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May 2008

Home buyer, seller letters

There's an intriguing, and only slightly tongue in cheek article, in today's New York Times looking at ways in the current housing market to get the property you want at the price you're willing to pay. The technique? A letter to the seller. Such correspondence apparently used to be routine. But nowadays, writes Ron Lieber in the Your Money column, the missive of choice is "less a fuzzy valentine and more like a cold splash of water. It's what you write to accompany a bid that is so far below the listing price that it cries out for explanation." And... Read more →

Second home dream, tax nightmare

Throughout our married life, the hubby and I have harbored the dream of owning a second home. When we were newlyweds living in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C., we frequently thought how nice it would be to have a cabin in the mountains of nearby West Virginia. The thought of one day making cool weekend getaways from the heat and humidity of the nation's capital kept us going every sweaty summer. Never happened. For years, also while still in suburban D.C., we would vacation in the Sunshine State to escape the last of the MidAtlantic winter season. And after each... Read more →

Tax cuts favor ...

The rich. The poor. No one. Everyone. You do the math. Everybody else is. A discussion on the value of tax cuts and just which group of taxpayers benefits the most from them seems fitting since this week marks the five-year anniversary of the Bush Administration's last major round of tax tweaking. On May 28, 2003, Dubya signed the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act into law. This measure lowered rates on capital gains and dividends and was part two of his tax-break push. In 2001, the then-new prez made a splash by getting the Economic Growth and Tax... Read more →

Porn tax proposed in California

You knew it was just a matter of time. State lawmakers all across the country have tried piecemeal taxation of various sectors of the adult entertainment industry. Now some California lawmakers are going for the whole enchilada. They want to tax all aspects of the Golden State's $4 billion a year adult entertainment industry. Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello), the bill's chief sponsor, says the 25 percent tax could raise as much as $665 million in tax revenue a year. It would be imposed on pornographic movies, strip club fees, pay-per-view films, sex toys and the like. The money from the... Read more →

Overseas tax escape door may be closing

If you're planning to expatriate to escape U.S. taxes, you might want to make the move ASAP. As soon as the HEART Act, which provides tax breaks for military personnel (and blogged about here), becomes law, American taxpayers who renounce their citizenship will be paying larger tax bills. An article in today's Wall Street Journal notes that, some expatriates are "private-equity deal makers, hedge-fund managers or entrepreneurs who have made fortunes here, whether born in the U.S. or elsewhere. Others are foreign-born, often academics, who have gained citizenship but are repatriating to their native countries after an extended stay." Whatever... Read more →

Hire an ex-con, get a tax break

We all know our taxes help pay for necessary societal services, such as building and maintaining highways, paying the salaries of law enforcement officers and running the jails that house some of the folks lawmen catch. And now, in addition to collecting taxes to help operate its lock-up, Philadelphia is offering a tax credit that it hopes will lessen the need for the facility. Philly Mayor Michael Nutter announced last month a program that gives $10,000 a year in municipal tax credits to companies that hire former prisoners and provide them tuition support or vocational training. "This is one of... Read more →

Nonprofits + politics = tax troubles

As Nov. 4 nears, taxes will no doubt get lots more attention from all candidates up for election or re-election at all levels. But there's another tax/election connection, one that the IRS frowns on big time. When it comes to politics and tax-exempt groups, including charities and churches, the federal tax man is adamant that they shouldn't mix. By law, 501(c)(3) organizations that are exempt from federal tax may not "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." To make sure... Read more →

Honoring our military,
personally and via tax breaks

The holiday we know as Memorial Day began just after the Civil War as a way to remember those who had fallen in those divisive battles. Originally called Decoration Day, the Memorial Day we now celebrate is a federal holiday held on the fourth Monday in May. And in addition to the name change, the holiday's scope was expanded. It now is a time to recognize the sacrifices of all U.S. military members. At 3 p.m. local time today, there will be a National Moment of Remembrance, a time for you to voluntarily and informally observe the holiday. If you... Read more →

Fuel thoughts on a perfect race day

Today is heaven for auto racing fans, at least those of us who enjoy watching drivers turn mostly left. The day started with the F1 Grand Prix in Monaco. Fast cars, international drivers, the streets of Monte Carlo, royalty, huge yachts, rich and famous onlookers. What excessive fun! I'm sure Lewis Hamilton and his fellow Englishmen and women will be having the most fun tonight. Hamilton became the first Brit to win this most prestigious F1 race since Graham Hill in 1969. More importantly, he took the series championship points lead. Congratulations to Hamilton and his McLaren Mercedes team. Next... Read more →

'Dead' taxpayer waiting for rebate check

Betty Hayes, like many senior citizens, was thrilled that this time, unlike in 2001, retirees are eligible for some rebate money. But she started to worry when her $300 never arrived. The IRS thought it had a pretty good reason for not delivering Mrs. Hayes' economic stimulus payment. "You're dead," the agency told her. Big surprise to Betty and her friends and family. News that you're dead, she said, "makes you about about halfway sick." You can watch her story in the MSNBC video below. One theory is that the IRS somehow keyed in her late husband's Social Security number.... Read more →

