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November 2014

October 2014

Last year, I forgot to buy Halloween candy. The hubby and I ate an early dinner, turned off all our lights and hid upstairs until the trick-or-treaters finished their rounds. This year, our house smells like chocolate! Our Halloween candy bowl! I was smart enough to wait until this morning to open the bags of candy. That will ensure we'll have enough for the kiddies. Embracing Oct. 31 traditions: I hate that we missed out on Halloween last year. We are child-free, but we get a kick out of the tradition, especially the very young kids making their first costumed... Read more →


This is why people hate taxes. OK. There's no one "this" when it comes to tax loathing. But here's one big reason: confusing dates. Right now we're working on ways to reduce our current year's tax bill. To do that, we must make many tax moves by Dec. 31. But some of those moves will depend on what our tax situations will be like in the coming year. So we've got to juggle two tax years simultaneously. That's two too many tax years for most folks. Still, it's a necessary tax evil. And the latest comparison and evaluation of this... Read more →


Nov. 4 is not just a day to decide which candidates will fill local, state and federal legislative offices. Voters across the country also will be having their say on 146 ballot measures. The topics awaiting the people's voice range from guaranteeing gun rights, legalizing marijuana, hiking the minimum wage and even defining what it takes to be a person. Oh yeah. There also are several tax ballot initiatives, as detailed in today's Weekly Tax Tip. Straight to voters: Although lawmakers are chosen to make tough decisions about running a state or other levels of government, they are not averse... Read more →


Desert island bipartisanship, sort of, on new reality TV show

What does it take to get U.S. Senators from opposing parties to work together? Dropping them off on a deserted island. That's the premise Rival Survival, a new reality TV show that debuts at 10 p.m. (9 Central) Wednesday, Oct. 29, on Discovery Channel. Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democrat Martin Heinrich of New Mexico spent six days and nights on Eru, one of the Marshall Islands. Judging from some of the previews the cable channel has released, the Senators still occasionally exchanged political barbs. But according to the lawmakers who are making the PR rounds in advance of... Read more →


Oh my Lord, IRS. What in the hell were you thinking? The Internal Revenue Service is already the most hated government agency, and then you go and seize honest working people's assets just because you can. Even worse, you make it incredibly hard for them to prove that it's you, not them, that is in the wrong. I repeat: What in the hell were you thinking? Apparently, according to a New York Times' story, the IRS was thinking that civil forfeiture laws offer an easy way to collect more money. Under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, law enforcement agents... Read more →


Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, founders of the high-end Italian fashion label Dolce & Gabbana, are no longer convicted tax evaders. Italy's highest court on Oct. 24 overturned two lower court convictions that the duo had participated in what Italian prosecutors called a "sophisticated tax fraud" scheme. Dolce and Gabbana had been found guilty in April 2013 of using a Luxembourg holding company to avoid paying taxes of €200 million ($253.39 million U.S. as of this morning's exchange rate) on royalties for sales in 2004 and 2005. That sizable chunk -- I'm going with the more than $253 million U.S.... Read more →


I attend a handful of conferences every year. Today I'm at one of my favorites, BlogathonATX. It's local (no airport lines!). It's very local (a 15-minute drive from my house). It's on a Saturday (no horrendous Austin traffic!). But the main reason I love BlogathonATX is that it brings together a great group of Central Texas writers, bloggers, speakers and all-around fun folks. Wait! Don't leave! This isn't going to be an inside baseball, self-serving piece about how cool it is to blog or live in Austin, although that's mostly true. But the real benefit of BlogathonATX is that it... Read more →


It's been a busy week for folks who follow retirement-related numbers. In addition to the Internal Revenue Service's announcement of 2015 inflation adjustments for various retirement plans, the Social Security Administration released how the cost of living will affect that government benefit and workers who contribute to it. These annual cost-of-living changes have been a part of the popular government retirement program since 1975. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935. Participating in the landmark law's enactment are, standing left to right, Rep. Robert Doughton (D-N.C.); unknown person in shadow; Sen. Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.);... Read more →


The key to a comfortable retirement is saving now. The tax code helps by offering tax breaks for a variety of retirement savings plans. Even better, every year the Internal Revenue Service looks at inflation and decides whether the tax limits, both on contributions and income levels that affect some plans, need to be tweaked. For the coming 2015 tax year, the IRS announced today, Oct. 23, that many of the pension plan limitations will change. Others, however, will remain unchanged because the increase in the cost-of-living index didn't meet the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. Here are some... Read more →


Even in drought-stricken Texas, the phrase "when it rains, it pours" is true. Except in our case, it's not precipitation that's piling on; it's home repair and maintenance issues. Back in August, the main spring on the hubby's garage door decided to snap. A few weeks later our kitchen faucet needed to be replaced. That's the shiny new one there to the right. This week, painters are working on our home's trim. The stucco portion of the house is on repaint hold while we look for someone to repair a gable vent. Then we'll get that area painted, after which... Read more →


