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October 2007

I and the Bird #60

David at Search and Serendipity is the host for the 60th I and the Bird. This particular birding carnival is notable not just because David is a fellow Texan, but also because he's produced the first birding blog carnival to be hosted by video. Amid the more than 30 postings from birders worldwide, David gives up four videos. Be sure to view each, including the outtake reel. But the core of every I and the Bird is, of course, the collection of fantastic reports from birding bloggers, or blogging birders. Among my favorites this time are: The photo blog from... Read more →

Inflation adjustments at the IRS and SSA

Ben Bernanke and crew have been concerned about inflation, but apparently the Fed can chill a bit. Today, a couple of government agencies adjusted their relevant 2008 figures based on inflation and the numbers are not that big. First we have Social Security recipients, who no doubt will quibble with the assessment that their benefits should be increased only 2.3 percent to account for inflation, or an estimated $24 a month more. That's the smallest increase in four years. This Associated Press story (via the Washington Post) details the effects that millions of retirees will feel from such a small... Read more →

Pledging to avoid auto trouble

I am going to quit volunteering to work KUT's fundraisers. The last two times I've signed up to answer the public radio station's pledge drive phones, I've had car trouble. If this keeps happening, I'm going to have to hold my own begging-for-dollars event to pay my mechanic! As regular readers know, I have a 2000 Chevy Cavalier. It's been a pretty good little car, primarily used just for commuting to work. In Florida, that meant 12 miles of suburban driving each weekday. Here in Austin, that means 0 commuting miles and just a few road trips a month to... Read more →

GOP tax heresy regarding the AMT?

Charles Grassley might be getting some calls from his Republican colleagues about his latest position on the alternative minimum tax. Tax publisher BNA reports that Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking minority member on the Senate Finance Committee, would be willing to accept tax increases on the wealthiest Americans as a way to help finance repeal of the AMT. Grassley has previously noted that he prefers to repeal the costly parallel tax system without requiring Congress to worry about offsets. But since legislative pay-go rules prohibit that, Grassley and his colleagues will have to come up with the money that the government... Read more →

'Duh!' headline of the day

The headline below jumped out at me when I flipped to the Business section of today's New York Times. Ya think? It's a serious story about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used for all sorts of good reasons. But they do have their problems, like going down blindly if the remote pilot messes up. You can read the article here. Please note that the headline has been changed. Guess the online editor got a few too many smart-alec remarks on the print edition. In that version's defense, I used to work at a newspaper, and I know the problems copy desks... Read more →

IRS gets good marks for filing season efforts

Whew! Tax season 2007 is now officially over. You can bet the IRS is as glad about that as you and I are, although the agency now has to deal with the millions of returns filed at the very last moment on Monday. But if this year's processing of previously filed returns is any indication, working through this last batch should go smoothly. In a report issued just before the Oct. 15 final filing deadline, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) said "the 2007 tax filing season was generally successful, and most returns were timely and accurately processed."... Read more →

House OKs four-year Internet tax ban

It's official. By a 405-to-2 vote, the House passed H.R. 3678 to extend the moratorium on Internet access taxes until November 2011. Although 240 Representatives supported a rival bill to make the ban permanent, the House leadership refused to bring that measure to a vote because of concerns it wouldn't pass the Senate before the current moratorium expires on Nov. 1. More on that legislative tactic in my post earlier today. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who sponsored the permanent ban bill, and Michael Turner, R-Ohio, were the only House members to vote against the temporary I-tax ban. H.R. 3678 now goes... Read more →

Another temporary moratorium on Internet taxes likely

Halloween's in a couple of weeks, but for Internet users, the really scary thing about Oct. 31 is that it's the last day of the moratorium on Internet access taxes. But fear not Web heads! It looks like most of us are about to get another four years without worrying whether our service provider will tax our online connections. Nine years ago, eons in the Internet age, folks were worried that taxing online services might slow the adoption of the technology. So in 1998, Congress passed a temporary moratorium that restricts states and localities from taxing Internet access and imposing... Read more →

Blog Action Day 2007: Environmental tax breaks

October 15. The final deadline for folks who got an extension to file their 2006 tax returns. October 15. The inaugural Blog Action Day, when bloggers unite to discuss environmental issues. Coincidence? I think not. Over the past few years, the U.S. tax code has become more environmentally friendly. So on this day when millions of procrastinators are finally filing their 1040s, it's only fitting to look at some ecologically connected tax breaks. Before you send in your return today, check it over to make sure you don't miss out on these savings. And even if you filed months ago,... Read more →

Tax-exempt bonds and sports facilities

MLB league championship series are underway. The NFL season is in full swing. Slap shots are flying in NHL arenas. And the NBA will start regular roundball play shortly. So of course, the thoughts of all sports fans turn to taxes. OK, so just a few of us sports fans are also thinking about taxes. But believe me, there is a connection. There is, of course, the jock tax, which enables cities and states to collect a portion of the earnings of visiting professional players. Yeah, I don't get too worked up about the tax burdens of mostly overpaid athletes.... Read more →

Tax time is nearly up for master procrastinators

That's right, all you master procrastinators. You better get your act together this weekend. The final filing deadline for most 2006 Form 1040s is Monday. Don't get in such a hurry, though, that you overlook some tax breaks. Areas that the IRS says filers are ignoring at their own expense include: Telephone excise tax refund This is a one-time refund of long-distance excise taxes (details on how it came about are in this earlier blog item). The refund applies to phone charges billed between March 1, 2003, and July 31, 2006. If you have those bills on hand, you can... Read more →

Who hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo is there?

