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July 2017

With every story or study on retirement savings, I hope the news will be better. It usually isn’t. Overall, most of us aren’t saving enough — or any! — for our retirement. And things aren’t likely to get better. In fact, Uncle Sam is shutting down a program created just three years ago to encourage lower-income earners to save for retirement. The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced on Friday, July 28, that it soon will wind down the myRA program. Broadening retirement savings: The name is short for “my retirement account” and was a play on IRA in an... Read more →


Every taxpayer is well aware of the length of the federal tax tentacles. What Congress does to the Internal Revenue Code affects state taxes, too. And it’s not just the residents who live in the states who are affected. It’s the states themselves. Even before any tax code changes have been made, many are already feeling the Trump Effect on their treasuries. “April income tax returns brought bad news for state budgets,” according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government. “Payments with tax returns usually arrive in April and early May, and often they are surprising. By mid-to-late May, states know... Read more →


Wisconsin workers soon could be working at new Foxconn plant if state lawmakers approve huge tax benefits for the Taiwanese electronics company. Are you worried that your next iPhone will cost more than you planned now that Foxconn is opening a plant in Wisconsin? The Taiwanese electronics supplier will be paying U.S. employees much more — an average of almost $54,000 a year plus benefits annually — than workers who put together Apple products in China. Don't be. Foxconn's American operation won't be making smartphone components. Instead, it will produce liquid-crystal display panels for televisions and computer screens. But Wisconsin... Read more →


"We looked at healthcare and said let's make sure that we do tax reform better and differently." — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) talking about what's next legislatively after the GOP failed earlier today to deliver on its seven-year pledge to end Obamacare. House Speaker Paul Ryan has been pushing his "A Better Way" economic and tax plan for years. Will he finally succeed in 2017 as a Republican-led Congress and White House turn their attention to tax reform? Doing a better job in rewriting the tax code than they did during the recent Affordable Care Act repeal and/or replace... Read more →


School supplies are among the items that are sales-tax-free during some of this summer's state tax holidays. (Photo by Kay Bell) Shoppers in 15* states are gearing up for their summer state tax holidays. Mississippi and Tennessee are next in line, with those sales-tax-free events set for this coming weekend. But are they really saving? As I noted in my blurb for this week's tax tip on these summer 2017 event, they are bad public policy. How bad? Political gimmicks like sales tax holidays distract policymakers and taxpayers from genuine, permanent tax relief. If a state must offer a "holiday"... Read more →


Alfred Hitchcock nailed it in his 1955 cat burglar-turned-romance starring Grace Kelly and Gary Grant. The pair teamed up, with Grant's character using his expertise as a former jewel thief, to catch a new criminal in the wealthy playground of Monte Carlo, Monaco. (Click film screenshot to watch the movie trailer on YouTube.) The Internal Revenue Service apparently is taking a hint from a Hollywood classic. It's thinking like identity thieves to catch identity thieves. That was among the messages from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in July 25 media teleconference. Cybercriminals are showing increasing savvy and tax expertise, particularly in... Read more →


The Internal Revenue Service has expanded its digital options, offering email notification for some e-paying taxpayers and web video conferencing for appealing tax disputes. You have IRS email: Yes, this time that email really could be from the IRS. But only in certain circumstances. The IRS announced its new email notification for folks who pay via Direct Pay and Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) in, what else, an email. The July 21 electronic message to tax professionals let them know that their clients who use those two payment options can sign up to get notifications about those payments in... Read more →


Tom Hiddleston as Loki, left, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor prepare to take down some bad guys in "Thor: Ragnarok." That movie, coming to a theater near you in November, was one of the many Marvel Studios productions that got the lion's share of attention at Comic-Con 2017. (Click image for full Marvel Studios trailer at YouTube) Comic-Con, the geek event of the year, just wrapped up in San Diego. Not surprisingly, Marvel Studios and its stars were the big draws at the 2017 event. I'm not a big fan of comic books and their spin-off products, but I did... Read more →


On the presidential campaign trail, Donald J. Trump promised to end many federal agency regulations. It's one pledge he's delivered. The day he moved into the White House, Trump's chief of staff issued an memo to agency heads calling for a freeze on rules that Obama Administration officials finalized before leaving office, but that have not yet taken effect. The Jan. 20 document basically sets up the framework for the Administration's framework for his deregulation policy. That was followed by Executive Order (EO) #13777 on Feb. 24 to reduce federal regulation and control regulatory costs. It calls for agencies to... Read more →


Ark Encounter's replica of the vessel used in the Biblical tale of Noah and the flood is the largest timber frame structure in the world, according to the Kentucky theme park's website. It is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high. Ark Encounter, the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian theme park in Grant County, Kentucky, will have to stay afloat without the aid of $18 million in state tax breaks. The Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet sent the operators of the park, which features a massive replica of Noah's Ark, a letter last week notifying them that the park... Read more →


