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July 2011

California earlier this year became the seventh state to enact legislation to tax online retailers. Although it affects every e-seller, it's commonly called the Amazon tax since the giant books-and-more retailer is leading the fight against similar measures nationwide. In fact, Amazon has been given the OK by a Golden State court to start collecting anti-tax petition signatures in an effort to put the e-commerce tax issue to the voters. If around 505,000 registered California voters sign off on it, then they and their fellow residents can vote on whether the new tax should stay on state's tax books. Could... Read more →

Summer is winding down and you know what that means: tax holidays and tax pros. Actually, tax holidays happen year round, but the bulk of them are tied to back-to-school shopping. And tax pros, at least the good ones, work year round, too. But both these topics warranted a closer look last week at my other tax blog. Mississippi kicked off the summer sales tax holidays, with its event on July 29 and 30. Stick around for more info soon on the rest of 2011's tax-saving events. Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service is continuing its effort to get all tax... Read more →

Heat wave strains utility assistance programs, charities

My mom's timing isn't very good. Her first summer in Central Texas is one of the hottest on record. Tourists sit in the midday heat outside the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, July 19, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT) Since May, when temperatures here started climbing, she's fretted about the constant running of her air conditioner, worrying each month what fiscal shock might await in her upcoming electric bill. Her concern has been justified. And she's not alone. A lot of folks with fixed or limited incomes have tough choices to make in extreme weather conditions.... Read more →

I've resisted posting a debt ceiling countdown clock for several reasons. First, it's cliche and a bit lazy. Second, I don't want to stoop to financial fear mongering. And third, I really, truly believed Congress and the president would have reached a debt deal by now. Silly, naive me. Well, with the deadline for increasing the United States' borrowing authority just days away, to heck with it. I'm putting up a clock. In searching for a debt ceiling countdown clock to use, I also ran across some other fun debt and deficit stuff. The New York Times has charted the... Read more →

Many of you are at the same point in your lives as I am. As you're joining the "of a certain age" club, you also have an older parent whom you're helping out in any way you can. That's what New Jersey resident Anthony Olivo was doing. He provided nearly full-time care to his mother from 1994 to 2003, basically giving up his legal practice during those years. Following his mother's death, Olivo became administrator of her estate. He filed a tax return for the estate and claimed a deduction of $1.24 million as a debt he said the estate... Read more →

Tax-free clothes, shoes for Mississippi shoppers today, Saturday

Got your shopping lists ready, Mississippi? If you're looking for a new outfit and shoes to match, you might be able to avoid paying the state's 7 percent sales tax on your purchases. This is the third year the Magnolia State has held a sales tax holiday. It began today, July 29, and will run through Saturday, July 30. Check with your local stores. Since the law allows for the sales tax waiver until midnight tomorrow, some shops might be staying open late to get as many customers through the doors as possible. The Mississippi event generally is considered to... Read more →

IRS Tax Forum random observations III

I admit it. The IRS Nationwide Tax Forum in Dallas this week kicked my booty. And I mean that in a good way. The Forum's three days were packed with great sessions on timely and interesting tax topics. Although the event is designed for tax professionals, a mere tax geek journalist also gets a great deal from the Forums. This is the fourth one I've attended and I promise it won't be the last. I was very impressed with the number of tax pros still hanging in there at the day's last session, or at least at the closing seminar... Read more →

Debt ceiling money (and tax) moves

I cannot believe we're still waiting for a debt ceiling resolution. Really? You people on Capitol Hill are convinced that it's a good idea to play this poker game with our money? We'll remember. And your political future might be a bigger gamble than you expect. As the debt drop dead date nears, folks are getting antsy about what to do with their money. Reuters Money blog comes at the issue from the other side, suggesting 10 reasons not to move your money out of the market now. Good points all, including the probability of government default remains low; we've... Read more →

I've been at a tax conference at a Dallas hotel since Monday. During the last few days, I've watched lots of other folks check in. I suspect many of them arrived in Big D the same way I did, via a flight. I'm also pretty sure that some of my fellow travelers and I share something else. We bought our plane tickets when various aviation taxes were still in place, but didn't board an aircraft until after the taxes expired on July 23. The taxes were part of a Federal Aviation Administration authorization measure that Congress couldn't agree on by... Read more →

Another full day of IRS Nationwide Tax Forum seminars and talking with tax folks from across the country. I even hooked up with some members of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, of which I was a member a few years ago. First, the business. Today's sessions covered Schedule C issues; inherited assets and step-up basis; Small business health care tax credit; foreign tax credit; IRS efforts to combat online fraud and identity theft; and amended returns. The amended returns program was the fullest. Perhaps it was the use of "X-rated" in the seminar's title. I'll make the same promise (threat?) regarding... Read more →

