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October 2011

September 2011

Millionaire tax proposed by Obama

It's time to once again play that popular political game, Who Wants to Tax a Millionaire? The latest contestant is none other than the President himself. Obama wants a new minimum tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million a year. The goal, according to the Administration, is to ensure that richer Americans pay at least the same percentage of their earnings as middle-income taxpayers. This might be a fun new after-dinner game in the White House, but don't look for many players on Capitol Hill. The GOP leadership is already out in force blasting the so-called Buffett Rule,... Read more →

Last week certainly was busy, so hectic in fact that its craziness ran into the weekend. That's why I missed yesterday's regularly scheduled posting of what went on last week at my other tax blog. So with a nod to that wonderful phrase "better late than never," here's the scoop on my latest blogging efforts at I was on time on Tuesday when I reminded folks of last week's impending Sept. 15 estimated tax deadline. It's the last 1040-ES voucher you have to file this calendar year. But remember, your fourth and final 2011 tax year estimated tax filing... Read more →

When the classic board game Monopoly was created during the height of the Great Depression, its streets were named after the thoroughfares of Atlantic City, N.J. The residents of Monopoly City are proud of their game-related fame. In 1972, when the Commissioner of Public Works threatened to change the names of Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues, public outcry in the barrier island resort put an end to that bad idea. Nowadays there are hundreds of Monopoly editions specialized for other cities, as well as tweaked to tie into movies, television shows, sports teams (we own a NASCAR version) and other pieces... Read more →

Happy Constitution Day America! This holiday came about in 2004 via a typical Congressional maneuver. An amendment creating the commemoration day was added by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) to a wide-ranging spending bill. The date, Sept. 17, was selected for annual recognition because it was on that day in 1787 that the Constitutional Convention signed the document. Click the Constitution image (or here) to read a transcript. After the signing, continued fights: In today's politically charged atmosphere, Constitution Day has become another area of partisan contention. The biggest boosters of Constitution Day are Tea Party members. Others say... Read more →

Airline passengers won't get another shot at tax-free travel for a few more months. Even if you didn't have to catch a flight back in late July and early August, you probably remember the transportation funding meltdown. It led to a halt in the collection of air travel taxes, as well as suspension of airport construction projects and the furlough of thousands of Federal Aviation Administration employees. Congress approved a short-term, retroactive FAA funding bill on Aug. 5. That stop-gap measure was set to expire tonight. There was some concern that partisan bickering over federal fuel taxes might mean a... Read more →

To be such a lightweight show, MTV's Jersey Shore sure gets involved in some serious tax situations. First we had Snooki exchanging Twitter messages with former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain over their perceived unfairness of the federal tanning booth excise tax. Now on a state level, some New Jersey lawmakers are urging Gov. Chris Christie to veto the $420,000 state film tax credit awarded this week to the so-called reality program about a group of friends who spend way too much time together, both at Atlantic Ocean beaches and this season in Italy. Photo courtesy MTV This real... Read more →

The power of the sun has been quite evident in Austin this year. We got our first triple-digit thermometer reading in May. Yesterday marked our 85th day of 100 degrees or more, smashing the 2009 tally of 69 really hot days. All this sunshine makes me wonder why every house in the Lone Star State isn't built with solar energy systems. Photo courtesy Yes, I know it's expensive, but if we're really in an extended cycle of overly warm weather, it would quickly pay for itself after a couple of summers. Trust me. I just got our latest electric... Read more →

It's tax filing time again for those of us with income that isn't subject to withholding. The year's third estimated tax payment is due Sept. 15. You need to file a 1040-ES when you get income such as profits on asset sales or like me you're self-employed. The estimated tax packet, which includes vouchers to send in if you snail mail your payments, contains a worksheet to help you figure your appropriate estimated tax total. A lot of folks do a down-and-dirty estimate of their untaxed earnings. That's usually OK. As long as when you finally file your 1040 you're... Read more →

William H. Millard has flying under the radar for the last 20 years. But the former tech tycoon's secluded life apparently is about to be exposed, much to the delight of tax officials. The ComputerLand Corp. founder sold that company in the late 1980s and then soon after dropped out of sight. But that didn't keep Millard from allegedly racking up an unpaid tax bill totaling more than $100 million. Millard's destination after selling his business was Saipan in The Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth. Income he received while on that Pacific island, where he was last seen in... Read more →

Kids factor into taxes in a lot of ways, both good and bad. First, the positives. There are many child-related tax breaks. A dependent youngster is an added exemption. For several years, the youth's parents can claim the child tax credit. Families with lots of kids might be able to get even more money back from the Internal Revenue Service via the refundable additional child tax credit. If your family grows via adoption, there's a tax credit for that, too. Who looks after all those kids when mom and dad head to work? Check out the child care credit. And... Read more →

