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March 2007

Toyota tax credit reminder

First off, I have no vested financial interest in Toyota's bottom line. Neither I nor any relative works for the company in any capacity. Neither do I personally care. I don't own one; have always driven Chevys. Finally, I question the effectiveness, not to mention the fairness, of the hybrid vehicle tax credit. But it's on the books and I'm a firm believer in taking advantage of tax laws that can save a few bucks. (And speaking of tax savings, in case you missed the 12 tax credits list posted yesterday, of which the hybrid write-off is one, here's the... Read more →

One more bounce ...

... of the blog ball. Yes, we did it! Or, more accurately, you did it. Your votes propelled Don't Mess With Taxes into the Championship Game at the Personal Finance Blog Madness tournament hosted by Money Blog Site. Whatever happens, it's been a fun run and I'm thrilled to have had such support. I'm running out of ways to say thanks, but I'm not running out of sincere appreciation for all of you who took the time to drop by the tourney and vote. If you want to take one last shot before the buzzer, you can step up to... Read more →

12 tax-trimming credits

We've only got two weekends left before the April 17 filing deadline. So that you don't have to spend all this Saturday and Sunday tracking down ways to trim a few dollars off your tax bill, below are a dozen tax credits that could be beneficial. Remember, credits are better than deductions. True, deductions reduce your taxable income. But in determining your actual tax bill, a deduction is worth, at best, only 10 to 35 cents per dollar, depending on your tax bracket. Credits, on the other hand, reduce your tax bill dollar for dollar. If you owe $1,000 and... Read more →

Ay carumba! Tax shelters doom law firm

I was chatting with the Web's Tax Mama, Eva Rosenberg, this afternoon and one of our topics was questionable tax tactics. Then I opened up my e-mail box and there was a release from the IRS on a $76 million penalty settlement agreement the IRS has reached with a Texas-based law firm for, quoting the IRS here, its "promotion of abusive and fraudulent tax shelters and violation of the tax law concerning tax shelter registration and maintenance." As Eva had just noted not half an hour earlier, "You don't ever want an IRS press release with your name on it."... Read more →

All about the auditor

A story I did on tax audits is running over at Bankrate. It details some of the things that might make an IRS examiner look twice or more at your return. For example, things like income other than basic W-2 wages, home-based business write-offs, noncash charitable deductions, excessive business use of your auto and large casualty losses are some pretty bright red flags. That doesn't mean you shouldn't claim them if they're legitimate. Just know that someone might come asking. So be sure you can back up your claim. What's the DIF? Because the IRS can't audit every single return... Read more →

$100 million tax repayment down the drain

The IRS, which is always nagging us taxpayers to be careful in filing our returns, needs to talk to its government colleagues in the Justice Department about their paperwork protocols. Poorly written prosecutorial documents just cost Uncle Sam more than $100 million in what was supposed to have been the feds' biggest tax prosecution ever. Telecommunications entrepreneur Walter Anderson admitted hiding hundreds of millions of dollars from the IRS and District of Columbia tax collectors. Federal prosecutors said Anderson used offshore corporations to disguise his ownership in telecommunications companies that earned more than $450 million between 1995 and 1999. He... Read more →

21 days and counting

Three weeks. 21 days. That's how much time we have until our tax returns must at least be on their way to the IRS. A recent H&R Block survey found that 80 percent of the people the company asked didn't know this year's due date is Tuesday, April 17. The tax preparation giant referred to it as "surprising taxpayer confusion." Isn't that redundant? Thanks to Congressional tinkering, the tax code is continually changing (check out what happened last year alone here) so who's not confused? Maybe that's why so many of us -- the IRS expects 47 million taxpayers to... Read more →

Snake in the yard!

The recent rains we've had (yay! The lakes finally got some water) kick-started all sorts of growth. Mainly weeds, but also some of our shrubs. So the hubby went out today to do some pruning. His backyard effort was interrrupted, however, by a snake that crawled from a bush to sun. Still relatively new to the region and not being herpetologically up to speed, the hubby wisely moved on to another patch of greenery ... in the front yard. But later we both went out back and the reptile was still there. I was only able to get this one... Read more →

New York considers tax break for renters

One of the eternal battles in tax policy is who loses so that others can benefit. Let's face it. Everyone can't get the same tax breaks or the country would be in even worse fiscal shape. Homeownership is a major tax battle ground. On the federal level, when you shell out to buy a house, you get a lot of tax breaks, most notably the mortgage interest and property tax deductions. And most Americans are taking advantage of those benefits. Stats indicate that in 2005, almost 70 percent of us owned our residences. Of course, that number is likely to... Read more →

Final Four

Are you ready for some more blog ball? Don't Mess With Taxes is still in the Personal Finance Blog Madness tournament hosted by Money Blog Site, moving on to the Final Four this weekend. Thanks again to all the blog booster club members who helped push DMWT past some stiff competition in the last round. We're an underdog again in the Final Four, so if you get a chance, your online cheers are most welcome. You can send them along by leaving a comment listing your favorite "team" here. Read more →

Hybrid heads-up

Gas prices have bumped back up, but the tax break for Toyota hybrid vehicles is heading down again in less than a week. Toyota buyers who got one of these fuel-efficient autos by Sept. 30, 2006, got the best tax deals for that make. Last Oct. 1, Toyota's credit amounts were cut in half. In a few days -- April 1, no joke -- the credit will be reduced again. And this Oct. 1, the Toyota tax break will disappear completely. The reason, as everyone is well aware of by now, is that lawmakers decided to give a break to... Read more →

Shutting off subsidies?

