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June 2014

Legal minds great and not-so-great have and will continue to parse today's Supreme Court decision that closely-held corporations can't be required to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives over their owners' religious objections. The justices' ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This law, enacted in 1993, essentially prohibits government actions that substantially burden the exercise of religion. RFRA does provide an exception for actions that constitute the "least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest." Hobby Lobby's owners, as well as the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp.... Read more →

Make no mistake about it. Law enforcement officers in North Carolina still keep an out for drug dealers and moonshiners. But the cops in the Tar Heel State also are more than happy to accept some financial help from the wrong-doers. Money collected through the North Carolina Unauthorized Substances Tax from purveyors of illicit substances goes toward law enforcement agencies' investigative tools, equipment upgrades and other improvements. It's not a new law; it's been on the N.C. books since 1990. Almost a quarter century later, it's still paying off for the good guys. The excise tax is placed on controlled... Read more →

School is out for the summer, but education remains the hot topic. Starbucks earlier this month announced a partnership with Arizona State University under with the beverage company will cover the tuition costs for its workers who take ASU online classes. And this past week both the House and Senate tax-writing committees examine ways that the Internal Revenue Code could better help students -- and their families -- foot the ever-growing higher education costs. Just as college expenses keep increasing, so do tax breaks to help cover them. The Senate Finance Committee conducted a hearing June 24 on, in Chairman... Read more →

If you've watched any of Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen's appearances on Capitol Hill, you know he's nothing if not determined. He hasn't backed down under hostile Congressional questioning, so it's no surprise he's not letting a court ruling stand in the way of credentialing professional tax preparers. Sure, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in February (Loving et al vs. IRS) that the IRS can't force tax professionals to take continuing education courses and pass competency exams. But the federal court didn't prohibit the IRS from offering its program on a voluntary... Read more →

The Internal Revenue Service can take a little solace in the fact that it's not the only tax system having problems. HM Revenue and Customs, the United Kingdom's version of the IRS, implemented an expensive new system last year that was meant to improve the tax system's accuracy. It didn't work. More than five million workers paid the wrong amount of tax collected through Pay As You Earn, or PAYE, similar to the United States' payroll withholding. Around two million British taxpayers paid too much, according to The Telegraph. They'll be able to claim their overpayments from HMRC. But the... Read more →

Ghana's World Cup players apparently got the the money they wanted. They took to the field pitch today to battle Portugal as the international tournament's first round of play for the Group of Death concluded. The African nation's president reportedly flew around $3 million in cash to Brazil on June 25 to placate the national soccer fútbol squad. The players were unhappy at being denied bonus payments. Why send currency instead of just depositing it electronically into players' bank accounts? Tradition. "The practice in Ghana has always been paying the money in cash," the national team's coach Kwesi Appiah told... Read more →

It's summer, so that means kids are everywhere. Heck, they're even in our yard -- OK, our driveway, since we don't have much of a front yard. Obviously inspired by the X Games held earlier this month in Austin, the neighborhood skateboarders and cyclists have taken over our block. And they've deemed our sloped, circular driveway a perfect practice area. (The hubby thinks its for competition, not just practice.) This is not a surprise. When we moved here nine years ago (Yikes! Where did the time go?), we soon learned that opening our garage doors in the summer would send... Read more →

Did you make it through last night's prime time grilling of the Internal Revenue Service Commissioner? Don't feel bad. I had to take a break and catch up via tape later myself. I admit it; Jack Bauer was kicking butt! But even the unusual evening session couldn't generate much new excitement. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) rehashed much of what his Ways and Means colleague had covered just before the weekend break. Issa's technique, of course, was bit grittier than that of tax panel Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). But the results were the same. During... Read more →

Two Central Texas men have been indicted on charges of attempting to aid terrorist groups. One of them allegedly was going to accomplish that goal thanks to his $5,000 federal tax refund. Michael Todd Wolfe of Austin and Rahatul Ashikim Khan of Round Rock, just north of the Texas capital city, are scheduled to appear in federal court on June 30 to face charges that they recruited jihadi fighters through an online chat room. Khan (left), also known as Rahat Khan, AuthenticTauheed19 and AT19, is accused of attempting to entice others to travel overseas to support terrorist activities, including committing... Read more →

Transportation Department Secretary Anthony R. Foxx has been warning Congress for months that the Highway Trust Fund, the main pot of money Uncle Sam uses to pay for his/our highways, is running low. If something isn't done quickly, DoT data indicates that the trust fund is likely to dip below the critical $4 billion funding level as soon as July. Sometime in August, the transit account is projected to fall below $1 billion. The problem is simple. As the chart below shows, not enough money is coming into the trust fund to meet the level of transportation spending that is... Read more →

