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May 2011

The price of a S.C. tax break for Amazon

South Carolina lawmakers in April refused to grant Amazon a tax break when it comes to collecting the state's sales tax. The giant online retailer promptly pulled the plug on a plan to build a distribution center in Lexington County. What a difference a few weeks -- and a few more jobs and a couple more million in capital investments -- make. On Wednesday, the South Carolina House reconsidered the bill and this time easily passed it. The amended measure would exempt Amazon from collecting sales taxes on purchases made by South Carolina residents even though the company will, as... Read more →

As I was electronically thumbing through tax-related stories today (yeah, I know; you wish you had my life!), I stopped to read about how today's low real estate prices and higher gift tax limits make this a good time for rich second-home owners to give away their vacation properties. Now I'm far from rich and I don't own a beach cottage or a mountain retreat. But the article about how vacation homes can offer those who do own them yet another tax break underscores what's wrong with our tax code. There's lots of talk about reforming the U.S. tax system.... Read more →

When life meets art, or vice versa, the intersections are often more interesting than the eventual creative endeavor. Take the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former California governor who's working through some messy family issues while also trying to resurrect his film career. The New York Times reports that Arnold's first post-political project is "Cry Macho," featuring the male lead character's complicated relationship with an 11-year-old boy who unexpectedly turns up in his life. The vague similarities to Schwarzenegger's personal life right now aren't the only "hmmm" inducing details. If the movie script follows the novel upon which it's based,... Read more →

While most states are scrounging for more money -- or thanking their lucky stars for unexpected revenue windfalls -- some Louisiana lawmakers are working to repeal all Pelican State income taxes. The proposal, SB 259, moved a step forward (or backward, depending upon your public financing philosophy) yesterday when the Senate version cleared a procedural hurdle. The full Louisiana Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill next Tuesday, May 24. Companion bills in the Louisiana House to repeal personal and corporate income taxes also are awaiting debate in that chamber. Now it's not that Louisiana is so flush. The... Read more →

It's been a month since most Americans filed their federal tax returns. So what happened to all the material they used to fill out their 1040s? If they had a record keeping system in place, they probably immediately shifted "2010 taxes to-do" documents to their "2011 taxes done" files. But just in case you aren't that obsessive and/or organized, there's still time to get your old tax paperwork in order and plenty of time to set up a system to make next filing season easier. Tax record-keeping tips is today's featured Weekly Tax Tip. That story has lots of good... Read more →

Schwarzenegger's love child raises child support, marital money & tax questions

So that's why former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver have separated after 25 years of marriage and are likely headed to divorce court. Right now Shriver is probably trying to decide which is worse, that her philandering husband fathered a child with another woman or the fact that he kept it secret for a decade. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks after accepting an award during the 63rd Israel Independence Day Celebration at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles in this May 10, 2011 file photo. Schwarzenegger has acknowledged that he fathered a child more than ten years... Read more →

What's up with all this surprise tax money? First U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announces that his office found enough additional tax money found to delay the country's default until Aug. 2. Then cash-strapped states started discovering extra tax money. Michigan says it has $429 million more than expected. Kansas has an unexpected $22 million surplus. New Jersey's treasury is surprisingly $913.4 million fatter. Massachusetts' tax take is $580 million above expected estimates. And now California, the poster-child for state budget troubles, reports that California tax receipts through April 30 were $2 billion above forecasts, leading to a a projected... Read more →

'Tax Lady' is broke, out of business and still facing charges in California

Roni Deutch, a California tax attorney known nationally as the Tax Lady thanks largely to her cable television ads, is bankrupt, out of business and facing state charges that she cheated clients out of $34 million. The California Attorney General's office last August filed suit against Deutch alleging that she and her law firm "regularly violate California law while preying on consumers who cannot afford to pay their tax liability and are facing collection actions by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)." The complaint by then-California AG Edmund Brown, Jr., charges that Deutch falsely promised clients that she could help them... Read more →

Sell gold to reduce federal debt

With the debt ceiling deadline upon us, some conservative and libertarian economists say that instead of waiting for Congress to act, Uncle Sam should take advantage of Fort Knox's assets. With the precious metal's current price at around $1,500 an ounce, they argue, selling a bit of America's gold could make a big dent in the country's federal deficit. Gold ingots of 1 kg and 500g are seen in this picture illustration taken in the treatment centre at the Banque Cantonal Vaudoise near Lausanne February 17, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS) "It's just sort of sitting there," said... Read more →

As the debates over the next federal budget, reducing the deficit and tax reform continue, lots of ideas are being tossed around. But one number seems to always come up: $250,000. The quarter of a million dollars amount was a major focus of the 2008 presidential campaign, with Obama setting it as the income level at which he wanted to increase income tax rates. Since he moved into the White House, the prez has held firm to that income amount, which is this week's By the Numbers figure: So exactly how did $250,000 become the income dividing line betwen midde... Read more →

