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August 2011

Oh my gosh! It's the middle of the afternoon and I've yet to go out and cash in on my sales tax savings! Thank goodness I have the rest of the weekend. Yep, Texas is finally holding its annual back-to-school sales tax holiday. But we're not the last of the tax-saving shopping states. That honor belongs to Connecticut, which beginning Sunday will offer its residents a week of no sales taxes. Of course, there are limits. The Texas tax holiday, which started today, Friday, Aug. 19, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 21, applies to: Certain clothing and footwear that costs... Read more →

School, if it hasn't already started where you live, is about to begin again. That means folks are straggling home from their final summer vacations. Most of the excursions are by car. This summer, at least the latter part of it, drivers got lucky as pump prices fell a bit. But that hasn't stopped some from complaining. And one Republican presidential hopeful is using gasoline prices as a political cudgel. Michele Bachmann says that as president, she'd get pump prices down to $2 a gallon. Such political pronouncements are nothing new. And Americans' love of the open highway make gas... Read more →

Estate tax answers from the IRS, questions for the president

Ever since Congress punted the estate tax ball -- I'm sorry, members actually dropped the ball and kicked it around the field for almost a full year -- back in 2009, people who've had to deal with death and taxes have had a heck of a time. Here's a quick reminder of the estate tax situation for folks who've forgotten or were able to erase the legislative incompetence from their minds: The Economic Growth and Tax Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) began phasing out the estate tax. The amount of an estate that is exempted from the federal tax was... Read more →

We Texans like to lead in everything, so that's why we're all pulling for more days with 100-plus temperatures. We want to be first in the hottest, driest, most uncomfortable state in the nation. If weather forecasters are to be believed, we'll soon get there, at least here in the Lone Star State's capital city. Austin is on pace to break the record set in 1925 of 69 days when thermometers went over the 100 degree mark. We tied it in 2009; we are taking the title this year! It's not just crazy "we're number one" ranters who are pulling... Read more →

We Americans are aspirational, even when it comes to taxes. While very, very few of us make in the Warren Buffett range, we believe that we one day could join the Oracle of Omaha in the top income tax bracket. That must explain why almost every working stiff just scraping by doesn't want ol' Warren, whose $47 billion net worth last year made him the world's third richest man, to pay more in taxes even though he says he should. In fact, most of those commenting about Buffett's recent New York Times op-ed piece are really angry at him. "If... Read more →

Debt concerns are across the board, weighing on individuals, companies and governments. A major problem with debt, as the recent debt ceiling debate underscored, is the massive interest payments that accompany it. Uncle Sam is not alone. The Tax Foundation has compiled a U.S. map illustrating how much debt interest each state pays as a percentage of its direct spending. Click on the image for a larger view. City downgrades on the way? As with the federal government, debt is a major component in the credit rating of each state and its cities. Following the U.S. credit downgrade, there were... Read more →

Today, Aug. 15 is not the deadline for filing your individual tax return if you got an extension earlier this year to send in your Form 1040 (or 1040A or 1040EZ). I tweeted this earlier today, but then got an email inquiry so here's the more than 140 character scoop. Getting an automatic extension to file -- but not pay; you did send the IRS any tax you owed when you filed Form 4868, didn't you? -- will give you until Oct. 15 to file your forms. Actually, this year Oct. 15 falls on a Saturday, so you get until... Read more →

I got an intriguing call last week from a real estate agent wanting to know if we wanted to sell our house. Homes in our neighborhood have sold quickly of late, according to the agent, and her office is low on inventory in our neck of the woods. So she's resorted to cold calling trying to find anyone who wants to put a house on the market in our area of Austin. Then on Saturday, our snail mail included a flyer from another real estate agency also soliciting homes to sell. Apparently, per this second realty office's mailer, the number... Read more →

Here's a not-news flash: Congress doesn't listen. That appears to be the case right now for many most all of the hardcore anti-tax Representatives and Senators. They swear that they will not support any tax increases and have a broad definition of what falls into that category. But poll after poll indicate that the general electorate -- you remember those folks, Congress; they're the ones who vote for or against you -- wants the deficit math problem solved using both spending subtractions and tax additions. Bruce Bartlett, a former member of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, has... Read more →

It was busy last week at my other tax blog, with three items getting an extra look. In the wake of Standard & Poor's downgrade of Uncle Sam's creditworthiness, I did my own downgrading of the folks in Washington, D.C., who were largely responsible for this financial fiasco. Then came the sales tax topics. First, I looked at why it's time for Amazon to pay up. The world's largest online retailer is agresssiviely fighting California's new e-commerce law requiring online retailers to collect and remit the state's sales tax. Sales tax is temporarily waived, though, for some purchases in three... Read more →

