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February 2007

Happy belated birthday Liz!

Elizabeth Taylor celebrated her 75th birthday yesterday with a bash in Las Vegas. Sorry I missed it, Liz. The card is in the mail. I know, though, that she's not offended by my belated best wishes. Liz is much too gracious and giving, as evidenced by her gift to the New Orleans medical community to help its continuing post-Katrina rebuilding efforts, to worry about something as silly as a missed birthday. Liz's generosity has an obvious tax tie. I could go on about donating now to your favorite charity and how that will get you a tax write-off next year;... Read more →

SSN scramble in Texas

No, it's not a new dance craze or statewide golf tournament. It's what public record keepers are doing in the wake of a ruling from the Lone Star State's top lawyer. The Texas Attorney General has ordered immediate removal of Social Security numbers from all public records. That's great news for ID theft foes, but terrible news for government workers and businesses that rely on the data. The opinion, issued last week and now filtering down to record keeping offices statewide, is not a big surprise. As noted in my blog posting of just a few days ago, it's an... Read more →

A $300 million gift to Uncle Sam

Some taxpayers apparently believe it's better to give than to receive. How else to explain the more than 10 million filers who didn't claim the federal telephone excise tax refund. It doesn't take a math degree to figure out the cost to filers and for the U.S. Treasury. Multiply those 10 million returns by $30, the smallest available standard phone refund amount, and you get $300 million. And that's a conservative estimate. It's a safe bet that some of those returns that ignored the phone refund were eligible for the other allowable amounts -- $40, $50 or $60 -- that... Read more →

Trading tax places

Josh Goodman over at the 13th Floor, the fine blog that keeps track of state government goings-on for Governing magazine, has an interesting item today on how fiscal concerns are forcing some governors to deviate from the expected party paths. One state leader is touting the first budget in six years with no new taxes or tax increases, a veritable property tax relief budget. (Ties in nicely with my earlier post about local fiscal concerns in this area, don't you think?) Meanwhile, the other statehouse leader is pointing to the courage required to call for new taxes. For the details... Read more →

Burn with care

A cold front blew through the Austin area this weekend. The key word here is blew, not cold. Temperatures were in the 70s, and I'm not complaining. But I am complaining about the 40 mph gusts that pummeled us Saturday. Combine those winds with the drought we've been in for the last few years and the region is a tinderbox. Yesterday we had half a dozen grass fires burning around the Austin area. Thankfully, none got out of control. As the winds whipped, the local newscasters issued their usual request in such circumstances: Burn with care. That's such a strange... Read more →

ID theft season

While there's no specific season for identity theft, a couple of times of year do tend to make it easier for commission of this pervasive crime. Christmas time is, of course, prime stolen ID time. People are out there, in stores and online, spending like crazy, flashing credit and debit cards willy nilly and buying big-ticket items via installment agreements that require the release of personal and financial data. Then there's tax time, when con artists take our natural fear of the tax man and turn it against us. As noted in my post on this year's "dirty dozen" tax... Read more →

The fine art of social policy taxation

Using taxes to shape social policy is nothing new. People have been doing just that in every country with every conceivable type of political system as soon as the nation's governing structure was put in place. But here in America, the practice has become almost an art form. A surreal art form in many cases, to be sure, but definitely a colorful one. If you look over the enrollment of this "art" school, you'll see it represents students of many and diverse genres. I can definitely see Munch's The Scream -- Ohhhh, the horror of our growing deficit! -- facing... Read more →

News flash: Investing in real estate is risky

The real estate developer started marketing the community two years ago. Investors nationwide quickly bought in, taking out construction loans on the southwest Florida homes they were sure they could flip, turning profits of $30,000-plus. The deal, however, has turned into the cliché "I've got some swampland down in Florida" situation. The properties are not amid a swamp, but many are now effectively worthless. According to a story in today's New York Times, 482 erstwhile real estate moguls are left with half-built houses and thousands of dollars in construction liens. These kind of things happened long before the latest real... Read more →

Dodging the dirty dozen tax scams

Tax season certainly brings out the worst in some folks. Some taxpayers try to push the tax break envelope a bit too far. Others simply refuse to file. Yeah, go ahead; send me the e-mail about the unconstitutionality of it all. I'll send you back this info on frivolous tax arguments. But probably the worst of the bunch are scammers who take advantage of honest taxpayers. Unfortunately, these scumbags have a heyday in tax seasons. They regularly take advantage of the normal stresses of the season. They hone in on folks struggling with the confusing tax code, searching for ways... Read more →

When's my refund?

