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July 2008

Massachusetts 2008 tax holiday
is officially on the books!

Not to run this in the ground, but I'm getting lots of questions about the tax holiday in Massachusetts this year. Bay State shoppers have been on pins and needles since their legislators last week approved a brief tax holiday on items worth $2,500 or less (blogged about here). And Gov. Deval Patrick said all along that he would make the measure law. But we know talk is cheap, especially when it comes to politicians, right? So we've been waiting for Patrick to put pen to paper. Well, he finally did! So start making your lists, Massachusetts shoppers, and get... Read more →

Ted Stevens indicted

By now, I'm sure you know that Sen. Ted Stevens has been indicted. But what's not in the formal charges, from a tax perspective, is quite interesting. The crusty Republican is his party's longest-serving senator and most famous, or infamous if you live in one of the other 49 states, for, you pick: His efforts on behalf of the Alaska's "bridge to nowhere," or His rambling description of the Internet as a series of tubes. Now, as his political career winds down much faster than he expected, Stevens faces seven counts of falsely reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in... Read more →

New housing bill is now law

The American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act became the latest law of the land this morning when, in a simple ceremony attended only by a top Administration officials, Dubya signed the bill he once threatened to veto. The muted reception is not a surprise. In addition to original White House opposition to the wide-ranging housing relief package (key tax provisions blogged here), the top Housing and Urban Development official still thinks the changes won't do that much good for folks about to lose their homes to foreclosure. HUD Secretary Steve Preston, who witnessed the bill signing today, just yesterday... Read more →

Tax holidays 2008 start this weekend

Attention shoppers! Back-to-school sales tax holidays are about to start. This year, 14 states and the District of Columbia are holding sales tax holidays. Georgia kicks it off tomorrow, with a four-day no-tax shopping extravaganza. Those of us in Texas and Massachusetts* have to wait a couple of weeks for our tax-free trips to local stores. Most of these events typically are characterized as back-to-school sales and exempt apparel and school supplies, including computers, from sales tax. But Massachusetts* and Louisiana are incredibly generous. They waive their state sales taxes on most items as long as they cost less than... Read more →

Carnival of Personal Finance #163

Whew! What a week it's been and it's only Tuesday! I need a break. So what better way to kick back and relax but to check out some of the great personal finance blogging that's been going on while I've been submerged in the housing bill. Yes, housing is a key financial consideration, but there are many other money matters we all should pay attention to. Well, not to worry. Jesse at You Need a Budget has tracked some the blogosphere's finest financial wisdom and put it into the 163rd Carnival of Personal Finance. Among my favorites this week are:... Read more →

Housing bill almost official

This morning, Dubya will arrive at the Oval Office to find the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act on his desk. As soon as he affixes his promised signature, the wide-ranging housing relief measure will become law. (Update July 29, 2008: Bill signed.) The Senate worked overtime on the bill, H.R. 3221, this weekend, approving it on Saturday by a 72-to-13 margin. The surprisingly easy passage came after pre-vote posturing and threats to hold up the legislation that aims to help out some struggling homeowners and, to the dismay of many, some of the financial institutions that helped put... Read more →

More 'home' church tax breaks

Apparently, that guy in Illinois who turned his home into a church, thereby avoiding an $80,000 tax bill, is not alone. Today's South Florida Sun-Sentinel takes a look at a $3.2 million, 12,000-square-foot Coral Springs, Fla., estate whose owner is able to escape a $64,000 tax bill because the residence periodically houses missionaries working in Haiti. Oh yeah, that property-tax-free owner also lives there on occasion. He's the founder of the Church of Bible Understanding in Philadelphia. According to the newspaper, the value of Broward County properties considered tax-exempt for religious purposes totaled $1.8 billion in 2007. Most were traditional... Read more →

Cataloging marital money attitudes

Whoa! If the hubby pulled the trick that MP Dunleavy's did, there would be hell to pay in our house. In her latest Cost of Living column, The Conflict That Came in the Mail, New York Times' writer Dunleavy reports: "My happy little financial harmony bubble went pop the other day … when my husband acknowledged that for the last couple of months, when he picked up our mail, he had been chucking all my catalogs in the trash." It wasn't so much that her husband was tossing her catalogs without her knowledge. It was his attitude that he was... Read more →

FDIC redux: 2 more banks fail

The bank failure express continues to roll along, with two more banks being taken over by federal regulators. First National Bank of Nevada, based in Reno, and First Heritage Bank of Newport Beach, Calif, became the sixth and seventh banks this year to be shut down. Both banks were units of First National Bank Holding Co. of Scottsdale, Ariz. They will reopen on Monday as branches of Mutual of Omaha bank. You can read more on the closure details in: Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Associated Press, and Blogging Stocks, which predicts "number will rise sharply." FDIC coverage redux: While... Read more →

Girls Gone Wild lawyer claims
'IRS Gone Wild'

Joe Francis, the man behind the [insert your own adjective here] Girls Gone Wild videos, pleaded not guilty to felony tax evasion charges last week during a brief hearing in a Los Angeles federal court. And befitting the Tinseltown setting, Francis was represented by an attorney involved in another celebrity tax case and who had his own sound-bite worthy assessment of the case. "This ain't Girls Gone Wild," attorney Robert Bernhoft told the Los Angeles Times,"it's the IRS gone wild." Bernhoft's opinion of the federal tax agency just might be shaded by his recent work for another famous client still... Read more →