It's almost spring, that season when a young farmer's fancy turns to federal farm legislation (my apologies to Tennyson). This year, some farmers say a proposed change to the subsidy system would be a hard row to hoe. The Bush administration wants to end farm subsidies to anyone with an adjusted gross income of more than $200,000. Currently, the income ceiling is $2.5 million. The Administration admits that the number of affected agrarians is not large. While more than 2 million people report farm income on their tax returns, the Administration estimates that only about 38,000 farmers would be cut... Read more →

Subprime lending, brought to you by Texas

The subprime mortgage debacle started in Texas. Austin, in fact. No, that's not just some perverse Lone Star State braggadocio. And no, the first house purchased with a subprime loan didn't go into foreclosure here. But the software program used by lenders to process and approve loans for those with spotty credit was created by an Austin father and son. A story in Friday's New York Times (I finally made it through that stack of old papers late this afternoon) says that Edward N. Jones and his son, Michael, designed the LendTech program, which uses the Internet to almost instantly... Read more →

Paying off your taxes incrementally

Everybody else lets, even encourages, us to pay for things over time. So it's no surprise that the IRS will accept the tax you owe via installment plans. This is not a new development, but over the years, the IRS has tweaked its payment agreements in ways that are good and not so good for taxpayers. One of the positive changes is that, in keeping with the agency's increasing migration to electronic tax activity, many taxpayers now can apply for a payment agreement online. The IRS estimates that over 75 percent of filers who are eligible for an installment agreement... Read more →

Rebranding advice for the IRS

Who is Steve Stoute? A 36-year-old former music executive who now runs his own marketing agency, Translation Consultation & Brand Imaging. His approach: Combine a hip-hop philosophy and business practicality so that a brand will be more appealing to a younger, trendier audience. BusinessWeek takes a look at Stoute in its current issue. According to the magazine, some of Stoute's major clients include GM, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, Hershey, Microsoft and Estée Lauder. There's one more ... uh ... company ... that Stoute says, in the bio box accompanying the story, that he'd like to rebrand to help it reach... Read more →

One keystroke = $38 billion gone

I'd hate to be this guy. A computer technician was doing some routine maintenance last summer at the Alaska Department of Revenue when he accidentally deleted applicant information for the state's $38 billion oil-funded account, according to this story on Not only did he kill out info on the Permanent Fund Dividend, the state perk that makes living in all that cold bearable for many Alaska residents, the worker also mistakenly reformatted the backup drive. No worries. Big government agencies always have backup material, right? Right? Well, Alaska tax officials discovered that the department's backup tapes were unreadable. At... Read more →

Elite 8

Wow! The Don't Mess With Taxes item on ratting out tax cheats squeaked into the Elite 8 of the Personal Finance Bog Madness tournament at Money Blog Site. Bobby Knight at my alma mater, Texas Tech, is probably soooo jealous! Thanks to my readers/cheerleading squad who voted in the last round. If you're so inclined to do so again, the brackets are here. By the way, who's still in that NCAA thingie? Read more →

We like bill collectors better

First, let me say the "we" in the headline is just the general pronoun; the "royal we," if you will. Neither I nor anyone I know likes bill collectors better than anyone or anything else. But IRS Commissioner Mark Everson told a Congressional panel on Tuesday that some IRS customers, aka taxpayers, do feel that way. Specifically, the commish told the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight that studies indicate when it comes to bringing in unpaid tax bills, customer satisfaction with the efficiency of the private collection agencies is ranked as "good" when compared to satisfaction with collection... Read more →

Donation deduction don'ts from a philanthropic fashionista

$49,000 in deductions for donated designer clothing is disallowed. No, that extravagant (and errant) tax claim wasn't on Paris Hilton's tax return. It was on the 1040, actually the Schedule A accompanying the 1040, of a New York investment banker. There wasn't any question as to whether the haute couture was donated. The problem was with the dollar assessment of the expensive designer duds. In a written opinion, the special trial judge called the valuation "overly optimistic." True, the items did indeed cost a pretty penny when purchased. But as one consignment shop owner told the Washington Post, everything depreciates,... Read more →

Trading tales at the Carnival of Money Stories

The 7th Carnival of Money Stories is open, boasting a wide range of personal financial tales at this week's host, Wisebread. My long-time infatuation with snail mail is included, but several others also caught my eye. There's Clever Dude's admission that sometimes he's not so clever. Maybe we haven't messed up exactly this way, but we've all been there, done that, bought the T-shirt for some other money misstep. Another intriguing tale comes from Priya, who knows 77 ways to live without credit cards. Hhmmm. Me, I gotta keep a couple of cards, but pay them off each month. And... Read more →