social Security Administration (SSA) received an additional appropriation of $50.7 million and $31 million, respectively, to ensure that the rebate checks are fully and properly paid." To see how well that money is being spent, the hearing will... Read more →