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February 2015

In an effort to speed up things for folks visiting some Internal Revenue Service Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs), the agency began on Feb. 23 offering appointments. You can set up a specific time -- the links below will offer details -- to talk with an IRS rep if you're in: Atlanta, Georgia (Atlanta-Woodcock) Austin, Texas Birmingham, Alabama Chicago, Illinois (Dearborn) Denver, Colorado Fresno, California Hartford, Connecticut Plantation, Florida San Antonio, Texas Seattle, Washington This is only a test in those 10 locations. But if it works, the appointment option could be expanded. Overall, the IRS has more than 350 walk-in... Read more →


February sure lived up to its status as the shortest month of the year. We got to the end of it, and the potential tax moves to make, so dang quickly. Today means we're almost halfway through with the 2015 tax filing season, which officially began on Jan. 20. So far, the Internal Revenue Service reports receiving almost 50 million tax returns. That's about a third of third of what the agency expects to get this year. As usual, especially early in the filing season, most of the 1040s have resulted in refunds. Through Feb. 20, that's the case for... Read more →


Who loves tax season more than the Internal Revenue Service? Retailers. Flush with cash that Uncle Sam has been collecting from paychecks all year, Americans take their tax refunds and head out to stores. Or maybe not. The results of a new poll look like they might dampen the anticipation of many shop owners. Holding on to hefty refunds: While the IRS says that the average check issued through Feb. 20 was $3,120, it looks like many refund recipients will be saving, not spending their tax cash. The National Retail Federation's annual Tax Returns Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights and... Read more →


A kinder, gentler Internal Revenue Service was born back in 1998 when the IRS Restructuring & Reform Act was enacted. Now the Affordable Care Act appears to have given us the forgiving IRS. Premium tax credit considerations: Earlier this month, the IRS announced that it will waive some possible penalty charges in connection with calculations of the advance premium tax credit. This tax break was created to help Obamacare purchasers cover some of the cost of the required health insurance coverage. Most who are eligible for the credit got it in advance when they bought their policies. If, however, things... Read more →


Two months ago lots of families got pets as Christmas gifts. Now, many of those puppies and kittens and other would-be furry friends are, sadly, bunking at animal shelters … or tragically worse. Some New York lawmakers think a tax change could help get those and other pets abandoned year-round into new homes. Eager dog in animal shelter, photographed by Dave Cooper via Flickr. Pet adoption tax credit: New York City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Queens) has introduced a bill that would give Empire State residents a state tax break for adopting a homeless pet. The measure has the support at... Read more →


Sunday's Daytona 500 was great. Well, it was until a late-race wreck forced a contrived green-white-checkers finish and the dreaded but always expected "big one" mass crash at the back of the field. Despite that disappointment, congratulations to 2015 Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano. He deserves the trophy. He and his #22 Shell Ford were the class of the field all day. Daytona is the first NASCAR race every season. It's the sport's Super Bowl and an event the stock car community prizes. A few years ago, NASCAR set out to memorialize past and future Daytona 500s and other notable... Read more →


We'll learn tonight which of eight films -- American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash -- that the Academy Awards voters have deemed as 2015's Best Picture. Las Vegas odds makers say it's a tight race between Birdman and Boyhood, with the Michael Keaton comeback movie having a slight edge over Richard Linklater's innovatively filmed look at a boy and his family. UPDATE: Birdman was the big winner. Get full Oscars results at the awards' website. From a tax perspective, however, all of the flicks already are winners. Yep,... Read more →


Remember the advice to check your tax statements as soon as they arrive for accuracy? These are the sundry 1099s and W-2s and other tax-related documents that have information and amounts you must report on your tax return. Wrong form info means wrong 1040s and lots of filing follow-up hassles. It's still a recommended practice. But almost a million folks who purchased health insurance through an Affordable Care Act health insurance last year don't have to bother. They're getting word from issuers of 1095-A forms that those documents have errors. Federal, California issues: Around 800,000 of those folks are going... Read more →


The U.S. economy finally appears to be on an upward track. That's good news for the millions of folks who took serious financial hits during the persistent recession that began in 2008. Things were so bad back then that even the Internal Revenue Service decided to lend a helping hand. In 2009, the IRS showed its more compassionate side to taxpayers facing financial challenges, which included having difficulty paying their tax-due balances. The IRS committed to being more flexible in working with taxpayers having trouble paying Uncle Sam because of factors related to the weak economy. Thus began the Fresh... Read more →


While the Internal Revenue Service has long been on high alert for fake tax filings, fraudulent returns now are a major concern for state tax departments. And that's posing problems for folks who are untouched by tax identity theft. Many refunds are being slowed as state officials take added fraud precautions. Some state tax refunds are not being issued in the form taxpayers expect. Beyond TurboTax: Earlier this month, the country's leading tax software program TurboTax temporarily halted e-filing of state returns when more than two dozen states reported indications of possible tax fraud in connection with some of those... Read more →