Cindy McCain relents, releases tax info

Cindy "Mrs. GOP Presidential Nominee John" McCain today did what she previously vowed she would never do: make her tax returns public. The wealthy heiress of a large Arizona beer distributorship had come under attack for keeping her tax data private. Critics said it reflected poorly on her husband's ostensible commitment to government transparency. The McCain campaign made public only his wife's 2006 Form 1040, not any supporting schedules or documents. On that form, she listed itemized deductions of nearly $570,000, with about $4.5 million in income from partnerships, trusts and rental real estate, and another $743,000-plus from capital gains.... Read more →

Taxing ill-gotten gains

Aficionados of crime tales, and judging from the popularity of investigative themed shows on TV nowadays, there are a lot of us, might already know that on this day in 1934 the felonious rampage of Bonnie and Clyde came to the ultimate conclusion. The celebrated Depression-era Texas outlaws were killed in a roadside ambush, famously recreated in the Faye Dunaway-Warren Beatty film, outside of Gibsland, La. According to the Texas State Historical Association (as previously acknowledged, we Texans own up to -- OK, revel in -- our excesses, both bad and good), the duo's bodies were put on public display... Read more →

Tax money tracking options

In case you want to take some time off from your shopping at Memorial Day holiday sales, tax-free or otherwise, and find out exactly when you'll get the rebate money to help pay for those purchases, here are your money-tracking options. Since you're reading this, you are obviously very online savvy. So let's start there. When it comes to finding the status of money you're due from the IRS, the agency offers two online tracking tools: Where's My Rebate? Where's My Refund? If, however, you prefer to call and actually bug a human -- and we all need some personal... Read more →

Tax tips for Indiana Jones

Thank goodness Indy is back to save us yet again. In the almost 20 years since Harrison Ford last donned that battered fedora, the villains in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" have changed (Cold War Ruskies instead of those evil Nazis). But the archaeology-adventure mix is still there and Indy is still our great academic and national hero. There is, however, one adversary that Indiana can't save us, or himself, from: the IRS. Luckily for the dashing taxpaying professor, blogger Riding With Rickey offers tax advice in A Memo from the Office of Steven R. Lawlor,... Read more →

Tax-free Memorial Day shopping for some

Are you ready for some tax-free products? That's what's awaiting shoppers in three states, as they've added the Memorial Day weekend to their sales tax holiday calendars. For the last several years, around a dozen or more states have tried to entice consumers by offering the chance to buy certain products without paying the usual state and, in most cases, local sales taxes. These things have become so common, I half expect to see them start showing up on mass-market datebooks. When that does happen, most of the tax holidays will be blocked off on fall weekends, giving retailers a... Read more →

Twitter takedown

Please accept my sincerest apologies to any and all of you who have had trouble accessing the ol' blog this week. The problem seems to be that Twitter, the technically problematic social media application, is having issues. Again. But now they've become my issues, too. And I'm tired of it. Apparently the widget that was there in the left nav bar so you could see my Twitter postings was and is not working properly because the dang main site is up and down like a kid's yo-yo. And that meant, and evidently still means since the hubby just told me... Read more →

More money redesigns on the way?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, by a 2-1 margin, has ruled that the United States discriminates against the blind and visually impaired because our paper currency is all the same size regardless of a bill's denomination. I think this -- the ruling, not the discrimination! -- is a good ruling for a couple of reasons. First, while I haven't yet had any trouble distinguishing between a $20 and a $50, I do need my reading glasses for most tasks. It's just a matter of time until I'll need some help paying properly. Secondly, my... Read more →

Tax relief coming in global warming bill

Maybe it's because the WeatherBug icon on my PC tells me it's 102 degrees outside, but this item certainly caught my eye. CQ Politics reports that a new version of Senate global warming legislation would provide billions in tax relief to help consumers pay their energy bills. Of course, this is just the first of a long legislative process. Although Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is drafting a a measure that would include $800 billion through 2050 for a "tax relief fund" to help "consumers in need of assistance related to energy costs," it won't go to her colleagues for consideration until... Read more →

Amazonian sized state tax battles

I've ordered books and CDs from Amazon since it opened its virtual doors. In fact, I have a collection of goodies the site sent to patrons back in the high dot-com days of exuberant e-commerce, before such niceties were trumped by bottom-line considerations. Even though I haven't gotten a thermal Amazon mug or nifty magnet in a while, and even though there are several very good record and book shops in Austin, I still use Amazon now and then. It particularly appeals to me because I'm a buyer, not a shopper. I know what I want and I just want... Read more →

Tax trouble for the Queen of the Blues

Another legendary singer is facing tax troubles and possible loss of her home to the IRS. Back in March, Aretha Franklin's IRS issues came to light. Now the feds are going after Grammy-winning blues singer Koko Taylor. According to Forbes, the IRS contends the wheelchair-bound Taylor owes $400,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest. If she can't pay, she faces the possibility that Uncle Sam will take most of her income, including royalties and Social Security, and maybe even her home. The IRS has rejected her offer to take out a reverse mortgage on her suburban Chicago home and pay... Read more →