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November 2017

Back in mid-October, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that the wage base, that's the amount of each worker's earnings that are subject to the Social Security portion of payroll withholding, would increase to $128,700. This week, the SSA revised that number downward. The new amount of income from which Social Security taxes will be withheld is $128,400. The SSA says it made the adjustment after getting corrected W-2s later in October that weren't figured into the original 2018 wage base announcement. "Approximately 500,000 corrections for W-2s from 2016 resulted in changes for three items based on the national average... Read more →


Pong via Giphy Who knew 45 years ago today when Atari released Pong that the two-dimensional video version of table tennis would herald in a fascination and fixation with video games? Who also knew that those games would become a major battle front in the taxing of digital entertainment? We've come a long way, baby, to borrow a phrase from Pong's era. Old and new gaming options: Since Pong's Nov. 29, 1972, debut and consumer acceptance that made it the first commercially successful video game, the world has become populated with video game addicts of all ages. The variety of... Read more →


Feeling generous? Good. It's Giving Tuesday. This philanthropic effort, usually seen as #GivingTuesday on social media, began in 2012 as a counter to the frantic shopping on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday's goal is to fight the commercialization and consumerism of Christmas and other end-of-year holidays. Instead of buying more goods for family, friends or yourself, Giving Tuesday organizers urge gifts to nonprofits. Such donations, the Internal Revenue Service reminds us, could produce a gift for you — a tax deduction — when you file your annual tax return next year. As noted in a... Read more →


The advice in this post is good year-round, so I've changed the headline and it's the Daily Tax Tip for Monday, March 5, 2018. Be safe out there taxpayers and keep an eye out for the latest Dirty Dozen tax scams! Today is Cyber Monday, the first post-Thanksgiving weekday when millions of shoppers go online seeking holiday bargains. It's also the start of National Tax Security Awareness Week. For the next five days, the Internal Revenue Service will focus on ways to protect tax and financial data during this hectic holiday season. Each day this week, the IRS and its... Read more →


Lewis Hamilton was all hat and F1 2017 champion after he won the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin TX on Oct 29 2017. That was the race where the U.K. driver earned enough points to take another title. A few days later, Hamilton's name showed up in the Paradise Papers as one of the rich and famous individuals around the world who uses questionable tax shelters. (Photo courtesy Formula1.com) Formula 1's final race of the year was today in Abu Dhabi (no spoiler here unless you click the link), ending the 2017 season in which Lewis Hamilton claimed the motorsports'... Read more →


A key job for all tax agencies is ensuring their citizens comply with the rules. Most revenue offices, including the Internal Revenue Service, do that by penalizing folks who break tax laws. It typically doesn't matter if you make an honest mistake, like transposing numbers when entering info from your W-2 to your Form 1040, or intentionally try to avoid paying your due tax. When you mess up, you owe the unpaid tax amount, interest on the missed payment and a penalty. Abatement allowed in some situations: Sometimes the IRS will abate a penalty. This could happen if you tried... Read more →


A crush of shoppers rushes to start their Black Friday quest for bargains. (Photo via Diariocritico de Venezuela/Stan Honda/Flickr CC) Black Friday, the day-after-Thanksgiving kickoff to the holiday shopping season, may have lost some of its luster in recent years, but plenty of shoppers still hit the stores today to bargain hunt. If you're among the frenzied shoppers, hang onto your receipts if you buy a lot or big-ticket items. They could bump up your itemized tax deduction. And your 2017 tax return might be the last time you'll be able to take advantage of this deduction. Tax reform deduction... Read more →


Photo by Katina Rogers via Flickr CC Most of us will spend time with family this Thanksgiving. If the gathering includes an aging parent (or two), it's a good time to gauge how they're doing. Now I'm not advocating a full diagnostic discussion. That's not only a bit intrusive, but such conversations probably will start fights if your family is anything like mine. My 80-something mom simply refuses to acknowledge that she's 80-something and that entering her eighth decade presents some limitations. And by refuses to acknowledge, I mean she dives head-first into vehement and lengthy denials. This is not... Read more →


This post has been updated on Cyber Monday 2017 — Nov. 27 — to add more info on sales taxes due on online purchases. It's almost Thanksgiving. You know what that means. It's almost Black Friday. With Cyber Monday on that shopping day's heels. Black Friday, the day-after-Thanksgiving ostensible bargain bonanza is still popular even with the growth of online shopping. Shoppers looking for Black Friday deals in Linton, Indiana. (Photo by yancy9 via Flickr) Spending expected to increase: Consumer spending over the Black Friday weekend is expected to increase by 47 percent from the same period in 2016, according... Read more →


It's going to be a mixed Thanksgiving in Internal Revenue Service households. The agency definitely won't be thankful for the Senate funding bill released on Nov. 20. That Financial Services & General Government Appropriations measure proposes the IRS get $11.1 billion in fiscal year 2018. That's $149 million less than it received for the 2017 fiscal year. However, the IRS can be grateful that the funding is close to the $11.235 billion that then IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the agency needs to maintain its current performance levels. And it's $111 million more than what Donald J. Trump's budget recommended... Read more →


