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October 2013

Today is Halloween, when kids and adults alike overindulge in candy, enjoy dressing up (more than usual) and generally celebrate being scared. But there's nothing like getting a letter from the Internal Revenue Service, on Oct. 31 or any other day of the year, to really strike terror in even tax-abiding hearts. I speak from personal experience. The IRS conducted a correspondence audit on one of my returns. Another year, I got a refund check that was much larger than I expected. I must admit that the extra money was scarier. The check -- pre-direct deposit days -- showed up... Read more →


The Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) Foundation says the state's new candy tax is a constitutional trick and is suing to eliminate the tax on the sweet treats. Candy is only one thing subject to the state's new tax, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Sales tax also will be tacked on next year to the price of soft drinks, cigarettes, advertising materials and food containers. But this Halloween week it is candy that's on most folks' minds. If the law stands, treats for little goblins and ghouls this time next year will cost more. Constitutional tax question:... Read more →


Whenever my brother and I balked at what was on our plates, our dad told us that if we were hungry enough, we'd eat anything. Apparently that also applies if your appetite is whetted by an attempt to avoid arrest for tax identity theft. Ogiesoba City Osula was arrested in 2011 after police in a Cincinnati suburb caught him with $300,000 in cash and money orders, as well as numerous debit cards. Federal prosecutors said Osula ate one of the debit cards in an attempt to conceal evidence that linked him to a wider tax fraud conspiracy. There's no word... Read more →


As you get older, you end up at the doctor's office a lot more. Most of the time it's for routine things, such as a cold you just can't shake like you did when you were younger. Other times, though, it's for more complex and costly treatments. I've been discovering this inevitable truth over the last few years. Today, in fact, I spent the morning at an out-patient surgery center where my ophthalmologist removed a cataract. My doctor says I'm supposed to be resting my eyes this afternoon, both the just operated on right one as well as the now... Read more →


What's your favorite search engine? If you're a fan of CBS' legal drama "The Good Wife" it's ChumHum. Since ChumHum is not real, the AP Stylebook hasn't ruled on how it is to be written. It's shown up in various publications and on myriad websites as chumhum, Chumhum, Chum Hum and, my preference, ChumHum. The Googlesque company has been a recurring client for the fictional firm of Lockhart Gardner as a way to explore ripped (off) from the headlines story lines. ChumHum has played a key role in the show's second season (2011) in examining the legal intricacies of Internet... Read more →


Every year at least one member of Congress makes a big deal out of Internal Revenue Service employees who have unpaid tax bills. The outrage usually is expressed primarily to make political points, but it is a big deal. Folks who are in charge of collecting our taxes need to be current on their tax obligations. That's why the IRS can fire employees who do not file their Form 1040s on time and/or don't pay (or make arrangements to pay) their tax debts. IRS contractors, however, are not held to that same standard. And some of the contract employees apparently... Read more →


Sophia Loren, Italy's most renowned, honored and for moviegoers of a certain age hottest actress has been cleared of tax evasion charges after nearly 40 years. You read that right. The 79-year-old actress was convicted of and served jail time on charges from 39 years ago that she did not pay taxes on some film earnings. At issue was Loren's 1974 tax return. She declared less income to Italian tax authorities that filing year because, argued Loren, her compensation for work on Vittorio De Sica's The Voyage/Il Viaggio was deferred. That payment arrangement dropped her into a lower tax bracket,... Read more →


Just like Sen. Ted Cruz, I'm on my spouse's company health care policy. That and a Texas address are the only thing the Tea Party darling and I share. Because Ted and Heidi Nelson Cruz and the hubby and I have workplace-provided medical insurance, we get a chance in the coming weeks to decide exactly what type of coverage and other related workplace benefits we want for the coming year. Yep, it's annual workplace open enrollment season. Like many employer-provided plans, our options are part of a cafeteria plan, so named because they allow employees to select benefits from a... Read more →


Did you, like me, think that the Internal Revenue Service's decision to push back the start of the 2014 tax filing season was because of this October's federal government shutdown? Well, says the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, we were wrong. Next filing season's delay until Jan. 28 or later can be blamed on Obamacare. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the head of the House tax-writing committee, says it appears that the IRS is putting a higher priority on implementing Obamacare, the nickname given the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health reform law, than tending to its core mission of... Read more →


You remember the Internal Revenue Service's inappropriate targeting of groups seeking tax-exempt status based on the organizations' political leanings, right? When the word about the clumsy application review process was leaked to the media by now retired IRS executive Lois Lerner in advance of a damaging Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report, Congress jumped right into the middle of the mess. Republican-led House committees held what seemed like daily hearings on IRS tax-exempt review techniques, particularly as they applied to Tea Party and other conservative groups. Democrats countered with evidence that liberal and progressive groups also got added... Read more →


