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October 2006

Tricks, treats and taxes

This giant Jack o' Lantern guards the yard of one of our neighbors. Yes, it's that big. The railing and door behind its big old pumpkin head is on the home's second story. Thankfully, the house is a few blocks over, not next door. I'm not sure if the inflatable creature is going to delight or scare trick-or-treaters. I suppose it depends on the kids' ages. Of course, there are quite a few similar, though smaller, decorations throughout our neighborhood (pictured in this post), so maybe the kids are already used to seeing them. This is our second Halloween back... Read more →

Headaches, tax and otherwise

As someone who focuses on taxes for a living, you'd think I'd be inured to headaches. But as someone who also has endured allergies my whole life, I've learned that pollen-produced head pain is worse than any the tax code has generated. It's my second autumn in Central Texas, but the area's allergens seem to be hitting me harder this year. In addition to regular sneezing bouts, my swollen sinuses have made my head home to a low, but persistent, throb for the last couple of weeks. I'm now more of a regular at my local Walgreens pharmacy counter than... Read more →

Inquiring tax minds want to know

Admit it. You spent at least part of your Saturday and Sunday surfing the Web for tax data. You didn't? Wow, please drop me a note on how to get a life! Really, though, some folks are already thinking about their taxes. In fact, William Perez over at About Taxes reports that his readers have been seeking tax guidance in some specific areas: 2006 tax rates, Form W-4, the Pension Protection Act, tax deductible mileage rates and the tax implications of selling a home. Click here to read William's comments on each of these areas, along with links to stories... Read more →

Mulling Migrations

Fall is in full force, so it's only fitting that we take a break to enjoy the beauty of the season and its natural wonders. Yes, birds and butterflies are heading south, but the Migrations we focus on today is Dan Rhoads' blog, which is host of the 35th I and the Bird. IatB is one of my favorite blog carnivals, not just because I love reading about other birders' experiences. But the weekly offering also allows me to vicariously travel -- and observe -- birds and their habitats that I haven't seen in a while or, in most cases,... Read more →

Time your tax evasion

If you've stiffed the IRS, you picked a good year to do so. An election year, in fact, might give you a bit of cover. That seems to be the message from the IRS. A story in today's New York Times says that earlier this month, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson (at right) ordered his agency to postpone collection of back taxes from Hurricane Katrina victims until after the Nov. 7 elections and the holiday season. The reason: To avoid negative publicity. Good luck with that, Mr. E. Everson told Times' reporter David Cay Johnson that putting off collections until after... Read more →

Driving around the auto blog

Regular readers recognize that headline. It's the tagline for the weekly Carnival of Cars, hosted by Mark over at Tapscotts Behind the Wheel. Today, Mark brings us reports of fat cars, certified used cars and cars that women want. Not to tip too much, but that one on autos that attract feminine buyers relates to hybrids. That's also part of the reason I made it into Mark's roundup this week. Another Car Carnival contributor found a story I did for on the fuel-efficiency tax credit and its various cutoff dates. Mark also was kind enough to mention my quasi-rant... Read more →


How'd you like a phone bill of $1,275 ... before you make any calls. That's the price tag of the newest, funkiest cell phone: the Serene. A creation of Bang & Olufsen, retailer of haute personal electronics, and Samsung, the Serene provides (or so says the company's press release) "an alternative for those customers who demand the highest quality, for whom simplicity and quality are important factors and for whom less can be more." Apparently, that last phrase means less money for you, more profits for the phone maker, since the Serene goes for $1,275. Forgive me for focusing on... Read more →

Tax pearls

One of my favorite discoveries upon moving to Austin had nothing to do with the city. It was finding a new (to me) comic strip in the local newspaper. "Pearls Before Swine" offers a daily dose of absurdist, sometimes dark humor from the mouths of Rat, Zebra, Pig, Goat and a group of Crocodiles (members of the fraternity Zeeba Zeeba Eata) that cracks me up daily and in color on Sundays. Not only do these creatures mock us human readers and the situations we get into, they also take jabs at their funny paper neighbors. I particularly liked the "true... Read more →

Mortgage interest deduction doomed!

Got your attention, didn't I? It sure got mine when I saw that message in an ad on another blog. OK, it didn't say "doomed." But that was clearly the implication. In case you haven't run across it, the advertisement from the Association for Homeowners Across America shows a foot crushing a house. The text below the animated image says: "Homeowners Beware! Congress is considering removing mortgage interest deductions. Under US tax code, mortgage interest on your home is deductible. Congress is debating altering mortgage interest deductions, putting your homeownership at risk." Whoa! "Homeowners Beware!" "Removing mortgage interest deductions." "Homeownership... Read more →

A walk on the Wild Basin side

The last few days have produced a decided autumn chill here in Austin, so the hubby and I took advantage of the drop in temperatures to explore the area's outdoor offerings. For months we've seen the discreet signs for Wild Basin Preserve as we drove along Loop 360, west of the city in Travis County. In a state known for excess, these markers are so unobtrusive that you almost think they're trying to keep anyone from finding the place. Luckily, despite the obscure signage, we did locate the exit and discovered a lovely 227-acre enclave that made us forget how... Read more →

