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November 2016
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January 2017

December 2016

One of the big sticks that the Internal Revenue Service wields is penalties for our mistakes or willful disregard of tax laws. Some of the penalties were increased in 2016 thanks to law changes. Others are hiked each year if inflation so warrants. Here's a roundup of some major tax penalties changes ahead in 2017. Don't file, pay more: The biggie for individual taxpayers is the charge for late filing. In 2016, if you filed a return more than 60 days after the due date or any extension to file that you got, then you faced a penalty of the... Read more →


You might have seen the suggestion that you move to lower your tax bill. I love old ads like this one for Dodge commercial trucks courtesy Alden Jewell via Flickr. Folks making this vintage move look much happier than they ever do when relocating in real life. That usually tongue-in-cheek recommendation didn't make my 12 year-end tax moves list, but all y'all are welcome to join me here in no-income-tax Texas. I must warn you, however, that if you buy a home, property taxes could eat up a chunk of what you're saving by not paying state tax on your... Read more →


Time is rapidly running out to make year-end tax moves, but if you're a septuagenarian, here's one that you definitely cannot afford to overlook. If you're 70½ or older, congrats and happy, happy on all those full and half birthdays! Remember, though, that now you must take out at least an IRS-specified amount from your tax-deferred retirement account(s) by the end of the year. Miss the deadline and you'll owe a major tax penalty. (Birthday party photo courtesy Today's Senior Network) Half birthday tax trigger: If you're 70½ and have a traditional IRA (or more than one of these accounts)... Read more →


With Republicans soon to be in control of Congress and the White House, the tax focus has shifted to a major rewrite of the Internal Revenue Code. But this legislative approach means that more than 30 temporary tax provisions will disappear from the tax code on Jan. 1, 2017. Whether they are resurrected in any new tax overhaul depends on how persuasive the various laws' lobbyists are, how committed Senators and Representatives are to streamlining the tax code and how much tax revenue is gained or lost by their continued absence or revival. Extenders usually long lives: These tax laws,... Read more →


Social media sites are overrun with folks bemoaning the terrible things that happened during this year. I've even aired my grievances about 2016 before and after Festivus, so far be it from me to be pity party pooper. But here's some perspective for all of us. Military vehicles make their way down a flooded North Carolina following October's devastating Hurricane Matthew. (Photo courtesy Federal Emergency Management Agency) For millions of people worldwide, 2016 literally was a disastrous year. In the United States alone, Mother Nature pummeled the country throughout the year, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, issuing... Read more →


China has enacted a series of taxes on various types of industrial pollution. But to the dismay of even some of its own government researchers, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are not included in the tax plan. Some specific emissions could mean tax bills for Chinese companies under a new pollution tax law just enacted by that country. (Photo by Graeme Maclean via Flickr CC) Still, for the first time ever, public institutions and companies that discharge listed pollutants directly into the environment will face specific environmental protection taxes. Some air, water pollutants targeted: Under the law passed Dec.... Read more →


Merry Christmas! The big day for all good boys and girls of all ages is finally here. And here in Central Texas it's in the 70s. Cheery but not chilly: I know, 'tis the season for joy, not whining about the weather, especially since 70-degree temperatures are a heck of a lot better than dangerously cold ones. Still, it's the warmest Christmas in Austin in 52 years. The short snowman on the left in the photo above and I are definitely a bit taken aback by the unseasonable turn this so-called winter weather has taken. But it won't stop us... Read more →


A couple of days ago when I blogged about Amazon's decision to start collecting sales tax amounts in 2017 on products it ships to Louisiana, I noted "…and counting" in the list of states where this already is happening. I didn't, however, expect to have to do some more sales tax math so soon. Online shoppers in Louisiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Utah will see sales taxes added to their Amazon invoices beginning Jan. 1, 2017. (Photo by Keith Williamson via Flickr Creative Commons) But Jan. 1, 2017, is the day that the online retail giant also will add sales tax... Read more →


I love Christmas. I love it so much that I convinced the hubby to put our tree up the week after Halloween. . We -- OK the hubby, at my nagging request -- put our Christmas tree up the first week of November this year. The early decorating has made for a less hectic official holiday season. My main reason is, as I said, I love Christmas. And we have a big artificial tree that takes a while to decorate with all the ornaments we've collected over all our years together. Plus, we have lots of other holiday decorations spread... Read more →


Here's a special end-of-year tax move for Louisiana online shoppers. Make sure your purchase is delivered by Dec. 31. That's the last day Pelican State consumers can get anything from Amazon with no sales tax included on the invoice. On Jan. 1, 2017, the online retail giant will start adding the appropriate sales tax amounts, both state and city, to items shipped to Louisiana addresses. The new tax addition applies to all online sellers, not just Amazon. Use tax ignored: Technically, Louisiana buyers have always owed the state's sales tax, which currently is 5 percent, and any applicable local sales... Read more →


