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November 2013
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December 2013

I'm a sucker for Christmas. The food, the movies, decorating the tree and the mantel and, of course, the songs. I look forward to them for 11 months of the year. So if the seasonal time-honored trappings are so important to me, why does a novelty song make my holiday listening list? Because sometimes even the strictest traditionalist needs to get a little goofy. That's why this season's third Christmas Tax Tip Tune is Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. I know, despite its upbeat tempo, it's a bit of a downer. But you can always opt instead for... Read more →


Tax and other fun at deductible office holiday parties

'Tis the season to be jolly, but not too jolly at, as the song goes, the annual office Christmas party hop. OK, Brenda Lee doesn't specify "office" party when she sings Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, but that song is a standard at almost every holiday gathering of workers. And you want to make sure that you make the right impression on the boss who's gone to the trouble to throw the soiree. Of course, as today's second Christmas Tax Tip Tune notes, your employer also gets some help from Uncle Sam in staging the seasonal shindig. Fully deductible office... Read more →


Christmas is less than two weeks away. I must admit that the holiday has sneaked up on me this year, but I'm finally getting into the spirit. And as a tax geek, that means that some -- OK, a lot -- of the holiday trappings remind me of taxes. Take, for example, Christmas carols. Listening to them at a holiday party this past weekend naturally brought to mind some tax provisions. That's right. This is just the kind of thing the hubby lives with, even at this special time of year. You can send your words of sympathy for him... Read more →


The tax world has just been turned on its head. A recent survey of New Jersey residents reveals that high property taxes are NOT their biggest concern. The results are a first for the Monmouth University-Asbury Park Press poll. In other recent polls, real estate bills at least tied for the number-one worry of New Jerseyans. The latest poll, released on Dec. 10, asked New Jerseyans to identify in their own words what they see as the state's most pressing issues. Job creation came in first at 35 percent. Taxes lower on the list: The state's property tax system came... Read more →


The wait is almost over! Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2013 will be announced Dec. 11. UPDATE, Dec. 11, 8:30 a.m.: My prediction from last night (see end of this item) was correct. Pope Francis is Person of the Year. But I'm very glad that a tax-connected person was one of the finalists. I generally don't pay attention to this annual event. This year is different. Taxes are involved, at least peripherally. One of the five finalists, per NBC Nightly News and on whose sister network program Today the announcement will be made, is Edith Windsor. Bringing down... Read more →


Itemized deductions get a lot of attention. There are lots of them. They are more complicated to claim. And, let's be honest; tax journalists like writing about things that provide them an opportunity to ramble. But the filing fact is that most taxpayers claim the standard deduction. Every year, around two-thirds of returns arrive at the Internal Revenue Service sans Schedule A. The deduction rule of thumb is to use the deduction method that provides you with the greater tax benefit. If that's itemizing one year, then claiming the standard deduction the next, do that. And if it's claiming the... Read more →


It's good to be aviation king. Just ask Boeing. States are falling all over themselves, promising tax subsidies to get the aircraft manufacturer to move some of its production facilities to their jurisdictions. Boeing's home state of Washington has enacted $8.7 billion in tax breaks, believed to be the largest corporate tax break any state has ever given to a single company, to try to get Boeing to make its new 777X jets in the Evergreen State. Boeing 777X image courtesy Aircraft Recognition A fight with the International Association of Machinists, however, has sent the aerospace giant looking for a... Read more →


The convergence of taxes and technology continues to run into trouble. The latest issue is personal information of around 6,000 Louisiana taxpayers and another 7,000 or so in Connecticut. Those estimated 13,000 individuals in the two states received their state income tax refunds via prepaid debit cards issued by the United States' biggest bank, JPMorgan Chase. The card data, including taxpayer names, addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers, could now be in the hands of hackers. That security breach involving tax refunds is more than enough to make 13,000 this week's By the Numbers figure. More than tax refunds:... Read more →


Cold enough for you? The answer from residents in much of the United States is an emphatic yes. Here in Austin, we're dealing with below freezing temps. Our backyard waterfall is showing some of the icy effects. But we're downright balmy compared to some spots across Texas and the rest of the country being hit by this frigid blast. Some folks are dealing with no heat since they've lost power. Others have heat, but the furnace isn't working very well. Or their homes are letting warmth escape through old leaky doors and windows. Or their walls simply don't have enough... Read more →


Do you still have money in your tax-saving medical flexible spending account (FSA)? Don't waste it. If your workplace benefits year ends on Dec. 31 and your employer doesn't offer you the Internal Revenue Service allowable grace period (until next March 15) or the new FSA rollover option, you need to spend all your medical account money or you'll lose it. This week's Weekly Tax Tip looks at some things to put on your FSA shopping list. There are, of course, the perennial standbys: Doctor appointment and prescription co-pays; Vision treatments, such as a spare pair of glasses or Lasik... Read more →


Tax reform isn't happening any time soon. One group of researchers says that's not so bad. In fact, their study found that a key component of tax reform -- a lower corporate tax rate -- wouldn't deliver promised rewards to the rest of the country. It's been almost an article of faith for some time now that the United States needs a lower corporate tax rate for businesses to be more globally competitive. That, in turn, will help rev up a sluggish economy and produce much needed jobs for American workers. Supporters of cutting business taxes point to data showing... Read more →


Taxes are all about numbers and today the Internal Revenue Service announced that it has reached an impressive one when it comes to electronic filing. More than 122 million returns were e-filed during 2013. E-filing was one of the few areas where the IRS recorded an increase over the previous year. In 2013, more than 45.2 million returns were sent to the IRS by taxpayers who prepared and e-filed their own 1040s on home computers. That's up from 43.2 million a year earlier, a 4.6 percent increase. 2013 FEDERAL TAX FILING SEASON STATISTICS Cumulative statistics comparing 11/23/12 and 11/22/13 Individual... Read more →


As I flipped my desk calendar page to December, there it was. Our 2013 residential property tax bill. It's not due until Jan. 31, 2014, but we usually pay our real estate taxes before the end of the year so we can deduct it. That itemized deduction is about the only good thing about property taxes. Oh, I know, those are the taxes that primarily fund public schools. I am a big fan of the public school system. But despite rising tax rates and increased home values, at least here in my corner of Texas, schools always seem to be... Read more →


So have you finished your online holiday shopping this Cyber Monday? And did -- or will -- you pay sales tax on all your Internet purchases? In many instances, the answer to both questions is probably no. When Cyber Monday officially appeared in 2005 (thanks to the National Retail Federation, which coined the term for online shopping and launched a website dedicated to relaying sale information for the day), very few Internet retailers collected state sales taxes. But the times, and online tax collection, are changing. It didn't take state tax collectors long to notice how much money they were... Read more →


It's finally here! Everyone's favorite month. The final 31 days in which you can take steps to reduce your 2013 tax bill. What? You thought I was talking about Christmas? C'mon! If you've been reading the ol' blog for the last eight years, you know I started my tax musings by referring to any consideration of taxes as the most wonderful time of the year. And while taxes must share at least 25 of December's days with the big annual gift-giving event, this final month of the year is a great time to give yourself a smaller tax bill. So... Read more →