We got our notice of appraisal for our house last week. It was, as has been the case for the last few years, higher. If we were selling our house right now, we'd be thrilled. But we're not moving (yet). This week, we got our monthly neighborhood newsletter. It included a local Realtor's ad touting local listings. One was for a house down the block. The asking price was $300,000 more than our appraisal notice. Yes, that home is a bit larger than our house. And it has a pool. But is it worth $300,000 more than our home? The... Read more →


Hurricanes Katia, Irma and Jose (left to right) lined up last September, each possibly headed for landfall. (National Hurricane Center radar image) A key forecast group expects the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season to be even more active than normal. That is not what people who endured Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma last year and are, in some areas, still struggling to recover, wanted to hear. Dr. Phil Klotzbach and his team at Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project are forecasting 14 named tropical storms this hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. Mother Nature and her... Read more →


Tax Day 2018 is almost here. This mid-April deadline, which falls on April 17 this year due to the Emancipation Day federal holiday in Washington, D.C., means that millions of us are in the midst of finishing up our federal tax returns. Many filers also are doing double tax duty right now. That's because they live in a state that taxes some portion of income. And most of those income tax collecting states follow the IRS filing calendar. That means those states' deadlines this year also are April 17. No, some or all state taxable income: Here in Texas, the... Read more →


Identity theft is bad enough, but when it's connected to your tax data, things can be particularly scary. Not only does a crook have personal information about you, but he or she can steal the tax refund you've been counting on. In some situations where your data has been hacked, you'll want to file a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, to let the inform the Internal Revenue Service that you think you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft. Now you finally can file that form online. IRS, FTC take ID theft fight further online: The IRS now will... Read more →


Being your own boss means you are responsible for many tasks, including setting up a retirement plan for yourself and your business' employees. If you're self-employed, your primary focus, especially in your entrepreneurial effort's early years, likely is to just make sure your business survives. But once you're on stable business footing, it's wise to look into tax-deferred retirement plan options for your small business. Not only are these retirement accounts a great way to save for the day you are ready to stop working, they also can help you reduce your current tax bill. Here are three self-employed retirement... Read more →


Welcome April, the Internal Revenue Service favorite month. It's when millions of us file our returns and, despite the billions of dollars in refunds that are sent (eventually), many filers also settle up with Uncle Sam. Those folks who owe tend to be the ones who enter April with tax tasks still to complete. If you're one of the procrastinators, here are some things your absolutely must do by Tuesday, April 17, again because the Emancipation Day federal holiday is celebrated in the IRS headquarters' home of Washington, D.C. That's two more days than usual, but not enough if you've... Read more →


Kids all across the country, including those in my neighborhood, spent Saturday hunting for brightly colored eggs. Or, if they're in the Washington, D.C. area, perhaps they're getting ready to participate in tomorrow's (Monday, April 2) 140th annual White House Easter Egg Roll, like the youngsters in the photo above did last year. Their parents, however, are more likely this weekend to be hunting for tax breaks as the April 17 filing deadline nears. Every tax season, lots of taxpayers overlook some deductions, credits or other tax moves that can reduce their eventual Internal Revenue Service bill. Here are some... Read more →


Employers were supposed to have new withholding tables in place by mid-February to reflect the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act income tax rate changes. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said once those payroll changes were in place, 90 percent of workers would see bigger paychecks thanks to the GOP tax bill. Mnuchin might want to rethink his prediction. A CNBC survey conducted March 17-20 of 800 Americans, 60 percent of whom were working, found that 52 percent of the employed haven't seen a change in their paychecks. In fact, just 32 percent of the working adults that CNBC talked to said... Read more →


Scott Foster, accountant by day and emergency NHL goalie for one night, makes a save in the Chicago Blackhawks win March 29 over the Winnipeg Jets. Accountants know all about pressure, especially during tax season. But Scott Foster, a Chicago-area numbers cruncher, last night ably handled even more, albeit a different kind of, stress. Foster faced, and bested, some of the National Hockey League's best. Injuries lead to NHL debut: A series of injuries forced Foster to suit up and step into the goal crease for the final 14 minutes of the Chicago Blackhawks March 29 game against the Winnipeg... Read more →


The larger standard deduction under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that took effect this year has gotten a lot of attention. One of the big pluses, cite fans of the new nearly doubled standard deduction amounts, is that more people will claim them instead of itemizing tax deductible expenses. But regardless of whether you itemize now, plan to under the new tax law or never ever messed with a Schedule A and don't plan to start, there still are some tax deductions you can claim. They are what are popularly known as above-the-line deductions found directly on 1040... Read more →


Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas) and fellow Ways and Means member Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) have offered a bill to revamp the IRS. Remember the kinder, gentler Internal Revenue Service? That was the goal of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, which sought to ease up on the tax agency's aggressive collection actions back then. Now two Ways and Means Committee members are looking to remake the IRS into a modern, more efficient agency that provides taxpayers a better experience. I'm pretty sure that modernizing and refining processes for better efficiency can eventually be accomplished. As for the improved... Read more →


Internal Revenue Service filing data complete through March 16 shows that it has issued almost $183 million in tax refunds to around 62 million taxpayers. Many of those folks now getting refunds planned on the tax-back money. They used paycheck over-withholding as a forced savings account. These are the types of taxpayers the IRS is hoping to reach as part of Paycheck Checkup Week, which kicked off on Monday, March 26. Over the next few days, the IRS is making a special effort to get people to take another look at their payroll withholding. Such reexamination is especially important now... Read more →


If you celebrated your 70½ birthday last year, you could be facing a retirement plan withdrawal deadline in a few days. (Photo by Kay Bell) Tax-favored retirement plans are a big part of millions of Americans' nest eggs. Many individuals still contribute untaxed dollars to traditional IRAs. They opt for this original IRA option because their contributions also allow them to take an immediate deduction on their tax returns. Others put money into workplace defined contribution plans. These automatic contributions are made before taxes are taken out of their paychecks. This lowers the amount of money subject to payroll withholding.... Read more →


iLEAD students hold up their Backpacks Full of Hope that they took to Puerto Rico on their spring break to help with recovery efforts on the island. (Photo courtesy iLEAD) Hundreds of students, and in some cases their families, recently took advantage of spring break to head to sunnier climes. However, a couple of the usual beach destinations, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are still struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The good news is that some of the mainland spring breakers did or still are using their time off to participate in storm recovery efforts in... Read more →


Before departing D.C. last week for their version of spring break, Representatives and Senators, some grudgingly, approved a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill to keep the federal government operating through September. Donald J. Trump signed the bill, which is massive by both dollar and legislative length (the bill ran 2,232 pages long) measurements, but not before injecting some reality show drama into the mix by threatening a veto. Both the $1.3 trillion outlay and 2,232 pages are huge, but since I have to pick one as this week's By the Numbers figure, I'm going with the dollar amount. Now, about... Read more →


Shock jock Howard Stern's candid conversations with guests are one of his show's more popular features. Folks who talk to Stern, including the current Oval Office resident, willingly reveal TMI. One on-air exchange, however, resulted in inadvertent revelation of some of a Massachusetts woman's personal tax information and a subsequent lawsuit against Stern and Uncle Sam. As I noted back in May 2015, she was discussing her overdue tax bill with an Internal Revenue Service agent who had, on another line, called into Stern's satellite radio show. When Stern went live with the tax collector's on-hold call, the IRS agent's... Read more →


When we pay a tax pro for help, we trust that person. Sometimes we shouldn't. Most of use tax professionals to help get through tax season. Thankfully, most paid tax preparers are honest. They want to help their clients meet their tax responsibilities by legally paying the least amount of tax possible under the Internal Revenue Code. But most is not all. Some tax preparers run fly-by-night operations where they simply look to make a quick buck off of honest individuals seeking tax assistance. These pros, and I use the description advisedly, often get paid based on a percentage of... Read more →


There are so many tax scams out there that it takes more than one post to cover them. Three posts, to be precise. This is Part 3 of the Internal Revenue Service's 2018 list of the Dirty Dozen Tax Scams. Your promised tax savings can be quickly washed away if you put your money into an abusive offshore tax shelter. This is it, a look at the final group of scams that crooks are using again this tax year to try to take our money. The final four schemes in this post, numbers 9 through 12, are like those in... Read more →


I am so, so sorry my dear friends in the MidAtlantic and Northeastern United States. I know you're looking at possibly more snow with the fourth nor'easter in three weeks forecast to hit your areas in a few days. Here in Central Texas and other parts of the country, however, spring has officially arrived! My Texas neighbors and I are enjoying the seasonal wildflowers. Thank you, Lady Bird Johnson! (Photo by Kay Bell) It's also the traditional time for cleaning up and clearing out your house. Some of those old and/or unused items can be tossed. Others, however, are in... Read more →


Energy-efficient skylights installed in 2017 could provide homeowners some savings thanks to a recently renewed tax credit. Congress slipped some expired tax breaks into the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 enacted back in February. That was good news for taxpayers who can claim these tax breaks, but it set off a mad scramble within the Internal Revenue Service. Playing processing catch-up: Uncle Sam's tax agency had to dig out and update the appropriate forms and then re-set its processing systems to handle them. And all this had to be done while the 2018 tax-filing season was already underway. The IRS... Read more →