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February 2013

Has the decision by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to eliminate telecommuting prompted your boss to issue a similar "get your butt into the office" edict? Sorry. I share your pain at having to now hit the road instead of commuting down the hall to your home office. But maybe the hassle of getting to work can be eased by some commuting tax breaks. Commuter benefits: Many workplaces offer their employees tax-free benefits to cover some of the costs of getting to and from the office. They're known by many names: Qualified Transportation Benefit (QTB), Commuter Savings Account (CSA) Commuter Expense... Read more →


We may hate our tax code and paying taxes, and we definitely are not very happy with the lawmakers who devise and constantly change our tax system, but U.S. taxpayers are committed to following it. That's the finding of the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board in its latest annual look at what taxpayers are thinking. In fact, the 2012 Taxpayer Attitude Survey notes that we're more adamant than we've been in recent years about following the tax laws. "The public attitude that it is not at all acceptable to cheat on your income taxes increased between 2011 and 2012 to... Read more →


Actually, tax reform will be H.R. 1. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has reserved that numerical designation for rewriting the tax code, according to The Hill newspaper's On the Money blog. Boehner has dibs on the first 10 bill numbers for the 113th Congress, but H.R. 1 generally is reserved for a signature legislative issue by the party that controls the House. "Reforming our tax code to get our economy going again and create jobs is a top priority for House Republicans,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told blogger Bernie Becker. Talking tax reform: It seems that tax reform, or at least... Read more →


Sequester, the implementation of automatic federal spending cuts to both domestic and defense programs, is set to take effect Friday, March 1, unless Congress acts. We've been here many times before, in a political game of fiscal chicken that usually ends with some sort of uneasy compromise before the worst-case scenario fully kicks in. Will that happen this time? My Congressional crystal ball is so shattered I am not venturing any prediction. But this time there's a new player in the game. Actually, there are 51 new players: the 50 states and the District of Columbia. And the state leaders... Read more →


Despite the delayed start of the 2013 tax filing season, millions of taxpayers have been able to file their 2012 tax returns. It's no secret that the folks who tend to file as soon as they can are those who are getting refunds. If you're one of them and still don't have any plans for your tax cash, today's Daily Tax Tip offers five general ideas. 1. Save it You can put your tax refund in an emergency fund. Such a stash is definitely welcome when your car needs work and your credit cards are maxed out. Open an account... Read more →


As you watch tonight's Academy Awards ceremony, listen for the winners to thank lawmakers for tax breaks. OK, it's not likely to happen, although 30 Rock's Tina Fey did just that a few years ago in accepting her NBC show's best comedy Emmy win. Fey was being more than polite. She knew that her ratings-challenged sitcom needed every bit of help it could get. The same is true every year for lots of television shows and movies. Without tax breaks, many of this year's Oscar-nominated films would not have been made. Or at least they wouldn't have been made in... Read more →


This is starting to be the least surprising news ever, but we really, really don't think very much of Congress. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that Americans' views of Republican leaders in Congress remain at near-historic lows. Democratic leaders are viewed somewhat more positively, though more of us still disapprove than approve of their job performance. So what can Representatives and Senators do to get a little love? Some members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are proposing that they tax pay cuts. "No Budget, No Pay" bills in both the House and Senate would hold... Read more →


The Internal Revenue Service is once again singing "Hurray for Hollywood." It's Academy Awards weekend, meaning stars will descend on Los Angeles. They'll receive swag bags for their participation in the Oscars ceremony. And the IRS will once again get a cut of the loot. The issue of whether the goody bags were gifts or remuneration for being part of the Oscars award presentation came to a head in 2006. That year, the IRS and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences notified stars that the value of the items in the bags must be reported as ordinary income.... Read more →


Bartering is a great way to get something when you don't have the cash. Take your toothache. In exchange for painting your dentist's office, she took a look at your pearly whites. Your dentist got a new workplace look. You got that painful tooth filled. Everyone's happy. Even better, since there was no money involved, neither of you has to worry about taxes, right? Wrong. Any time you exchange services or products for other services or products, you've participated in a barter transaction. And, as this Daily Tax Tip notes, in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, both you... Read more →


Don't worry Alabama shoppers. If you missed out on the early hours of the state's second annual Severe Weather Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday that officially began at 12:01 a.m. today, Friday, Feb. 22, you've still got plenty of time. Alabama is waiving through Sunday, Feb. 24, its 4 percent sales tax on a variety of products that could help you make it through a hurricane or other major storm. Remember, though, that local sales tax might apply to your storm-related purchases. You also might find these items of interest: Last-minute hurricane prep tips Insurance tips for storm victims No escaping... Read more →