This post was updated Sept. 13, 2017. My goal this summer, as it has been for the past few summers, is to get my office in order. Yeah, that's my office floor. Stacks of old publications and materials from the tax and blogger conferences I've attended. It's not by any stretch of the imagination a good system. So I swear that in the next few months I will go through these paper piles, determine what is still relevant, file it and dispose of the rest. UPDATE: I finally did it! Check out the photographic proof, along with 5 tax record... Read more →

Sports bars across the United States are already filling up, with bandwagons dropping off all the newly minted soccer -- known as fútbol to the rest of the world -- fans. Both new and long-time watchers of the beautiful game have high hopes that the U.S. men's soccer team will come up big against Portugal. That's asking a lot, since the Portuguese team's star Cristiano Ronaldo, recently named world player of the year, is formidable even though he's recovering from an injury. Among those who will be cheering the U.S. effort, though not likely at a bar, is Internal Revenue... Read more →

John Koskinen's first six months as commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service have not been fun. But he knew that going into the job. He took over Dec. 20, 2013, in the midst of the IRS' latest scandal. The tax agency seems to be enmeshed in some mess, usually political, every decade or so. This time, the issue is whether there was a political motivation for the IRS' inappropriate focus on certain groups applying for a special tax-exempt status. The Republicans say the use of screening criteria that included the names of conservative and Tea Party groups is just part... Read more →

Well, that Congressional hearing provided just about what followers of the Tea Party targeting investigations had expected. Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen just wrapped up an almost four-hour appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee. The tax-writing panel's main focus was a batch of emails belonging to former IRS executive Lois Lerner that were lost when her office computer crashed in 2011. Some of those missing communications are believed to have discussed the division's activities beginning in 2009 in determining which groups were granted the 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. At that time of the PC crash, Lerner (who's since... Read more →

If you're gearing up to watch Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen testify today before the House Ways and Means Committee, here's a preview of what to expect. Committee Chairman Dave Camp's (R-Mich.) formal announcement of the hearing, which begins at 9 a.m. Eastern Time today (Friday, June 20), says the he and his colleagues will focus on the IRS' recent statement about Lois Lerner's emails, both the communications furnished and those lost in a computer crash. So far, according to the IRS, the agency has or expects to hand over around 67,000 emails relevant to the investigation into the... Read more →

Managing a coffee shop is a fine job that many people would be glad to have. But kudos to Starbucks for acknowledging that not all its employees want to stay with the company for their entire working careers. Some baristas are working at the popular coffee and tea seller while they complete their studies so they can move on to other fields. And Starbucks is helping them. Starbucks this week announced that it has partnered with Arizona State University to offer the beverage company's workers a new educational benefit. Starbucks will cover the tuition costs for its workers who take... Read more →

20,000 Kansans still waiting for their state tax refunds

Every year I nag preach remind folks about adjusting payroll withholding so that the tax man gets only as much as he should. That advice applies not only to the Internal Revenue Service, but state tax collectors, too. Just ask around 20,000 Kansas taxpayers who won't get their state refund checks for another couple of weeks. The problem, says the Kansas Department of Revenue, is its accounting process as it wraps up the fiscal year, which ends on June 30. Kansas finance officials routinely shut down issuance of all payments in mid-June, including to taxpayers expecting refunds, as the state... Read more →

Find C-SPAN on your local television provider's schedule and set your DVRs. Things are going to get exciting on Friday, June 20, and Monday, June 23. That's when Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen will be on Capitol Hill to explain why his agency can't hand over a chunk of emails to and from Lois Lerner. Koskinen is the only witness for the 9 a.m. Eastern Time hearing Friday, June 20, before the House Ways and Means Committee. He also will be solo at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, June 23, when he answers questions from the House Oversight... Read more →

Tornadoes. Again. Be prepared, physically and on tax front

Dear Mother Nature, it's hurricane season. What the heck are you doing slamming the Midwest with tornadoes? Stop. Now. Thank you. P.S. - This doesn't mean we want hurricanes either. I've been complaining to Mother Nature for more years than I care to admit. Unfortunately, she doesn't listen to me or any of us. That's why we need to be ready for her bad moods. So, as a tax geek and weather watching nerd, I am compelled to remind everyone, sadly once again, that we all need to be prepared, financially as well as physically, for dangerous storms. And we... Read more →

Anyone who uses a computer knows that unfortunate things happen. You hit a wrong key and that email you meant to send to just your best buddy ends up in the mailboxes of all your coworkers. Thank goodness at least the boss wasn't on that mail list! A stray finger stroke and all your hard work disappears. Please, please, please IT guys, save me! Or your machine suddenly decides to give up the ghost, taking your digitized life with it. Well, it seems that our federal tax agency also has its own technology troubles. Lost Lerner emails: The Internal Revenue... Read more →