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February 2011

The Treasury Department on Friday delivered a report to Congress that it says "provides a path forward for reforming America's housing finance market." Reforming America's Housing Finance Market, a joint effort by the Departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development, focuses on the Obama Administration proposal to "wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and shrink the government's current footprint in housing finance on a responsible timeline." But the plan also examines other housing reforms that could help fix what it calls the fundamental flaws in the mortgage market. These include stronger consumer protection, increased transparency for investors, improved... Read more →

No Schedule L for 2010 property taxes

I'm getting some e-mails from folks asking where on the 2010 Schedule L they should enter their property tax payments to increase their standard deduction amount. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the answer is nowhere. It's not an option for your 2010 taxes. The ability to increase the standard deduction amount by adding up to $500 in property taxes paid by single filers or up to $1,000 in real estate taxes paid by married couples filing jointly expired at the end of 2009. There had been some talk of continuing it, but that provision didn't... Read more →

New sales tax to benefit Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers?

The Green Bay Packers wrapped up their 2011 NFL championship season last Sunday with a thrilling victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now the Super Bowl XLV victors are part of a tax battle. Tax Analysts reports that the Packers are interested in a redevelopment project around Lambeau Field to make it more of a tourist destination. To do so, the team reportedly wants to extend the current 0.5 percent Brown County, Wisc., sales tax that was created to pay for renovation of the historic field. The added sales tax was approved by voters in 2000 by a 53 percent to... Read more →

Anyone with a mom knows that they usually get their way. The IRS now has learned that lesson, too. Last fall, the IRS issued rules on what is and isn't deductible as a medical expense. That compilation also set the rules on what expenses can be reimbursed by medical flexible spending account, or FSA, money. Breast pumps and other lactation devices were not on either list. That oversight riled up moms nationwide, especially since the new health care reform law specifically requires workplaces provide accommodations for breast-feeding employees. Then last month, another government official, Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, issued... Read more →

While most of us are focusing on our annual personal income tax filing tasks, Uncle Sam and Washington State officials are offering some other taxpayers deals with regard to other taxes. Let's start on the state level. Washington doesn't levy a personal income tax (Evergreen State voters last November shot down an attempt to impose the tax), but it does collect taxes from businesses. Or tries to. Some business owners haven't been as conscientious as state lawmakers would like. So now the Washington Department of Revenue is making them an offer it hopes they can't refuse via the state's first-ever... Read more →

You know what's coming up, right? No, not Valentine's Day. OK, Cupid's holiday is almost upon us. But Feb. 14 this year also is special for taxpayers who've been waiting for the IRS to process their returns. To mark the convergence of the most romantic day of the year and your taxes (yeah, it was weird typing that, but …), I've got something for you almost as good as a box of chocolates or roses: free tax preparation software. For the next three days, I'll be giving away access codes to online tax preparation for federal and state returns. We... Read more →

You didn't file your return in January because you knew you weren't getting a refund or you just didn't care. There was way too much going on in your life as 2011 got underway. Now, however, you've decided to look at all that tax material stacked up on your desk. And a quick glance made you realize that this year you want professional tax filing help. If you are in the market for a tax pro, you better get on the stick. Since more of us are using tax preparers, most of them fill up their calendars quickly. You also... Read more →

Everyone's hoping that the housing market will at least begin to recover in 2011. And it looks like that might just happen. Sales of existing homes in December 2010 grew at their fastest pace since May 2010. Where home prices are still dropping, Housing Predictor says its data show the values are deflating at a slower rate for the second year in a row. And now there are indications that as many as 17 states, primarily in the Midwest and Northern-most parts of the country, will see home prices rise in 2011, demonstrating, says Housing Predictor, that housing markets are... Read more →

Super Bowl XLV started out like it would be a Green Bay Packers rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it actually turned out to be an exciting game. As a life-long Dallas Cowboys fan I don't have a lot of love for either team that made to this year's big game. Both have handed the 'Boys some bitter losses over the years. But since sporting events are more fun when you have a rooting interest, I cheered for the Packers for several reasons. First, there were the quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers has handled his ascension to a team leadership role gracefully,... Read more →

