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December 2013

East Coast taxpayers have about half a day of 2013 left. West Coasters get a few more hours. But regardless of where you live, time is rapidly winding down as far as tax moves you can make to reduce your final 2013 tax bill. Hopefully, you checked out the many year-end tax options when I wrote about them in late November for Bankrate.com (or saw it when it was picked up by ABC News) or blogged about them on Dec. 1. Or maybe you checked the right column's December Tax Moves running calendar. If so, thanks for reading and good... Read more →


Whenever you're tempted to curse traffic as you head to and from work next year, aim some of your epithets at Congress. (Like you needed another reason!) That legislative body has encouraged workplace benefits that reward drivers who commute rather than those who take public transportation to and from their jobs. Catching some ZZZZZs on the way into work. Photo by Alexander Baxevanis/futureshape via Flicker Creative Commons. And the disparity is about be more starkly displayed in the New Year unless Capitol Hill takes action. Commuter benefit parity ends: On Jan. 1, 2014, commuters who use rail, bus or van... Read more →


The St. Louis Rams don't have anything to fight for on this last weekend of the National Football League 2013 season. They are dead last in the NFC West, their playoff hopes dashed weeks ago. The current and former St. Louis teams face off Sept. 8, 2013. Photo by Paul Sableman/pasa47 via Flickr Creative Commons. The Rams do, however, have a fight on their hand in the tax arena. The football team's officials say they collected around $400,000 too much in sales tax on game tickets sold to fans. The Rams are seeking a refund of that tax money from... Read more →


Did you pay your real estate taxes this month so you can deduct the payment on your 2013 taxes? How close to your residence's value was the assessment on which your tax bill was based? Ours was pretty close. But then the housing market in Texas, and the part of the state where we live in particular, hasn't been hit as hard as other parts of the country. There's a tiny bit of improvement in national numbers. Online real estate database Zillow says that in the third of 2013, negative equity for homeowners with mortgages has fallen to 28.2 percent... Read more →


I have a cold. One with coughing. Coughing so much last night that my throat is sore and I have, for just the second time in my life, laryngitis. Yes, that is the hubby sitting over there with a big grin on his face. I share my sad medical condition not for sympathy (although I'll take it!), but because one coughing fit had me seriously considering going to the doctor. That prospect, like the coughing spell, passed. But as is usually the case in even my tax geeky life, it also got me thinking about when you need a doctor's... Read more →


Happy Boxing Day. No, dear television news reader, Boxing Day has nothing to do with people in a ring punching each other. So quit making unironic Rocky, Raging Bull and Grudge Match references . In addition to being Santa's favorite holiday, the day after Christmas is celebrated by most countries in the British Commonwealth and elsewhere in Europe as a day of philanthropy. Dec. 26 also is St. Stephen's Day, who is celebrated for giving money to the poor. One Boxing Day origin theory is that the holiday was created to honor him on his feast day. December... Read more →


With Mary so close to delivering her child, why did she and Joseph risk traveling to Bethlehem? Taxes. A census was ordered to determine the taxes due from the residents of the Roman Empire. Each person had to return to his home town to meet the decree's requirements. So Joseph and Mary headed out from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, specifically to the city of David known as Bethlehem, an estimated three-day trip, because Joseph was of the house and family of David. And the rest is Biblical history. Our Texas Nativity, with a Lone Star and a colorful Mexican... Read more →


If you're rushing around this Christmas Eve to finish up your shopping, I hope you find everything you're looking for without too much trouble. And I hope it doesn't cost you as much as the collection of gifts given to a true love in the classic Christmas song The 12 Days of Christmas. Yes, I'm still stuck in a song loop, having just wrapped up the Christmas Tax Tip Tunes feature on the day before the day before Christmas. And while it's not strictly tax-related, the annual PNC Christmas Price Index is always fun. So fun, in fact, that the... Read more →


What child tax breaks are these?

The birth of Jesus is one of the most well-known stories. For Christians, it is, as the saying goes, the reason for the season. But even many non-believers are moved by the tale of the birth of a child in stable, with a manger serving as his crib. One of the most beautiful renditions of those humble circumstances is in What Child is This? It was a tough call, but that song barely beat out Away in a Manger for the final spot on the 2013 Christmas Tax Tip Tunes play list. Both songs celebrate the birth of a child.... Read more →


Winter wedding wonderlands and tax-filing status

The part of West Texas where I grew up definitely had winter weather, but not much snow. We'd get a dusting now and then. And one Christmas when I was in high school we spotted some flakes falling. So I always romanticized the snow. And no song does a better job of creating a perfect vision of the coldest season than Winter Wonderland. OK, it's not technically a Christmas song. But I'm guessing that Winter Wonderland gets its most air play in December. And it's on just about every Christmas carol collection every recorded. So the song is today's featured... Read more →