What a difference a rebate makes

By early July, the IRS had received more than 145 million tax returns. At that same point last year, 131 million folks had filed. That filing increase of almost 12 percent is no doubt almost totally attributable to the economic stimulus payments. The only way to get a rebate this year is to file a 2007 return. And the numbers will continue to climb as the Oct. 15 extended filing deadline nears. By the numbers: Unfortunately, the IRS wasn't able to provide dollar amounts in connection with returns processed by the week ending July 5 (Excel format) due to "technical... Read more →

Massachusetts finally joins 2008 sales tax holiday lineup

Sure, it was the anti-tax efforts of the Boston Tea Party participants who got the American Revolution really rolling, but in recent years, Massachusetts lawmakers have taken their sweet time when it comes to approving that state's sales tax holiday. With the July 31 end-of-session deadline looming, Bay State legislators finally OK'ed a two-day sales tax break for shoppers. UPDATE July 31, 2008: Patrick has signed the bill. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue has not yet created a 2008-specific Web page for this year's holiday, but like all since the law was first created in 2004, it follows these guidelines.... Read more →

Housing bill -- and new homeowner tax breaks -- back on track

Now that Dubya has backed off from his threatened veto of housing legislation, look for a bill to be on his desk by the end of the week. UPDATE, July 28, 2008: The housing bill should be law this week. More details in this post. It's no surprise that Capitol Hill and the lame-duck resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have finally lined up behind the bill. After all, they previously bailed out some big financial firms and it just doesn't look right, especially in an election year, to take care of folks who write big PAC checks and not help... Read more →

Sharpton tax inquiry concluded;
settlement reached on tax-debt firm

The IRS isn't talking, but the Rev. Al Sharpton's people are. And the word from the flamboyant New Yorker is that the feds have wrapped up their investigation into allegedly unpaid tax bills, blogged about here. "The criminal investigation has now been closed," said Michael A. Hardy, Sharpton's lawyer. "We cooperated with their investigation, and we did everything they asked and produced everything they asked us to produce." Apparently, part of what was produced was a $1 million-plus down payment from Sharpton toward a reported $1.5 million tax debt. Read more on the end of the investigation in the New... Read more →

Disaster prep time & extended tax time

The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season is finally getting into gear. As I type, weather watchers say Tropical Storm Dolly is approaching hurricane strength as it heads for the Texas-Mexico border. As long-time readers know, it was such ocean storms (Irene in 1999, Frances and Jeanne in 2004 and a handful of tropical systems) that helped motivate the hubby and me to get ourselves out of the Florida target area and back to a more inland Texas location back n 2005. One of the things I always hated about 'canes was that you knew well in advance whether you might be... Read more →

Unwelcome economic equity

Interesting story in today's New York Times on how women have finally reached a bit of parity with men in the workplace. Unfortunately, it's not exactly what we wanted. The story's headline says it all: Women Are Now Equal as Victims of Poor Economy. Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the article reports that "for the first time since the women's movement came to life, an economic recovery has come and gone, and the percentage of women at work has fallen, not risen." The reasons for the workforce reductions apparently are the same regardless of gender: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant... Read more →

162nd Carnival of Personal Finance

Using baseball as its backdrop, the credit card blog Taking Charge has put together an impressive line-up of items for the latest Carnival of Personal Finance. Many thanks to Emily for her stellar effort as manager of this 162nd team of money bloggers. With 74 "players," including my look at FDIC protection, jockeying for an at-bat, we have quite a enviable challenge in deciding who's at the plate first. So we'll start with several: Your financial life on one page (FLOP) from Christian Personal Finance, Five steps to save for a home down payment from Money Under 30, and The... Read more →

10 years of a 'kinder, gentler' IRS.
Now what?

All you long-time tax geeks, remember the bad old IRS days? Back when the tax collector went after us with unchecked abandon? As the Journal of Accountancy's Tax Adviser recalls, in the '90s some taxpayers lost their homes and livelihoods to the IRS because of its aggressive collection efforts. Such instances turned public sentiment against the agency, and 10 years ago Congress demanded, via the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, a "kinder, gentler" tax agency. Now, with the Treasury deficit and tax gap a constant concern, some are longing for the old days, at least a bit. The... Read more →

Gas tax holiday is dead,
higher gas tax is possible

Sales tax holidays (upcoming dates are blogged about here) have managed to hold on despite tough times for state treasuries, but the idea of a summer gas tax holiday never had a chance. The reason? Politicians weighed the electoral cost of making some highway-bound vacationers happy vs. irking hundreds of thousands who would lose their jobs if the fuel tax money flow was halted. The graphic below from the Associated Press shows the projected distribution of highway-related jobs that would have disappeared had the fuel tax been suspended for three months. An analysis by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee... Read more →

George Bailey lives!

In my recent look at FDIC insurance guidelines, I closed that post by lamenting the disappearance of friendly local bankers, epitomized in It's a Wonderful Life. Today, however, I learned that a George Bailey clone does indeed exist in Easton, Md. Ron Lieber, in the New York Times' Your Money column, found R. Michael S. Menzies, president of Easton Bank & Trust. The financial institution is a community bank with lots of old-fashioned touches. And Menzies, writes Lieber, is "a banker out of central casting with a firm handshake, perfectly parted hair, a gray pinstripe suit and black wingtip shoes."... Read more →