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October 2010

Scary! Dead celebrities still make money; Plus, will estate tax stay dead?

Just in time for Halloween, Forbes has issued its annual list of the top-earning dead celebrities. Michael Jackson never made the magazine's annual Celebrity 100 list during his life, but in death, the late King of Pop rules. He made more money over the past year than any other musician or actor, dead or alive. That's definitely thrilling news for MJ's estate. Jackson not only took the No.1 spot on Forbes' 10th annual dead-celeb money makers, raking in gross earnings of $275 million, he out-earned the other 12 deceased stars on the list combined. Even more impressive: The Jackson estate's... Read more →

Washington, D.C., was packed Saturday with folks attending Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's joint Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. The Comedy Central pundits' assembly was touted as a gathering of people who've been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs or are looking for work, aka the Busy Majority. "If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence, we couldn't," wrote Stewart on his website announcement of the rally. "That's sort of the point." Many of the attendees, however, had no problem displaying their thoughts,... Read more →

Tax geeks, wonks and me

No, that headline is not a description of my Halloween constume. I'm still deciding. Neither is it the title of a new tax-themed television series. By the way, what ever happened to that Ron Howard/David Krumholtz "Tax Man" program pitched to Fox? My headline refers to a list complied by CPA Trendlines of 64 Tax Blogs for Geeks and Wonks. The directory is divided into categories including tax policy blogs by American professors, by think tanks and blogs specializing in state and local taxes. The final grouping is what CPA Trendlines calls tax blogs that help American taxpayers make sense... Read more →

If you're a fan of the film Inception, this suggestion on how to celebrate Halloween is for you. Thanks to Blastr for the intriguingly infuriating way to get in the spooky spirit. But if you're a more traditional Jack o' Lantern fan, MamaPop has some designs that should appeal to you. Personally, I found the Justin Bieber pumpkin head from gourd carver, and photographer, extraordinaire Matt McFarland just too terrifying! So what do pumpkins have to do with taxes? Now don't go getting picky on me as the Eve of All Saints' Day nears! Just enjoy. OK. If you must... Read more →

IRS paid more than $111 million in erroneous stimulus-related tax benefits

If people dressed as Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, The Situation and various Twilight characters aren't scary enough for you this Halloween (and those get-ups are why adults should not be allowed to don costumes!), you can read the IRS watchdog report that reveals the agency let almost $111.4 million in stimulus-related tax payments go out to unqualified filers. "The passage of two significant tax laws impacted the 2010 Filing Season and presented additional challenges for the IRS," notes Michael Phillips, Deputy Inspector General for Audit for the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, in the Sept. 30 report.... Read more →

Most folks are obsessing over how the expiring Bush tax cuts might affect individual taxpayers, but when it comes to businesses, a lot of other factors come into play. So the Tax Foundation analyzes each year the tax climates of the 50 states to determine which states, from a tax standpoint, are the most business-friendly and which tend to cause companies to flee their borders. This year, South Dakota is the winner. At the other end of the scale is New York. Click on the image, or here, for a larger view. You can find out more about the study... Read more →

In preparation for the upcoming 2011 filing season, I've been examining which stories and tax tips from this past tax season can simply be tweaked (primarily number/inflation changes) and which ones will need to be totally rewritten. Right now, the answer is "I don't know," since we're all waiting for Congress to return and deal with tax legislation -- the expiring Bush tax cuts, stimulus tax breaks, tax extenders -- in a lame-duck session. As I was discussing this with a colleague, she uttered words (OK, e-mailed them) that I'm sure have passed all our lips (or keyboards) at one... Read more →

State sales tax collections stall

Perhaps one of the reasons that the Idaho Tax Commission was so tough on the kids selling pumpkins from their front yard is that collection of sales taxes is stalling nationwide. Things are so bad in Washington state that voters there are being asked to approve on Nov. 2 ballot Initiative 1098, which would tax wealthier residents. If the ballot question passes, Washington state individuals with annual incomes of more than $200,000 (and couples making more than $400,000) would owe a 5 percent tax on the money. A 9 percent tax would apply to individuals with income exceeding $500,000 or... Read more →

Idaho family's pumpkin stand cited by tax officials for permit, sales tax violations

I've been holding off on blogging about this to see what the ultimate outcome might be. However, since the tax wheels are grinding slowly in Idaho and prime pumpkin season will soon be over, here goes. By now you've probably heard of the situation in Lewiston, Idaho, where a family decided to make a few extra bucks this fall by selling pumpkins from their front yard. The parents, being good marketers, put their two young, tow-headed kids out front to handle the transactions. Dan Charais told the Lewiston Tribune that he thought it would be a great way for his... Read more →

IRS gives North Carolina storm victims more time to file, pay taxes

My headline is not news to long-time readers of the ol' blog. Y'all all know all too well that I'm a Weather Channel groupie and a life-long obsessive personality when it comes to destructive storms. So I blog frequently about the special tax treatment that's usually available to folks who endure a natural disaster. The most recent such circumstance was in North Carolina, which was struck by severe storms, flooding and straight-line winds in late September. Soon after the weather wreaked havoc there, the IRS granted tax relief to affected residents and businesses, giving them more time to meet impending... Read more →

End of sales tax on Massachusetts liquor?