Austin, so they tell me, is a hot, happening town full of creative folk doing impressive things in cool industries. And one of the biggest sectors, they also tell me, is video games. I have to rely on the word of others when it comes to video games. I'm old enough to remember Pong and the original Super Mario, but I've never been a big gamer. Apparently, I'm missing quite a bit, from entertainment, economic and tax perspectives. The Entertainment Software Association says that the video game industry generates more than $25 billion a year nationally. Texas ranked second nationally... Read more →

Today is a somber anniversary. But it also coincides this year with a much happier celebration, Grandparents Day. So while we remember those who died on Sept. 11, 2011, today's tax focus is on the country's older filers. There are, of course, many young grandfathers and grandmothers. But the more senior Maw-maws and Grampas get today's attention. The reason? Readily available Internal Revenue Service data breaks out taxable retirement income. Specifically, for the 2008 tax year, the latest complete tax filing info, slightly more than 15 million taxpayers reported taxable Social Security income. And that precise number of filers is... Read more →

Given the troubles caused by the many, many natural disasters this year, a lot of folks have been beseeching a higher power. I totally understand that. Whatever gets you through the tough times. But remember to ask the Internal Revenue Service for help, too. As I noted last week at my other tax blog, the federal tax code can offer some tax relief for disaster victims. And speaking of the convergence of taxes and religion, last week over at I also raised the question of whether it's time for the clergy housing tax break to go. That topic was... Read more →

Mother Nature has turned into Mommie Dearest. Texas is burning while the eastern half of the country is flooded. And those are just the latest weather happenings. In cases where severe weather wreaks total havoc, a major disaster is declared. Unfortunately, this happens way too often, meaning I blog about the tax implications of catastrophes over and over and over again, most recently in discussing the wildfires here in my home state. Two Texas National Guard UH-60 Blackhawks fly over the flames to dump water filled Bambi Buckets. The Guard crews launched out of the Austin Army Aviation Facility to... Read more →

Tampa criminals find tax fraud schemes more profitable than drug dealing

You know it's a weird criminal economy when tax fraud brings in more money than drug dealing. Or at least the 1040 schemes did until Tampa, Fla., law enforcement earlier this month launched a series of raids and arrested many of the tax crooks. Tampa criminals apparently found it more lucrative, and safer, to shift from street corner drug sales to identity theft and online tax cons that delivered the ill-gotten gains to their mailboxes. The financial loss from the new criminal careers is substantial, both to Uncle Sam and the victimized taxpayers whose personal information was used to file... Read more →

Wesley Snipes and Richard Hatch are poster boys for the Internal Revenue Service. Both men made really stupid tax decisions. Both are paying for their tax transgressions in federal prison. And both also keep getting whacked by the courts. That's why they are perfect Follow-up Friday fodder. Snipes' new trial request rejected: Let's start with Snipes, who in December 2010 reported to a Pennsylvania federal prison to serve his three-year term on three misdemeanor convictions of failure to file tax reutnrs. Since that 2008 verdict, the actor best known for the Blade vampire hunter trilogy has been appealing his conviction.... Read more →

Are you ready for some football, er, taxes? The 2011 college football season is underway, so that means there's already speculation about who will face off for the national title in the BCS Championship game on Jan. 9, 2012, at the New Orleans Superdome. I'm more a fan of pro football, probably because my alma mater doesn't have even a remote chance at a national college football crown. But good old Texas Tech University usually manages an invite to one of the lower-tier bowls. This season, I'm pulling for the Gator Bowl. It has nothing to do with the Red... Read more →

Capitol Hill has become a decidedly uncollegial place. Sure, there have always been sharp differences between Democrats and Republicans. But I remember a time in Washington, D.C., when opposing points of view were expressed in an enthusiastic but civil manner and the business of the country was paramount on both sides of the political aisle. Sadly, those days are gone. Every appointment by a sitting president is subject to heated and sometimes hateful hearings. Any idea, regardless of merit, is shot down simply because the opposition came up with it first. It's cliche to compare Congress to an elementary school... Read more →

While some await Obama's jobs speech tonight and others are counting down the hours until the 2011 NFL season kicks off (count me in both groups), the special bipartisan Congressional committee charged with reducing the federal deficit quietly began its work. Today's meeting was basically an organizational get together for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. The 12 panel members, six Democrats and six Republicans from the House and Senate, will return Tuesday, Sept. 13, to get down to their real job: finding up to $1.5 trillion to in deficit reduction. Although protesters greeted the so-called Super Congress' inaugural... Read more →

Possible taxes for the special deficit reduction committee to consider

They're baaaaaack! Representatives and Senators have returned to Capitol Hill. Washington, D.C., is all a-buzz. Lobbyists are honing their pitches. Congressional staffers are updating their briefing papers. President Obama is fine-tuning the speech he'll give before most (but not all) members in a joint session of Congress Thursday night. And, oh yeah, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction will hold its first meeting a few hours before the president's speech. Because of all this frenetic activity in the nation's capital, today's Weekly Tax Tip is more of an overview/preview of possible popular tax breaks (and maybe even a few... Read more →