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May 2006

Golly GE-e, that's one enormous e-filing

The biggest tax return in the country is now in the IRS's hands. It comes from corporate giant General Electric. You know, those guys that Dave Letterman, when he worked for the company's NBC subsidiary, used to refer to as "the pinheads at GE." Well, they look pretty smart now. In addition to filing the nation's largest return, the company's accountants sent it electronically. The 237 MB return was transmitted to the IRS on May 18 and GE got an acknowledgement about an hour later that it had been successfully filed. If the return had been printed out, it would... Read more →

How the other 0.001% lives

Forbes magazine has put together its annual list of the 10 most expensive homes in the United States. That's the backyard of one of them there to the left. These places are not just expensive, they are extravagantly, excessively, almost obscenely (to those of us who can't afford them!) expensive. The magazine puts it this way: We're not talking about "luxury" custom homes, high-end subdivisions or fancy new glass-curtain condos. These are the most expensive residences in the country, with prices so astronomical that only a very small handful of very wealthy people could even dream about owning them. Forbes... Read more →

Give now, get back at tax time

Once again, the world has mobilized to help victims of a natural disaster. In the wake of this weekend's deadly earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia (more than 5,000 dead, 2,000 injured and 200,000-plus left homeless; latest details in this Washington Post foreign bureau report), international aid is pouring into the country. A good chunk of that relief money no doubt is coming from Americans. Unfortunately, this is becoming an all too common occurrence. Since the 2004 tsunami (sparked by a quake also originating off Indonesia) and Katrina, Wilma, Rita and the other hurricanes of 2005, we're all too aware of the... Read more →

One for the road

Before you hit the highway this long Memorial Day weekend, make a quick pit stop over at this week's Carnival of Cars. Our regular driver, Mark at Tapscott Behind the Wheel, has, as always, mapped out a very impressive and interesting route along the blogging highway. And since we do deal with finances here at Don't Mess With Taxes, I've marked the exit ramps for some of the Carnival offerings that might save you enough so you can buy those spinners you've been dreaming about. Debtlog is planning to test out gas-saving devices you see advertised on all those late-night... Read more →

Memorial Day thoughts from the HoA home front

Small American flags wave at the curbside of every home in our neighborhood. The Homeowners Association (HoA) stuck them there in recognition of the Memorial Day weekend. It was nice to wake up this morning and find the flag, especially since we noticed similar ones yesterday along homes nearer the entrance to our neighborhood. We weren't here last Memorial Day, but we were pretty sure it was the work of the HoA and not just the coordinated but ad hoc actions of that one group of residents. Also, we still had the faded July 4th flag the HoA placed out... Read more →

Call me

Section targeting

The war is finally over! The battle over an outdated tax to fund the Spanish-American War, that is. The U.S. Treasury Department today surrendered in its efforts to continue collection of the federal telephone excise tax. This tax was originally imposed more than a century ago to finance the Spanish-American War. You remember that war, don't you? On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain in response to the sinking of the battleship Maine months earlier in Havana harbor. A temporary penny tax was then tacked onto long-distance calls to pay for the costs of... Read more →

Time to prepare for Mother Nature's less maternal side

During this string of hot and dry spring days, it's hard to image that 25 years ago today, Austin suffered a deadly flood. Austin's Memorial Day Flood of May 24, 1981, killed 13 people, destroyed 600 homes, flooded dozens of businesses and left $36 million in damages in its wake. The picture below shows damage done to a car dealership along Shoal Creek. The power of water has always captivated me. Much of the fascination is because I grew up in desert West Texas, where not a stream was to be found. The only "river" we ever saw was from... Read more →

Two homes = more than twice the taxes

Here's one more reason we'll never own a vacation home in Florida: higher property taxes for seasonal residents. We've thought about it. When we lived in Maryland and made annual spring training and birding treks to Florida, we considered how nice it would be to have a condo of our own to serve as our vacation base. Then we'd rent it out the rest of the year and get some the tax write-offs there, too. Even after we moved to the state, the idea persisted. With another house, we argued to ourselves, we'd be more inclined to take those planned... Read more →

Extra, extra! PF Carnival is up!

The 49th Carnival of Personal Finance is now available at your local Internet newsstand. Actually, it's available at Frugal for Life, where Dawn, our host this week, has delivered all the financial news that's fit to print on the Web in a welcoming and easy-to-read, old-school newspaper format. I am pleased to report that my Financial Gifts for Graduates made the front page. But it's just one item in this week's lengthy online gazette. Here are a few of my favorites: Red bell peppers caused a red light to go on for Sarah at Frugal Underground, where she discovered Sometimes... Read more →

Shame on you!

