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February 2019

That's me in mid-February doing my personal Groundhog Day shadow prediction that warm weather was back to stay. (The full image is on my Instagram page.) I was sooooo wrong. A couple of weeks ago, ecstatic over the return of warm weather and sunshine to Central Texas, I celebrated the arrival of spring. Was I ever wrong. Today is cold, wet — I swear it was sleeting when I ran to my car this morning after yoga class! — and downright dreary. And it's only supposed to get worse, with local meteorologists predicting the latest hard freeze ever for the... Read more →


I know February is the shortest month, but we sure seemed to blast right through these 28 days. That means folks who were waiting for their refunds based on Earned Income Tax Credit and/or additional child tax credit claims now or soon should have those U.S. Treasury checks. As for the rest of us who've yet to tackle our 1040s, we're part of the reason that filing is a bit slow this year. Many of us are waiting because we either know we'll owe or we're still trying to decipher the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes. The good... Read more →


The only thing worse than not getting the refund you expected is waiting for it to arrive. The Internal Revenue Service's official goal is to issue refunds within 21 days after processing the returns that produced them. But if you e-file and opt for direct deposit, the IRS says it's generally able to get most refunds — 9 out of 10 — out to recipients well before the end of that three-week time frame. Mandated delay done: There's also good news for folks whose refunds are associated with their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or additional child tax credit claims.... Read more →


The 2019 tax filing season appears, so far, to be thankfully free of tax scams. Maybe it's because things are going a bit more slowly, either due to the many tax law changes, the lengthy government shutdown that preceded it or a combination of both. I hate to be a buzzkill, but this early filing season respite is probably the best we can hope for. Tax realists know that crooks are still out there, planning and/or implanting their schemes to steal taxpayer identities and file fake returns to get fraudulent refunds. Scams increase as tax deadline nears: That concern is... Read more →


A crowdfunding effort to raise money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has ended, but some folks still want to contribute. The debate on an expansive U.S.-Mexico wall (or similar structures) continues, in Washington, D.C., as well as across the country. The top issue right now is money to pay for any barriers along the United States' southern border. Donald J. Trump has declared the situation a national emergency, which his administration says would free up a total of $8 billion for the campaign-promised project. Opposition to the wall and Trump's workaround to pay for it has received... Read more →


Some worry that smaller refunds will be a drag on our consumer-driven economy. There's a smidgen of good data news for the Internal Revenue Service. One category the tax agency tracks each filing season has moved into positive territory for 2019. For the week ending Feb. 15, the number of returns that were prepared and submitted directly by taxpayers hit 21.77 million. That was 18,000 more than the third week of the 2018 filing season, or a 0.1 percent increase from last year. Yay all y'all folks who plugged in your tax data on your own and hit send. Unfortunately,... Read more →


Do you overwithhold to get an annual tax refund because money burns a hole in your pocket? (Photo by Matthew via Flickr) It's no secret that Americans like their tax refunds. The Internal Revenue Service for years has reported that most filers get at least some money back at tax-filing time. That refund data has fueled another annual debate. How to get people to adjust their withholding so that they get use of their money throughout the year in paychecks instead of having to wait for it in the form or a tax refund. As a tax journalist, I get... Read more →


Prior year tax returns serve many purposes. This filing season, a check of last year's return will show you what your tax liability for 2017 was. You can compare that to your final 2018 tax bill to see if the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) did indeed lower your taxes even though your refund this year was smaller. You'll also need past year tax data if you're applying for a major loan, such as a mortgage. And if you're electronically filing your tax return this year, you'll need data from your previous year's taxes to complete that task. Record... Read more →


Tax law change confusion and paycheck withholding miscalculations have led to a lot of grumbling by many filers about the size of their tax refund checks. But there are other reasons why refunds sometimes are not what filers expect. Here's what to do if you think your tax refund is wrong. The many changes of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) have thrown a wrench into the 2019 tax filing season. Many folks who were expecting refunds are finding they are smaller than they anticipated or nonexistent. In a lot of cases, that's because of changes in withholding by... Read more →


Screenshot from a look at some of the people who depend on the gig economy. Watch the full YouTube video here. Everybody is looking for more money. Taxpayers want more in their tax refunds, especially those surprised by smaller amounts this filing season. Donald J. Trump wants more to build his campaigned-promised border wall. People who are unhappy with their current earnings are side hustling to get more income. It's that last group, says the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), that the Internal Revenue Service should be focusing on as a way to get more money into the... Read more →


