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September 2015

August 2015

"Help" is uttered often during tax season. But with one letter change to that plea, taxpayers will be able to offer some helpful suggestions of their own to the tax collector. Or so Uncle Sam hopes. You can rate the Internal Revenue Service on Yelp, the popular online customer review tool. And yes, it's a real opportunity to offer a critique of how the IRS is or isn't doing its job and suggest ways it could improve. The federal government and Yelp have reached an agreement under which all of us can provide our thoughts on government and public services.... Read more →

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) plans to introduce legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act's Cadillac tax when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day, according to National Journal. It's not your grandfather's Cadillac that we're talking about in connection with Obamacare, although having this 1959 finned baby in my garage would definitely make me feel much better. The Affordable Care Act's Cadillac tax is a levy that will affect expensive employer provided medical coverage starting in 2018, unless it's repealed. (Image courtesy Travel and Trade South Africa) The 40 percent tax on high-cost health care coverage (hence the Cadillac nickname) over a... Read more →

Art and life have intersected once again, this time on Broadway. The hot new show on the Great White Way is "Hamilton," the musical about the United States' first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. It's getting rave reviews not just from the critics, but also the public, including some guys who have a special perspective. Three Treasury Secretaries, two former and the current, have been to see the show. Treasury Secretaries who've attended the Broadway musical "Hamilton" about the first man to hold their job include, from left to right, Timothy F. Geithner, who served from 2009-13; Robert E. Rubin, secretary... Read more →

I love Florida, but this week made me really glad we no longer live there. I don't think my nerves could deal with the gyrations of the stock market and a tropical storm. Hurricanes and the financial markets share a lot of similarities. There are global implications and instigators in both phenomena. Tropical Storm Erika, now pounding the northern Caribbean, started off the west coast of Africa. It was China's market meltdown that led to this week's U.S. stock drops. Tropical Storm Erika, shown here on National Hurricane Center GOES radar, hit the Dominican Republic on Friday afternoon. The big... Read more →

Oh, Congress. If we were dating, our relationship would be in Ashley Madison level trouble. The bad is that you are so predictable. Same old, same old political demagoguing and no action. Worse, all that talking plays into your tendency to procrastinate, which is incredibly annoying. Worst, your dilly-dallying is really messing up my and millions of other taxpayers' tax planning. Sir Patrick Stewart (left) and Sir Ian McKellen (right), two lions of British theater, teamed up in 2013 for a Broadway production of "Waiting for Godot." Waiting (again) for tax extenders: I am, of course, talking about the tax... Read more →

What is it with government employees and emails? Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email account to send some State Department messages has gotten a lot of attention and criticism. But the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate is not the only one. The commingling of business and personal email apparently is a common practice among those working for Uncle Sam. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and other senior American diplomats there have used personal email accounts to conduct State Department business, according to a just-released inspector general report. And back in 2007, the George W. Bush White House revealed that... Read more →

Seattle's new tax on guns and ammunition had one unchallenged weekend. The law establishes a tax of $25 for every firearm sold, as well as a tax of 2 cents for every ammunition round of .22 caliber or less and 5 cents for every other round of ammunition. In addition to the new gun taxes, the city also approved mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms to the Seattle Police Department. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, flanked by supporters, signs two pieces of gun safety legislation into law on Aug. 21. (Photo courtesy Seattle City Council) Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed... Read more →

Donald Trump has yet to release his tax reform plan, but he dropped a hint during an interview with CBS News on Sunday morning. "The hedge fund guys are getting away with murder. They're making a tremendous amount of money. They have to pay taxes. I want to lower the rates for the middle class. The middle class is the one, they're getting absolutely destroyed. This country doesn't have, won't have a middle class very soon," Trump told Face the Nation. I don't agree with much of what Donald Trump says, either in his personal, TV or political life. But... Read more →

Tax fraud has become so profitable that it has replaced drug dealing for many gangs nationwide. Earlier this month, alleged gang members on both coasts -- 32 in Long Beach, California, and 14 in Elizabeth, New Jersey -- were indicted by federal prosecutors on a variety of tax crime charges. It's not a new development. Years ago, Florida criminals acknowledged that they shifted to stealing tax refunds because the crime was less dangerous and more lucrative than dealing drugs. If caught by authorities, though, tax crimes still carry a hefty penalty. Just ask the dude who's spending a record 27... Read more →

Puerto Rico has been in the news a lot this year, and not for its attributes as a Caribbean vacation spot. Coast Guard Barque Eagle sailing past the 16th-century Fort San Felipe del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on May 21, 2014, as it head for a four-day port call. Image courtesy the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System and Wikimedia Commons. The U.S. island territory has been criticized for being a tax haven for wealthy Americans. Its overall finances have come under scrutiny after Puerto Rican leaders wanted to declare bankruptcy to write off its $72 billion debt.... Read more →

