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August 2017

Residents of Houston and much of southeast Texas are still dealing with Hurricane Harvey's floods. Texas National Guard members are helping. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Tim Pruitt via Flickr) If you're looking for financial help to help you recover from Hurricane Harvey damages, the Internal Revenue Service says you can use your workplace retirement plan money. The IRS announced that 401(k)s and similar employer-sponsored retirement plans can make expedited loans and hardship distributions to hurricane victims and members of their families in Texas. Since Harvey made initial landfall the night of Aug. 25 near Rockport, Texas, the federally-declared disaster area... Read more →


Some folks have been asking for clarification on disaster loss claims, specifically with regard to the value of a damaged or destroyed home. A Rockport, Texas, home severely damaged by Hurricane Harvey, which made its first landfall on Aug. 25 at the Gulf Coast town. (Photo courtesy National Weather Service, Corpus Christi, via Twitter) At issue is how a home's fair market value factors into a disaster tax claim. I'm sorry to report that a property's high value — I'm talking for sale purposes, not just your personal appreciation and assessment of the house — won't help you get more... Read more →


People are still being rescued in flooded Houston, so very few — even those who made it through Hurricane Harvey relatively unscathed — are thinking about taxes right now. But when they do begin to face rebuilding their post-storm lives, one of the things they'll have to deal with is taxes. A Texas National Guard soldier rescues a woman from her Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston neighborhood. (Photo by 1Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD, via Flickr Creative Commons) The Internal Revenue Service has some good news for folks in Houston and its flooded surroundings, as well as those in other areas... Read more →


Oh, Photoshop. What would the internet be without you? Sometimes, doctored images are welcome innocent examples of good humor. Other times they are cruel and divisive. And the astounding photos tend to skyrocket during times of tragedy and disaster. Take, for example, the photo below of what @Jeggit's Tweet says is a shark swimming in a Houston street flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Jeggit gives us the option to believe it or not. Go with not. It's fake. Mashable has the details on the original shark photo, which over the years has been seen in edited online images swimming through flooded... Read more →


Hurricane Harvey has inundated Houston. And it's still raining there. And in other parts of the Lone Star State. Thanks to The Weather Channel's Matt Sitkowski for posting this image on Twitter, along with one showing these Houston roads pre-Hurricane Harvey so we can get some perspective on the extent of H-Town's hurricane-related flooding. That means lots of folks are going to need help recovering from the strongest tropical system to hit Texas since Hurricane Carla in 1961. From Corpus Christi to Port Arthur along the Gulf Coast and, thanks to Harvey's size and slow movement, well inland, my native... Read more →


As Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on the Texas Gulf Coast, the Internal Revenue Service was providing some tax relief for victims of earlier natural disasters. Severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides in late July caused major damage in parts of West Virginia. Now some of those affected residents get extra time to tax care of tax responsibilities. Tax time, penalty relief: The IRS says that individuals who live or have a business in the West Virginia counties of Harrison, Marion, Marshall and Wetzel have extra time to meet certain tax deadlines that fall/fell between July 28 and Nov. 29.... Read more →


I didn't win the $759 million Powerball lottery, but I just got word that I'm the recipient of the next best thing, $22.5 million from the federal government. I know this because Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen emailed me the good news. Here's what the commish's notification said: from:Mr John Koskinen "www."@clock.ocn.ne.jp reply-to:Mr John Koskinen date:Thu, Aug 24, 2017 at 7:42 PM subject:FROM IRS COMMISSIONER MR. JOHN KOSKINEN FROM IRS COMMISSIONER MR. JOHN KOSKINEN U.S.A IRS Address:1111 Constitution Ave., NW; Washington, DC 20224 Greetings From The Internal Revenue Service United States of America. Your total funds worth $22.5... Read more →


Tropical Storm Harvey is bringing the 2017 hurricane season to my home state. And while it's the Texas Gulf Coast that will take the first hit late Friday, Aug. 25/early Saturday, Aug. 26, the storm will be felt well inland. Including here in Austin. Meteorologists are forecasting that Harvey could be a Category 3 hurricane by the time it makes landfall. If so, it would be the first major hurricane to make U.S. landfall since Wilma in 2005. UPDATE Aug. 24, 2017, 5:30 p.m.: The dire predictions are looking like they are on the mark. This afternoon, Harvey was strong... Read more →


All U.S. workers know, simply from looking at their pay stubs, that our tax system is pay-as-you-earn. Our taxes come out of our paychecks as withholding, both for federal income taxes, as well as to cover future Social Security and Medicare benefits. We don't have control over those taxes we pay now for federal retirement and hospital coverage when we're older. But we can — and should — adjust our income tax withholding if there are changes in our lives, such as marriage or a family addition or home purchase that can affect a tax bill, or we're getting a... Read more →


An expected increase in the Social Security wage base won't help most workers, but could be a tax break for wealthier earners. The economy is ticking along, with nominally more workers finding jobs. But many of them say they aren't getting paid what they should. That's causing some pushback from middle- and working-class voters who supported Donald J. Trump. "Trump ran as a working-class hero, so let's look at the results," Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Good Jobs Nation, told the Washington Post. "We're seven months into his administration, and wages are flat." While the Administration and economists point to... Read more →


