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August 2019

You've secured your house. You've got your go-bag ready if you have to evacuate. You've taken all the other steps to get ready for an impending natural disaster. Or have you? Don't forget about your pets. During recent floods in the Midwest, Reuters reported that hundreds of pets were lost or imperiled by floodwaters. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, an estimated 15,000 animals had to be rescued, according to CNN. "It's a tragedy we've seen too many times: pets stuck in shelters, or worse, because their owners had no place to take them, or homeowners who feel trapped in a... Read more →


It's Friday. The last Friday of the month. A Friday heading into a three-day weekend. So I'm being lazy. I'm shifting Shout Out Saturday to Friday, or as I call it on these special days Focus Friday. The focus this Friday leading into the Labor Day weekend is tax laws. Lee Reems II, a Twitter tax pal and CEO of ClientWhys, CountingWorks.com and TaxBuzz.com obviously is a busy guy. But he still had the time this week to pull together a good overview of tax law changes still in the works in the wake of the Tax Cuts and Jobs... Read more →


The U.S. and British Virgin Islands took a whacking today from Hurricane Dorian, which struck the Caribbean islands as a category 1. Puerto Rico, still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, was spared major damage as Dorian decided to take a more northward turn. Dorian is expected to shift westerly, however, and head to Florida. Forecasters say it could be a category 3 'cane by the time it reaches the U.S. mainland over the upcoming Labor Day weekend. Thanks Mother Nature. Not! Stay safe: The main thing for anyone in a hurricane's path is to do whatever... Read more →


The market is still volatile, dropping a bit today because … heck, who really knows exactly why this time? It's likely to keep bouncing a bit until the current and threatened trade wars and associated tariffs are resolved. I definitely am not a financial adviser, but even I know that you shouldn't try to time the stock market. Just when you think you've hit the bottom and cashed out, it drops more. Or it recovers and you miss a run back up that would have replaced (or more) your assets' losses. But if, after careful consideration and consultation with your... Read more →


Emmanuel Macron, left, and Donald J. Trump at the beginning of the just-completed G7 session in France. As the international gathering closed, the pair announced a deal had been reached to ease U.S. concerns over France's digital tax and French worries about possible U.S. tariffs on Gallic wines. Good news for French wine fans. Donald J. Trump and Emmanuel Macron apparently arrived at a rapprochement at the G7 meeting in France this weekend. The threatened tariffs on French wines won't be imposed. That means the only taxes we wine drinkers will face are the long-standing U.S. federal and state-levied excise... Read more →


When California last year joined the literal growing ranks of states that have legalized marijuana, initial projections were that the state soon would be raking in $1 billion annually from weed-related taxes. That apparently was a pipe dream. The report on Golden State cannabis excise taxes collected between April and June was just $74 million. That disappointing revenue amount is this week's By the Numbers figure. Even more discouraging, California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office sharply scaled back projected tax dollars from the state's legal weed market. That's been the case in other states, too. In pushing through legal marijuana, both... Read more →


Yes, I know I've been fixated of late on computer security. First there was the ransomware warning. Then the new Internal Revenue Service impersonation tax identity theft scheme appeared. Part of the reason such topics have captured my fancy recently is that for the last week I've been away from my office a lot. That's meant doing much of my work on other systems. Even though I trust them, I always get a twinge of fear that somehow, someone will hack me. So thanks for bearing with me on my repetitive focus on computer — and tax — security, as... Read more →


Those mask pull-off scenes from Mission: Impossible movies are always fun, but real-life impersonators pretending to be from the IRS could cost you dearly. (Screenshot of movie mask reveal montage on YouTube) We're getting closer to the Oct. 15 filing deadline for those who got an extension back in April to fill out their returns. You can tell not only by the countdown clock ticking away on the ol' blog (shameless plug: it's in the narrow right-hand column), but also because tax scammers are back. The Internal Revenue Service and its Security Summit partners are warning taxpayers and tax professionals... Read more →


A new tax credit for dependents offers a break for extended family members and even non-relatives. My mom is a fiercely independent octogenarian, but she still depends on me. Like today, when I'm taking her to have some dental surgery. She is not, however, a tax dependent. That means the hubby and I can't claim her on our tax returns in order to get the $500 Credit for Other Dependents. This tax break, newly-created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TJCA), also has been dubbed the Family Tax Credit or Non-Child Tax Credit. It's an add-on to the Child... Read more →


Ransomware has evolved over the last three decades from a targeted cyber attack distributed on literal floppy discs to a major electronic security crisis for individuals, companies and governments. This type of malware typically locks out computer users and locks down their systems until the cyber hijackers are paid to return access to the information. In 2017, WannaCry ransomware went global, infecting more than 200,000 computers across 150 countries. Most recently, almost two dozen Texas towns were victims of a coordinated attack. The Lone Star State electronic lockouts follow patterns set by ransomware demands in Florida, Maryland and New York.... Read more →