As the hubby and I cruised around a parking lot this week looking for a relatively close-in place to park, we quietly cursed the huge RV that had taken up half a dozen prime spots. We also marveled at the fact someone was tooling around in the personal bus. Even with gas prices at relatively reasonable rates, it's got to cost an arm and a leg to fill up a recreational vehicle. But the fuel factor apparently isn't a problem for a lot of folks. Refurbished RVs are making a comeback. The ubiquitous Winnebago Industries' first motor home model. This... Read more →

Summer's almost over, but there's always time for some recreational reading. Tax geeks who enjoy thrillers might want to check out "The Patriot Threat." Author Steve Berry says he looks for a "cool thing from history" as the core premise in each of his novels. In "The Patriot Threat," the 10th in his Cotton Malone series, Berry uses the ratification in 1913 of the 16th amendment. You know this one. It's the constitutional language that created the income tax. What if someone found a way to use the destruction of our income as a weapon to bring down America, asks... Read more →

All of us have to deal with the crazy that's the federal Internal Revenue Code. But on top of that, we also have to slog through the intricacies of our individual state tax laws. This applies to everyone, because 99.9 percent* of the time, we face some sort of state or local income and/or sales tax. Showy buckles are part of Texas' unofficial dress code. But if they are sold separately from belts, they are not considered tax-free clothing during Texas' tax holiday. Go figure. And some of those tax laws are whack, or to be more precise, totally out... Read more →

Everybody's a critic, even the New Jersey's chief economic officer if one state senator's tax credit for performers is enacted. Republican Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. this week renewed a push for his bill that would provide a tax break for so-called A-list performers in the Garden State. 50,000 fans packed the beach in Atlantic City to see to see pop band Maroon 5 and its popular front man Adam Levine. Click image for full story and video from Philadelphia ABC affiliate WPVI. The bill is designed to boost amusement offerings in Atlantic City. Under S. 2721, qualifying acts, which include... Read more →

Television offers a wonderful view of modern superwomen. They're young, brash, tech-savvy and just what we need off screen nowadays to fight the ever-growing crime of identity theft. Real-life versions of popular TV characters Penelope, Claudia and Abby could be the answer to continuing hacks of federal government websites. There's Penelope Garcia, the hacker transformed into FBI computer wiz, on CBS' Criminal Minds; Claudia Donovan, the computer hacker who shook things up for the better on Syfy's Warehouse 13; and Abby Sciuto, whose many detecting talents on CBS' NCIS include digital forensics. All these female characters are young, offbeat and... Read more →

For many international travelers, exploring another country offers a bonus: picking up a few items at the airport's duty-free store. Duty-free shopping at the Oslo, Norway, airport; image courtesy Wikimedia Commons OK, for some travelers, the tax-free airport shopping is the best thing about their trips. And they buy much more than a few items. In case you've missed this experience, duty-free shops sell products without collecting the local import tax. In Europe, duty-free shops in airports and ports are tax-free shops, too, which means you don't pay the value added tax, or VAT (aka Europe's version of sales tax),... Read more →

New England shoppers this weekend are enjoying the final two back-to-school sales tax holidays of 2015. Massachusetts shoppers are taking advantage of no 6.25 percent state sales tax on most personal items costing $2,500 or less. The holiday began today, Saturday, Aug 15, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 16. Neighboring Connecticut holds a week-long tax holiday. It kicks off tomorrow, Sunday, Aug. 16, and offers shoppers relief from the state's 6.35 percent sales tax on clothing and footwear priced at $100 or less through next Saturday, Aug. 22. Saving on city taxes, too: While the holidays are the products of... Read more →

Earlier this year when the Internal Revenue Service revealed that its online Get Transcript tool was hacked, I joked that that the hubby and I didn't have to worry. Since we never get a tax refund, there's no way that identity thieves would want our personal tax data. Now the joke's on me. No, I haven't become an identity theft victim again. I say again because it happened on a thankfully small scale many years ago. But my personal data was exposed during the massive Office of Personnel Management (OPM) hack. My federal employee years: Long-time readers know that while... Read more →

PBS is losing a beloved resident. Sesame Street, which debuted on public television in 1969, now will be seen on HBO, the premium cable channel heretofore best known for decidedly adult dramas. HBO star Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini, welcomes Sesame Street viewers in his own inimitable way to the premium cable network in @JRehling's Twitter take on the channel change. There is, however, a tiny bit of good news for PBS and families who rely on that broadcast outlet for their kids' entertainment. Old Sesame Street episodes will still be available on PBS. And the new... Read more →

It's almost time for school to start. For college students, or their parents, that means it's also almost time to start emptying out bank accounts. OK, maybe you don't have to liquidate all your assets to go to college nowadays, but it is expensive. Tuition is, of course, a major outlay. And most folks now pay for their continuing education by taking out loans. A lot of loans. New York Federal Reserve figures show that student debt hit $1.2 trillion in the first quarter of 2015. School-related money is owed by about 43 million Americans. That's why the ever-escalating cost... Read more →