John Koskinen's days of giving formal testimony as head of the IRS ended when his commissioner term concluded earlier this month. However, an interview he gave the week after leaving the tax agency post has raised questions about Donald Trump's tax returns and taxpayer privacy. Remember Donald J. Trump's tax returns? Those he said during the campaign that he'd share with America as soon as the IRS completed its audit of them? Well, we still don't know if the IRS has finished examining those prior year filings, but apparently Trump did sometime this year file his 2016 taxes. The Administration... Read more →


Fifteen Chicago-area men have had their names, and legal records, cleared. If they eventually get monetary restitution for the time they spent in jail for crimes they didn't commit, they also could get some tax relief. (Click CNN screenshot for full story.) "I'm innocent!" That post-conviction proclamation by many now behind bars is greeted by the strict law-and-order crowd with cynical eye-rolling. But in the case of at least 15 Chicago-area men, protestations that they didn't commit the crimes for which they did the time were true. And if these fully, officially, legally not guilty men ever receive compensation for... Read more →


As a wife of many years, I appreciate it when a couple likes to share big moments. But such spousal closeness backfired spectacularly when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin brought his wife, Louise Linton, with him when he went to check out his signature that's now appearing on U.S. currency. But before we get to the drama, let's look at the changes coming to our dollars. Handwriting gets grade A: The good news for Mnuchin is that while folks still might have trouble pronouncing his name, they can at least read his signature. That's more that can be said for his... Read more →


Nothing says Merry Christmas like the disembodied Santa head lights (click for a closer, clearer view) that brighten our fireplace hearth each holiday season. (Please ignore my reflected selfie!) And yes, this and other Christmas decorations are already, before Thanksgiving, up at our house! Ho, Ho, Ho! I know we've yet to celebrate Thanksgiving, but I can tell that Christmas is near, too. How? Well, in addition to having already decorated our house (interior only so far for us, but ho-ho-holiday lights are already on some of our neighbors' houses) for Santa's annual arrival, I'm getting the usual year-end flood... Read more →


In their initial tax reform bills, the House and Senate decided not to include any health care provisions so as not to muddy the tax code rewrite waters. Now, however, Senate leaders have changed their minds. Repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate has been added to the upper chamber's tax plan. While that does provide needed money maneuverability, it also could turn tax reform into a legislative mud pie mess. The House is still on track to pass its tax reform bill this evening has passed its tax reform bill, but things are much less settled in the Senate. A... Read more →


UPDATE, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017: The House passed its tax reform bill today (but the Senate version is still a ways away from GOP consensus ). Among the yea voters on H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, was Rep. Joe Barton after he was promised that his Texas Rangers stadium concerns would be taken care of. Rep. Joe Barton is a big fan of the Texas Rangers, which play in his North Texas Congressional District. In this Facebook photo, Barton (second from left) wears the Major League Baseball club's jersey when he participates in the annual Republicans vs.... Read more →


CBS/NFL clip via Giphy.com Any sports fan will tell you that penalties often ruin not only their teams' chances of winning, but also make the game itself worse. Taxes certainly aren't a game, but penalties in this part of our financial lives also are frustrating. Worse, they can be costly, to both taxpayers and the tax professionals they hire for filing help. Some tax penalties are set by law. Others are adjusted each year because of inflation. Penalties add more to tax bills: Paying taxes is bad enough. Paying a penalty for not filing on time makes that worse. Recent... Read more →


Republicans continue to work on their tax reform bills. The House plans/hopes to vote on its bill this week, while the Senate's version, released Nov. 9, is still being analyzed. One area getting a lot of attention is the two bill's differing treatments of pass-through entities. Income from these businesses — which include sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLC) and S-corporations — is passed through to the business owners, who then report it on their personal tax returns. The issue confronting lawmakers is that these earnings currently are taxed at ordinary income tax rates. Under the new tax reform... Read more →


One of the surprise differences in the Senate tax plan as compared to the House bill is in the treatment of state and local taxes, referred to by tax geeks (guilty!) as SALT. Both the House and Senate tax bills would eliminate the deductions for state and local income and sales taxes. The Senate, however, makes no accommodation for real estate taxes. That hard tax line also was originally taken by the House. But GOP leaders there, facing backlash from their members in districts where voters pay big real estate tax bills, acquiesced. The House bill revision allows the property... Read more →


Across America, special thanks go out this Veterans Day to all the men and women who courageously put on uniforms and served our country whenever and wherever called. But once those proudly-worn uniforms are packed away, former U.S. military members need more than just gratitude. Millions of soldiers, sailors, pilots and National Guard members need our support and help as they return to civilian life. That's why this 11/11 Shout Out Saturday goes to MartketWatch's financial checklist for former military members. And since you come here for tax talk, I don't want to disappoint. Here are a couple of tax... Read more →