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November 2007

The science of debt denial

The lead story in today's New York Times' Science section is about denial (yeah, I'm a bit slow getting to the paper today). It's not a topic I would normally read, but the article begins with a look at a shopaholic who was in serious denial about her habit and its resulting debt. The rest of the article deals with the many other types of denial, which all of us engage in occasionally, for personal, work related and, yes, financial reasons. But, according to the article, "the ability to look the other way, while potentially destructive, is also critically important... Read more →

States have money for you, too

If you're not one of the 115,478 folks due an undeliverable federal tax refund, don't despair. Your state might have a windfall for you. Our local paper recently contained a special section listing folks who have assets they forgot about. That property ultimately was turned over to the Texas Comptroller's office, where it waits for rightful owners to claim it. Last year, the hubby found his sister's name on the list. She ended up $700 richer; her good fortune is blogged about here. No such luck this year, for either my sister-in-law or any other relatives. But there are plenty... Read more →

Are you missing some tax money?

More than 115,000 taxpayers have essentially said "no thanks" to Uncle Sam's efforts to give them back some money. The IRS says it still has around $110 million in refund checks that were returned as undeliverable. The checks, which belong to 115,478 filers, average about $953. A refund check is typically returned as undeliverable when a taxpayer moves without updating his or her address with either the U.S. Postal Service or the IRS. Sometimes, the address is correct on the return, it's just illegible. That's right; your crummy penmanship could be costing you real money! As soon as the IRS... Read more →

Medicine today: A man and his dog

There's not much new regarding health care in America. We've heard and will keep hearing, at least through next November's election, about escalating medical costs, the growing number of uninsured, and how universal coverage will be the salvation or ruin of the United States. Just in case you want a refresher on the issues, at least as far as they are being addressed by the presidential candidates, you can read this story in today's Washington Post. This weekend though, the hubby's dad provided us with a new, and very personal, perspective on medical considerations. Seems that the recent cold fronts... Read more →

Hefty hybrids hot at L.A. auto show

Apparently, environmentally friendly autos are all the rage at auto shows. According to BusinessWeek, "green tech continues to dominate major auto shows," and such is the case at this week's Los Angeles Auto Show, where "the theme is hybrids with heft." The biz news magazine says that at the L.A. event, which opened to the public Friday and runs through Nov. 25: "The Chrysler Group introduced two new mega-hybrids, the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango, both odd combinations that merge gas-electric power with impressive capabilities like an optional 385 horsepower engine and a 6,000 pound towing capacity. General Motors unveiled... Read more →

Free File lawsuit follow-up

I've been searching for responses from the tax software companies named in the class action lawsuit filed against Free File Alliance corporate partners (more on the legal action in this earlier blog post). Not surprisingly, there's nothing official on any of the major company Web sites. It's a cliche, but I'm sure the truth, that the companies' lawyers are all poring over the documents and have mostly muzzled spokespeople. However, I did find a few reply reports and, in the interest of fairness, wanted to share them. Tim Hugo, executive director of the Free File Alliance (this link takes you... Read more →

Bronx Bomber in tax dispute with NY

Most sports fans have been following the soap operas surrounding A-Rod's impending big bucks deal with the Yankees or Barry Bonds' grand jury indictment. New York tax collectors, however, have their eyes on another Bronx Bomber. State tax officials say Derek Jeter should have been taxed as a New York resident from 2001 through 2003. Jeter contends he was a Florida resident those years. The two jurisdictions are as different fiscally as they are climatologically. That means the eventual determination of Jeter's living arrangements could cost the Yankees captain millions of dollars. Beyond the jock tax: The first tax thought... Read more →

Free File foes head to court

A group of taxpayers who didn't meet Free File income requirements have decided to recoup their e-filing fees by taking the software companies to court. Two Philadelphia law firms have filed a class-action suit in federal court against the companies that make up the Free File Alliance. They estimate that damages could be billions of dollars. The complaint, filed by Feldman, Shepherd, Wohlgelernter, Tanner & Weinstock and Cooley & Handy, alleges that while the agreement the IRS made with the Alliance companies was supposed to provide free e-filing for up to 70 percent of Americans, only 3.8 million taxpayers filed... Read more →

Groundhog Day tax legislation loop

When did Bill Murray get elected to Congress? Sorry. The laid-back comic isn't in D.C. It just seems that way, since Congress apparently is a big fan of Groundhog Day. Every year, regardless of which party's in control -- and I use that word advisedly -- on Capitol Hill, lawmakers do the same dang thing. They pontificate for 11 months, pushing actual legislative action on critical (i.e., usually tax) measures until the very end of the session. That's all fine and good for Representatives and Senators. They have a few late nights, vote and head home for the holidays. But... Read more →

Blog birthday #2

Wait. Don't go! You're at the right URL. Two years ago today, I posted my first Don't Mess With Taxes item. Who, other than the hubby, would have thought that my tax fixation could have continued unabated? Heck, even he had his doubts. Now, in honor of the occasion, I am finally following through on the promise I made at this time last year to make some design changes. I mean, we've finally got the house furnished and pretty well finished, so that just leaves me the ol' blog to tweak! This new look is basically the same: three columns,... Read more →

Worst. Workspace. Ever.

