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March 2006

Take a Carnival ride with me

The 39th edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance is now available. It's hosted this week by Personal Finance Advice, who's added a nice touch: Along with links to the week's financial blog items, you'll find a link to each blogger's first ever post. I submit for your perusal (is that Rod Serling's voice I hear in the Twilight Zone of my brain …?): Don’t Mess With Taxes: November 14, 2005 (It’s the most wonderful time of the year) This Week's Entry: IRS and debt collectors, a partnership made in … Quote: “Combine (people’s disdain for the IRS) with the... Read more →

Historic Texas dance hall tour, Part 3

This weekend, Austin's premier annual event, the South by Southwest Festival began. So what did we do? Left town. Last year, when we returned to Texas in May and missed out on SXSW by just a few weeks, we bemoaned our bad timing. Next year, we said, we'll hit the festival next year. Then we realized just how big this sucker is! Tens of thousands of people pile into the city for 10 days to observe, participate and enjoy the many aspects of music, film and interactive media. The 4,000 admission wristbands made available in advance for purchase by locals... Read more →

IRS and debt collectors, a partnership made in …

Do you want your friends, neighbors and family to know you're a tax deadbeat? Some fear that such disclosures could soon happen, now that three private firms have been awarded federal contracts to collect tax debts. Yes, the IRS has joined the outsourcing ranks. The debt collector deals were announced Thursday afternoon. The new IRS contractors are the CBE Group Inc. of Waterloo, Iowa; Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc. of Arcade, N.Y.; and, from right here in Austin, the heart of Texas, my new hometown, comes Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP. In making the announcement, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson specifically... Read more →

Slippery attempts to slip one past the IRS

In Mauled Again, James Edward Maule's "tax and other stuff" blog, we have word of a "personal grooming expense deduction." It seems, says Maule, that a purported tax expert announced this tax break to readers of Costco's monthly newsletter, February edition. The only problem, notes Maule, is that there is no such deduction for U.S. taxpayers. Maule, a professor at Villanova University School of Law, is rightfully concerned about the bad tax info floating around the blogosphere. Too many people take what they read on the Internet and elsewhere as gospel and run with it. They could run smack dab... Read more →

Alan tells all!

Recently-retired Federal Reserve Board chief Alan Greenspan just sold his memoirs to Pearson's Penguin Press for a cool $8 million. Although Greenspan and crew nudged rates up as his tenure wound down, he was chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee during a period of historically low interest rates. Those rates, in turn, helped feed the house-buying frenzy and associated escalating home values we've seen for the last few years (and blogged here and here). Greenspan's book advance puts him up there with both of the Clintons ($10 million for Bill, $8 million for Hillary) and Pope John Paul II... Read more →

Mortgage interest deduction madness

So you think the mortgage interest deduction helps make homeownership possible for most Americans? Think again, says Roger Lowenstein. In Sunday's (March 5) New York Times Magazine article "Who Needs the Mortgage-Interest Deduction?," Lowenstein writes: "But when exactly did the interest deduction begin? I had often heard my father rhapsodize about the G.I. Bill of Rights, which was enacted in 1944, when he was serving in the Pacific, and which a few years later was paying his tuition at law school; the mortgage-interest deduction came to be joined in my mind as an adjunct piece of social policy. One got... Read more →

Tax time dangers

My PayPal account is about to be closed. So is the one I have on eBay. And the Texas Credit Union desperately needs me to verify some personal data. So say the e-mails I've been getting each day for the last month. I'd be worried except for one thing: I don't have accounts at any of those places. Sure, I've bought some items from eBay sellers, but sent money orders. I didn't want strangers to have my credit card or bank account numbers. I opened a PayPal account about 10 years ago to buy a collectible model car (think Hot... Read more →

Hooray for Hollywood

Well, the post-Oscar analysis is well underway, with film experts worldwide trying to explain how Academy voters split the best director and best movie awards. I'll leave that to folks whose actual jobs revolve around films. But since I posted my thoughts on the nominations when they came out (read it here to see how my picks then fared on Sunday night), I wanted to post my personal two cents on the actual awards and the program. I love Jon Stewart and the show's filmed opening with former hosts, Halle Berry and George Clooney was too funny. Unfortunately, the rest... Read more →

Putting up with crap

We've all been there. Your boss or coworkers do stupid things that make your job harder. Your family makes demands of you, financially or emotionally or physically, that, because they are family, you tolerate. We even have to put up with crap from strangers. The idiot that cuts you off on the highway. The moron who takes 23 items to the express checkout line. The bozo at the Post Office who wants to look at every available stamp design before buying one to put on a single letter. Crap, crap, crap! It's a handy euphemism. Just a hint of scatology... Read more →

Are you missing some
tax money?

This time of year, most of us are worrying about filing our 2005 taxes. Some people, though, need to think about their 2002 returns, too. Around 1.7 million taxpayers didn't file returns for that tax year. That oversight means they didn't get the tax refunds they were due. In total, $2 billion in unclaimed refund money is available to these folks. The median refund amount comes to $570, meaning that half of the checks will be larger and half smaller. But these filers are pushing the procrastination boundary to its most extreme. They must file that old return by this... Read more →

More sweet music to my ears

I am so jazzed this morning! Moneysmartz Personal Finance Blog has named Don't Mess With Taxes one of the best tax blogs out there in the blogosphere! And I quote: "Does the thought of anything related to taxes send shivers down your spine? Since we are in the midst of tax season, we don't have a choice; we have to talk about taxes. ... [T]ax bloggers now offer a small, but growing body of information, insight, and commentary. Moneysmartz took a closer look at this trend-setting group of tax bloggers and identified tax blogs most helpful to individual financial decision-making."... Read more →

Independence Day

On March 2, 1836, the Republic of Texas was born. Four days later the Mexican army answered the rebellion by kicking our butts at the Alamo. That was just the beginning. For 170 years now, Texans have been fighting -- good causes, seemingly lost causes, each other and everyone else. Every time my husband shakes his head at my righteous indignation and decision to keep battling, I tell him that it's just my Texan coming out. He's a native Lone Star Stater, too, but if he'd been around in 1836, he'd more likely been a diplomat. I'd have been one... Read more →

Artful unpacking

The North American truck dropped off our stuff here at our suburban Austin home on July 1, 2005. Now, eight months later, we're still unpacking. Well, technically, I guess we were still partially packed. All of our artwork has remained in its moving boxes, stacked in our dining room. I guess it's a good thing we decided to donate that old table, chairs and breakfront to Goodwill before we headed westward, or it would be really crowded in there! This last weekend, though, I got energized. I opened up the 18 mirror boxes and started pulling out the 45 large... Read more →