I hate it when I'm right. Cue hubby laughter. OK, I don't. But I do hate that my fear of a delayed 2014 tax filing season is coming true. The Internal Revenue Service announced this afternoon that it won't meet its original Jan. 21, 2014, filing season start date. The IRS now expects to start accepting and processing 2013 individual tax returns no earlier than Jan. 28, 2014. If the tax agency can't make up as much work as it hopes, next year's filing season even could be pushed back to Feb. 4. A final official, though still likely delayed,... Read more →


I haven't had a piece of tax birthday cake for a while, so I'm cutting into one today to celebrate this day 27 years ago when the Tax Reform Act of 1986 became law. As I noted two years ago at the historic tax law's quarter century mark, I was working on Capitol Hill back then for a Representative who served on the Ways and Means Committee. I remember how Democrats and Republicans worked together, each side giving and taking, and the world didn't end. President Ronald Reagan, surrounded by Members of Congress from both parties, signs the Tax Reform... Read more →


The holiday season is approaching. Yes, those were Christmas items Hampton Roads shoppers spotted in local stores last month. And with Halloween on the way, other retailers nationwide are starting their annual shopping sales pushes. Many folks, however, including me, do our gift shopping, especially for the holidays, online. There are no crowds, you can shop at 3 a.m. and, for some buyers, the purchases are still sales-tax free. But that's changing in more and more states. And next month, Amazon shoppers in Wisconsin will see sales taxes added to their purchases from the Seattle-based online company. New Amazon tax... Read more →


For the last few days of September and the first 16 days of October, much of the attention was on one Representative and one Senator. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led a fight to defund Obamacare and egged on House Republicans to do the same, leading in large part to the government shutdown. That made things difficult for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as he tried to bring the opposing factions of his party together. However, now that a deal has been reached to reopen federal facilities, the focus has shifted to 29 members of Congress. They are the bipartisan group... Read more →


A friend of mine was slow in making his reservations for FinCon13, the personal finance blogger conference here in St. Louis, so he got stuck at not only at another hotel, but also in a smoking room. Wow! I didn't know those existed any more. I thought lodgings that allowed smoking were a thing of the past. I remember those smoke haze days of yore well. I grew up with smokers in my family. I remember when people lit up cigarettes during restaurant meals, in movie theaters, on planes and yes, in hotels and motels. I also smoked for years,... Read more →


If you're of a certain age, you remember what it was like when you got back to work after taking off a week or two. You were swamped. In those days, we didn't have cell phones or Internet access to email boxes or even email boxes. Things literally just piled up, waiting for us to return to our desks. Yes, I know, alphabet generation. It was the technological the stone age. Well, that's essentially what the 86,000 or so Internal Revenue Service employees who were forced out of their offices for 16 days are dealing with right now. The returning... Read more →


Benjamin Franklin's famously noted that there are only two sure things: death and taxes. I'd like to add a third: Congressional Groundhog Day. Yes, our Representatives and Senators, at least this current crop, seem to like doing the same thing in the same way over and over and over. I am talking, of course, about lawmakers' penchant for walking to the brink of financial and tax disaster and peering over the edge. Sorry history of fiscal brinksmanship: We had it with the debt ceiling fight during the summer of 2011. That led to the 2012-2013 fiscal cliff, which we briefly... Read more →


The adult entertainment nightclub Nite Moves certainly tried. Attorneys for the Latham, N.Y., club have been in courtrooms for more than two years arguing that Nite Moves' employees' lap dances deserve the same sales tax exemption as other Empire State dramatic or musical arts performances. The legal battle ended, however, on Tuesday, Oct. 15, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. That means the 4-to-3 decision against Nite Moves last fall by the Court of Appeals, the top court in New York, stands. That also means the New York tax collector now expects the club to remit... Read more →


That's right. The Internal Revenue Service is, for the most part, shut down. But you, tax filing procrastinators, must finish up your 2012 tax return today. The countdown clock below (reflecting the Central time zone since that's where I am!) will help those among the 12 million who got a filing extension and plan to use every last moment to make the midnight deadline. Or, as the time ticks by, it will terrify and/or annoy you. But, hey, I didn't set the deadline. I'm just nagging reminding you! Time is not on your side: Yes, I did stop the countdown... Read more →


Grave government shutdown leaving us all adrift a la Gravity

Will Capitol Hill and the White House come to an agreement on raising the debt ceiling and reopening all federal offices? A meeting had been scheduled for this afternoon -- actually as I type -- between the White House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders who are working on a deal. The word now, however, is that the confab has been pushed back, possibly into tomorrow. If Congress, including Speaker John Boehner and the House Republican Party's recalcitrant Tea Party wing, can't be coaxed into a deal, we all will be left flying blind. That feeling of fear and hopelessness... Read more →