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October 2007
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December 2007

November 2007

12 Blogs of Christmas

Dan Meyer has a cool holiday blogging tradition. Each December at his blog, Tick Marks, Dan selects the Twelve Blogs of Christmas. There are three categories: accounting, personal finance and, of course, tax. Dan nominates blogs in each category and then will announce the winners throughout the month. This year's PF nominees are All Financial Matters, Five Cent Nickel, Get Rich Slowly, My Money Blog, No Credit Needed and Wisdom from Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket. In the tax blog sector, Dan has tapped CPA Sense, Taxalicious, Tax Mama, Tax Info Blog (Tax Playa), Wandering Tax Pro, and Wills, Trusts and Estates... Read more →

Kmart loses toilet paper tax lawsuit

Remember the suburban Pittsburgh woman who sued Kmart for charging her sales tax on her purchase of toilet tissue? If not, I blogged about the case here. Well, we can all quit snickering. She won. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that the district judge hearing the case ruled in plaintiff Mary Bach's favor, finding Kmart twice levied the tax improperly. Bach was awarded $100 plus court costs. Read more →

Financial (and other) books
for holiday getting and giving

An Austin colleague, Liz Carmack, has just had her first book published: "Historic Hotels of Texas: A Traveler's Guide" (Texas A&M University Press). Any writer out there is lying if they say they don't want to one day see their words in hardback. So hearty congratulations to Liz. I'm sure her book will do quite well. I'm going to do my part to help a fellow writer by picking up a couple of Liz's books for holiday gifts. Anyone who's a fan of Texas, travel, architecture or tales of long ago will enjoy it. And who doesn't love at least... Read more →

Are credit cards appropriate
'toys' for kids?

'Tis the season not of good cheer, but of obsessive credit card usage. OK, here in the United States, that's a year-round pastime. And there are no age limits on using, and over-using, plastic. This week Charles Schwab released its annual Teens & Money Survey. The 2007 results found, among other things, that when given a choice, almost a third of the teens said they prefer buying things with a credit card rather than paying cash. That's a 61 percent increase over last year. Twenty-nine percent reported having an ATM debit card in their own names; that's good, as long... Read more →

Home Depot-Rhode Island face off
over sales tax refunds

Rhode Island tax officials are battling Home Depot over state sales-tax refunds. Neil Downing, who writes the MoneyLine column for the Providence Journal, notes that it's strictly a business tax issue, but that the ultimate resolution could have far-reaching implications. Here's the deal, paraphrased from Downing's Nov. 24 report: When a Rhode Island shopper buys something that's subject to the state's 7 percent sales tax, the purchaser pays the retailer for the cost of the item, plus the sales tax. The retailer then forwards the tax to the state. But what if the merchandise is purchased using a so-called "private... Read more →

Former IRS commissioner
fired from Red Cross

Whoa! This alert just popped up in my e-mail box: The American Red Cross ousted its president, Mark Everson, on Tuesday after learning that he had engaged in a "personal relationship" with a subordinate employee. I had just mentioned Everson, the former IRS commissioner who left the federal agency in May to head up the charity, in my blog post this morning about his apparent successor. The Associated Press story on the dismissal is here. Bloomberg's report is here. And the Red Cross' official statement, which includes a link to Everson's brief resignation letter, is here. Read more →

128th Carnival of Personal Finance
is now available

The 128th Carnival of Personal Finance, Investment Truth Edition, is now live. This week, it's courtesy of Blain at Stock Trading To Go. As usual, you'll find an impressive collection of financial tips, advice and insight at the PF Carnival. Below are a few of my favorites this time. Not surprisingly, they have a holiday shopping hook. 10 Tips For Being A Smart and Safe Consumer by Silicon Valley Blogger Myth: Big Sales = Big Savings from 99 Life Lessons Learned from Quitting Corporate America by Edith Yeung OK, that last one isn't about the holidays, except maybe leaving... Read more →

Doug Shulman to be new IRS commish

Douglas H. Shulman has been tapped as the next commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. He will replace Mark Everson, who resigned earlier this year to head the American Red Cross (blogged here). The announcement of the "intention to nominate" came from the White House last Wednesday. I was swamped with last minute work/Turkey Day duties and it slipped right by me. So in case you missed it, too, here's a little bit about the next head of the IRS: Shulman now is vice chairman of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, previously known as the National Association of Securities Dealers.... Read more →

Block going back to the basics

We have a saying here in Texas: Dance with who brung ya. H&R Block is now taking that advice to heart. The tax-preparation giant has stumbled a bit in recent years, in part by two-stepping with some partners that weren't very light on their feet. The company got into the subprime mortgage lending business (and we all know how that turned out for a lot of folks), as well as detoured into banking, accounting and brokerage services. And we can't gloss over the refund anticipation loan issue, which produced customer lawsuits, fraud charges from the New York attorney general, special... Read more →

Whistleblower's tax woes

It wasn't a particularly happy Thanksgiving this year for Austin-area resident George Green. Twelve years ago, the former Texas Department of Human Services architect raised questions about construction quality, or rather the lack of it, and claimed contractors were offering kickbacks. Green subsequently was fired, sued under the whistleblower law and won a $13.6 million judgment against the state. But his legal luck hasn't held up against another government entity: the IRS. Just before turkey day, Green got word that a federal appellate court agreed with the IRS argument that much of his settlement was for punitive damages, which are... Read more →