Tax scammers don't just go after average taxpayers. They also are looking to hook tax professionals. The latest criminal effort to haul in tax pros is a new phishing scam. This bogus email asks tax professionals to update their Internal Revenue Service e-services portal information and Electronic Filing Identification Numbers (EFINs). The links provided in the fake messages appear to be a phishing scheme designed to capture tax pros' usernames and passwords. This email was not generated by the IRS e-services program, notes the IRS, which urges recipients to deal with it as they would any suspicious email: Disregard it... Read more →


I have an old-school answering machine on my home office telephone line, primarily as a receptacle for all the robo- and cold callers trying to sell me something. (Don't get me started on the uselessness of the Do Not Call list.) Now I need one for my smartphone message options. I've recently been getting quite a few texts from "people" I don't know. In all cases, I block the sender and then delete the message. But this spate of such messages got me thinking that they might be related to the season, the tax-filing season. Identity theft texters: These short... Read more →


If you're not at your office this Presidents Day holiday, chances are you are working on your taxes. This three-day February weekend typically marks the beginning of the busiest time of the annual tax filing season. By now, the 1099s and W2s and other statements needed to fill out returns are in most taxpayers hands. And when folks start workings on their 1040s, even with software help, they tend to have questions. That's why this week, according to the Internal Revenue Service, also is one of the busiest times for the IRS' telephone lines. Operators at work at a telephone... Read more →


The only thing worse than messing up your own taxes is paying someone who can't do the job. If you're looking for professional tax help, once you figure out which type of tax preparer to use, then you must sure that person is competent. Here are five quick tips to help you check out your tax pro. 1. Inspect Internal Revenue Service ID: Make sure the preparer has an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN. This ID number is required by Uncle Sam of folks who file returns for others for a fee. Note, however, that a valid PTIN... Read more →


Just in time for Valentine's Day, many gay and lesbian couples in Alabama late last week were taking the ultimate commitment step by saying "I do." The ability to exchange wedding vows with distinctly Southern drawls was made possible by a federal court ruling. The battle, however, continues in Alabama; the state's supreme court is expected to weigh in next week. At the national level, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of same-sex marriages this summer. On this day special to lovers, however, there are 38 U.S. jurisdictions where same-sex couples can marry. And on... Read more →


Taxes and Friday the 13th are perfect partners. I mean, really, there's not much that's scarier than taxes. Today's Daily Tax Tip looks at six tax terrors and ways to overcome them. You can get the specifics at the tip, but here's a preview of these half dozen common tax fears: Struggling through the complicated filing process, Missing a tax deduction or credit, Making a costly mistake, Hiring a bad, or worse, crooked, tax pro Facing an audit, and Having a tax bill that's too big to pay. Scary ACA, ID theft: This filing season, we can add a couple... Read more →


Attention smartphone addicted taxpayers, the 2015 version of the Internal Revenue Service's app is now available. That's good news for taxpayers who want the handheld option to find out just where in the IRS system their 2014 refunds are. As in the past, you enter your Social Security number, your filing status, and the amount you're expecting back and hit enter. If you're concerned about plugging in your nine-digit tax ID number, the IRS says don't be. The agency assures us that the number will be masked and encrypted for security purposes. Finding help: While refund tracking is likely to... Read more →


No tax season ever runs without any hitches. 2015 is no different. So far this year we've seen some early season frustration with new Affordable Care Act requirements, as well as tax identity theft fraud scares that slowed processing of some returns. But all in all, despite preseason worries, the 2015 federal tax filing season is off to a booming start. Just ask the recipients of the almost 7.6 million refunds that were sent as of Jan. 30. The Internal Revenue Service says that number of refunds is almost twice what it issued by the end of January 2014. Of... Read more →


The Internet has made the world a much easier place, especially at tax time. E-filing, for example, continues to set records each year. The Internet also has made the world a much more dangerous place, especially at tax time. Take last week, for example. Identity theft and subsequent tax fraud got a lot of attention in two states because of individuals' personal information being used or at least exposed to identity thieves. Minnesota Department of Revenue officials stopped taking returns electronically filed by TurboTax users. Intuit, manufacturer of the popular tax software, opted to halt e-filing returns in all states... Read more →


The official name of the politically volatile health care reform law is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That's usually shortened to the Affordable Care Act, or ACA. And it's popularly known as Obamacare. That nickname came from opponents of the president's first-term legislative landmark. Later, however, ACA advocates, including the commander in chief himself, embraced the moniker. Bothered by Bush tax cuts name: Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, found his name appended to the tax laws he ushered through in his first term, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) and Jobs and Growth... Read more →