In preparation for the summer cookout season, the hubby and I have been sprucing up our patio. The biggest job, aside from cleaning the thick layer of pollen off the outdoor dining table (yes, the hubby is appalled I'm showing that in the above photo), is replacing our almost 20-year-old patio furniture cushions. We tried buying replacements at local outdoor stores. Then we went to a couple of big box chains. Finally, we found what we wanted at a reasonable price in one of the many gardening/outdoor living catalogs that fill up our snail mail box. So we ordered them... Read more →


The fresh pepper section is always my first stop at my local H-E-B grocery store. Most of these delectable edibles come from Mexico. Donald J. Trump's forays last week into international issues got lots of attention. There was, of course, the on-off-on-again (and potentially taxpayer costly) Singapore Summit with North Korea. While I'm all for working to keep Kim Jong Un from reverting to his nuclear missile happy persona, my Texas neighbors and I were focused on another global matter. Yep, I'm talking about Trump's statement that he'd like to scrap the North American Free Trade Arrangement, or NAFTA, followed... Read more →


The 2018 Atlantic basin tropical storm season, which began early with Alberto's late May arrival, is now officially here. Get ready for possible storms. And note that tax law changes mean you might not get any tax help with your recovery efforts this year. Remember this? A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite caught Hurricanes Katia and Irma and Tropical Storm Jose (left to right) lining up on Sept. 8, 2017. Mother Nature has her own calendar. She ignored today's official start of the 2018 Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico hurricane season by, in late May, creating Tropical Storm Alberto. That storm... Read more →


Losing your job. It's one of the worst things that can happen, especially when it comes as a total surprise. That's what folks who worked on Roseanne are dealing with after ABC pulled the plug on the rebooted sitcom. Being out of work is not so high-profile for most of us. But we all share the panic, anger and helplessness of suddenly losing the reason we get up every morning. To help you get through being let go, here are six steps you can take. And, of course, there are tax implications (nine total) for each of these post-job moves.... Read more →


Lots of my neighbors are looking to sell, even though for most of us there's no longer a tax break for moving. However, many homeowners still will pocket tax-free sales cash that should help cover relocation expenses. No, this is not my neighborhood, although where we live is, except on lawn service days, pretty quiet, too. Summer always kind of freaks me out, and not just because here in Central Texas it tends to get too damn hot too damn soon. I'm talking about all my neighbors who want to leave. Every summer there's a plethora of "For Sale" signs... Read more →


If you filed a return on April 17 (or the 18th thanks to the Internal Revenue Service's Tax Day systems glitch), but didn't pay your full tax bill, Uncle Sam is coming for you. OK, not in person (yet). So you can still answer when someone rings your doorbell. But the IRS says in the coming weeks it will be sending out billing notices to 2017 tax return filers who still owe money. These tax bills actually will be in the form of IRS notices, specially notices CP14 and CP501, which are frequently mailed in the months of June and... Read more →


"On this day, take time to remember those who have fallen. But on every day after, do more; put the freedoms they died for to greater and nobler uses." — Richelle E. Goodrich, author During holidays, we're generally encouraged to remember the reason behind the special day. The two instances where this is most prevalent is Christmas and Memorial Day. Memorial Day's purpose often gets lost in the revelry of summer's arrival … except when your awash in a tropical storm's rain bands. But today is supposed to be more than time with family and friends at picnics, trips to... Read more →


A sampling of some of my favorite beers. Yes, this photo is a few years old (note the 2011 Christmas brew label), but rest assured, I regularly restock the refrigerator. Across much of the United States this Memorial Day weekend Sunday it's hot. Very hot. We're pushing 100 here in Austin. That's why many beverages will be consumed by folks out today at beaches, picnics and sporting events. Tax collectors thank you for your thirst, especially if you're slaking it with a cold brewski. Beer tax tallies: Beer drinkers annually make a $5.3 billion excise tax payment to state and... Read more →


Congratulations new graduates! If you're soon marching or have marched down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance to receive your college diploma, welcome to the rest of your life. I remember that first summer after getting my sheepskin. It meant the part-time job I had at the local newspaper became a full-time gig. And that meant more money. That also meant a do-it-myself crash course — pre-internet! — in personal finance. Things worked out fine for me, but I admit it was simpler back then. Not that I'm that old, but college costs for a state university in Texas weren't... Read more →


Packed and ready to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend! Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer and apparently we are ready for the lazy, hazy season. AAA says that travel during this long holiday weekend is expected to be at near-record levels. And it actually began on Thursday. More than 41.5 million Americans will travel this Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA. That's nearly 5 percent more than last year and the most in more than a dozen years. You know what that means. Travel delays, especially in urban areas this afternoon where holiday revelers heading... Read more →


