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March 2006

Baby you can drive
to my Car Carnival

This week's Carnival of Cars just went live over at Tapscott Behind the Wheel. I'm pleased to say that my report on Ambassador Robert Holmes Tuttle's refusal to play nice with London Mayor Ken Livingstone got quite a nice billing: Holmes Tuttle, who just happens to be U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, remembers what the American Revolution was about - "No Taxation Without Representation" - and he takes seriously the time-honored international practice of not taxing visiting diplomats. Don't Mess With Taxes explains the car connection on this story here. Two other items immediately caught my eye.... Read more →

Say it with cash

I'm not a fan of stock options. They were "the" benefit back in the dot-com heyday and a few places still offer them, although an accounting practices change has made them a bit more of a bother for the granting companies. Even if they're no longer offered like breath mints at your local diner's cash register, some folks still have options they can eventually exercise. But to my thinking, they're more trouble than they're worth. Yeah, I know you get a price break on the stock, which means you'll net more profit when you sell and all's good. Unless your... Read more →

Chiseling little crook

That's how the mayor of London this week described the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. What prompted such invective from Mayor Ken Livingstone? Ambassador Robert Holmes Tuttle, who last July took over the American Embassy posting, has refused to pay the city's congestion charge. This is a fee London instituted three years ago to encourage people coming into town to use other modes of transportation. If you do decide to take the Bentley or Aston Martin or your little MG into the center city, you'll have to pay £8 per day ($14 U.S.). The closest U.S. equivalent is probably the... Read more →

Help stop tax phishers

Call it the IRS version of Crime Stoppers. You know, the program in almost every community where law enforcement solicits the public's help in nabbing bad guys. Now the federal tax collector wants to hear from people who've received fake IRS e-mails purporting to send you a refund in exchange for a little bit of your personal financial information. I got one just this last weekend. If you've been lucky enough to avoid this garbage, you can see what it looks like here. The IRS has set up [email protected], a special e-mail box, and wants recipients of these bogus refund... Read more →

Roadblock for private tax debt collectors

The IRS has issued a stop-work order to three private debt-collection firms that were awarded contracts earlier this month to start going after unpaid tax bills. You can go here to read more about the contracts and why many, including yours truly, thinks such outsourcing is not such a good idea. CCH, the publishing and tax software company, reports that the IRS put the brakes on the controversial collection plan after GC Services LP and Diversified Collection Services, Inc., filed protests with the Government Accountability Office, which handles contracting disputes involving any federal agency. The complaining companies were among the... Read more →

Now taking tickets for this week's Carnival

The Carnival of Personal Finance #41 is now open. As noted by Carnival host Financial Baby Steps, you'll find a wide variety of personal finance bloggings. Topics range from the expected: banking, budgeting, frugality, credit, debt, mortgages and investing. But you'll also find the personal finance angle in areas such as health and time management. And, of course, there are the inevitable taxes, including: Don't Mess With Taxes: The Slings And Arrows Of Outrageous Taxes Quote: "Poor Ellen. She's learned a sad fact. Tax collectors the world over are insistent on accuracy. They also want substantiation. Among the things that... Read more →

Escaping the phishing net

It's official. I'm tax scam bait. This showed up in my e-mail on Saturday: From: Internal Revenue Service To: DontMessWithTaxes @ Date: Mar 25, 2006 3:33 pm (2 hours ago) Subject: receive a tax refund ... More options After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $63.80. Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 6-9 days in order to process it. A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline. To access... Read more →

Where's my refund?

Through mid-March, the IRS has sent out more than 56 million refunds. The average refund amount is $2,379. Both the number of refunds and the average check amount are slightly higher than last year. Electronic filing continues to be popular, especially when done from the comfort of the taxpayer's home. The number of those e-filed returns is more than 13 million, an almost 17% increase from last filing season. Also, more people than ever are opting for refund direct deposit. So far this year, the IRS has sent almost 40 million refunds, or 70% of this season's refunds to date,... Read more →

The slings and arrows
of outrageous taxes

I don't like basketball. There, I said it. I said it here in Austin, where scores of other residents apparently are riveted as the Longhorns manage to hang in the NCAA tournament. For me, March Madness is truly maddening. Basketball is just not my sport, although Texas Tech's only national championship came in 1993 thanks to the women's basketball team. Yay, team and all, but that was a long time ago. So get this latest Big Dance over with already and on to baseball, please! Compounding my frustration with the roundball overload is that tonight's games will disrupt my usual... Read more →

Icky online offerings

OK people. You really need to get a grip on what you're selling on eBay. Same goes for buyers. If you, and you know who you are, weren't paying for this crap, then the sellers would stop. The latest: Larry Summers' half-eaten dinner roll. According to the Harvard Crimson (hat tip to TaxProf), the soon-to-be-ex university president ate half the roll on March 14 during a faculty meal with some undergraduates. One of the attending students got to the ort before the busboys and promptly listed it with the online auctioneer. Now here comes the icky part. The listing read:... Read more →