I enjoy a beer or a glass of wine now and then. And the last couple of weeks have been crazy enough (out-of-town travel, story deadlines, special events) to drive me to drink. But I suspect the folks in Massachusetts are thinking a lot more about booze right about now than I am. That's because Bay State voters will decide on Nov. 2 whether to end the state's sales tax collection on alcoholic beverages in situations where the potent potable is already subject to the state's excise tax. The excise tax is collected at the wholesale level, but consumers essentially... Read more →

Biden indicates willingness to discuss extending tax cuts for the wealthy

Was it just a case of Joe Biden being his old chatterbox self, or is the Obama Administration really considering giving somewhat on tax cuts for the rich? When the Vice President appeared last week on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capital with Al Hunt," Biden told the host, "We're open to speak to the Republicans, if they really mean it. If they're talking about deficit reduction, if they're willing to move, I think there's a possibility" of extending the tax cuts for households making more than $250,000. Obama aides quickly downplayed Biden's comments, saying the VP was simply repeating the Administration's... Read more →

Colbert: Tax Shelter Skelter

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert explains why we need to keep George W. Bush's tax cuts alive. The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c Tax Shelter Skelter Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive To be rich now means to live in anxiety, notes Colbert. Ahh, to have such worries. Related posts: Colbert: Defusing the coming 'tax bomb' Flight of 'golden geese' taxpayers Democrat vs. Republican tax cut graphics Don't hate me because I'm rich Taxes, wealth and relativity A look at who's paying how much taxes 'Tax us more,' say some rich Americans... Read more →

The hubby and I finally watched the Mad Men season finale that we had taped while we were traveling. A few thoughts from the show. First, Betty is a bitch. She's not just a terrible mother, she's a terrible person. If she doesn't appear in any episodes next season, that's just fine with me (and Sally!). Second, Don, Don, Don. Sure, Megan is gorgeous, has a brain and is great with your kids, especially compared to your ex (see the first point above). And yes, you've been remarkably successful in creating a "new" you all these years. Photo courtesy AMC... Read more →

A provision in the recently enacted Small Business Jobs and Credit Act now offers some employees a new way to enhance their retirement savings. Under the law, certain amounts in 401(k) workplace retirment plans can be rolled into workplace Roth 401(k)s. The conversions are also allowed for 401(k) counterparts: 403(b) plans for nonprofits and 457(b) plans governmental jobs. The reason for wanting to change traditional 401(k) money to Roth 401(k) cash is the same as with traditional and Roth IRAs. When the regular retirement account money is withdrawn, you'll owe taxes on it at your ordinary income tax rate. But... Read more →

Expiring tax cuts might just do that

Not to run this expiring tax cuts situation into the ground, but this a tax blog. So, from the be careful what you wish for file, Reuters reports that Republican victories in the midterm elections boost the odds that Congress will let the Bush-era tax cuts die at year's end. That possibility is, of course, just the opposite of what the GOP wants. Polls indicate that Republicans will make substantial gains on Capitol Hill on Nov. 2. But those new members of Congress won't be seated until January 2011. And action on the tax cuts is needed by Dec. 31.... Read more →

"Several tax cuts are slated to expire at the end of the year, which means that the lame-duck Congress will face several tough decisions come November. To hear campaigning lawmakers tell it, however, the only tax issue out there is whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. The debate and the work can't end there." That's the assessment of pending tax legislation in One-Note Tax Debate, an editorial in today's New York Times. As the opinion piece notes, Bush tax cuts and tax breaks in the 2009 Obama stimulus package are scheduled to expire at the end... Read more →

I spent part of last week at my alma mater, Texas Tech University. I always enjoy going back to the campus; it's a lovely place. I particularly like meeting today's students. Times have changed since I was an undergrad (and no, I'm not telling you how many years ago that was, but thanks for asking), meaning there are lots of different pressures on kids today. But despite the challenges facing them, I'm always energized by the students' enthusiasm, their insights and observations and their willingness to talk with us more experienced (yeah, "experienced," that's the description I'm going to use!)... Read more →

The midterm election is just two weeks away and Democrats are in good shape because for the last two years every working American has seen his or her federal taxes go down. Say what? That's the reaction of most U.S. taxpayers. But it's true -- that being the statement that federal taxes have been reduced, not the part about Democratic candidates being in good political shape this year. I'm talking about the Making Work Pay tax credit. You remember this. It was the centerpiece of the 2009 Obama stimulus measure and, for 2009 and 2010 tax years, has cut income... Read more →

10 ways Uncle Sam can cut spending

Government spending always gets extra attention in election years. That's particularly true in 2010 with the rise of the Tea Party movement. But even before this grassroots group began getting a lot of attention, the Obama Administration had proposed a fiscal 2011 budget with 126 cost saving measures totaling $23 billion. Some of the Administration's proposals are major budget cuts, such as the reduction or deletion of specific programs. Others are smaller measures that apply to certain government departments. But, says CNBC, if some of the smaller, common cost-saving proposals were enacted across the whole federal government, the savings could... Read more →