Casinos tend to like whales, those big-spending players who are willing to gamble large sums and generally leave a sizable amount at the betting parlors' tables. Well, things didn't work out so well for Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, N.J. One lucky blackjack player nearly single-handedly wiped out the Tropicana's April profit. Mark Giannantonio, Tropicana's outgoing chief executive officer, disclosed last week that the lone card player won $5.8 million, but he declined to release the gambler's name. "We ran very unlucky," Giannantonio told the Press of Atlantic City. "We had the single-largest winner in our history. If... Read more →

Hope last week was a good one for you. On the blogging front, it was an interesting week at my other blog over on First, I looked at why the first-time homebuyer credit was the main reason that many have described January through April 17 the worst tax season ever. The complications of this ill-begotten and too-often tweaked tax break made -- and is still making -- life miserable for many, taxpayers and tax officials alike. Then later last week, I reported on the 2011 edition of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's annual Taxing Wages report which... Read more →

Anti-tax advocates frequently argue that high tax rates drive away an area's richest residents. Taxes also might prompt moves by those at the other end of the earnings scale, young adults just beginning their careers. A recent poll by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion found that more than a third (36 percent) of New Yorkers younger than 30 are planning to leave the Empire State within the next five years. Overall, the NY1/YNN-Marist Poll conducted last month found that 26 percent of adults in New York state plan to move someplace else in the next five years. Why... Read more →

Marlee Matlin working with IRS to pay $50,000 in back taxes

Academy Award winning actress Marlee Matlin is the latest celebrity in tax trouble. She owes $50,000 in taxes she didn't pay for the 2009 tax year. "It's the reality that a lot of people in America are facing," says Matlin, whose latest gig is Celebrity Apprentice. She's one of the final four on the Donald Trump reality show with a chance to earn additional money for her selected charity, the Starkey Hearing Foundation. Actress Marlee Matlin poses at the "Stand Up To Cancer" television event, aimed at raising funds to accelerate innovative cancer research, at the Sony Studios Lot in... Read more →

Tired of waiting for the Internal Revenues Service to act on its own with regard to the standard mileage deduction rates, a dozen Representatives this week sent the tax agency chief a letter. Led by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the bipartisan group wants IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman to reevaluate the mileage rates taxpayers can use to calculate certain deductible costs of operating an automobile. The reason for this request is the same as what prompted the IRS to make mid-year changes three years ago, rising gas prices. Joining Sensenbrenner in signing the letter were Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.); Dan Burton... Read more →

Oil industry defends its profits, argues against windfall profits tax

I know you've been waiting for this. Big Oil executives are testifying right now before the Senate Finance Committee's ominously named (for the industry) hearing on Oil and Gas Tax Incentives and Rising Energy Prices hearing. Senate Democrats want to repeal $21 billion in tax incentives for oil companies over 10 years. The oil sector got some symbolic good news before today's hearing kicked off. The price of oil dropped below $100 a barrel yesterday. More important to the average driver, the price of gasoline scheduled for delivery also dropped the most it had in two years after an Energy... Read more →

Cosmetic surgery? Nope. Corrective medical surgery that just happened to make a few facial improvements? You betcha! Bristol Palin arrives at the Candie's Foundation 10th anniversary Event to Prevent benefit in New York May 3, 2011. The aim of the organization is to prevent teenage pregnancy. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT PROFILE) As soon as celebrity watchers got a look at Bristol Palin's new-look face -- a more angled jaw and sharpened chin -- speculation began. The 20-year-old reality television star wouldn't immediately confirm or deny that she had undergone plastic surgery. But when the questions wouldn't... Read more →

Tax refund wrong? Why, what to do

Most folks get a refund from Uncle Sam each year. They either like the forced savings (despite the advice of tax and financial advisers) or the tax cash was a nice one-year surprise. But occasionally, the check that shows up in your snail mail box or is directly deposited in your bank account is wrong. When this happens, it tends to be less than you expected. However, now and then, a refund amount is larger than what you figured on your 1040. That happened to me one year. Regardless of whether your actual, final refund is too large or too... Read more →

Innocent spouse tax time limit concerns

Divorce talk is in the news again with the separation of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is joined by his wife Maria Shriver while being sworn into office for a second term by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George during his inauguration ceremony at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California in this January 5, 2007 file photo. The former California first lady has moved out after 25 years of marriage, reported Los Angeles Times. The couple confirmed their separation in a joint statement released on May 9, 2011 after questions were raised by The Times. REUTERS/Rich... Read more →

I'm not advocating you become a clock watcher at work, but you might want to take note of 11:13 a.m. today. If you arrived at your office at 9 a.m., that's the time at which you'll have earned enough to pay today's share of federal, state and local taxes. Then you get to do it all again tomorrow and Wednesday and … You get the idea. That tax alarm clock is courtesy of the Tax Foundation, which created the the eight-hour tax bite calculation. The Washington, D.C.-based tax policy nonprofit says that in 2011, Americans will spend two hours and... Read more →