The continental United States will be a little dimmer today as the solar eclipse moves across the lower 48. Some folks, however, focus on the sun every day. They have solar energy systems. If you’re interest in joining their sun worshiping ranks, the tax code can help. The federal solar tax credit, officially known as the solar investment tax credit (ITC), allows you to claim on your federal taxes 30 percent of the cost of a solar energy system. Good, it’s a tax credit. This means you get a dollar-for-dollar reduction of any tax you owe. Even better, installation costs... Read more →


Congress is looking to revise at least part of the bloated U.S. tax code in the coming months. In addition to reducing taxes, lawmakers say they want to make things simpler for taxpayers. In support of this argument, politicians and policy groups often point to the Internal Revenue Code’s complexity and compare it unfavorably to other nations. Our closest ally, however, shares a lot of the same tax troubles, at least according to one British economics writer. Growing British tax code: "Every [English] government promises to simplify taxes. None succeeds. We need more scrutiny of schemes that are too easy... Read more →


Marvel's reluctant superhero Jessica Jones, portrayed by Kristyn Ritter on the eponymous Netflix series, is back this month in The Defenders. She's why I subscribe. But will I, and millions of others, keep watching if streaming services are taxed? It's the weekend, so that means binge watching. Especially with The Defenders — gotta get me some more Jessica Jones! — now out on Netflix. I'm not alone in subscribing to a streaming service or two. It's a relatively cheap entertainment option, especially when you consider that the 10 or so bucks a month are still less than one night's price... Read more →


Most of the time, employees who are fired must look elsewhere for work. However, that’s not the case for some Internal Revenue Service personnel. An audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) found that around 10 percent of more than 2,000 former employees the IRS rehired between January 2015 and March 2016 were folks the agency had let go earlier because of conduct and performance issues. Troubling terminations: Those 213 rehired workers, according to TIGTA, had previously been ousted for workplace issues that included falsifying documents, avoiding taxes and taxpayer privacy offenses. Specifically, the July 24 report... Read more →


From 10:17 a.m. Pacific time until 2:47 p.m. Eastern time, give or take a few minutes before and after, on Monday, Aug. 21, millions of Americans will be watching — safely, please! — the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental United States in more than 38 years. The line shows the entire path of totality across the contiguous United States for the Aug. 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. Click image for a larger view. (Map by Ernie Wright, NASA/Goddard/SVS) That also likely will mean a big boost in businesses, both long-established and pop-ups related to the astronomical event... Read more →


Virginia GOP Rep. Thomas Garrett, sponsor of a legislative petition to force a House vote on a clean repeal of Obamacare without any replacement measure. (Screen shot from appearance on Fox News) Congress isn't meeting this month, but that hasn't stopped a group of conservative Republicans in recent days from devising a plan they hope will, as they've promised for seven years, repeal Obamacare. House Freedom Caucus members are looking to force a straight repeal of the Affordable Care Act, known as the ACA or more (un)popularly Obamacare, and the health care law's related taxes. The erasure of the law,... Read more →


Many drivers worry about the accessibility of electric vehicle recharging stations. That's not a problem for the owners of these electric cars charging along an Ontario, Canada, street. (Photo courtesy EVObsession.com) President Donald Trump signed an executive order today designed to streamline the approval process for building roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Contractors and the transportation industry say that will help improve the building and repair of the country's roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects. Critics say the Administration's approach could lead to rubber stamping permits without adequate scrutiny, especially when it comes to environmental effects of such construction. One... Read more →


"Dear IRS, …" — If you have a question about how a tax law or regulation affects your particular set of circumstances, you can ask, in writing, for the Internal Revenue Service to weigh in. But be prepared to pay for the advice and, effective Aug. 15, pay electronically. Taxes are complex. That’s why it’s often wise to get professional help. In some cases, however, even tax pros need some guidance. This is particularly true when taxpayer circumstances are such that the individuals and their advisers feel the need for further interpretation as to how tax laws or administrative rules... Read more →


Downtown Seattle seen from Queen Anne Hill, with the Space Needle standing out and Mount Rainier in the background. (Photo by Rattlhed via Wikimedia Commons) Washington is one of seven states that does not have a personal income tax, but it’s largest city plans to collect one from its wealthiest residents. If the courts let it. On July 14, Seattle City Council bill 119002 became ordinance 125339, which beginning in 2018 will officially impose an income tax on high-income residents. The 2.25 percent tax will apply to individuals within the city's borders with an annual income exceeding $250,000 a year,... Read more →


Tax reform, or at least tax cuts, will top Congress' agenda when it gets back from August recess. But will Representatives and Senators actually rewrite the tax code the way most Americans want? Today's Shout Out Saturday piece says maybe not. Donald J. Trump reportedly is now backing a corporate tax rate of 20 percent to 25 percent, up from the 15 percent rate included in his April tax overhaul outline. That slightly higher business tax rate jibes with what corporate executives and business lobbyists say is attainable. That, however, is not what American taxpayers want, according to a recent... Read more →