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February 2006

Still clipping after all these years

I use coupons. I have since I graduated from college, moved into an apartment of my own and suddenly had to make a full rent payment without any roommate contributions. With a first job that paid next-to-nothing (but one I loved anyway), I needed all the financial help I could get. I was grown, proudly independent and didn't want to place a dreaded long-distance call to the parents to ask for a few bucks to tide me over. If I couldn't figure a way to pay rent, utilities and still afford the occasional gathering at The Depot for drinks with... Read more →

Tax tattlers could cash in

San Francisco now offers up to $500,000 to unofficial tax police who turn in property owners who've evaded paying tax on their holdings. According to a story by Bloomberg News (and printed here in the Houston Chronicle), San Francisco's new city ordinance appears to be the first citizen-watchdog program related to property taxes in the United States. In fiscal 2004, San Francisco collected $1.18 billion in property taxes. City officials say they can't put an exact amount on how much tax revenue could be recovered, but the city assessor told Bloomberg that San Francisco's current property tax collection process "is... Read more →

Block's boo-boo

Don't ever let your taxes make you feel stupid again. Even the pros have problems. Last week, H&R Block admitted that it messed up its own corporate tax return to the tune of $32 million. That sure makes me feel better about all the times I've scratched my head over a 1040 instruction or cursed a convoluted worksheet required to file for a credit. This was Block's second tax misstep this filing season. As I mentioned here, the tax prep company earlier this year acknowledged that it had mistakenly shipped some free copies of its TaxCut software with the recipients’... Read more →

Both sides
of the tax evasion coin

Irwin Schiff, a long-time anti-tax crusader who was convicted last year on federal conspiracy, tax evasion and tax fraud charges, is headed to Camp Fed for 13 years. The judge also sentenced the tax protester to three years probation after his prison release and ordered him to pay more than $4.2 million in restitution. While federal prosecutors are no doubt pleased, the money Schiff was instructed to hand over is just a drop in the bucket compared to what his schemes cost the U.S. treasury. The IRS says that Schiff and those he convinced not to pay taxes cheated the... Read more →

Word, and no word,
from the IRS

Old Man Winter has shown his blustery face enough to encourage people to start looking for ways to keep the cold out of their homes. At least it looks like that's the case for IRS employees, who have just put out the official word for folks seeking to take advantage of the homeowner energy credits I mentioned here. The tax-approved items include: Insulation systems that reduce heat loss or gain, Exterior windows, including skylights, Exterior doors, and Certain metal roofs. Energy-efficient improvements that meet the new energy bill's standards will get you a 10 percent credit on your next tax... Read more →

Getting and keeping

In the last few days, two housing stories caught my eye. The first was from the Wall Street Journal, where reporter Ruth Simon looks at Census Bureau data that indicate that after climbing steadily for a decade, the United States' homeownership rate has leveled off. If you have a subscription to the paper, you can read the full story here. If you don't subscribe, here's a telling excerpt from Simon's article: "It's not entirely clear why the homeownership rate seems to have plateaued. Some economists say that the new data could be a sign that declining affordability is finally taking... Read more →

Night terrors

I'm not one of those women who dreams her man flirted (or worse) with some other woman and then wakes up all angry at him for what happened in her nightmare. No, that's just not me. Plus, I don't tend to have those sorts of dreams. Unfortunately for me, my dreams wander to more esoteric, some (like my hubby, whom I cut so much dream slack) might say even geeky areas. Regardless of what they're about, I know dreams are just a way for the brain to sort out all the disparate information it took in during the day (or... Read more →

Listen to two jokes

... and call me in the morning. Apparently, Reader's Digest was right. Laughter is the best medicine. Most of the filmgoers who sat through Patch Adams might disagree. But Association for Applied Therapeutic Humor members would probably argue that cinematic merits (or lack thereof) aside, the premise of the Robin Williams' flick is valid. Humor helps heal. AATH, which describes itself as an international community that believes humor can improve people's moods, as well as aid in more serious illnesses, was formed almost 20 years ago by a group of healthcare professionals. Today, its membership includes not only medical personnel,... Read more →

One good egg,
one scrambled mess

U.S. Olympian Joey Cheek won a lot more than a medal this week in Torino. He also won the hearts and respect of millions. Cheek captured the gold in the 500-meter speedskating event. Then he announced that he's donating the $25,000 he will get from the U.S. Olympic Committee for the win to Right to Play, a group that uses sports to help needy children worldwide. If he winds more medals, that money also will go to the organization. Right to Play is supported by Cheek's childhood hero, Norwegian speedskater Johann Olav Koss. It was while watching Koss compete that... Read more →

We're #45!

