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October 2007

Tax treats from Washington, D.C.

It's not quite as sweet as the candy you'll be handing out to young ghouls tonight, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill do have a few treats for taxpayer goody bags. A measure that will keep states from taxing your Internet connection for the next seven years is now awaiting Dubya's signature. A bill that will keep millions of taxpayers out of the AMT's clutches for the 2007 tax year has been officially introduced. And many of the tax breaks you and I have enjoyed over the last few years are on track to be around for a bit longer. No... Read more →

Report says Texas issues too many reports

The Lone Star State issues too many reports. That's the word, ahem, words, from a new 668-page report. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission spent a year and a half doing its job, which is canvassing more than 170 agencies and public colleges and universities, checking on all the various reports the groups issue. The commission found more than 1,600. State Records Administrator Michael Heskett told the Associated Press there are more out there. And you thought the IRS was the king of paperwork! It gets worse. Initial findings indicate more than 400 report requirements are obsolete, duplicative or... Read more →

Tax relief for California wildfire victims

It looks like the weather is finally giving fire-ravaged Southern California a break. So is the IRS. The agency has announced (IR-2007-178) that taxpayers in the presidential disaster area –– Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties –– will have until Jan. 31, 2008, to file returns, pay taxes and perform other time-sensitive acts. The extended deadline applies to tax filings due on or after Oct. 21, when the wildfires began, and on or before next Jan. 31. This includes Form 941, which businesses file to report their federal withholding on employees' income and... Read more →

Mother's Tax Day

Welcome, a tad belatedly (hey! I've been busy; and did I mention that vacation I just took?), to TaxVox. The new tax and budget policy blog is from the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. Those TPC folks have good timing, getting into the blogging act right before Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel stirs the roiling tax reform pot. And thanks to Rangel, it looks like every day, at least for a while, is going to be devoted to his Mother of Tax Reforms. (Yeah, I'm tired of that phrase, too, but... Read more →

Catching up with tax legislation

Wow! A person takes a few days off and goes to a remote part of Texas where there's no radio, no TV and the Internet is available only by sitting in the hotel gift shop, and all sorts of tax things happen! Like Charlie Rangel's mother of all tax reforms, H.R. 3970, introduced on Thursday. I knew it was coming, as mentioned in my tax legislative preview last Monday. And I could have taken time away from my vacation to surf and gather the relevant information and post it instead of my Santa Elena Canyon adventure. But to the hubby's... Read more →

Red Sox win pays off
for Boston furniture buyers

Congratulations to the Red Sox. And congrats, too, to folks who bought furniture this spring at Jordan's Furniture. According to the Boston Globe, the local chain promised free furniture to customers who bought items between March 7 and April 16 if the Sox won the World Series. Last night's victory means that the Warren Buffett-owned furniture retailer, which notes that it is the "Official Furniture Store of the Boston Red Sox," will be paying back millions to customers. And, of course, there are tax issues. TaxProf enumerates them: Is the store owner required to give each of the customers a... Read more →

Toilet paper tax headed to court

A Pennsylvania woman is suing Kmart over a 12-pack of Angel Soft toilet tissue that cost her $3.99. The shelf price isn't the problem. Rather, says Mary Bach, the Kmart store where she purchased the TP improperly collected 7 percent sales tax on what is a non-taxable item. Her final register tally: $4.27 -- or 28 cents too much. So Bach is taking her case to court. A hearing is set for Oct. 31, at which she'll be asking for $100 in damages, plus court costs, for violation of Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. It's not just... Read more →

Hello … hello … hello
from Santa Elena Canyon

That headline is my admittedly weak attempt to textually relate an echo. Why? Because when we were in the canyon below yesterday, the echo effect was great. That's Santa Elena Canyon, in the far southwest section of Big Bend National Park. The wall to the right is Texas; to the left, Mexico. The terrain here along the Rio Grande River is nice and flat, unlike the place up-river where we stopped on Thursday when were driving to the park. There the bank fell off about 10 inches, but I was determined to put my toes into the waters dividing Mexico... Read more →

Presidential candidates' tax stances

Back in June, in this blog entry I bemoaned the dearth of information on just where the many presidential candidates stand when it comes to taxes. Well, our long political tax stance nightmare is over! The Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution in Washington, has compiled a nifty summary of the candidates' tax plans. In addition to giving us White House wannabes' main tax points, the table tells us what they think of specific tax topics, such as, to name a few, the alternative minimum tax, capital gains and the ever-popular tax... Read more →

Expensive electric sports car coming in 2008

The hubby and I are tooling around the wilds of West Texas, so the auto shown below probably wouldn't be our best vehicular choice. But c'mon! Doesn't this Tesla Roadster look great? You can drool over more images here. Actually, now that I think about it, this car might be a good fit for long-distance driving, especially if you're looking for a vehicle that doesn't spit out noxious emissions. The Tesla Roadster is electric. It uses 6,831 lithium-ion batteries similar to the one in your laptop, along with a patented electric-motor system and a sophisticated package of controllers and software.... Read more →