It's been almost two months since employers began withholding Social Security taxes from workers at the rate of 6.2 percent of wages. Workers in 2011 and 2012 had a little more money to spend thanks to the payroll tax holiday. But this two-percentage-point cut in the Social Security tax withheld from workers' paychecks expired on Dec. 31, 2012. That, says a recent survey, is why we're seeing less consumer spending in early 2013. Tax Policy Center analysts estimate that the full 2013 payroll tax will mean an average loss of about $740 to every worker. And a just-released poll commissioned... Read more →


Can the 2013 tax-filing season get any more messed up? Apparently so. It started late (on Jan. 30) because Congress couldn't do its fiscal cliff job in a timely manner. That meant delays as the Internal Revenue Service had to scramble to update more than two dozen 2012 tax forms and upgrade its computer system to handle them. Then a form that was OK to file, the Child Tax Credit's Form 8812, caused some confusion among taxpayers, producing delays for the returns to which it was attached. And now a form for which thousands had to wait until mid-February to... Read more →


Every small business owner knows that work-related miles can be a valuable tax deduction. I'm not just talking out of town trips. Every time you hit the road for a legitimate business purpose, those miles can be claimed on your Schedule C. Of course, the key to maximizing your travel deduction is good record keeping. Today's technology is here to help. Mileage tracking? There's an app for that: There are dozens of smartphone apps that can help you track your travel. AppAdvice.com has examined the electronic options and come up with its list of the best. The big winner in... Read more →


Uncle Sam's all about going paperless and that includes electronic payment of tax bills, too. But one noncash method of paying federal taxes is not getting much love this filing season, according to a new survey. Of the poll participants who expect to owe additional taxes when they file their 2012 returns, only a handful said they will use a credit card to pay the U.S. Treasury, reports credit card comparison website CreditDonkey.com. Fee, fi, fo, bummer: Why? Probably because of the added cost to pay taxes with plastic. Companies that process the transaction get their cut regardless of who's... Read more →


Happy Presidents Day! This unofficial holiday -- the real federal commemoration is for George Washington's birthday -- has, sadly, become more of a sales event than a celebration of civics. But Tax Carnival #113: Presidents Day 2013 wants to do a small part to change that. In this edition, in addition to featuring tax tips and advice from contributing bloggers, we'll also highlight six people who also nearly, briefly, sort of served as acting president of the United States. This Tax Carnival theme is inspired by M. Asher Cantrell's Mental Floss article on 5 Other Americans Who Were Kinda, Sorta... Read more →


If you have the federal Presidents Day holiday off, chances are you're spending some of your free time picking up bargains at the annual February sales. Yeah, I know. It's kind of sad that we've lumped recognition of all our Commanders in Chief into one long weekend that's appreciated more as a day off from work and/or a reason to shop. C'est la capitalism. But at least the shopping might help you save on your taxes next filing season. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), also known as the fiscal cliff bill enacted earlier this year, included a... Read more →


While individual taxpayers have until April 15 this year to file their returns or get an extension, many business filers are on a different schedule. Sure, a lot of self-employed taxpayers (including me) will send in a Schedule C detailing business income, expenses and deductions as part of Form 1040 by the April deadline. But incorporated businesses and partnerships have to get their forms to the Internal Revenue Service a month earlier. That March 15 deadline is just one of the many tax differences with which millions of business tax filers must deal. It's also today's Daily Tax Tip. Dates... Read more →


If you filed your 2012 return as soon as the Internal Revenue Service starting accepting forms on Jan. 30, then chances are you are getting a refund. Most folks will take their money back from Uncle Sam as cash, either as a snail-mailed paper check or directly deposited into an account. But you also could, as noted in one of my posts last week at my other tax blog, get your refund as a U.S. savings bond. In fact, a federal income tax refund is the only way you can get an old-fashioned paper savings bond. Refund money could come... Read more →


Most taxpayers get refunds from the Internal Revenue Service. Then there are those of us who have to hand over some more money with our tax returns. The U.S. Treasury will gladly take checks, money orders, credit and debit cards and even direct payments from your bank account. These are all handy when you have a one-time tax bill to settle. But if you regularly send the IRS money, be it every April with your Form 1040 or estimated tax payments four times a year, Today's Tax Tip looks at an option you might want to consider, the Electronic Federal... Read more →


Sure the sales tax itemized deduction is back on the tax books (for 2012 filings and through 2013), but in real life most of us would prefer no tax on our purchases. Some Alabama and Maryland shoppers get just that this month, at least on a few items. Yep, the 2013 states and local sales tax holidays are here. Maryland, my Maryland tax holiday: The Old Line State kicks off this year's no-tax events with its Shop Maryland Energy Weekend. As the name indicates, buyers of certain Energy Star rated appliances and other energy saving products will not have to... Read more →