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November 2006

Beating the cold by birding online

Mary Ann at Five Wells is the host this week of I and the Bird #37. Her Thanksgiving-themed presentation is quite fitting. I have additional thanks today. Since an Arctic front blew into the Austin area earlier today, our temperature never got out of the 30s and the biting winds (gusts also in the 30s, miles per hour, that is) made even going out to pick up the paper or collect the mail miserable. I immediately flashed back to this posting about our Austin home and winter weather; it's still applicable almost nine months later. But today seems colder than... Read more →

Hybrid help sought by Toyota top management

Want a Toyota hybrid but are unhappy that a purchase now will get you a much smaller tax break than buyers got a few months ago? You're not alone. Toyota executives are calling for extension of the full tax credit for the Japanese automaker's popular hybrids, according to various wire service reports (Reuters, AP). Toyota's North American president, Jim Press, says sales of its hybrids have plummeted since the full credit expired in October. The most popular vehicle, the Prius, began the year with a $3,150 tax credit. Because Toyota has already sold more than 60,000 of such vehicles (well... Read more →

The tax collector is back with a vengeance

Those statistics just keep coming. And so does the tax money. IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson recently announced that the 2005 fiscal year "was a watershed year for us, with a number of big initiatives that helped push enforcement revenues up 10 percent to $47.3 billion. In Fiscal 2006, enforcement revenues -- the monies we get from our collection, examination, and document matching activities -- increased to a record $48.7 billion." The figures are particularly welcome, Everson told reporters, as they indicate the IRS has "restored the credibility of our enforcement program, which was gutted after the 1998 hearings and... Read more →

U.S. income ups and downs

The approach of the end of the year means, among other things, that it's time for numbers crunching. While most of us are adding and mostly subtracting to see what we have left in our checking accounts and on our credit card limits to pay for holiday gifts, some wacky economists and accountants are parsing more elaborate data. Case in point: "Analysis of the Distributions of Income, Taxes, and Payroll Taxes via Cross Section and Panel Data, 1979-2004" from Michael Strudler, Tom Petska, and Lori Hentz, Statistics of Income, IRS, and Ryan Petska, Quantitative Economics and Statistics, Ernst and Young... Read more →

Personal Finance Carnival #76

The personal finance Ferris wheel is spinning again, this time over at My Financial Journey, the host of Carnival of Personal Finance #76. Lots of goodies, including savvy online shopping tips from bargain hunter Coin Jar and Credit Card Lowdown's 101 painless ways to cut spending. My undeliverable tax refund money, just in time for holiday shopping, also made the financial midway. Much, much more financial blogging insight awaits, so give the Carnival a click. You'll be glad you did. Read more →

Older philanthropists have a choice to make

OK, I'm on a charity kick right now. Chalk it up to the impending giving season. I don't want to overdo, but I recently received some reader inquiries on a new charitable option. Specifically, a provision of the Pension Protection Act that was signed into law in August, allows taxpayers who are 70½ to directly transfer money from an IRA to a charitable organization. By doing so, these filers don't have to include the transferred money in taxable income. Some of you might be asking, what's so special about 70½? Well, aside from skewing my demographics (but, hey, I am... Read more →

A 'modest' but far-reaching donation option

Do you believe in fate? I do, sometimes. Maybe the better word is serendipity. Whatever, this morning I logged on and planned to do a little blog administrative housekeeping and accidentally opened one of my financial blogroll links. I'm on the laptop and I still haven't figured out why its mouseover feature opens links if it hovers for more than a few seconds. But apparently, that's what happened and Experiments in Finance popped up on my screen. And what happened to be the most recent entry on that blog right then? A look at an interesting philanthropic site, Coming... Read more →

Year end donations and deductions

In 2005, charities received a record $260 billion in donations, with most of that -- 76 cents of every $1 collected -- coming from individuals. Even more noteworthy, it was not the wealthiest among us doing the giving. Rather, the bulk of individual donations came from households with incomes of less than $100,000. Those numbers come from Giving USA Foundation, which also reports that while disaster relief effort accounted for a portion of the 2005 donations (latest complete data), contributors also supported more than 1.4 million charities that benefited causes near and dear to their hearts. As the end of... Read more →

Started your diet yet?