Moonshiners getting the OK from 'revenooers'

There's a microdistillery boom going on, with more and more homemade booze being produced across the United States. But these specialty liquor makers don't have to run from revenooers a la Snuffy Smith. The still owners are, in fact, thriving with the tax collector's blessing. According to a story in today's New York Times, "some of the latest and quirkiest entrants to the industry are in places like Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Mr. Fox's barn." Since Prohibition ended, states have regulated sale and distribution of alcohol, in conjunction with some federal requirements. A lot of places took stances that... Read more →

Tax troubles tarnish government reputations

Remember when your mom told you how important your reputation is? If you screw up, mom warned, it'll take a long time, if ever, for you to recover your good name. It seems that mom's advice, as is usually the case, is dead on. And it applies to governments, too. That's what has happened in two recent instances involving mishandled taxes. D.C. déjà vu: Let's start in the United States. A couple of weeks ago, some Washington, D.C. tax office employees were charged with using their positions, over seven years, to steal $16 million (maybe more) from the national capital's... Read more →


That's my nom de tweet over at Twitter. Yes, at the enthusiastic urging of fellow Austin blogger (and motorsports fan) SheilaS, I'm taking baby steps down the social media path. Sheila, who also can be found at her Family Travel blog, talks about what she likes about Twitter here. Elizabeth Lawley, who blogs at mamamusings, offers a good overview of Twitter and why she thinks it's worth it here. And here she explains why she limits her connections. I also like Danah Boyd's description at her blog apophenia: "Twitter has taken a different path. It is primarily micro-blogging or group... Read more →

Certain online purchases
remain tax-free in New York

Not to run the shopping theme into the ground, but it is that time of year. And New Yorkers who buy online got a bit of an early holiday present when Gov. Eliot Spitzer (pictured) rescinded a tax policy proposed by the state's budget office that would have required certain e-retailers to begin on Dec. 7 collecting sales taxes. "Governor Spitzer believes that now is not the right time to be increasing sales taxes on New Yorkers. He has directed the Department of Tax and Finance to pull back its interpretation that would require some Internet retailers that do not... Read more →

Online money management tools

New York Times columnist Michelle Slatalla's adjustable rate mortgage is coming due and she's worried. In addition to the usual financial concerns, there's the added burden of being her family's chief financial officer. She's afraid if they can't get decent terms when the loan adjusts, she'll be to blame. I know how she feels. When we bought our Florida home I lobbied for a balloon mortgage. Our loan amount under the standards of the day was big enough to be classified as a jumbo mortgage; the balloon was a way to get us a better rate. The hubby is, like... Read more →

When shopping isn't so secular

Do you know who owns the shopping center where you spent part of Black Friday? It might be a church. A story in today's New York Times notes that Megachurches Add Local Economy to Their Mission: "An analysis by The New York Times of the online public records of just over 1,300 of these giant churches shows that their business interests are as varied as basketball schools, aviation subsidiaries, investment partnerships and a limousine service. At least 10 own and operate shopping centers, and some financially formidable congregations are adding residential developments to their holdings. … But the entrepreneurial activities... Read more →

Being a better sales shopper

How was your Black Friday shopping trip? Did you manage to get out of the stores with minimal damage to your physical and financial selves? I didn't make it to stores today. I never join in the post-Thanksgiving shopping madness. Too many leftovers at home to take care of, not to mention more football. It appears I am in the minority. The Wall Street Journal has a Holidaysales Blog that promises "News, Trends and Analysis for the Key Shopping Season." According to a post earlier today, product categories that are doing well among early shoppers at Best Buy are PCs,... Read more →

Free Tom!

Actually, it was May (pictured there at right with Dubya) and Flower who were pardoned, if not actually freed, this year in the annual pre-Thanksgiving event at the White House. Every year, representatives of the National Turkey Federation and the farmer who donates the turkey (or, this year, turkeys) join the President in the White House Rose Garden. The prez gives his "happy holiday" talk and pardons the birds for the assembled photographers and TV cameramen. You can read about this year's ceremony here. That page has more pictures, as well as audio and video links if you're already that... Read more →

Cranberry thanks

I agree with Kevin Cowherd of the Baltimore Sun: "Cranberry sauce should be what it's always been: a little jellied log that plops out of the can with the indentations still etched in it, the way God and your sainted grandmother intended it to be." So one of the many things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving is that my local H-E-B grocery store had small cans of Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce. The hubby is not a cranberry fan, so the smaller, 8 ounce size is preferable to the containers twice that size. Yep, that's my can there, complete with... Read more →

Getting your home ready for winter

Yesterday, it got up to 83 degrees here in Austin, tying a 51-year-old record for the day. Forecasters say it should be comfortable for most of today. Later this afternoon, though, temperatures will start dropping. And on Thanksgiving, most Central Texas thermometers are expected to make it only into the low 50s. Now I know that's not cold. But forecasters say the front bringing in the lower temps, along with gusty north winds and some rain, marks our official weather season shift. So when we turn on our furnaces this evening to combat overnight readings in the 30s and 40s,... Read more →