Alabama kicked off the annual back-to-school sales tax holiday 2017 season on July 21. Mississippi's and Tennessee's weekend events are at the end July. The 13 other summer sales tax savings periods aren't until August. The reconfigured table below — it's still alphabetical, but the immediately upcoming back-to-school tax holidays are now in bold type and once a state's tax holiday is over, it will be moved to the bottom of the listing — will help you keep track of the remaining sales-tax-free shopping days. With July half-way over, parents, students and especially retailers are variously anticipating and dreading school... Read more →


Some type of marijuana use is legal in more than half of the United States. State and local coffers get associated pot taxes, but that could stop if the feds start cracking down on what is still an illegal drug in Uncle Sam's eyes. (Photo courtesy GreenerCulture.com) U.S. Attorney General (for now) Jeff Sessions apparently really wants federal law enforcement to once again target marijuana. But a return to a tougher prosecution by Uncle Sam could produce some serious push-back from states where pot is legal if they show tax revenue results like Colorado. Since Colorado became the first the... Read more →


If you've been paying attention to Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with some Russians last summer, you know the White House has given two reasons for the get-together. The explanation that caught my tax eye was that the group talked about adoptions. The president's oldest son said that one of the Russian nationals came to Trump Tower to lobby for reversal of the Magnitsky Act. The law gets its name from attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who died in 2009 while being held in a Moscow prison. Foreign fight, domestic family effects: In 2012, the U.S. law bearing Magnitsky's name was enacted. It... Read more →


Your decision to stay in a private home or a traditional lodging option depends on lots of things, including the accommodations' costs that often have added occupancy taxes. (Image courtesy Reunion Vacation Homes) Are you booking your summer vacation stay via Airbnb? You might want to budget a bit more for lodging taxes. The popular private residential rental service collects sales and occupancy taxes on properties' leased in all or parts of 31 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Internationally, Airbnb also is acting as tax collector in six countries. Airbnb appears to... Read more →


Happy World Emoji Day! It's held on July 17 each year as a way to promote the use of emojis — like we need to do that! — and, according to Emojipedia (really!), spread the enjoyment that the colorful icons bring. The enjoyment goal got me thinking of how emojis might make one of our worst tax tasks more pleasant. I'm talking, of course, about our annual filing of returns. Most of us already use tax software. Surely it wouldn't be that difficult to incorporate the option of adding emojis to the lines we fill electronically complete. Dressing up your... Read more →


The spectacular hole 13 waterfall at Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, New York, is one of the things that makes the property so valuable. But Donald Trump's attorneys say that property appraisers have set the price too high, at least when it comes to the value that determines the course and club's annual real estate tax bill. While Donald J. Trump was watching the USGA tournament at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club (where most summer weekends he plays golf), his attorneys around the country were working on ways to lower property taxes on some of his other courses.... Read more →


Honestly, rich people. You can afford to hire good tax advisers and accountants. Why don't you?!? That's the question I ask every time another celebrity gets in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. Last week it was boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. Now the latest wealthy person who just can't get a grip on taxes is hip-hop icon DMX. Although rapper DMX seemed pretty composed after his court appearance last week on tax evasion charges, I suspect at some point this was his reaction to the federal charges. The 46-year-old rapper, whose legal name is Earl Simmons, is accused of 14... Read more →


UPDATE, Sept. 18: The House of Representatives continues to make progress in efforts to end civil asset forfeitures. On Sept. 12, the chamber passed via voice vote an amendment to an appropriations bill that would bar bonuses for a section of Department of Justice (DOJ) employees until they rule on 255 civil cases referred to them by the Internal Revenue Service. This follows the Sept. 5 House passage, also by voice vote, of H.R. 1843, the Restraining Excessive Seizure of Property through the Exploitation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Tools, or RESPECT, Act. The legislation, discussed below, would impose new restrictions... Read more →


Shawn Campbell via Flickr Creative Commons As the health care battle on Capitol Hill continues, there's one thing upon which both side can agree. The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. No piece of legislation is. Just ask Republicans trying to craft a replacement for Obamacare, as the seven-year-old health care law is known. And just ask a California couple who now owe the Internal Revenue Service almost $13,000 because of miscalculated Obamacare advance premium payments. Premium tax credit help: The Walkers, a married California couple, got health care coverage in 2014 though one of the Golden State's insurance marketplaces.... Read more →


This post was updated Tuesday, July 25, 2017. Paid tax return preparers must sign their clients' 1040 forms and include their IRS-issued professional ID number. The IRS lost a court case to charge a fee for the identifiers, known as PTINs, but is seeking a stay of that order pending possible appeal of the case. If you're a tax preparer who's hoping to get back fee you paid for your IRS-issued special identification number, you could be waiting a bit longer. The Internal Revenue Service on July 24 formally asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to... Read more →