It's the weekend before Christmas. That means most of us have a lot to do. So I'm cutting to the chase with my report on what I blogged about last week at my other tax blog. Most of the travel this time of year is of a personal nature, but some folks are on the road for business. And they are likely to pay more in taxes. The latest annual study by the Global Business Travel Association Foundation, noted in one of my Bankrate Taxes Blog posts, found that car rental, hotel and meal taxes in the top 50 U.S.... Read more →


Singing the praises of tax-favored retirement savings

Welcome Winter Solstice! We Northern Hemisphere residents are glad you're here because after this shortest day of the year (and the accompanying longest night of 2013), we'll start getting a bit more sunlight every day for the next six or so months. The incrementally longer days, however, won't do much to warm us up in the short term. Winter, which officially begins today, Dec. 21, will continue to have most of North America in its cold clutches for a while. All this climatological data makes for an obvious choice for today's 10th Christmas Tax Tips Tune. It's Mele Kalikimaka. OK,... Read more →


The Little Drummer Boy's tax lesson for volunteers

What's the first Christmas carol you remember hearing as a child? OK, other than Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Everybody remembers that song because every parent uses it to keep the kiddos in line until Dec. 25. My childhood favorite was the Little Drummer Boy. Pentatonix, the a cappella quintet that won NBC's third season of The Sing-Off, talks to Billboard about their new Christmas classic. Maybe it was because as a youngster, I used my fingers as drumsticks to rap along with all songs, seasonal and beyond. I still do; my steering wheel takes a pounding on my... Read more →


The Intenral Revenue Service finally has an official, full-time commissioner. John A. Koskinen, a former chairman of U.S.-owned mortgage financier Freddie Mac with no experience in tax administration, was confirmed today, Dec. 20, by a 59-36 Senate vote. Koskinen got all the Democrats' votes, as well as votes from five Republicans. Yes, that is Danny Werfel you hear cheering. Koskinen will be the 48th IRS Commissioner since the post was created in 1862 and is the first Senate-confirmed tax agency chief since Douglas Shulman's term ended in November 2012. There also have been 26 acting commissioners, according to the IRS... Read more →


Our houses in South Florida and here in Austin each had storage space under the stairway. That's where our 24 boxes of Christmas decorations have lived. In our last Maryland home, the cartons took up a corner of the basement. Yes, 24 boxes. And yes, some of the boxes are small. But most are decent sized because, as I noted last Saturday, I'm a sucker for this holiday. So is the hubby, who has the job of making sure our Christmas tree is properly decked out each year. So it's no surprise that O Christmas Tree -- or O Tannenbaum... Read more →


Timing is everything, especially when it comes to taxes. That was made clear yesterday when we finally got official word about the start of the 2014 filing season at the same time that questions were raised by a government oversight office about the Internal Revenue Service's ability to deal with taxpayer filing problems. We have a start date! Let's start with the relatively good news. For us taxpayers, the timing of the filing of our 2013 returns will be later than usual. But it won't be as late as it might have been. The IRS announced Dec. 18 that the... Read more →


Homeownership tax breaks to take in December

Is there any popular holiday tune more beloved than The Christmas Song? Its title alone -- THE Christmas Song, not just A Christmas Song or Some Christmas Song -- gives it predominance in the Christmas carol collection. And the prominence is well deserved, especially Nat King Cole's rendition of Mel Torme's classic. It is simply superb. Cole's inimitable voice makes this the quintessential Christmas at home song. We've got a roaring fireplace (mmm, toasty chestnuts!), mom and dad snuggling (remember the mistletoe mention) and the kiddos finally settled in for the night awaiting St. Nick and his flying reindeer. All... Read more →


Donating appreciated assets to your favorite charity

Economic wonks have gathered in Washington, D.C., or if they can't travel to the nation's capital, around their video screens and/or television business news channels. The reason? Today marks the beginning of the final Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting of the year. The Federal Reserve members will issue a statement on their decisions tomorrow afternoon. We all know what that means. The stock market will be, at best, erratic while the Fed folks are in session. Investors are nervously anticipating any indication as to exactly when the Fed will dial back its monetary stimulus. In early trading today, stocks... Read more →


Medical tax breaks' 10% and FSA year-end considerations

My brother and I tended to get sick around Christmas. Maybe we wore ourselves out with all the excitement. Maybe the sharing of Christmas cards and trinkets with our classmates and neighborhood kids included shared germs. Maybe we were allergic to the decorated pine tree that filled up our living room. Whatever the cause, colds and coughs were part of the holiday tradition at the Bell homestead. We learned to live with it and have a Merry Christmas anyway. As an adult, I still take extra measures -- and extra zinc and vitamin C -- to avoid late-year sniffles. And... Read more →


Tax deductible mileage rate drops a half-cent in 2014

The busiest travel time every year is around Thanksgiving. But plenty of folks also hit the road for Christmas. Despite the craziness of the season and often messy, and dangerous, winter weather, we go. Why? Because, as Perry Como so melodiously notes, There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays. Your travel to and from family gatherings at any time of the year is all on your own dime. But as today's Christmas Tax Tip Tune notes, other types of travel are tax deductible. In fact, the Internal Revenue Service even makes it easier for you to figure your write-off... Read more →