When it comes to crime, imitation is the easiest way to get quick ill-gotten gains. Take, for example, the latest tax scam causing problems for some New Yorkers. State tax officials say scammers who claim to work for an attorney are calling New York taxpayers and offering to help them settle their outstanding state tax debts. More like helping to put honest taxpayer money into crooks' pockets. Sound familiar? For months, con artists pretending to be Internal Revenue Agents have been calling folks nationwide, demanding money the callers say the call recipients owe Uncle Sam. That scam, says the IRS,... Read more →


By now, most Americans have wrapped up their annual tax-filing duties. And it's probably safe to say that a lot of folks are feeling a lot poorer after fulfilling their tax responsibilities. Some individuals, however, have tried to use a religious vow of poverty to avoid taxes altogether. In these egregious tax evasion cases, they haven't been successful. Poverty vow was a poor tax argument: Take the case of Timothy Dale Jackson. The 50-year-old orthopedic surgeon from Pass Christian, Mississippi, claimed to have taken a vow of poverty with a Utah-based church. Jackson said that his monetary sacrifice exempted him... Read more →


Back in 1998, one of the provisions of Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act called for the tax agency to get 80 percent of its returns electronically by 2007. Targets are all well and good, but as anyone who has dealt with Uncle Sam knows, he tends to run on its own, usually slower, timetable. That's what happened with the mandated suggested e-filing target. The IRS did get 80 percent of individual filers -- actually 81 percent -- to file electronically, but not until 2012. But since then, the number of e-filing individuals has grown steadily. Through mid-May this... Read more →


Workers have been paying the full 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax for almost two years now. You remember this so-called tax holiday in place in 2011 and 2012. During those years, the deduction from your pay that goes toward the federal retirement program was reduced by 2 percentage points to 4.2 percent. The matching employers' portion stayed at 6.2 percent. The payroll tax cut for workers was made so that folks would have a few more dollars to spend, giving the sluggish economy a buying boost. But after two years, Congress decided enough was enough and let the payroll... Read more →


The 2013 tax year is finally over. That means it's time to turn your tax thoughts to moves you can make to reduce your 2014 tax bill. A good starting point for any tax planning is with the basics, such as knowing what your tax bill likely will be. While there are a lot of variables that come into play, you can get a general idea by checking out the annual tax brackets. We're still waiting for Congress to finalize many 2014 tax laws, but the seven ordinary income tax rates are the same, starting at 10 percent and topping... Read more →


Airbnb is wildly popular with almost everyone. Among the few detractors are some neighbors of the short-term rental properties and the Empire State's top lawyer. Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General of New York, made his concerns known in a report, Airbnb in the City, released Thursday, Oct. 16. It details the AG's office investigation into Airbnb and similar web-based rental operators who, according to the report, "run large-scale enterprises in violation of fire safety, zoning, tax, and other applicable laws." Most of the data, and hence the report's name, came from four years of data Airbnb provided to the AG... Read more →


The year's second tax-filing deadline isn't as much fun as Sharknado 2, but for many taxpayers it can be just as frightening as the campy Syfy channel classic. Folks who've put off filing until the absolute last minute -- and I must admit I was one of the millions of procrastinators, filing our 2013 federal return just last week -- often find themselves still working on their taxes on Oct. 15. That's OK. You have until midnight local time to e-file it. Or until your post office's last mail pick-up for an Oct. 15 postmark if you're sending paper forms.... Read more →


The Supreme Court earlier this month gave same-sex couples the ability to get married in five more states when it refused to hear appellate cases that had struck down the states' bans on such ceremonies. Gay and lesbian couples in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin lined up soon after the High Court non-ruling to exchange vows. Now the affected state tax departments must adjust their rules to accommodate the newlyweds. Virginia is for all lovers: The Old Dominion's tax officials were quick to act. On Oct. 7, the day after the Supreme Court inaction, Virginia's Department of Taxation issued... Read more →


Do you have Columbus Day off? Most office workers do. If you're in the retail business, however, you're probably at work, most likely dealing with customers who are taking advantage of Columbus Day sale bargains. Yep, the running joke is that even the most reverential of federal holidays have in our consumer-oriented society become a way to market products. Although some argue that Columbus Day isn't really a national holiday, Uncle Sam counts it among the 10 federal holidays he recognizes. That's good enough to make 10 this week's By the Numbers figure. But the numeral also gets honored because... Read more →


I was a relative latecomer to smartphones, but once I got one, I was hooked. I'm not so addicted that I spent days in line to get an iPhone 6 (no 6 Plus for me; I like putting my phone in a pocket, not a purse). But the hubby and I probably will trade in our older versions sometime next year. The blessing of today's mobile technology is that the phones are much more than just devices on which to call your mom every weekend. That's also the wireless curse. We use them a lot for a lot of different... Read more →