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August 2012

Heading out for a long Labor Day holiday break? If you need some reading for your last weekend of summer beach lounging, check out the Republican Party's official platform. OK, you'd prefer a mystery or romance novel. I get it. I'm a tax geek, not a total kill-joy. But since I am a tax geek -- and you are here at a tax blog -- here's an excerpt from the 2012 GOP platform, specifically what the party wants to do regarding our taxes: Tax Relief to Grow the Economy and Create Jobs Taxes, by their very nature, reduce a citizen's... Read more →


You should watch the Republican and Democratic conventions. You're helping pay for them. The price tags this year are expected to be nearly $55 million for the Democrats and roughly $73 million for the GOP. And taxpayer dollars are covering $36 million of those costs. The Democratic and Republican parties accepted almost $18 million each to fund their 2012 conventions. In addition, Congress OK'ed $50 million for security at each of this year's conventions so our indirect bills are even bigger. Long history of party payments: Such outlays are not new. More than $220 million of taxpayer money has been... Read more →


Hurricane Isaac hit New Orleans exactly seven years after Katrina devastated the city. While Isaac has done his share of damage -- more than two dozen people in the storm's path died, insurance costs could be as much as $2 billion by some estimates and President Obama has declared parts of Louisiana a major disaster -- things aren't as horrendous as in 2005. The loss of life and injury count were much lower because the rebuilt hurricane-protection system ringing the Crescent City held, keeping storm surge and flood waters out of New Orleans proper. But in the suburbs of LaPlace... Read more →


I know you didn't worry too much about taxes over the summer. I'm a tax geek, not a fool! And I know that with school starting again, you're distracted by all your kid-related duties or your own studies if you're a student. But when you get a minute, check out the Weekly Tax Tip. A tax tip a week can help keep the tax collector away, or at least make sure he gets as little of your money as possible. A new tip appears at the top of the ol' blog's right-hand column each Wednesday (or soon thereafter; see I... Read more →


It's a presidential election year, so we're being bombarded with pointed phrases to catch our attention and inflame our political passions. Much of the time these lines are the opponent's words, turned against him or her. And most of the time, the words being wielded as a political bludgeon are selectively edited. As my granddad, who could recite you verbatim any Old or New Testament passage you wanted at the drop of a hat, used to say, you can find anything you want to support your argument in the Good Book as long as you don't necessarily use it as... Read more →


I know the folks in waterlogged portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida probably aren't reading the ol' blog right now. They have other things on their minds. Hurricane Isaac is about to make landfall near New Orleans and the rain bands are pelting the Pelican state and its Gulf Coast neighbors. But once the clean-up begins, they and all victims of disasters need to remember that help might be available from an unlikely source: the Internal Revenue Service. When disasters strike the federal tax collector typically offers a variety of relief. Tax deadlines are extended: Individuals who reside or... Read more →


Another day, another poll and some more public perceptions for Mitt Romney to consider. The Pew Research Foundation, which earlier reported that members of the middle class primarily blame Congress for their declining fortunes, now tells us that Americans tend to view the rich as more intelligent, less honest and greedier. And, oh yeah, 58 percent of those surveyed say the rich pay too little in taxes. OK, you say, we're all envious of those making more money than us. But Pew researchers say that even those who describe themselves as upper or upper-middle class think richer folks are getting... Read more →


Republicans have gathered in Tampa to officially kick off their 2012 effort to have Mitt Romney move into the White House. The core of the Romney campaign is to focus on how he would revive the sluggish economy. But based on some recent national polls, Romney might want to keep his vice presidential choice, Paul Ryan, out of the spotlight in discussing economic issues. Ryan has been a U.S. Representative since 1999. During his almost 14 years in Congress, Ryan has moved up the Republican leadership ranks. He currently serves on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and chairs the... Read more →


The federal tax on gas is 18.4 cents per gallon. It's been at that rate since 1993. In July, the average state gasoline excise tax was 21 cents per gallon, up fractionally from the American Petroleum Institute's April gas price survey. And all other state charges -- sales, gross receipts, county and local taxes, as well as oil inspection, underground storage and various environmental fees -- account for 9.5 cents paid on a gallon of gas. These other taxes and fees also were down slightly from April. That meant the average tax amount that U.S. drivers paid on each gallon... Read more →


Shankar Iyer, a former senior research associate at Penn Specialty, had $24,000 in administrative services fees deducted from his 401(k). In one year. And you thought your 401(k) fees were bad! OK, it wasn't a normal year. It was one after the company where he had his 401(k) had filed for bankruptcy. That filing in December 2008 locked Shankar and some of his former colleagues at the Memphis, Tenn.-based chemical company out of their workplace retirement accounts. Their travails are recounted in Gretchen Morgenson's New York Times story When a 401(k) is Locked in the Freezer. Apparently, the freezing of... Read more →


The Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions are on the horizon, so political plans for taxes were hot topics last week at my other tax blog. Yet another public poll has found that most Americans think "Congress should raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans before cutting funding for public services such as food and drug safety and border security." We'll see if the current Congress will explore that possibility in a lame-duck session or leave the decision on who to tax and by how much to the new batch of Representatives and Senators who'll take office in January 2013. Any... Read more →


The Republican National Convention will be at least one day shorter thanks to Tropical Storm/Hurricane Isaac. Late this afternoon Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus announced that Monday's convention events are canceled. The group will get together to conduct business the on Tuesday, Aug. 28, afternoon ... Isaac willing. As the National Hurricane Center graphic below shows, most of the state is expected to feel some effects from Isaac. The northeast, or upper right, quadrants of tropical storms typically are the strongest, which is part of the reason the Republican convention leaders decided to be safe rather than sorry. That... Read more →


If Taxmageddon arrives on Jan. 1, 2013 -- which I don't expect to happen, but with Congress, who really knows? -- one of the taxes that will return is the marriage penalty, as I discussed with Bob Moon in his recent Marketplace radio story on fiscal cliff tax implications. Some states, however, still have laws that produce a marriage tax penalty for their residents. The Tax Foundation created a map showing the 16 states where couples are likely to pay more when filing a joint state tax return than if they filed separate individual tax returns with their state tax... Read more →


"That's right, you're not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway," sings Lyle Lovett. Or more accurately, Texas wants your taxes. Wait. Isn't the Lone Star State one of nine states that don't collect an income tax? Yep. But the Texas tax collector, as well as those in the other eight no-income-tax states, has plenty of other ways to get your money. Here it's through sales and property taxes. And right now, Texas is doing a damn fine job of collecting them judging by a report released this week by the state's Comptroller of Public Accounts. "Texas, It's Your Money"... Read more →


The Internal Revenue Service catches a lot of flak, much of it deserved. But one thing the agency has done well is its website, especially when you consider that it must deal with rapidly changing technology under the constraints of federal budget and contracting rules. Now the IRS is upgrading its Web presence once again. If you think the preview page, pictured below, looks familiar, you're right. The new home page design has been up for months. But the changes there, says the IRS, will be extended throughout the entire site on Thursday, Aug. 30. Click image to go to... Read more →


Politicians still hold back-room meetings, especially in connection with their parties' presidential nominating conventions. Such meetings have been at a fever pitch in Tampa as Republicans plan to gather there next week to officially name Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as their challengers to Barack Obama and Joe Biden. But the folks gathered in advance of the Aug. 27 Republican National Convention aren't talking about candidates. They're hammering out the GOP's 2012 party platform. And one popular item missing from this version of the party's core principles is absolute support for the mortgage interest tax deduction. The thinking is that... Read more →


We just got a letter from our former mortgage holder. The lender informed us that it "has received payment in full of your mortgage loan" and is in the process of "preparing the appropriate documents" to release the lien on our home. No, the hubby and I aren't having a mortgage burning party. We simply refinanced our loan. When we bought our Austin house seven years ago, we got what was at that time a great home loan rate. But as the rates kept dropping this year, we finally got our act together and got a new, lower rate loan... Read more →


Earlier today you read the thoughts of two of my Twitter pals, Frank Woodman and Yoenis Cespedes, on whether the name "Bush tax cuts" was still accurate or appropriate when referring to the tax rates and breaks that are set to finally expire (maybe) on Dec. 31, 2012. Now it's my turn to have the last word on the Bush tax cuts title! Bush tax cuts: slur, boast or both? Words are important. I know this from personal experience. How I put them together has been paying my bills for most of my adult life. And despite that rhyme we... Read more →


Ownership of tax rates or tax cuts

Welcome to the continuation of a weekend Twitter conversation about the name "Bush tax cuts." On Saturday, some of us tax and word nerds exchanged semantics and policy views on what to call the tax rates and breaks that are set to expire on Dec. 31, 2012. I soon realized that this topic just couldn't be addressed properly in 140 character bursts. So I offered to provide a platform for further discussion here on the ol' blog. Two of my Twitter pals took me up on that. Below is an analysis by Yoenis Cespedes. Presidential ownership of tax rates or... Read more →


What's Bush about today's tax cuts?

Over the weekend, some of us tax folks were talking via Twitter about the Bush tax cuts. Not the specifics, but the name "Bush tax cuts." Yes, we're word nerds as well as tax nerds and do we know how to spend our days off or what? As we exchanged semantics views on what to call the tax rates and breaks that are set to expire on Dec. 31, 2012, I realized that this topic just couldn't be addressed properly in 140 character bursts. So I offered to provide a platform for further discussion here on the ol' blog. Two... Read more →