Did you get an extension to file your return? Or are you wondering what you can do this last half of the year to reduce your 2011 tax bill? Maybe you've finally decided that it's time to turn your taxes over to a pro. Now's the perfect time to find the find a tax preparer who can help you with whatever tax situation you're facing. That's why it's this week's Weekly Tax Tip. The crazy filing season is long gone. It's almost three months until the Oct. 17 extended tax filing deadline arrives. So most tax professionals have a bit... Read more →

IRS Tax Forum random observations

I survived the first full day of the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum that kicked off today in Dallas. I attended five good sessions -- the IRS' current online offerings and future plans; ensuring Earned Income Tax Credit claims are legitimate; tax audit preparation tips; what's up with tax preparer registration; and highlights of 2011 tax law changes. I'll be blogging about at least parts of each seminar later. But now, with my brain still a little overloaded, I'm just going to make some random conference observations. I'll start with a message to some of the tax folks here in Big... Read more →

Some people are taking America's federal debt personally. They've contributed money to help reduce it. There's a problem, though. The money that taxpayers give directly to help chip away at the federal debt doesn't specifically go to pay off what Uncle Sam owes. Instead, the contributions are deposited in the Treasury Department's general fund. That's basically the government's main checking account. Hmmm. It looks like the federal government needs to rewrite its public announcement about the debt donation program: I don't know about you, but that section from page 15 of IRS Publication 17 sure makes it seem like any... Read more →

'Super Congress' to work out debt deal

Super Congress. To some it's an oxymoron. To others it's a punch line. To still more it's a terryfying image. The bottom line is that most people don't think the concept of yet another group of lawmakers, albeit representing both major parties, will work as a way to solve the impending debt ceiling crisis. It seems at best another effort to distance most of the House and Senate from their sworn duties. The Super Congress idea, however, is part of the debt ceiling plan proposed today by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). A similar 12-member bipartisan panel also is part... Read more →

While Congress has been trying to assemble the debt ceiling puzzle, it wasn't able to put together the pieces necessary to continue paying for some key transportation programs. Lawmakers failed to approve a Federal Aviation Administration funding measure by the midnight Friday, July 22, deadline. That means nearly 4,000 FAA employees are on furlough and projects at airports across the country are on hold. It also means that several federal excise taxes collected from airline passengers are no longer in effect. Depending on where you're going, the 7.5 percent tax on each domestic ticket purchase, as well as the $3.70... Read more →

Admit it. You like to compare yourself to your colleagues, neighbors, even family members. It's natural to want to know just how we stack up. Taxes depend on numerical data, making them ripe for ranking analysis. And the Internal Revenue Service even helps us by breaking out the information it collects. The agency's Statistics of Income Division recently released data for every U.S. ZIP code for which 250 or more returns were filed between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2009. For the most part, these Form 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ tax returns were for the 2008 tax year, although... Read more →

Things always seem to even out. We've had a nonexistent Atlantic hurricane season so far. But that doesn't mean America has been spared a serious summer disaster watch. In exchange for no 'canes, we're anxiously waiting to see how much damage the impending debt ceiling storm will cause. This current economic-political catastrophe brings back some not so good memories of the six hurricane seasons the hubby and I spent in Florida. We witnessed a couple of major storm near misses. We endured several tropical storms. And during a chaotic three-week span in 2004, we were in the bulls-eye of two... Read more →

What does it take to obtain the American Dream? A good paying job that will enable you to own a home of your own. Both those desires include tax considerations that I examined in posts last week at my other tax blog. Let's start with workplace compensation. Most of us rely on wages. Some employers, however, offer their workers added income options, with options being the key word. Stock options are making a bit of comeback. The idea -- give people a piece of the company -- sounds cool. But misunderstanding of rules by employees often means that stock options... Read more →

How are you spending today? If you're a western aficionado, you're probably at some event commemorating this 7th Annual National Day of the Cowboy. It's not an official U.S. holiday ... yet. But the nonprofit National Day of the Cowboy group (yes, it's a registered 501(c)(3) organization and will happily take your tax-deductible donation) supports the cowboy and cowgirl way and is working to convince Congress that there is enough national interest in preserving America's cowboy culture and pioneer heritage so that Cowboy Day can be made permanent. To that end, the group has focused on getting states to recognize... Read more →

Last month the New York Department of Taxation threatened to fine some Amish business owners who didn't follow the state's new electronic filing mandate. Since May 30, the Empire State has required businesses that collect sales taxes to send in the necessary returns and payments electronically. Each e-file failure carries a $50 penalty. The change has been hard for the state's Amish who eschew modern conveniences, such as telephones and computers. Heck, they aren't even on an electric grid. When the traditional and tax worlds collided last month, state officials promised to be "judicious" in levying any fines against Amish... Read more →