I'm heading up the road today to visit my mother and my furry half-brother Willie. Willie, as I'm sure all animal lovers immediately surmised, is my mom's pet, specifically her dog. She says he's a rat terrier, but to me he looks more like a long-haired chihuahua or a Papillion. But what do I know of dogs? I'm a cat person, like the neighborhood kids who chalked the oversized cat pictured at left (I snapped the photo on one of my walks) on the sidewalk outside their house. I do know, though, that regardless of what kind of pet you... Read more →

Sin taxes are a common revenue raising technique at the state and county levels. At least a portion of the increased tax collections usually goes to help fund a cause that has a direct connection with tax. But not always. Almost four years ago voters in voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, approved a ballot initiative that increased the county's cigarette tax by 1.5 cents per cigarette. But instead of going toward health programs, the Ohio county's cigarette tax money supports local arts and cultural organizations. As someone who enjoys cultural offerings locally and when the hubby and I travel and... Read more →

Yes, I know that sounds like an odd combination and perhaps even a sneaky way to generate more page views, but stick with me. I've found a connection. Let's start with golf, that good walk spoiled. The 93rd PGA Championship, one of the sport's major tournaments (or so I'm told by the hubby who works in the industry), is well into its second day. The buzz today is whether Tiger Woods, who yesterday carded the worst opening round in a major of his career, can rebound or even make the cut. Personally, I don't care. Well, actually I do; I... Read more →

Sales tax holidays underway, upcoming in Florida, Massachusetts and Maryland

Attention Florida, Maryland and Massachusetts shoppers. You're getting -- or about to get -- a break on sales taxes. These states are the next to offer sales tax holidays on certain items. Here are the highlights: State Dates Items Florida Aug. 12-14 Clothing, footwear and accessories, $75 or less; School supplies, $15 or less Maryland Aug. 14-20 Clothing and footwear, $100 or less Massachusetts Aug. 13-14 Most tangible personal property, $2,500 or less Remember, states might not be as tax generous as you think. In addition to the product and sales price limitations, they often have other rules that could... Read more →

Pelosi names House Democrats to deficit super committee; compromise hope dim

And then there were 12. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today completed the new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the Super Congress, by appointing Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra of California, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and James Clyburn of South Carolina. All three men are current or former members of Pelosi's leadership team. They also have a history of protecting entitlement programs. Clyburn is the Assistant Democratic Leader, making him the third-ranking member of House Democratic Leadership. He was part of Vice President Biden's deficit commission and has years of experience on the House Appropriations Committee. Becerra is... Read more →

Taking tax advantage of stock losses

Admit it. When the market tumbled Monday and today, you panicked and unloaded a lot of your holdings. Don't be embarrassed. You're not alone. And I'm not here to judge your portfolio moves. I am here, however, to remind you that if you did take a loss this week, or any time of the year, be sure you don't waste it at tax filing time. You can use a capital loss to help erase any taxable capital gains. Or, as today's Weekly Tax Tip also notes, if you don't have any gains, you can use the losses to cut your... Read more →

GOP side set on deficit super committee

The special Congressional deficit panel dominoes are falling. The Republican members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the Super Congress panel of 12 that is tasked with coming up with at least $1.2 trillion to reduce Uncle Sam's debt, have been announced. House Speaker John Boehner has tapped Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas as co-chair of the committee. Michigan gets the other two House Republican slots: Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton. On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has named Jon Kyl of... Read more →

Senate Democrats named to deficit-reduction 'Super Congress' committee

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington will be co-chair of the Congressional super committee charged with coming up with longer-term debt solutions later this year. Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Max Baucus of Montana are the other Democrats selected by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Democratic trio is the first group named to the 12-member special panel created as part of the debt ceiling agreement. The so-called Super Congress is charged with coming up a plan to cut an additional $1.2 from the federal deficit over the next 10 years. In addition to the Senate Democrats, the special committee... Read more →

This is a tax blog and when I talk about investing, it's usually from a tax angle. But given yesterday's horrendous stock market plunge, I think some investing information is warranted. There's an old saying that by the time John and Jane Public react to the market, it's too late. Sadly, that's usually true. We tend to be reactive and when other people start selling, often we do, too, just because, well, because we panic. I touched on the topic of how to handle your money during an time of extreme financial fear a couple of weeks ago. At that... Read more →

Tax amnesty for foreign accounts ending

You're not freaking out about the U.S. stock market's plunge in the wake of Standard & Poor's downgrade of America's creditworthiness. You've got most of your investments outside the United States. I'm not here to debate the value of that investment strategy given some of the financial and economic problems in other parts of the world. But I do feel compelled to remind you that if you've been, shall we say, a bit sneaky about your international holdings, the Internal Revenue Service has some news for you. Folks hiding income in undisclosed offshore accounts are running out of time to... Read more →