Personal Finance Carnival #71

Fat Pitch Financials brings up the 71st Carnival of Personal Finance this week, and the host lives up to his name. The collection is stuffed full of financial fun. A few that caught my eye: The unusual things people have done to earn money, The most popular workplace benefits, and The six financial cliches that will make you rich. For those of you who came back after clicking over to the get-rich tips, thanks. And while it might not make you independently wealthy, my piece on tracking down forgotten money couldn't hurt. It's also part of PFC#17. Read more →

Tax thoughts from the Devil's Advocate

Officially, the tax thoughts come from the Internal Revenue Service's Taxpayer Advocate, Nina Olson. But in that role, as champion of individual filers like you and me, Olson regularly goes toe-to-toe with the federal agency that bedevils most of us at some point. In a recent interview with the Tax Foundation, Olson offered her opinions, which in some cases are quite different from the official IRS position, on the complexity of the tax code, the tax gap and the agency's hiring of private firms to collect delinquent taxes. It's that last issue that caught my eye, since I just posted... Read more →

Two more tax-credit-eligible Ford hybrids

If you bought an older Ford hybrid this year, you might be able to take tax advantage of the purchase on your 2006 tax return. The IRS announced Friday that it has certified that two of Ford's 2005 hybrids meet the new alternative fuel tax credit. The latest blue oval additions are: 2005 Escape two-wheel-drive, eligible for a $2,600 credit, and 2005 Escape four-wheel-drive, eligible for a $1,950 credit. Earlier this year, Ford's 2006 Escape hybrids, both two- and four-WD models, were certified at the same credit levels as the just-added 2005 versions. You can find a full list of... Read more →

Soldiers fighting financial battles, too

Apparently some of our service personnel are losing this skirmish. And Uncle Sam is collateral damage. The Associated Press reports that these troops are being barred from overseas duty because they are so deep in debt that they are considered security risks. According to the AP, Pentagon officials believe that financial problems can distract servicemen and women from their duties or make them vulnerable to bribery and treason. Some of the reasons for the debt overload: a lack of education and experience in handling personal finances, reckless spending by soldiers excited to make it back home after overseas duty and... Read more →

A tale of two real estate markets

If you still need any verification that location, location, location really does matter in today's real estate world, I offer these two headlines from Inman News: California real estate foreclosures hit 4-year high Houston home sales smash September record Those two announcements were side-by-side in one of the real estate news service's e-mail newsletters this week. In California, according to Inman, foreclosures were up 112 percent during July, August and September vs. the third quarter of 2005. In fact, during this last quarter, residential foreclosures in the Golden State (if Realtors can still call it that …) reached the highest... Read more →

Private tax collectors paying off ... so far

Despite critics (including me), private debt collectors have been out there trying to bring in unpaid IRS bills for about six weeks. So far, it seems to be going smoothly. There's been no big outcry about abusive collection practices connected to tax bills. And apparently the private collectors are having some success. At a Senate hearing last month (more on this later), IRS Commissioner Mark Everson told lawmakers that during the first three weeks of the private collection effort, the program had brought in around $500,000 from 250 different taxpayers. "These are cases the IRS would not be working," Everson... Read more →

'Blade' actor charged with tax fraud

Wesley Snipes, known for his role as the title character in the vampire-slayer series "Blade," is now facing off against the IRS, an agency that has itself been called bloodsucking. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice office in Tampa, Fla., unsealed an eight-count indictment that charges Snipes and two Florida men with "conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and presenting a fraudulent claim for payment." Snipes also faces six counts of failing to file income tax returns. If convicted, the men could get maximum prison sentences of five years for each of the false claim and conspiracy charges.... Read more →

Weighty and otherworldly issues, taxes included

Is it just me, or does this photo look like a collection of dishes filled with M&M candies? Artist’s conception of calcium ions traveling down the accelerator at a high velocity toward the rotating californium target. Photo courtesy of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Public Affairs office. Click here for a brief video of the process. That was my first thought when I flipped to the Science section of today's New York Times and saw the picture (and accompanying story; registration required). What, I wondered, was the scientific hook for those melt-in-your-mouth goodies this time? Something to do with the... Read more →

Are you missing some money?

If you live in Texas, that's a definite possibility. A special section of our Sunday newspaper announced that the Lone Star State is holding onto more than $1.5 billion in unclaimed property. Apparently, this is just one drop in a very big bucket. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators -- yep, there's enough unclaimed cash etc. floating around out there to justify a national group dedicated to tracking it and getting it into the hands of its rightful owners -- there's more than $24 billion in abandoned assets nationwide, just waiting for someone to come and get... Read more →

Here's a fun weekend project

Doing your taxes. OK, it's not that fun, but lots of people will be spending this Saturday and/or Sunday and possibly much of Monday doing just that. They got a filing reprieve in April by requesting an extension via Form 4868. That added time, however, is up on Oct. 16. Actually, the 16th is itself a bonus. The final filing deadline is usually Oct. 15, but since that fell on Sunday this year, tax procrastinators got one more day. The good news for these folks: The extra time this year was for six months by filing just the one extension... Read more →