Lots of people say they hate their job. What they usually mean is that they hate the work they do, not the workplace itself. In fact, sometimes the accommodations are the only thing a job has going for it. I've had a couple where the best thing about being employed was my office. Well, that's definitely not the case for David Gunnells, an employee at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Gunnells' workspace is shoehorned in a windowless conference room with a row of filing cabinets forming one of his "walls." Yep, that's it there, in a photo that Gunnells... Read more →

Coming soon: 'My IRS Account'

Get ready, taxpayers. An IRS official says by summer 2008 we might be able to access our own personal tax data through the agency's official Web site. At the annual Council for Electronic Revenue Communication Advancement conference, David R. Williams said the IRS is working on a Web program that will allow taxpayers to view three years of prior tax information. "Wouldn't it be nice if your W-2 was there as well?" asked Williams, the director of the IRS Office of Electronic Tax Administration. "How about changing your address or updating your information?" According to a report in Tax Notes... Read more →

Personal Finance Carnival #126 is posted

Thanks to Million Dollar Journey for hosting the 126th Carnival of Personal Finance. MDJ collected 89 items for this edition. To make it easier for readers, they're arranged by financial category. Here are some of my favorites: As a self-professed vidiot, Satellite TV Guru's 5 Ways to Get More for Your Money with Satellite and Cable entry naturally caught my eye. Finance and Fat asks question we've all raised: When is it Okay to Spend Money? F&F's query is particularly pertinent with the holidays bearing down. And sticking with this topic, I would terribly remiss if I didn't mention a... Read more →

Our flipping new neighbor

No, that's not a thinly disguised epithet for an annoying neighbor. It's a description of our almost neighbor. It's a bit of a tale, so bear with me. When we moved into our house in 2005, a home around the corner was vacant. And it's stayed that way. Most of the time, it just sat there, a guy coming to mow the grass when it got really, really, really bad. Then, in 2006, the "for sale" signs appeared. First one realty company, then another. 2007 rolls around and, after a couple months, the dreaded word "foreclosure" appeared atop the sale... Read more →

Special tax rules for members of the military

Today, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day, the day we honor our military veterans. For a few years, Veterans Day was part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moves commemorations in order to create a three-day weekend. And Monday will be a federal holiday acknowledging Veterans Day. But 11/11 is the official day with a historical context for its existence. Originally known as Armistice Day, the holiday was originally established to honor the end of World War I, which officially occurred at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. At the time, it was hoped that this convergence of elevens would... Read more →

D.C. tax employees charged with stealing $16 million

I haven't updated the ol' tax cheat watch list for a while, but this one definitely deserves mention. Two employees of the District of Columbia's Office of Tax & Revenue were arrested last week in connection with what federal prosecutors are calling a "massive" scheme using phony property tax refunds. Harriette Walters and Diane Gustus are accused of stealing more than $16 million; some say the amount could be as much as $20 million. So far, federal authorities have recovered only $4 million. The duo allegedly used the money to pay for homes, vehicles, jewelry, luxury clothing, designer handbags and... Read more →

$3+ gas in November, a costly first

For the first time ever, the national average of regular gasoline hit $3-plus a gallon in November. And that's before any of us even start our cars to head over the river and through the woods to grandma's for Thanksgiving. Anyone want to venture a guess on what the per-gallon pain will be in a couple of weeks ... or by Christmas? One expert says it won't be so bad. Oil Price Information Service analyst Tom Kloza told USAToday that while pump prices have a little bit of catching up to do to reflect the recent surge in oil costs,... Read more →

2007 tax filing season
sets records ... again

Ho-hum. Same old, same old. Another tax-filing season, another IRS statistical record falls. Nearly 80 million of us filed out taxes electronically this year, breaking the record set last year. As the table below shows, that's pretty much been the pattern since the IRS began accepting and then encouraging taxpayers to e-file. The IRS reports (IR-2007-185) that the exact number of e-filers for the 2007 tax season, which officially closed out on the Oct. 15 extension deadline, was 79.98 million. That's about 9 percent more than filed electronically the previous year. This year, more than 22.6 million returns were e-filed... Read more →

The voters have spoken

Well, a few of them have. As usual on a non-presidential election day, turnout was tiny here in Texas. I suspect it was the same elsewhere across the country. But you'd have thought, here in Texas anyway, where we had 16 constitutional amendments to decide, a few of the issues would have motivated more folks to head to their polling places I mean, c'mon. Who couldn't get excited about such things as the retirement age of judges, eminent domain repurchases and what to do about the state office of hides and animal inspector (it was abolished). Pocketbook voting: But there... Read more →

Tax-free muni bond watch

The potential tax bills of millions of investors are now in the hands of the United States' nine top jurists. Yesterday,the Supreme Court heard arguments in Kentucky Department of Revenue v. Davis. As discussed in this earlier posting, the case deals with the issue of a state providing an income tax exemption for bonds it issues, while continuing to tax interest income realized from bonds issued by other states. Despite the courtroom success so far of George and Catherine Davis, many legal scholars think that Kentucky's method of giving residents a tax break if they own the state's own bonds... Read more →