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November 2012

Those numbers geeks at the Tax Policy Center are at it again. They've come up with a fiscal cliff tax calculator (based on the version created back in the 2010 lame duck session when the Bush-era tax cuts were first set to expire) that gives us an idea of what our taxes might be depending on what happens with Congress and the president between now and the end of the year. Since there are so many options floating around Capitol Hill on how to deal with this impending fiscal fall, TPC has given us several options to mull over. We... Read more →


As you've already figured out by my presence here today, I did not win the Powerball drawing last night. In fact, I only got one number, the checkmarked 22. Despite what the ticket enthusiastically proclaims, chances are not good that you or I will ever be next. Powerball itself notes that the odds of winning the record $587.5 million jackpot were 1 in 175,223,510. Heck, I couldn't even beat the 1 in 55.41 odds to win $4! If I had, that would have at least covered the last two tickets I bought; yes, I also played the previous drawing. Still,... Read more →


Every day we become more reliant on technology. Americans spent nearly $1.47 billion on Cyber Monday, a 17 percent increase over last year's Monday after Thanksgiving shopping spree. It also was the biggest online spending day in history, according to research by ComScore Inc. It looks like more states collecting online sales taxes was no match for the ease of electronic purchasing. Increasing online taxes, too: More of us each year also are turning to our computers to file our taxes, both with the Internal Revenue Service and state tax departments. But recent theft of state tax information by computer... Read more →


The modern art showpiece "Canyon" has a new permanent home at New York City's Museum of Modern Art thanks to a $41 million settlement with the Internal Revenue Service. Entrance of Museum of Modern Art via Wikimedia Commons The work by Robert Rauschenberg is a combine, a mixed-media collage featuring photographs, cardboard, wood, fabric and a stuffed bald eagle on canvas. The ornithological symbol of the United States is why Uncle Sam got involved. The 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act make it a crime to possess, sell, purchase, barter, transport, import... Read more →


As I drove my mother home after Thanksgiving, I wanted to kick myself for not stopping first at the Shell station near my home to fill up. Pete's Route 66 Gas Station Museum, Williams, Ariz., by Loco Steve/Flickr I had plenty of fuel to make it the 50 miles. But I should have topped off to take advantage of the station's regular gas that was going for $3.09 a gallon. I felt increasingly stupid as we sped past gas station after gas station with signs announcing $3.12 then $3.15 then $3.19 per gallon prices. Then I drove into her small... Read more →


First there was Black Friday. Then came Small Business Saturday. So Cyber Monday naturally followed. We would have had Dallas Cowboys Suck Sunday, but they did that on Thanksgiving Day. (Sorry. Digressing and still working through my life-long fan issues.) And today is #GivingTuesday. The idea, being promoted by GivingTuesday.org and founded by a coalition of nonprofits, business, individuals led by New York City's 92nd Street Y, was created as a day on which America comes together to give back. As the hastag in front of the name indicates, Twitter and other social media outlets are key to the program.... Read more →


How's your Cyber Monday going? I hope you haven't run into any shopping or sartorial problems. Or, of course, any tax issues. Use taxes ignored: Online shopping has become a popular tax haven. Technically, though, you're probably breaking your state's tax law. If you live in a state that has a sales tax (only five don't) and you buy an item somewhere else, either in another state that you visited or via mail or online, and the seller doesn't collect your state's sale tax, you're supposed to pay it. You do so by filing a use tax return. Use taxes... Read more →


How was your Thanksgiving travel? Most treks these past few days were personal. But when we hit the road for business, medical or charitable reasons or we move in connection with our jobs, we might be able to deduct the mileage. The Internal Revenue Service gives us the option of calculating the actual costs of using a vehicle for these purposes -- such as gas, oil, tolls, registration fees, repairs, tires, parking fees, insurance and the like -- or by claiming the standard mileage rates. Most of us use the standard rates. The IRS evaluates the business, medical and moving... Read more →


Lindsay Lohan got a special gift this Thanksgiving. Charlie Sheen gave Lohan $100,000 which she reportedly used to pay down her almost quarter million dollar federal tax bill. The two actors, who shared scenes in the upcoming Scary Movie 5 as well as separate troubles with substance abuse, bonded during the movie, according to TMZ. Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan scene from Scary Movie 5 Lindsay and Charlie talked about everything, including at one point Lindsay's ongoing tax problems, reports TMZ. Lindsay initially refused financial help to lessen her Internal Revenue Service troubles, says TMZ, but last week she received the... Read more →


Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I'm thankful that there's enough going on in the tax world to provide blog topics here and last week at my other tax blog. The official arrival on Black Friday of the holiday shopping season also means the official arrival of the holiday seasonal worker season. But worker misclassification can lead to tax and labor law violations and cost wrongly categorized workers tax money and benefits. Sharing the seasonal spotlight this year is the fiscal cliff, that combination of expiring tax breaks and automatic spending cuts that will push America -- and us taxpayers... Read more →