A quick post to point out a couple of blog additions as we near Tax Day 2006. If you haven't voted in the poll to your left, please take a few minutes to do so. I'll be changing it here in a day or so. Please vote in that new one and subsequent polls, too. And speaking of days, they are quickly dwindling when it comes to how many you have left to get your taxes done. So I've added a countdown section to your right. For most of us, our returns or requests for more time must be filed,... Read more →

Stormy weather

Spring sprang violently in Central Texas last night. Classic thunderstorms rolled through the area, bringing heavy rain, lots of lightning, hail and even a tornado touchdown (thankfully, without casualties) far southwest of Austin's city limits. This is our first spring as Texas residents in many, many years. Weatherwise, now is not the best time to be in the state. Here at the southern end of Tornado Alley, you have to be on high alert March through May. We had a few violent storms come through my West Texas hometown while I was growing up. But my old stomping grounds are... Read more →

I do + I do + I do

"Big Love" is getting a lot of attention. Naturally, TV critics are always looking for the next HBO breakout show to fill the void that will exist when the "Sopranos" are all whacked out. But the prurience potential of a show about a fictional polygamous family in present-day Utah is also getting a lot of mainstream coverage and prompting related "news" stories. The latest example: On this Sunday's Weekend Today Show, Lester Holt interviewed a real-life husband and wife and wife. I'm sitting there in bed waiting to see what Holt, an affable TV personality, might offer on this subject... Read more →


The blogosphere, like the world, apparently is small. Mark Tapscott helms Tapscott Behind the Wheel, an informative and entertaining auto blog. I'm a bit of a car aficionado. So's the hubby, who acts as my personal auto industry guide, not to mention as my personal driver, most of the time. In an effort to keep up my side of our vehicular conversations, I search out tidbits on the Web. That's how I found Behind the Wheel. But the first thing that caught my eye on Mark's blog was his "about me" info. He has connections to Texas, Oklahoma and Maryland... Read more →

Time. An artificial construct. A futile attempt by humans to control yet another immutable piece of the universe. What is a second, a minute, an hour, a year? Purely random segmentations that have no real meaning. At least that's what I tell myself when my birthday rolls around. We have a clock that also has issues with time measurement. It's a lovely handmade German timepiece that belonged to my grandmother. When I was young and living in the same small West Texas town as my grandparents, I was at their house often. And each time I was there, I admired... Read more →

Step right up!

I'm dizzy this week from visiting all the Blog Carnivals, but I'm not complaining! So here we go for one more ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. The latest Carnival of Entrepreneurship is now letting people wander the midway, courtesy of Business Opportunities Weblog. You'll find a link to my recounting of our Luckenbach visit since it discussed writing off business use of your auto (really, right at the end!). There's also a point-counterpoint on the usefulness of business cards. Gotta read that, since last week I got my first box of cards officially identifying me as a self-employed small-businessperson. I suspect,... Read more →

H&R Block's third strike

Tax-filing season is also peak IRA season. Some people use a traditional IRA to help reduce their current tax bills. Others want the tax savings on the back end, so they opt for a Roth and it's tax-free distributions in retirement. And every account holder, regardless of the IRA type, wants to get as much money as they're allowed to contribute or can afford into the accounts by April 17, the 2005 contribution deadline. Whatever your motivation to save, it's all good. Just be sure that you put your hard-earned money into an appropriate -- and potentially profitable -- plan.... Read more →

Feeding frenzy

The Festival of Frugality #14, which includes the Don't Mess With Taxes item on unusual -- and usually ill-advised -- tax deductions that people try to slip past IRS examiners, is now available. Thanks to Neo's Nest Egg for hosting this week. As I perused this latest frugal fest, several entries caught my eye, but Money and Investing's resolution to clear out an overstocked pantry really hit home. "Hi, my name is Kay and I'm a food hoarder." No, I don't have an eating disorder (unless you count wanting to eat ice cream as the main course of every meal... Read more →

The Carnival continues

The latest Carnival of Debt Reduction, hosted this week by No Credit Needed, includes my item on the IRS' new deal with debt collectors: Don't Mess With Taxes: Wow! What an awesome blog name! As for the post... Guess who's outsourcing their debt collection business. Hmmm? Read on. Among my favorites in this week's no-debt-a-thon are Young and Broke's tips on staying within your budget, sound advice at any age, and Debt Hater's take on gender and money management, a good read for gals and guys. These are just two offerings. Click on over to the Carnival and ride the... Read more →

Barry, Barry bad

Baseball has been very, very good to Barry Bonds, but it seems that wasn't quite good enough for the San Francisco slugger. Bonds, along with baseball fans and non-fans alike, watched raptly in 1998 as the friendly battle between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa played out en route to the new single-season home-run record. McGwire's 70 gave him the record. He and Sammy hugged. The world and Major League Baseball, which sorely needed some positive press, smiled. And Bonds seethed, deciding that he, too, wanted some of that attention, adoration and acclaim. So he turned to steroids for the added... Read more →