Are you ready for some football? Or I guess the more appropriate question today should be have you placed your Super Bowl bets yet? The Super Bowl is the most gambled-on sporting event in the United States. Super Bowl XLV features the closest betting line -- it's been holding in the 2.5 to 3 point range -- in 29 years, according to U.S. sports fans can only place bets on the big NFL game and other athletic events legally in Nevada. That geographic limitation is why millions of gamblers for the last couple of weeks have been making illegal... Read more →

Property tax add-on to standard deduction is gone

One of the best homeowner tax breaks is the ability to deduct your annual real estate taxes. For many homeowners, property taxes are second only to interest paid. That's especially true during the early years of a mortgage when most of your monthly payments go toward the finance charge. Later on in the loan's life, the amount of interest you pay decreases. Property taxes, however, always seem to go up, either because the value of your home increased (yes, that used to happen and it will again once we work through this housing cycle) or your local government bumped up... Read more →

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's search for ways to close his state's $1.3 billion budget gap has driven him to propose making driver's licenses and vehicle registrations contingent on motorists' tax compliance. Photo by Gabriel Boone/iStock The governor would let the state refuse to issue or renew licenses and registrations to those who have unpaid, undisputed tax obligations. By making drivers pay up, the administration estimates it could collect an additional $40 million over the next two years. O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec told the Baltimore Sun that the proposal isn't a new tax, but a way to collect existing taxes. "The... Read more →

Placed your Super Bowl bets yet? There's still plenty of time. If you're in Las Vegas or some other Nevada locale -- the Silver State is the only one in which sports betting is legal -- sports book operators will be taking your money throughout the weekend. Most of us probably will just put a few bucks into an office pool. And no one is immune. Heck, even the culture vultures get in on the action. But my favorite thing about Super Bowl betting is all the variety of prop bets. These are the wagers on the myriad instances, or... Read more →

1099 expanded reporting halfway gone

They did it! They really did it! Democratic and Republican Senators actually worked through the 1099 repeal issue yesterday afternoon, agreeing to scrap the expanded reporting version and go back to the way the system operated pre-health care reform. The repeal of the provision was tacked onto the $34.5 billion Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. Competing versions were debated and votes actually taken. The 1099 amendment that was approved, offered by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), calls on the Office of Management and Budget to cut unnecessary unobligated spending, but exempts Social Security Administration administrative expenses from the budget ax. The... Read more →

After the third consecutive night of our heater apparently running nonstop (I do hope it cut off at least a bit while we dozed), I've had it with this cold spell. The storm blasted into Austin early Tuesday morning, rattling our front door and the glass panels on each side of it so much that I wedged a chair under the door handle to keep it from blowing wide open. But that didn't do much to slow the whistling winds that poured through the obviously shot weatherstripping. Our doorway now has a lovely blue painter's tape trim. Once you get... Read more →

I don't want to get your hopes up too high, but the Senate finally might get around to voting today on repeal of the 1099 reporting requirement that was expanded as part of the health care reform law. What timing. Groundhog Day is perfect. I'm talking, of course, about the movie, not the furry little critter that lends his name to Feb. 2. You remember the Bill Murray film where he relives the same day over and over. That's how it's gone with the efforts to axe the expanded 1099 rule. The new 1099 reporting law was designed to raise... Read more →

Tax prep company smackdown!

H&R Block has been hitting the airwaves this filing season touting the ability of its offices to get taxpayers money back that they overpaid in earlier tax years. Dubbed the Second Look Review, the Kansas City, Mo.-based tax preparation giant says that its analyses of previously filed tax returns find mistakes in the majority of those old 1040s. Now I've watched these H&R Block ads, mainly because I'm fascinated by the poor woman who runs a small business and apparently overpaid the IRS by more than $5,000. Sure she points out the obvious, that numbers are not her thing. But... Read more →

Can you believe it? A month has already flown by and we're now into February 2011. Time sure flies when you're having tax fun! While February is the shortest month of the year, there still are plenty of tax moves you can make in the next 28 days. You say you don't want to think about taxes now. Valentine's Day is fast approaching and you're focusing on what to get the love of your life. That's so sweet! Then there's the long President's Day weekend, where you must decide if you're going to be lazy or check out the bargains... Read more →