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September 2006

August 2006

Ringing up phone tax refunds

Taxpayers who made long-distance calls in the last 3½ years can expect a refund of between $30 and $60 next filing season by simply submitting a return. The cash back is courtesy of the IRS decision in May to discontinue the 3% federal excise tax that had been tacked onto phone bills for most of the years after its origination in 1898. You can find details on the tax and the IRS' change of collection heart in this earlier blog. Unfortunately, despite the phone tax's long history, only the fees paid on long-distance service after Feb 28, 2003, and before... Read more →

So long to Sunday coupons?

The major consumer product manufacturers want to take away our Sunday cents-off coupons. Technically, the companies' goal, according to a story in today's New York Times, is to shift our access to coupons from the traditional glossy inserts in weekend newspapers to more high-tech delivery methods. Now I'm obviously a big fan of doing things electronically. And I once thought I'd never shift from paper checks to online payments, but I have. So I won't say "never" when it comes to collecting coupons in a newfangled way. But, as the story notes, it's going to take a while before the... Read more →

Calling all Carnivalistas

Just a quick reminder before you head out for the long Labor Day holiday: Tax Carnival #4 will be posted on Monday, Sept. 4. Yes, I love taxes -- learning and writing about them, not paying them! I'm not that crazy! -- that much. So I'll be spending part of my holiday weekend sorting through submissions and assembling them for the reading pleasure of other tax geeks worldwide. Please make my Labor Day weekend labor of tax love worthwhile by sending along tax items -- federal, state and international -- that you think the blogosphere needs to see. If you're... Read more →

Here's something Jack Bauer can't fix in 24 hours

Jack Bauer is the man to call when the country is just 24 hours away from annihilation by ultimate bad guys (or gals; to my mind, no one has matched Nina Myers' first season of evil conniving). But Jack is definitely not the man to call for financial advice. As I watched Kiefer Sutherland pick up his first Emmy award on Sunday night for bringing Jack's round-the-clock derring-do to life, the financial wonk in me started thinking about how Jack gets by the other 8,736 hours a year. It's not a pretty picture. Let's start with his retirement savings. Between... Read more →

Danger, Will Robinson ...
and everyone else

An interesting item that underscores yesterday's post on disaster preparedness appeared in my e-mail box today. 91% of Americans live in places that are at moderate-to-high risk of earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, high-wind damage or terrorism. That figure comes courtesy of an estimate calculated for TIME magazine by the Hazards Research Lab at the University of South Carolina. But Americans, according to the magazine's report on disaster lessons a year after Hurricane Katrina, have a tendency to be die-hard optimists and think that nothing bad will happen to them. Such an attitude causes us to ignore the dangers... Read more →

Start packing up, Floridians

I hate that graphic from the South Florida Water Management District. Based on those multicolored strands, it looks like my relatives and friends in Florida are going to be visited very soon by Hurricane Ernesto. Having spent a little more than six years in Florida, the only good thing I can say about hurricanes is that they are rarely surprise visitors. Sure, Charley took a harder right turn than expected by many people, but it still was within the dreaded "cone of error." So, as remote a possibility as a strike might be, you still have an idea of whether... Read more →

Mark and his car carnival are back!

Mark, aka The Maestro of Car Carnivals who regularly posts all things automotive at Tapscotts Behind the Wheel, had life intrude on blogging recently and had to take an unexpected cyber break. But I'm very pleased to report that he is back and the latest Carnival of Cars has returned to the information highway. As you can imagine, the entry ramp to the Carnival backed up a bit while waiting for Mark to get back to directing traffic, so it's a particularly crowded Carnival commute. But don't succumb to cyber road rage. Just take advantage of the all the worthy... Read more →

Murphy's new law: Emotional distress at no tax cost

Albert Einstein once said that the hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax. Now some tax scholars say a ruling on what is -- or more precisely, isn't -- taxable as income in legal awards is equally incomprehensible. On Aug. 22, a Washington, D.C., federal appeals court judge ruled that the U.S. government cannot tax money individuals receive as compensation for emotional distress and other intangible injuries. Some brief background: In 1994, Marrita Murphy filed a complaint with the Department of Labor claiming that her former employer, New York Air National Guard, had blacklisted her because... Read more →

Dang! Pluto's been demoted

And I so liked that goofy dog! Sorry, couldn't resist. I'm just using a pitifully poor joke to temper my sadness that the International Astronomical Union, instead of going with the proposal that would have made our solar system larger by three orbs (mentioned earlier today in my post "Taxonia"), opted instead to deplanetize poor Pluto. Of course, the late change also creates similarity #4 between tax writers and astronomers: course reversals late in the deliberative process! But it's too bad Pluto lost its planetary status. The thing's so far out there anyway, and so cold. And I'm kind of... Read more →

Can we call it Taxonia?