A tropical system off of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula is expected to move north over the Memorial Day weekend. (The Weather Channel screenshot) The 2018 tropical storm season has arrived a bit early. Officially, the Atlantic (and Gulf of Mexico) hurricane season doesn't start each year until June 1. But the weather gods operate on their own schedules, so we often get early forming storms. That's the current situation. A tropical system has developed off the eastern coast of Yucatan, Mexico, and is expected to move north, ruining the Memorial Day weekend for thousands of Gulf Coast residents and vacationers. Depending... Read more →


Expensive real estate no longer provides owners unlimited federal property tax deductions. The Internal Revenue Service announced today that it will make an announcement about states efforts to provide taxpayers workarounds to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act's $10,000 limit on state and local tax (SALT) federal deductions. The issue has arisen as a handful of states have enacted or are considering law changes to allow their residents to make contributions to state accounts, from which their state taxes then are paid. State "charity" workarounds: Essentially, the states' general approaches have been to effectively turn the tax payments into charitable... Read more →


The beach view of the newest Trump South Florida property. (Photo via Zillow) While many homeowners are in the process of protesting their residential property appraisals in the hopes of lowering their tax bills, Donald J. Trump is adding to his potential property taxes. The Trump Organization recently closed on a waterfront mansion just across the street in Palm Beach, Florida, from Mar-a-Lago. The property at 1125 South Ocean Boulevard was on the market for $23.9 million, but the Trumps got it for $18.5 million. Friendly transaction: The price break probably didn't take a lot of haggling. The 8,270-square-feet property,... Read more →


Taxes are complicated. Most filers, however, escape some of the hassle by claiming the standard deduction instead of itemizing expenses. Over the years, around 70 percent of taxpayers annually have taken the standard deduction route. That number is likely to increase next year, when even more folks filing 2018 returns will claim the standard deduction amounts because, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), they have almost doubled. A few of us, though, will stick with Schedule A and our itemized expenses. And we, says the Internal Revenue Service, need to look at our payroll withholding now because of... Read more →


California has the highest gas tax in the United States. Opponents are hoping to repeal it via a ballot measure this November. I filled up my mid-sized Chevy sedan's tank this morning, something I do every two weeks or so. I was stunned to see my local gas station, which usually sells gas at the lower end of the prevailing price scale, had regular unleaded going for $2.63 a gallon. That's a more than 50-cent hike from my previous tank top-off in April. It also put the Austin area (or at least my neighborhood) closer than it's been for a... Read more →


Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exit St. George's Chapel as husband and wife. (Photo: Kensington Royal Instagram) I'm not a fashionista, but I was impressed with Meghan Markle's wedding dress. The simple, elegant Givenchy gown was perfect. So what happens to the hand-stitched dress that reportedly cost around £100,000 (almost $135,000 U.S.)? Will it be sent to a museum? Sealed, boxed and stuck at the top of a closet for use by a next-generation bride? Lent to a friend for her coming wedding? There's another option, maybe not for the new Duchess of Sussex, but for us commoners. Donate your... Read more →


Bicyclists' fringe commuting benefits were eliminated under the new tax law. Other commuters also could find their workplace transportation perks slashed, too. Woman on bicycle by Sunny via Flickr CC It's forecast to be, for the third straight day, near 97 degrees this afternoon in the greater Austin area. It's also National Bike to Work Day. That is, shall we say, a pungent combination. Yet another reason I'm glad I work from home! Biking benefits are ending: Despite the hot Texas summers (and springs and falls), the Austin area is bicycle-crazed. Folks two-wheel it all over the place, undeterred by... Read more →


Teachers give more than their time and energy to students. They literally pay in many instances to help their students learn. That's why educators were pleased when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act left the above-the-line deduction for their out-of-pocket expenses in the tax code. This tax break, which is claimed directly on Form 1040 with no need to fill out a Schedule A, lets a single filing teacher claim $250 spent toward classroom supplies. For married educators, $500 in personal payment for school supplies can be deducted (or more technically subtracted from filers' gross income) on their joint tax... Read more →


They're baaaack! Actually, they never left. They, of course, are tax scammers, who the Internal Revenue Service says have tweaked an old scheme using a form used by international taxpayers and non-resident aliens in their latest effort to steal taxpayer identities and cash. As is the case in many tax scams, the form used in this latest identity theft iteration, the W-8BEN, is real. That's an excerpt of the real IRS document, which is titled Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding, below. You can click on it to see the full form at IRS.gov.... Read more →


Actress Meghan Markle may give up her U.S. citizenship after marrying Prince Harry this weekend, but other American expatriations so far this year have slowed. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle join the rest of the British royal family at Sandringham Christmas Day Services last December. (Photo by Mark Jones via Flickr) Great Britain's Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle will tie the knot this Saturday, May 19, (note the international time change if you, like I, plan to watch) at St George's Chapel on the grounds of Windsor Castle. After Markle answers the wedding vow questions about having and holding... Read more →