Donald J. Trump speaking to supporters at an Aug. 15 rally in New Hampshire. (Photo from Trump's official personal Twitter feed) "If for some reason I wouldn't have won the [2016] election, these markets would have crashed. That'll happen even more so in 2020. See, the bottom line is … you have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k), everything is going to be down the tubes. So whether you love me or hate me, you've got to vote for me." — Donald J. Trump Trump's recent campaign rally exhortation that people had to vote for him... Read more →


Classes are back in session in many communities across the United States. And part of the supplies that are being used to help educate our youngsters were paid for by their teachers. Every year, studies by both private groups and federal agencies report that most public school teacher pay for products they need to get their lessons across to the students. The amounts vary, ranging from nearly $500 in a U.S. Department of Education survey from several years ago to nearly twice that (or more) in some of today's classroom situations. Easy to claim: The good news for these dedicated... Read more →


Elizabeth Warren is a leader among Democratic presidential nominees in calling for a variety of new and increased taxes on the wealthy. (Photo courtesy Warren's Facebook page) Many of the folks trying to become the Democrat to challenge Donald J. Trump in 2020 support raising taxes on the wealthy. It's a popular U.S. campaign rallying cry, but globally, such taxes on net worth are vanishing. All for taking from the rich: The Democratic Party is bucking the global dying wealth tax trend. One of its top goals remains raising the top ordinary income tax rate, which the Tax Cuts and... Read more →


Arizona home to be auctioned to pay federal tax debt. I've seen a lot of estate sale signs lately. Either it's an indication of the changing demographics of my part of Austin or folks are trying to fancy up their garage sales. An estate (or renamed garage) sale basically is a way to dispose of most of an owner's property either because family doesn't want their deceased relative's items or the goods need to be sold to make a move easier. Uncle Sam regularly holds his own versions, but in many instances these government sales are to settle tax debts.... Read more →


Colorful houses, like these in Sisimiut, Greenland's second largest city that sits on Kangerluarsunnguaq Bay below Palasip Qaqqaa mountain, are found all across Greenland. (Photo by Algkalv via Wikipedia Commons) Sorry, United States, but Greenland doesn't want to become part of us. Yes, the U.S. buying the world's biggest island is, or rather, was a thing. Donald J. Trump, true to his real estate development roots, has broached the possibility of Greenland, according to The Wall Street Journal. People familiar with the discussion, reports the newspaper, said Trump has, "with varying degrees of seriousness, repeatedly expressed interest in buying the... Read more →


With markets down, it could be time to harvest tax losses or perhaps convert a traditional IRA to a Roth retirement account. What's scarier than Superman, the 415-foot tower roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, that hits triple digit speeds? Some investors might say the recent stock market gyrations. (Photo courtesy Six Flags) Is the recent stock market drop freaking you out? How about the roller coaster ride back up, at least for a while, today? Yeah, it's worse than many stomach-churning amusement park rides and I'm right there, holding a barf bag, with you. But... Read more →


The tax law changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and its effect on withholding wreaked havoc this filing season. Some folks found, much to their dismay (and stronger reactions…) that for the first time in their tax-paying lives they owed taxes because they didn't have enough tax withheld from their paychecks. The Internal Revenue Service saw this coming. It tried to warn folks, encouraging them to adjust their withholding so that they wouldn't face this predicament. Then the IRS announced an easing of the penalty owed if you under withheld. Twice. Now, with the 2019 tax season... Read more →


Click screenshot to watch Sen. Rick Scott's full discussion on CNBC of the U.S.-China trade war and his tariff tax break suggestion. Everyone except trade warrior Donald J. Trump views tariffs as taxes on consumers. To offset tariffs' added costs to U.S. buyers, one Republican lawmaker is calling for a corresponding tax cut. "Anything we raise in tariffs we ought to give back to the public in tax reductions so that it doesn't impact American families," Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said Monday (Aug. 12) during an appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box. The Sunshine State's junior U.S. Senator didn't provide... Read more →


The Internal Revenue Service is continuing to tweak tax forms, releasing yet another version of the document workers use to figure out their paycheck withholding. The new draft of Form W-4, updated as of Aug. 8 and shown below, incorporated suggestions that Treasury and the IRS got on the version it made public at the end of May. The changes are being made (again) to ensure that taxpayers adjust their withholding to most accurately reflect the tax code changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Click image to see the full Aug. 8, 2019, draft 2020 Form... Read more →


This February 2016 photo on Twitter of Donald J. Trump signing a tax return is one of the few, and unrevealing, looks we've gotten of his federal filings. The focus of Donald J. Trump and his White House change quickly. Issues that were boiling over just days ago quickly get pushed to a back burner by something else that's hotter. But some of those old topics are still simmering. And one of them, Trump's tax returns, saw the heat turned up a bit recently. It was, however, a former college student, not Trump, who was put on the hot spot.... Read more →