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August 2006

Pumping up the pimp tax, Stewart style

Yeah, you've already read about the Senate pimp tax in this earlier blog posting. Now, Jon Stewart has caught up and, as he put it, "got [his] finger on the pulse of the youth. Seriously, tax law." On last night's program, The Daily Show "investigated" Congressional efforts to force pimps to follow IRS requirements like any other small business. Specifically, Washington wants all pimps to, in part, file W-2s for each of their working girls. So "reporter" Dan Bakkedahl spoke with Rep. Jack Kingston, Republican representative of Georgia's first congressional district. And, to be fair and balanced, Arch Bishop Don... Read more →

Zeroing out high energy costs

Last month's horrendous heat wave might have lessened its grip on the United States a bit, but the arrival of July utility bills are getting some folks hot under the collar all over again. Our Austin Energy bill topped $300, the biggest electric bill we've ever received. Actually, I was a bit surprised. Yes, this is the biggest house we've ever owned so there's a lot of square footage to cool. But it didn't seem to be as hot as last year, although that may have been because last July we were still moving into the place and the personal... Read more →

Ready, set, collect

Despite concerns expressed by consumer groups and some in Congress, the IRS is about to unleash private debt collectors on delinquent taxpayers. According to various news reports, the National Treasury Employees Union says its workers have received emails confirming that the controversial program will begin at the end of August. "Congress gave us this tool, and I'm going to do everything I can to get every nickel that's owed to the government," IRS Commissioner Mark Everson said. But some in Congress want to take that tool away (as mentioned in this previous blog item). The House approved the IRS' 2007... Read more →

Laughing with the IRS

Apparently, despite what most of us think, IRS employees are a lot like you and me. This report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that agency employees regularly violate official e-mail usage guidelines. Specifically, the Treasury Inspector's office discovered inappropriate messages in 74 percent of the office e-mailboxes it reviewed. The bulk of the questionable missives: chain letters, jokes and non-work related pictures. Sound familiar? The report got me to thinking about what jokes IRS employees might share. Roth & Company went beyond speculation and came up with a potential e-mail joke that might be making the... Read more →

Attention, Bay State shoppers

You might be able to save a few bucks on Saturday and Sunday, as Massachusetts holds its third annual sales tax holiday. During these two days, items that sell for up to $2,500 will not have the state's 5% sales tax tacked on. That's a nice $125 not added to every maximum-priced eligible item. This year, 14 states and the District of Columbia held or will hold sales-tax-free holidays. Most of these annual back-to-school events were last weekend, although Washington, D.C.'s runs through this Sunday. The nation's capital also will hold a post-Thanksgiving sales tax holiday, much to the delight... Read more →

Investing insights at the Carnival

Does watching the NYSE and NASDAQ make you feel like you've taken one too many spins on the Screamer? Then check out the 34th Carnival of Investing for tips on how to tame your money's wild ride. This week's host, My Money Forest, has pulled together a nice collection, from Young and Broke's look at generational differences in retirement saving approaches to Nubrick's online property investment tools to My Money Path's solution to his investment laziness. Oh yeah, my item on how birdwatching can hone your investment skills is in there, too. So head on over and check out all... Read more →

Naked travel?

As the world's horrors pile up every day, we have to decide whether to cope by laughing or crying. I'm going with the belly laugh myself. I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness that surrounds us. I'm just trying to keep from curling up in a fetal ball of fear and frustration. In that effort to keep on keeping on as our overheating planet goes crazier, from the Mideast to Mel Gibson, I thank God everyday for Internet users' irreverent takes on news events. Case in point, the foiled liquid terrorist plot in the U.K. The Consumerist provides a firsthand... Read more →

And Uncle Sam wonders why people don't trust him

Actually, it's his careless employees we don't trust. Or at least those who tote government laptops. Seems someone with the Department of Transportation inspector general's office parked a government vehicle in a Miami suburb last month and left a laptop in the vehicle. Now, and I know you're going to find this hard to believe, someone stole the computer. And what was on this government computer? Manna from heaven for identity thieves: Personal information -- Social Security numbers, birthdates and addresses -- of nearly 133,000 Floridians. DoT officials say there's no indication that the thieves knew what was on the... Read more →

Saving tips at the latest frugal fest

If you're looking for some ways to save money, and who isn't, then you'll want to check out the 34th Festival of Frugality. It's hosted this time by Blueprint for Financial Prosperity. At the Festival, you'll find yours truly's item on upcoming mega-yard sales, along with tips on tipping, budget-conscious ways to take good care of your pet and how to find cheap software. There also is a mini-trend on couponing. Three bloggers -- Free the Drones, Tick Marks and Personal Finance Advice -- discuss the dangers and delights of these cents-off slips of paper. This is just a small... Read more →

A closer look at charitable giving

If you deduct your donations to charitable organizations, you'll soon have to do a bit more bookkeeping. Tucked into the pension bill, now awaiting the president's signature to become law, are a couple of provisions governing charitable gifts that many of us might encounter. (You can read about some of the pension bill's actual retirement account tax-law changes in this earlier post.) Let's start with the new substantiation rule. Previously, you had to get a receipt or other acknowledgement from a charity if you gave $250 or more. Now, for a monetary gift of any amount, you've got to have... Read more →