State tax collectors join retailers in celebrating Black Friday

Did you survive Black Friday? My mother and I ran to a nearby shopping center to pick up a few things, but no large-scale purchasing for us. We apparently were in the minority. Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy Kevin Sterneckert, vice president of retail research at Gartner Group, expected more than half of us to do some form of "show-rooming" on Black Friday. That looked about right at the northwest Austin retail mecca we dropped in on yesterday. Business hopes are particularly high this holiday season, with the U.S. economy finally starting to... Read more →


Have you finished your Black Friday shopping? My mother and I -- at her insistence, I must make clear -- will run out to pick up a few things later this afternoon. Unlike the crazy sheep most shoppers today, we're not looking for bargains or buying Christmas gifts. I understand both of those goals, but I still don't understand why every person must go searching for them on one day. But I digress. Seasonal staffing time: Chances are good that as thousands us head to our local stores between now and the end of the year we will be helped... Read more →


How's your Thanksgiving Day going so far? If you're like most of America, you've got a big crowd at your place or you're one of the crowd at some other relative's or friend's house. Thanksgiving meal photo by surlygirl via Flickr Creative Commons About nine-in-ten adults, officially 89 percent, said they have their Thanksgiving meal with members of their family, according to a Pew Research Center conducted in 2010. Although Pew asked the Turkey Day traditions question a couple of years ago, other anecdotal reports and my own observations indicate that the massive family Thanksgiving meal (attendees in addition to... Read more →


The family's gathered for Thanksgiving. It's great to see Mom and Dad, the grandparents and especially the kids who've been off at college. Here's one more thing to be thankful for. You can pay your happy-to-be-home student's spring 2013 semester tuition by the end of 2012 and then use those expenses to claim education tax breaks. The education assistance you should be looking at is the American Opportunity education tax credit. Exhausted student photo by D Sharon Pruitt (aka Pink Sherbert Photography via Flickr Creative Commons) You can claim it based on qualified education expenses you pay for yourself, your... Read more →


Rich. Well-to-do. Millionaires. Billionaires. Affluent. 1 percent. Wealthy. All those terms are being tossed about as Congress debates, yet again, how much tax the country's top earners should pay. But the underlying discussion is just who are these people? Most of us have an idea of who's rich. We think Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison and beau coup entertainment and sports stars. If we look beyond the U.S. borders, there's Carlos Slim Helú of Mexico and Bernard Arnault of France, which is having its own taxation controversy. Now some U.S. taxpayers who definitely aren't in the same league as... Read more →


I made a contribution to my self-employed retirement plan today. I wanted to get it in before I even started to think about holiday gifts and was tempted to short my future nonworking self. I'll make my final 2012 tax year contribution in 2013 when I do our taxes and compute precisely how much I made this year and how much of those earnings I'm allowed under tax law to set aside for my golden years. Putting money in a retirement plan, either a self-employed account or an IRA or a 401(k), does suck some money out of your daily... Read more →


Dennis Kucinich, U.S. Representative from Ohio and erstwhile Democratic presidential candidate, is at it again. Kucinich, known as much for his wife, a UFO sighting at Shirley MacLaine's house, for wanting to impeach President Obama over Libya (last year, not in connection with the Benghazi consulate attack) and proposals such as creating a Department of Peace, now is taking advantage of the Hostess Brands' closure to resurrect a fat tax bill he first introduced years ago. Kucinich's 112th Congress effort is H.R. 6599, the Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act. The bill's number also is this week's By the Numbers figure.... Read more →


If you think we're caught in a time loop, the topics covered last week at my other tax blog will only add to your déjà vu. Superstorm Sandy continued to get attention, but this time it was because unscrupulous folks are trying to take advantage of the storm's damage, and its victims, for their own gain. Not only are fake charities being created to dupe donors, but some crooks are posing as Internal Revenue Service reps to get access to storm vicitms' personal and tax data. So beware of Sandy charity scams. Then we have Occupy Wall Street. You remember... Read more →


How optimistic are you that the White House and Congress will cobble together a deal to keep the U.S. economy from falling off the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1, 2013? I'm hedging my bets and predicting a short-term deal (six months or maybe a year) by year's end that would keep the worst from happening but not really make anybody happy. We are, after all, at the mercy of politicians. I hope I'm wrong. I hope both sides can agree to something a little more permanent, whatever that means on Capitol Hill. And I really hope that whatever the decision,... Read more →


It's a big weekend here in Austin. After a five year absence, Formula 1 racing has returned to the United States and the Circuit of the Americas track just southeast of the Lone Star State capital is host. While the multi-million dollar F1 machines are speeding around the track, folks who aren't race fans are trying to go about their business in a city where travel already is a challenge. Photo courtesy Circuit of the Americas That's why I'm glad I work from home and don't have to deal with a daily commute. But I must pay attention to the... Read more →