Backyard birding continues to be spectacular of late, or in this latest instance, of early. Around 5 a.m. I woke up and decided I needed a snack. Trying not to wake the hubby, I kept the lights off as I crept downstairs and made my way carefully into the kitchen. Just as I was about to head to the fridge, I head the owl. It was a great-horned owl, probably male judging from our Peterson Field Guide's description of the call pattern. The lights were still off, so I eased my way to the back door and stepped out on... Read more →

Taxes and Al Gore's Nobel Prize

Today's one of those good news, potential bad news days for Al Gore. More on the use of the qualifier "potential" in a minute. First, let's look at Al's decidedly good news. The former Veep got the news today that he and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He obviously is very gratified to have the Nobel Committee recognize his efforts to educate folks about global warming and work toward ways to stem environmental disaster. You can read the award announcement here. But Al is human, despite his dance moves to the contrary.... Read more →

Taxes topping the news

OK, maybe not topping. But there is quite a bit of tax news and I like alliteration, so ... In today's New York Times, David Cay Johnston takes a look at recently released IRS data. He reports that, "adjusting for inflation, 95 percent of Americans reported smaller incomes to the tax man in 2005 than in 2000." But even with less income, writes Johnston, "all Americans had more in their pockets as a result of the Bush tax cuts, although the increases ranged from barely perceptible for the bottom half of American earners to thousands of dollars a month for... Read more →

Private tax debt collection axed by House

Unfortunately for opponents of outsourced tax collection, the House action isn't a fatal blow. In fact, the passage yesterday of H.R. 3056, the Tax Collection Responsibility Bill of 2007, serves only as an annoyance, not a serious threat, to the efforts of private bill collectors hired by the IRS. "No" to private collectors: Supporters of the bill, mostly Democrats, say that private collection agencies (PCAs) are not nearly as efficient as IRS employees. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., said data shows IRS employees collect unpaid taxes at a much faster pace than PCAs, whom he... Read more →

Personal finance calculator collection

Got some questions about your finances, such as which loan to take out, investment to choose or simply where your fiscal efforts stand in comparison with others? Well, Millionaire Mommy Next Door has compiled a list of 110 personal finance calculators that are free and designed to help you find fast answers to your financial questions. And a few of them take tax taxes into account. For example: Estimating the tax-equivalent yield for a municipal bond Comparing returns on taxable vs. tax-advantaged investments Computing your potential estate tax liability Checking on your portion of the country's overall tax burden Another... Read more →

Foreclosure tax change could benefit PMI payers

When they file their 2007 returns next year, some homeowners will be able to deduct their private mortgage insurance (PMI) payments. And if the proposal to provide tax relief to folks who lose their homes to foreclosure is enacted, PMI payers could get a continued break, too. PMI is insurance that lenders typically require from home buyers whose mortgage loans are more than 80 percent of their home's value. In other words, if you put less than 20 percent down, part of your monthly payment will include a PMI premium. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco takes a thorough... Read more →

Columbus Day Carnival

We're sailing along, not necessarily to a new world but to a world of financial information with today's Columbus Day edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance. Hosted by Ask Mr. Credit Card, the 121st Personal Finance Carnival intersperses this week's collection of financial tips throughout a Q&A session with our leading presidential candidates. Among the discoveries: Is penny pinching really the road to wealth? How to live on a minimum wage and Tips for getting low-cost health insurance. You say you're looking for financial info from the wealthier end of the spectrum? Then don't miss the review of the... Read more →

Columbus Day's cash connection

Happy Columbus Day! It kind of sneaked up on me. I'm used to it being around the 12th, the original date before it, like everything else, got shifted to the Monday holiday system. So I was thinking it would be next week until I flipped the calendar page. As we all learned in school, Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered America. He was looking for a direct ocean- going route to Asia so that European merchants could more easily obtain the many goods that shoppers of the 1400s so wanted. Hmmm. Some things truly do never change. And while Chris' travel didn't... Read more →

How do your property taxes stack up?

We got one of our property tax bills yesterday, a postal delivery I was expecting as noted in this blog item from a couple of days ago. Yep. I said "one of." We get two property tax bills each year. Aren't we lucky?! The one that's arrived is usually the larger one. It's from our area's school district. Still to come is the one from Travis County for its services. It's typically less by about a third than the school district property assessment. That bill differential always makes me wonder why, if we're paying so much to our schools --... Read more →