I live in the 45th most livable state. Think I can get a foam finger with that on it? Personally, I think I live in the best state, but my opinion differs from the latest livability assessment by Morgan Quitno Press. And that leads to two questions. What is a Morgan Quitno? And how exactly did it determine the livability of Texas and the other 49 states (Washington, D.C. wasn't included)? Let's take the second question first. In announcing its 2005 rankings, the publishing company compared states in more than 550 categories. Then it averaged each state's rankings for 44... Read more →

Going shopping at the Gap

The Tax Gap, that is. This is the difference between the amount of taxes that Americans owed and what they actually paid. The Internal Revenue Service says the U.S. Treasury was shortchanged $345 billion in 2001. This is the agency's first look at the gap in 15 years. Some of the underpayments were because of honest taxpayer mistakes. Given the complexity of the tax laws (reform anyone?), that's not a big surprise. Also not a big surprise: A chunk of the missing tax money was due to plain old tax cheating. IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, ever politic and probably painfully... Read more →

Hearts and flowers

… and taxes. Granted, the world's most romantic three words aren't "Internal Revenue Service." But when you look at the tax code, you'll find that sometimes the IRS does play cupid. I know, I know. What about the marriage penalty? Well, that's a topic that, like most things taxes, has undergone a lot of spin. As is usually the case with taxes, the penalty was primarily situational and, as discussed in this story, provided almost as many couples a benefit when they married as it hurt. But it was a nice hook -- who's for penalizing marriage in this day... Read more →

Ready, aim, fire

Just make sure it's not a campaign contributor you shoot. So Dick got a little trigger happy. Haven't you ever made a mistake? Cheney's unfortunate hunting companion, Austin attorney and Republican party financial supporter Harry Whittington, at least can be thankful that they were bagging quail this week in south Texas. If he ever accompanies the Veep to a hunt in his native Wyoming, the stakes could be decidedly more dangerous. A lawmaker there has introduced a bill that would let hunters carry automatic weapons and silencer-equipped guns into the field. Now there's just one big question left to answer.... Read more →

Escaping the fat police

No, I'm not talking about outrunning overweight lawmen like Sheriff Buford T. Justice or Boss Hogg (OK, he wasn't a cop, but he owned law enforcement in Hazzard County). I'm talking about being free of those incessant fat-free folks who want us all to eat cardboard so we can live longer. If I get an extra 20 years but can only eat tasteless crap during that time, what's the point? Quality over quantity, people! Being a woman with body image issues (is that redundant?) I occasionally tried to follow the latest weight-loss trends. I'd spot a diet soda among my... Read more →

Reunited and it feels so good

I am so happy for them! Those two kids belong together and I'm glad they finally realized it. Lance and Sheryl are calling off their split? Nick and Jessica, perhaps? No. Ken and Barbie are reunited! Just in time for Valentine's Day. The New York Times reports that the leggy blonde has dumped interloper Blaine, the Aussie surfer, and is back in Ken's arms. Or at least standing next to Ken, since neither his nor Barbie's nonmalleable plastic arms allow for actual embraces. Cynics may question whether it's true love. After all, it was Barbie who left Ken almost exactly... Read more →

Got a spare $2.8 trillion lying around?

That's how much the president wants to spend over the next fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2006, to Sept. 30, 2007. Looking at that raw number, the first question that comes to mind is, what about the deficit? It's expected to hit a record $423 billion this fiscal year. No worries. Administration accountants have wangled a way to get it to "only" $354 billion in 2007 and cut it to $183 billion by 2010. Of course, extensions of the president's favorite tax cuts will push it back up in 2011, but these folks will be in private sector posts by then,... Read more →