The Commonwealth of Virginia has decided it no longer will extend Southern courtesy to one sector of its residents. Delinquent taxpayers in the Old Dominion now are being exposed in an effort to collect long overdue taxes. Virginia's Department of Revenue became the latest office to publish the names of tax scofflaws on the Internet. The state unveiled its pilot program last week, a Web site list of 11 businesses that owe substantial back taxes, penalties and interest. State officials say the companies have not responded to several attempts to collect this money and that more names will be added... Read more →

Name calling

Since about half of us still file our taxes using paper forms, we're keeping a whole group of IRS staffers employed. I'm talking about the folks who must take those handwritten or, if they're lucky, typed forms and enter them into the agency's computer system for processing. I suspect that this is not one of the top five jobs in the world. It's got to be a bit tedious, typing in names and mostly numbers hour after hour, day after day. The stress level also is probably pretty high, knowing that one errant keystroke could cause some taxpayer a fair... Read more →

Debt collection defenses

An Austin law firm looking to track tax deadbeats for government agencies has been smacked down a second time, this time in its own backyard. Travis County executives this week tabled a proposal by Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson to collect delinquent tax bills from county residents even after a representative of the firm essentially offered a money-back guarantee on the service. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Linebarger spokesman Ken Oden said his firm would forfeit "every nickel we make" if it couldn't collect as well as the county has. Ah, yes. Money. That's the driving force behind outsourcing the... Read more →

Congressional clowns

A lot of people think of Congress as a circus, and the tax bill approved last week by the House and Senate sure gives credence to such a view. Yep, the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act (TIPRA) of 2005 required an inordinate amount of tax-provision juggling to meet budgeting rules and still make some select taxpayers happy. Now I'm not calling our esteemed Representatives and Senators clowns … OK, maybe I am. Most of them, and by most I mean primarily Republicans (they are in charge now), certainly looked silly as they pandered to special interests instead of considering... Read more →

Property taxes: The fifth time's a charm

Finally, after one regular and four special sessions over the last three years, the Texas legislature has revamped the state's tax system in regard to funding public schools. It was action that was sorely needed on both the school and tax fronts. The marathon effort began five years ago when a group of Texas schools sued the state over its financing system. When it finally went to trial in 2004, more than 300 school districts had joined the action. The districts argued that since they had to levy the maximum property tax rate to maintain equitable and adequate school services,... Read more →

Financial gifts for graduates

We're about half-way through May, a month that rivals December when it comes to gift giving. Not only do we have Mother's Day, but there are all those graduates. High school, college, and even some elementary and middle schools have commencement ceremonies nowadays. I'm not going to get into this whole lower-level graduation thing except to ask, "Why?" And to suggest that the perfect gift for these kiddies is an extra Oreo at snack time. But for those slightly older graduates, whether heading off to college or into the cold, cruel world, here are half a dozen financial gifts they... Read more →

Mom's money lessons

It's that time of year, much to the delight of the greeting card and floral industries, to let Mom know that you care. Yes, deeming something "official" does tend to make us a little lazy. We follow the conventional route of announcing our affection and then don't worry that much about Mom for the rest of the year. OK, you might be a better child, but most of us have a bad habit of taking our mothers for granted. So maybe it's not such a bad idea to have one special day that forces us to tell her we love... Read more →

A fine financial fair

With all the tax bill excitement this week, the 47th Carnival of Personal Finance sneaked into town right under my nose. Just goes to show you how noisy those Senators and Representatives are when they can drown out the sound of such a boisterous bunch of financial bloggers! To celebrate the return of the Carnival to Blueprint for Financial Prosperity, our host Jim has provided us not only with a vast collection of financial postings (including Don't Mess With Taxes' tips on dealing with with $3-a-gallon gas), but also a great carnival map in the style of a Renaissance fair.... Read more →

It's official

The Senate just passed the tax reconciliation bill I synopsized here. Technically, the president has to sign it into law, but that's as sure a bet as you're ever gonna get. So now we can all rest easier knowing that some of us have new, expanded tax breaks. As promised, in the days to come I'll examine the provisions and what they mean to taxpayers. But the tax watch continues. Congress still has to deal with the "trailer" bill, which probably will be tacked onto pension legislation. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., told tax publisher CCH... Read more →

What's in it for me?

Here's a quick look at what the House-passed tax bill includes. And what it doesn't include. The Senate is debating the measure as I type and is expected to approve it later today. Some reports, however, say the vote could be close. We'll see. After it's actually law -- I hate to count tax chickens before lawmakers finish laying golden or rotten eggs -- I'll examine these provisions in more detail. Among the winners, so far, are: Investors, who will see their capital gains and qualified dividends continue to be taxed at the 15 and 5 percent rates through the... Read more →

Winging it

If you've ever perused my list entitled "Fun beyond taxes, truly!" about midway down the blog's left column, you've noticed a lot of avian references. That's because the hubby and I have been birders our entire married life. Maybe it was the change of terrain that sparked it. We started our marital life in the Washington, D.C., area and bought our first home in suburban Maryland. Coming from the desert scrub of West Texas and the farmland of the state's High Plains, we reveled in the region's abundance of trees, shrubs and water sources. One evening, out walking in our... Read more →