Astronomers apparently are a lot like tax legislators. Similarity #1: The U.S. tax code often seems as complex as the science of astronomy and also requires specialized tools and experts to help explain its workings to regular citizens. Similarity #2: Like Members of Congress who are forever fighting over tax laws, astronomers also like to debate (and debate and debate) arcane issues in their specialized field. Witness the latest issue roiling skywatchers worldwide: Members of the International Astronomical Union have spent the past two years defining what exactly is a planet. A vote on the new designation guidelines is scheduled... Read more →

Run over by auto repairs

Wowza! When it rains, it pours and today my Chevy Cavalier is spraying repair costs all over the place. As regular readers know, I'm getting ready to go on a driving trip with my cousin (mentioned first here, and most recently here). So the hubby lovingly and wisely insisted that I take the auto in for a once-over before Kath and I hit the road. We penciled in the repairs for today. We both had some time in our schedules so he could follow me to the garage and then ferry me back home to continue work. That plan got... Read more →

And then there were two

The 2006 sales tax holiday season is winding down. The last two late-summer events are now under way in Connecticut and Maryland. Washington, D.C., has one more after Thanksgiving, then that closes this year's tax holiday books. But for the next few days, careful shoppers in Connecticut and Maryland can save some money. Connecticut's sales-tax holiday began Sunday and shoppers there have through Saturday, Aug. 26., to buy tax-free clothes and shoes. The main caveat: To avoid the Nutmeg State's 6% sales levy, each item bought in the next four days must cost less than $300. Get the complete guidelines... Read more →

Credit instead of cash and carry

Ever wanted a Coke but had no coins for the vending machine? What about one of those that takes a dollar bill? You fished around for the newest, crispest one you had, but the dang feeder kept spitting it back at you. If you have a credit card, and who doesn't these days, your soda crisis might soon be over. Or maybe not. In the latest move to make us a cashless society, MasterCard and a Coca-Cola bottling company have just rolled out 1,000 vending machines in the Philadelphia area that accept, in addition to cash, credit and debit cards.... Read more →

In case of an emergency firing, dumpster dive

That is indeed one of the suggestions that Northwest Airlines made to employees who might soon be without jobs. The airline, now in bankruptcy proceedings, facing a possible flight attendants strike and starting to cut costs by cutting its workforce, handed out the booklet "101 Ways to Save Money" to some of its rank-and-file workers. One of the recommendations, #46 to be exact: Don't be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash. OK, I know this happens. We've put stuff at the curb and before we got back down there with the next load, it was gone,... Read more →

Wake up and smell the money

That's the theme of the latest Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted this week by Money Blog Network. I must say, MBN is amazingly creative for a Monday morning, weaving a carnival tale a la Dr. Seuss. Just what is in his a.m. beverage and why isn't he sharing??? Here are some eye-openers, even without caffeine: DebtFree4ever proclaims You are already a millionaire. Wow! I'm going to have look over this blog and my bank statement one more time. Ratio suggests life insurance for your favorite geek. I know I have a geek that I like better than all the other... Read more →

Good news for drivers

After eight weeks of near-record $$$/gallon for gasoline, AAA Texas reports that Lone Star pump prices finally went down a bit last week. The statewide average as of Aug. 17 dropped 6 cents from the previous week to $2.873 per gallon. Austin-area gas went down 2.7 cents to $2.864. The cheapest gas in the state was in Corpus Christi, which dropped 10.4 cents last week to $2.749. In far West Texas, however, news wasn't so good. El Paso set a new all-time record last week and reported the highest average -- $2.936 a gallon -- on the list of 11... Read more →

Money can't buy you ...

Love, according to the Beatles, or happiness either, according to professors from, in part, the University of Michigan. OK, so Blue researchers might not be as lyrical as John, Paul, George and Ringo. But they say the connection between how much green you have in the bank doesn't necessarily translate into seeing life through rose-colored glasses. In fact, the more money you earn generally means you are likely to spend more time commuting, working and doing other things you feel you just have to, rather than want to, do. And all these activities, say the professors, tend to provide us... Read more →

Austinist accolades

Hear that tune? It's a little bit of horn tooting. The Austinist has included my post on our inordinately high July electric bill and related ramblings on zero-energy homes in this week's "Best of the Austin blogs." I was doubly thrilled to make it into this week's group, as this is the second time I've had an entry acknowledged by the site. The first was back in February, when Texas was inexplicably named just the 45th most livable state in the United States (don't get me started on this injustice again!). I thought after that rant, I'd probably topped out.... Read more →

IRS makes call on booty

The Academy Awards goodie bag gravy train has pulled into the Hollywood station for the last time. All passengers, please take care not to scuff your Jimmy Choos and Bruno Maglis as you exit to the platform. The IRS announced Thursday that the tax agency and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences "reached a mutually satisfactory agreement that will resolve outstanding tax responsibilities with respect to Academy Awards gift baskets." If you recall (and if you don't, you can read about it in the Award tax alert section of this earlier posting), the IRS raised questions about the... Read more →

Precious little time left for Prius purchase

If you're a fan of the Prius and you want to take full advantage of the new tax credit available to purchasers of the hybrid, you better get to a dealership soon. As mentioned in this earlier post, Toyota hybrids have been big sellers this year and under the law that created the tax credit, that means buyers could soon lose part of the tax break. When Toyota hybrid sales, including the manufacturer's IRS-certified Lexus models, reached 60,000 in June, the full tax credit started phasing out. Details on that process can be found in this blog entry (60,000 countdown... Read more →