Today is officially winter. You know what that means. Taxes. For folks in Michigan, at least. Much of the United States has been in the grips of the Weather Channel named winter storm Decima this month. The Arctic air even dropped down to the Austin area earlier this week, producing a bit of a freeze in our back yard waterfall/stream. (Click image to watch my YouTube video.) OK. Tax collection in the Great Lakes State isn't limited to the coldest months, which are pretty plentiful there. And it's not even limited to one state. Property tax bills, which actually are... Read more →


The Dow is again flirting with the 20,000 mark. It closed today at 19,974.62. The run-up has finally prompted you to evaluate your portfolio to make some year-end rebalancing and, of course, tax moves. Good for you. But don't undermine that effort by making these tax mistakes. 1. Buying a tax bill: Timing is everything, especially when it comes to investments. If you buy a mutual fund just before it issues capital gains distributions, you've also bought yourself a tax bill. Worse, Morningstar's Christine Benz points out, by adding a holding to your taxable account before it makes a payout,... Read more →


America's 538 electors are meeting today in their state capitals to cast votes that will make the Nov. 8 presidential election official. Although a handful of electors vowed not to vote for Donald J. Trump despite their states' election results, The Donald is expected to garner received more than the 270 Electoral College votes needed to ensure he will become the 45th U.S. president next month. Click screen shot to view the ABC News/Good Morning America preview report on today's Electoral College vote. Crazy election cycle continues: The controversy surrounding the penultimate step -- the vote won't be final until... Read more →


Working overseas can be a wonderful professional and personal opportunity. It also can present some tax problems. The United States has a worldwide tax system. That means that regardless of where you earn your money, if you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, you owe taxes to Uncle Sam. The bad news is that the Internal Revenue Service is serious about getting this money. The good news is that there are some income tax benefits for U.S. workers abroad. Excluding income abroad: The most notable one is the foreign earned income exclusion, or FEIE. This allows workers abroad who... Read more →


Yes, it's December. Only eight days until Christmas. Much of the United States is in the grip of a deadly winter storm. That's why I'm thinking about baseball and coming spring warmth and renewed hope, sports and otherwise. The other reason I'm thinking about baseball today is taxes. It costs Major League Baseball clubs lots of money to keep star players like Houston Astros Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio on their teams. But if they spend too much, they'll pay the league's luxury tax. (Photo of Biggio wall in Houston's Minute Maid Park by Kay Bell) Another MLB [tax] record falls: A... Read more →


Most of us can use some extra cash. That's particularly true during the holiday shopping season. But unfortunately, recent emails I got from two federal financial officials offering unexpected windfalls are fake. Worse, the messages from Jacob Lew and Janet Yellen are identity theft phishing scams. ID theft impersonation scams: I know most of the ol' blog's loyal readers recognize this duo as, respectively, the U.S. Treasury Secretary and the Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, popularly known as the Fed. As flattered as I might be to learn that Lew and Yellen follow my... Read more →


The enactment of the 21st Century Cares Act this week means medical researchers will get more money for their efforts to develop a variety of treatments for persistent and devastating health problems. The new law also opens up a tax-favored medical plan option for folks who work for small companies. Vice President Joe Biden (center) is recognized during the ceremony in which the 21st Century Cures Act was signed into law. The bill is close to Biden's heart. He lost his son Beau to brain cancer. Following that personal tragedy, President Obama tapped his veep (and friend) to lead the... Read more →


How's your holiday shopping going? If you're still looking for something to impress your true love, consider giving a gift inspired by the classic "12 Days of Christmas." For the 33rd year, the PNC Financial Services Group has analyzed the lengthy Christmas gift list from the song and determined, in its specially devised Christmas Price Index (CPI), just how much the prices have changed from year to year. Poultry prices aren't paltry: Overall, the cost of the song's gifts grew only slightly this year. But be prepared to pay a hefty prices if you opt for a few of the... Read more →


Your business-related driving probably won't save you as much on your taxes in 2017. The reason? The Internal Revenue Service announced today that the optional standard mileage rate for business use of your vehicle is a half-cent less than in 2016. A trip to the vet likely won't count as a tax deductible medical expense, but other allowable miles in 2017 can be claimed at 17 cents apiece. It drops on Jan. 1, 2017, to 53.5 cents per mile. For the final few days of 2016, the business mileage rate is 54 cents per mile. Along with a smaller per-mile... Read more →


Are you looking for a new ride? Buying a car at the end of the year often means you'll pay less, as dealerships are ready to bargain in order to clear their lots for the new year and new models. Unless you're looking for a vintage car, you'll find your transportation choices are quite different from these! Driving away in new wheels by Dec. 31 also could give you a bigger sales tax deduction when you file your taxes next year. Itemized sales tax savings: If you itemize, you can claim either the state and local income tax or the... Read more →