Most of us who've ever worked for someone else are very familiar with Internal Revenue Service Form W-2. This is the statement you get early every year to tell you how much you were paid. Your W-2 also reports the amount of income tax withheld at both federal and, where applicable, state and/or local levels. There also are details on such things as the amount of tax-deferred money went into or you took out of your 401(k), how much your employer paid for your health care coverage and how much help you got from the boss in paying for care... Read more →


Today technically is George Washington's Birthday, but we've come to call it Presidents Day in honor of all our commanders in chief, like these four greats on Mount Rushmore National Memorial. (Image courtesy Mount Rushmore Facebook page) How are you celebrating George Washington's birthday? Yep, that's what today officially is, despite all the Presidents Day sale signs in retailers' windows. Technically, America's first president was born on Feb. 22, 1731. However, since 1971 we've celebrated his arrival day on the third Monday of his birth month thanks to a law that took effect that year mandating most federal holidays be... Read more →


NASCAR's 2019 season started today with the auto racing series' biggest event, the Daytona 500. Congratulations to Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing for taking the checkered flag in the Great American Race. Things aren't so clear-cut, though for the expired tax break for motorsports speedway improvements and more than two dozen other assorted tax benefits. These tax breaks expired in 2017 and are not on track for reinstatement. Yet. In fact, they're looking as messy as today's closing laps pile-up. Extenders indecision: These assorted tax breaks are known collectively as the extenders. They get that name because they are... Read more →


There's better news for taxpayers this week. Internal Revenue Service data for the second week of the 2019 tax filing season shows a slightly larger refund amount. When the IRS released its first-week data, which covered 2018 tax returns filed by Feb. 1, the number of 1040s submitted and processed, as well as the number of refunds and average amount of those fewer checks, were dramatically lower than at the same time last year. That led to much grumbling by filers and arguments among supporters and opponents of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) about how the major tax... Read more →


By now, everyone knows that a lot of taxpayers are getting the worst news ever at filing time. They owe the U.S. Treasury money. We can debate the reasons for the unexpected tax bills ad infinitum. Withholding tables were rejiggered in 2018 following the changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Itemized deductions and exemptions were reduced or eliminated by that tax legislation. Taxpayers didn't adjust their withholding to get their paycheck amounts more in line with the new law. The bottom line is that more than the usual number of filers this year are going to have... Read more →


The National Taxpayer Advocate this year selected 21 major problems that taxpayers encounter in their dealings with the Internal Revenue Service. I found five of those issues particularly troublesome. Every year, the National Taxpayer Advocate issue a report to Congress. The 2018 version released this week included a look at, not surprising, how the recent government shutdown affected not only Internal Revenue Service operations, but also the taxpayers who, particularly at this time of year, are relying on IRS services. Part of that annual report also includes at least 20 tax matters that the Taxpayer Advocate identifies as the most... Read more →


Open-close sign via Giphy.com The drama continues in Washington, D.C., as far as keeping the federal government open. It looked like, despite some grumbling from all sides, that a bipartisan, bicameral deal reached this week would keep all of the federal government open past Feb. 15. We all need to keep our fingers (and toes) crossed that it happens, especially those of us — which mean most Americans — who deal with the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS obviously among those pushing for a resolution that will get the agency through the 2019 tax filing season. The agency is still... Read more →


One of my favorite recent TV shows was The Americans, FX's series on embedded Russian spies during the 1980s Cold War. For six seasons, we fans watched the couple known to their suburban Washington, D.C. neighbors as Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings raise their two U.S.-born children, run their small travel agency and spy, sometimes in deadly fashion, for their native U.S.S.R. One of the underlying themes was how well and easily the Jennings assimilated into the America they were trying to bring down. It's a common trope, but one done well and with nuance by the television program. A radio... Read more →


Victorian Valentine courtesy School of Art, Kimball Jenkins Estate It's fitting that Valentine's Day — it's this Thursday in case the most romantic day of the year is sneaking up on you — comes during tax filing season. While most of us marry for love, finances and the related taxes are a big part of our coupled relationships. Here's a look at five love and taxes considerations. 1. Marriage date matters. Your wedding day is important to the Internal Revenue Service. No, the tax collector doesn't want to send you an anniversary card. But when you said "I do" matters... Read more →


Much of the music industry's elite will be at the Grammy awards tonight, all hoping to go home with a new piece of hardware. Many will be disappointed. But perhaps they can take some solace from the goodies they'll get as part of the swag bags that will be distributed before the Recording Academy's 61st ceremonies. This year, the official 2019 Grammy swag bag is worth more than $30,000. But that's not the only gift bag. More than 50 presenters and performers will have the option to go home with not one, but two collections of goodies from the Grammy... Read more →