Me neither. But I have a good excuse. There are still leftovers (half a pumpkin pie!) to dispense with. Then in a few weeks, we have Christmas cookies and gift basket goodies and wine toasts and eggnog cheer. So why not wait until the new year, when everybody resolves to lose that holiday poundage, along with the love handles we added the other 10 months? Yeah, check back here at the ol' blog in January. Actually, the hubby and I were relatively restrained yesterday. We stuffed our turkey instead of ourselves. Well, we didn't really stuff our turkey. This Thanksgiving,... Read more →

Thanks for a different bird

On Wednesday evening, the hubby and I added a new bird to our life list, the American Woodcock. It wasn't really through any effort on our part, unless you count getting up off the couch effort. We were sitting downstairs in the den, waiting for the pumpkin pie, the hubby's annual (and always quite tasty) contribution to our Thanksgiving dinner, to finish baking. The spices were really filling up the kitchen, so I decided to wander in there and see how much longer I had to wait before sneaking an early slice. As I headed that way, I glanced out... Read more →

Honda hybrids added to tax credit list

The IRS has certified three 2007 Hondas as eligible for the Alternative Motor Vehicle tax credit. As regular readers know, this is the tax break that took effect on Jan. 1, 2006, and provides a credit instead of deduction for cars that meet certain environmental standards. Since a credit, which provides a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax bill, is better than a deduction, which reduces your taxable income and then should lower you tax bill, the change is welcome. What isn't welcome is the complexity of the credit. The tax break is calculated for each eligible vehicle and how many... Read more →

Snipes talks turkey about tax charges

This Thanksgiving, we can all be thankful that we're not Wesley Snipes, at least not the Wesley Snipes accused of breaking various federal tax laws. Despite some reports that the movie star had amicably settled his tax evasion charges (wishful thinking on his agent's part, perhaps), Snipes is still in deep tax doo-doo. In case you forgot, Uncle Sam alleges, in part, that Snipes owes $12 million in back taxes. If convicted of all the federal charges, he could serve up to 16 years in prison. You can read more in my initial post about the case. Well, Wesley has... Read more →

Let the IRS help purchase your presents

How much do you plan to spend on Black Friday, the traditional big shopping day following Thanksgiving? If it's around $900 and you're one of 95,746 select taxpayers across the nation, then you might just be in luck when it comes to paying for those presents. That's how many folks the IRS is trying to give money to. Actually, the money is theirs to begin with. The tax collector wants to hand over their refund checks that bounced back as undeliverable. The total unclaimed money sitting in the government's bank account: $92.2 million. The average refund comes to $963. Amazingly,... Read more →

Stricter rules on home-related write-offs?

Don't expect tax increases when the new Democratic Congress takes over in January. Despite Republican claims during the recent election, it just won't happen as long as Dubya remembers how to use his veto pen. But do expect lawmakers from both parties to continue to look for ways to get more tax money via existing laws. And attention homeowners: A couple of your favorite tax breaks are on a list of enhanced enforcement possibilities. At the request of the Senate Finance Committee, the Joint Committee on Taxation put together some "discussion options" for closing the tax gap, the difference between... Read more →

Uncle Sam wants you!

This time he wants more than just your taxes. He wants you to help him collect them. As the year winds down, the IRS is conducting its annual search for employees to help it get through the filing season crunch. Here in Austin, the call's gone out via ads in the local daily newspaper (shown here) as well as on television, albeit mostly during late-night programs. According to the the print appeal and the stentorian tones of the TV voice-over guy, a job as a G-man or woman is great: retirement plan, paid vacation, stability ("We're not an up-and-coming employer.... Read more →

Dedicated or deranged shoppers?

Have you ever spent days in line just to shop? That happened here in Austin twice this past week. First, on Wednesday a new IKEA store opened in Round Rock, a suburb north of the city. Days before the doors were unlocked, people started camping out in the parking lot. As the grand opening neared, more showed up. One shopper from San Antonio who couldn't get off work sent her 72-year-old mother to hold a place in line. The night before the store's grand opening, the enthusiastic (yeah, I'm feeling nice today, so that's what I'll call them) felt their... Read more →

TurboTax defense dismissed ... again

Twice this year, a tax court has thrown out attempts by filers to blame tax return mistakes -- which, of course, produced nice tax results for the filers -- on computer software. In the latest ruling, filed last week, the court made it clear that the taxpayer is the one ultimately responsible for submitting a return and making sure such filing is timely and correct. Here are the facts, per the court ruling. Henry Broderick, owner of a small business in New Jersey, filed a corporate return for his company in 2002 showing earnings of just under $3,000 and business... Read more →

Yay Emmitt!

It was no surprise in our house that Emmitt Smith won "Dancing with the Stars." He was a god on the football field. #22 was key to three of the Cowboys' five championships that sustain the hubby and I as we wait for the Tuna to get his and the current team's act together. Fittingly, Emmitt's visage once again graces the 'Boy's Web page, along with a separate story on his latest accomplishment. Plus, he just seems like such a nice guy. And there's that smile! How can anyone resist that smile? When I heard Emmitt was going to be... Read more →

RAL realities

We live in a go-go world, with too much to do in too little time. The boss wants that just-assigned project yesterday and even microwaves take too long to heat up dinner. Such impatience explains why some people are attracted to refund anticipation loans, often referred to as RALs. The financial projects, popularized by franchise tax preparation firms, provide filers with quick cash that they pay back when their tax refunds arrive. Of course, in the couple of weeks that takes, the impatient filers have incurred interest charges on the loan, sometimes a lot of interest charges. As soon as... Read more →