You probably know by now that you can use the IRS online tracker "Where's My Refund?" to find out just where in the system your tax return is. Well, here's its companion: A nifty little table the tax agency put together telling you when you can expect a refund if you e-filed. Now you know exactly what date to start bugging Uncle Sam about your tax cash! Read more →

Carnival of Money Stories

Once upon time there was a group of bloggers who shared their personal financial tales. Not just advice or the dry relating of money matters, but real, honest-to-goodness personal dealings with lucre, filthy and otherwise. And readers were amazed and amused (among other things) by these stories. And a couple of bloggers decided it would be good to regularly gather these accounts in one place. And so was born the Carnival of Money Stories. OK, that's my story on the Carnival of Money Stories. I wasn't there for the creation of it, so don't take my word as gospel. You... Read more →

State tax revenue going up in no smoke

In 2005, states counted $13 billion added to their treasuries thanks to tobacco taxes. Sure, that's a hefty amount. But cigarette tax collections that year were actually down in 15 states compared with the year or years before, according to a study backed by the tobacco industry. This year, according to an Associated Press story, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois are all forecasting a drop in cigarette tax revenue. I wouldn't be surprised to see that trend here in Texas, too. The reason for the decrease? Higher cigarette taxes. In the Lone Star State, the per-pack levy went up a... Read more →

What would Willie do?

Better known here in Austin as a song inspired by local hero Willie Nelson's myriad travails, tax and otherwise, "What Would Willie Do?" also was the theme of this H&R Block ad a couple of years ago. Thanks to taxalicious for alerting us to this classic. Like Willie, it still holds up quite nicely. Willie's world: I highly recommend Willie's latest album, the Grammy-nominated You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker. Not only are the songs and Willie's delivery of them great, it's a perfect example of Willie's musical magnanimity. A major reason for recording the CD was... Read more →

Shades of Eliot Ness! T-men nab phone tax cheats

So maybe the criminals weren't hardcore Capone clones, but they were breaking the tax law and they now will have to pay. The IRS announced this morning that it had executed search warrants at tax preparation businesses in five states, closing business and seizing computers and documents that federal agents believe will prove the filing of illegal inflated telephone tax refund claims. Earlier, the IRS had reported widespread problems with the new, this-year-only tax break, which is the result of the agency's decision to stop collecting a 108-year-old long-distance excise tax. Some of the incorrect filings were simply mistakes by... Read more →

Banks + IRS = New BFF … or at least until tax season ends

The new option this filing season to directly deposit a tax refund into up to three accounts is benefiting more than just taxpayers. Banks and Uncle Sam are suddenly new best friends forever, as financial institutions tout the benefits of multiple refund deposits. OK, I'll suspend my cynicism about corporate types long enough to allow that yes, this is a good move for most taxpayers. By circumventing the actual filer and putting the money directly into an account, there's less chance that the tax cash will be wasted on frivolous consumer desires. Now, I know that we all deserve a... Read more →

Carnival of Entrepreneurs

If you're in business for yourself, even if it's a weekend side job supplementing your 9-to-5 wages, check out the latest Carnival of Entrepreneurs. Hosted by Pick the Brain, this installment includes tips on marketing your enterprise, business strategies that can help (that's where you'll find my post on tracking 1099 income), even inspirational stories to help you keep on keeping on. Read more →

Saying 'I love you' in tax season

If you don't yet have your tax refund to spend on a nice Valentine's Day gift for your true love, don't despair. Here are few other, tax- related ways to say "I love you." Take charge of the tax chores. Even when you get money back from Uncle Sam, this is a task that most of us hate. So take the burden off your sweetheart, advises David Bergstein, a CPA and tax analyst for CCH CompleteTax. Track down all forms, get all the information in order and prepare the taxes yourself. Decide together how to spend your refund. Money is... Read more →

Prius problems could be buyer boon

I'm going out to fill up my car today. Gasoline here in my part of Austin is back below $2 a gallon. That's good news for me and other drivers of conventional autos. And it could be equally good news for folks who want to shift to a hybrid. As gas prices have fallen nationwide, the maker of the most popular hybrid model is looking at new and heretofore unfamiliar ways to move these vehicles off dealer lots. Yes, the Prius, preferred ride of Hollywood stars and hip hybrid fans elsewhere, is now just another auto option. Sales of Leo... Read more →

A couple of Carnivals

Just in time for Daytona, the Carnival of Cars is back on track! Since our last pit stop, Mark has moved his Behind the Wheel blog to the Washington Examiner and the Car Carnival has a new garage, too. It's now parked at's Straightline blog, where you'll find the latest edition. Get in gear and cruise on over. It's a well-accessorized Car Carnival with a great sticker price: Free! And I'm proud to say that my tax haven item which includes some prime F1 racing roads made this debut edition at the carnival's new home. If you're trying to... Read more →