Telephone tax scammers are back

Tax scammers are starting to crawl out of the woodwork on a distressingly regular schedule. Back in September, we had tax phishers (blogged about here), looking to hook unsuspecting taxpayers with the lure of false refunds. A month earlier, we had con artists calling folks with promises of cash if they'd just answer a "survey." Details on that scam blogged here. Well, for October we are back to the phones, with multiple scams being reported in Oklahoma and Arkansas. First, let's look at the attempts to swindle Sooner State residents, primarily residents in the central and northeastern parts of the... Read more →

Making the most of open season

Open enrollment season is upon us. The hubby got his information packet last week and has until mid-November to decide what company benefits he we want. The biggest benefit for most of us is health insurance. But companies offer all sorts of options. There's dental insurance and medical spending accounts to complement your medical coverage; ways to help pay for child care and commuting costs; life, long-term and disability policies; prepaid legal services; and educational assistance. And we can't forget the retirement account options. Whew! If your company offers a wide selection of benefits, be sure you give yourself enough... Read more →

Property tax battle brewing in Texas

Complaints about property taxes are nothing new. I've whined myself about our annual bill, although I must admit that this year it's a little less painful. The crying this time, though, is not by the usual irked homeowner fighting a real estate assessment. It's a Central Texas school district that is refusing to pay its portion of property taxes to the state in order to help fund other school systems. Dubbed "Robin Hood" by critics, the 1993 law requires districts that have high property values relative to their student populations to share some of their local tax money with districts... Read more →

Taking a break

As you read this, the hubby and I are retracing, at least partially, the West Texas trail that my cousin Kathy and I blazed last year. One difference this time is that part of our trip will be in the Big Bend National Park. Since it's a pretty out of the way place, I suspect I won't have Internet connectivity while we're there. So I've written some posts, like this one, that, I hope!, will publish automatically while I'm away. If I do get a chance to check in from the road, I will. If I don't, I'll fill y'all... Read more →

Tax reality check

The year began with high hopes of substantive tax reform. Now, with just over two months left in 2007, reality has hit Congress. Rather than the "mother of all tax reforms," it looks like we'll get -- again -- some short-term fixes. According to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), his committee this week will likely see a stop-gap bill to address expiring tax breaks and alternative minimum tax concerns. The extender portion would continue a group of popular expiring business and individual tax benefits. The tax breaks likely to be continued for individual filers are... Read more →

Fat refund for fraud-based tax payments

HealthSouth Corp., the Alabama-based hospital chain, last week pocketed a $440 million federal tax refund. The money back was in connection with taxes HealthSouth paid on $2.7 billion in fraudulent profits. The IRS issued the refund because the taxes were assessed on profits that were not real. The check was for $296 million in overpayments and $144 million in interest. This is one case where I'm glad that Uncle Sam got use of the improperly paid tax money for at least a little while. More on the overpayment refund can be found in this New York Times story. HealthSouth wasn't... Read more →

Upgrading online account security

Is there something new going on with the federal privacy notice law? Back in 1999, the privacy provisions of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Modernization Act went into effect. This is why once a year, usually in the summer, we get those notices, i.e., an extra piece of paper in snail mailed bills and financial statements or a special e-mail if we access the accounts electronically, detailing the information-sharing practices of companies and creditors that collect our financial data. Despite the law's good intentions, I suspect that most of us just toss or delete this annual material. Recently, though, I've been getting... Read more →

Interest growing in exotic IRAs

Self-directed individual retirement accounts are growing, reports the New York Times, as many middle-aged investors are moving their money from traditional stocks and bonds into more experimental holdings. In an article in today's edition, Dalia Fahmy writes that these IRA owners "have amassed enough money in their retirement accounts to permit some experimentation." That includes putting their nest egg into "off-beat ways of generating rental income," such as "private jets that can be leased out, race horses that generate prize income and bulls that are in demand among cattle breeders." Self-directed IRAs still carry the same tax advantages as the... Read more →

Tag! I'm it!

I've been tagged by The World of Wealth to share seven random things about me, myself and I that y'all might not know. The process is officially a meme. However, being old school (that's a freebie about me; let's say it's random thing 7.5), I see it as sort of a blogging chain letter. But rather than making false promises of riches or threats of disaster if you don't participate, the idea is to get to know the tagged blogger a little better. Despite my best efforts, my life seems to get more random by the moment, so I had... Read more →

Listen up, poker players:
You owe the IRS.

Back in early September, the IRS issued a revenue procedure reminding folks that Uncle Sam gets to put his paws into your jackpots. Specifically, that notice (Rev. Proc. 2007-57) was aimed at poker tournament sponsors, including casinos, reiterating their tax withholding and information reporting obligations. You can read the details in this earlier blog posting, but the basics are that, in the IRS' words, "beginning March 4, 2008, the IRS will require all tournament sponsors to report tournament winnings of more than $5,000, usually on an IRS Form W-2G." Just so everyone knows: Well, the IRS wants to make very,... Read more →