Austin: tax hotbed

I knew coming back home to Texas was the right move. And that Austin was the right city. Now, Google Trends has corroborated the move on a professional level. Austin is one of the top 10 cities when it comes to Internet searches of the word "tax." (Hat tip to TaxProf.) This latest Google option analyzes who hunts for the word or words you enter to arrive at a snapshot of users by city, region or language. Type in "tax" and you get: Washington, D.C. Raleigh, N.C. Dublin, Ireland Dallas, Texas Tampa, Fla. Austin, Texas Houston, Texas Atlanta, Ga. Mumbai,... Read more →

Tax Carnival #3: A virtual tax vacation

Summer's winding down. Kids are getting ready to go back to school or, in some places, already have returned to class. And if you're like me, you feel like you never really got a break. Well, we've got the perfect end o' summer remedy: Carnival of Taxes #3. Sit back, relax and soak in the August warmth of tax stories, tips and humor. It's a virtual cybervacation. OK, a cybervacation for tax nuts, but did you really expect anything else when you clicked over here? So, without further ado, let's get this Carnival started. Part of the reason summer slipped... Read more →

Sunday tax funnies

This snippet proclaiming "Don't Mess With Taxes" is part of a cute cartoon that several fellow bloggers spotted and passed along. Thanks to Frugal for Life for e-mailing it to me and making my day. So where's the rest of the 'toon Frugal so kindly sent, you ask? Well, the layout of my blog doesn't lend itself to reproducing all three panels. I tried shrinking them, but when it comes to cartoon clarity, size does matter. However, and here comes one of those other bloggers I mentioned, the TaxGuru posted the drawing in full here, along with a nice tie-in... Read more →

Some welcome tax breaks

Finally! I'm fulfilling my promise made after the Senate's late-night vote last week to pull together the tax provisions that lawmakers considered before they headed out of town. But I'm revising the structure and timetable (again) a bit. I've been looking through the pension bill that passed last Thursday night, along with various analyses of it -- yes on a Saturday; don't I live the exciting life?! -- and have discovered there's a lot of tax stuff in there. Specifically, we're talking 100-plus tax provisions in around 1,000 pages of legislation, discussed in a 376-page committee report. Of course, not... Read more →

In case you forgot

Ten states and the District of Columbia are holding sales tax holidays this weekend (D.C.'s actually runs through next Friday). If you live in one of these states, like I do, you already know this. It's impossible to escape the constant barrage of print, radio and TV ads urging us to save a few bucks at our state treasury's expense. But in case the aliens just returned you to earth a la The 4400, here are the holiday locales: Alabama Georgia Iowa Missouri New Mexico North Carolina South Carolina Tennessee Texas Virginia Washington, D.C. A click of the state's name... Read more →

Update update

I know I promised you an update later today on the tax provisions that did, and didn't, make it through Congress before the House and Senate left for summer break. I will do that. I swear. But it looks like that info will have to wait until tomorrow. I've got a couple of jobs that I absolutely, positively must finish today. Time management can be a real pain. Thanks for your patience and understanding. Pile on: You can contribute to my workload by submitting a tax item for Monday's Carnival of Taxes #3. Yes, it's almost time to take another... Read more →

'Trifecta' tax bet comes up empty

Sen. Dr. Bill Frist learned last night that bullying rarely works. Senators didn't take kindly to strongarm efforts and turned back the Majority Leader's latest attempt to ram estate tax enhancements through that legislative body. Frist and his colleagues on the House side last week threw together what they dubbed a "trifecta" measure. The estate tax changes were piggybacked onto a long-overdue minimum wage increase and a package of other, less divisive tax breaks that would benefit many middle-class taxpayers. But the GOP was unable to cash that betting slip, as the vote on whether to consider the bill fell... Read more →

Yard sale yearnings

Looking for some summer bargains? Check out your local yard and garage sales. Not only might you find something worth the pittance that items usually go for, you'll probably be entertained. Admit it. You're fascinated by the variety of junk that people buy. We all are. And not only do they buy those things, then they go put them out there for the whole world to see via a yard sale! Everything we own, of course, is a certified collectible. Or we're certifiable for buying it. I forget which! But yard sales are not a time for self-consciousness, whether you're... Read more →

Betting my retirement on Avian Select Fund 2006

OK. There's no such fund. But apparently there should be. A New York Times reporter recently visited Central Park with Peter Mott, president of the Big Apple's Audubon chapter, and discovered first-hand how birding skills encompass talents that successful investors also employ. In his story, birder initiate Harry Hurt cites a November 2002 Harvard Business Review interview with David Sibley, of the famed Sibley Guides, and fellow birder Dr. Julia Yoshida. Hurt goes on to quote the interview and, in the last sentence of the excerpt below, adds a personal observation: "Bird watching, of all the natural pastimes, is most... Read more →

So that's how they stay so rich

Since efforts to deal with pending tax issues that affect simple folk like you and me are stymied, some Senators decided instead to take a crack at closing down the billion-dollar tax shelter system. Apparently a lot of America's wealthiest individuals take advantage of offshore tax havens to ensure their bank accounts stay at stratospheric levels. And "take advantage of" is the key phrase. Illegal tax haven schemes, according to testimony today before the Investigative Subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, "are undermining the integrity of the federal tax system, diverting tens of billions of dollars... Read more →