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February 2020

Happy Feb. 29! Here's to a great extra day in 2020. I know I've joked (sort of) about how nice it is to have another day to work on your taxes, but there really is a Leap Year potential tax connection. SentricHR, a cloud-based payroll and human resources software company, points out in this weekend's Saturday Shout Out item that while an extra pay period can show up any year depending on a business' pay system, a leap year increases the chance that workers can collect extra pay. Generally, an extra pay period affects salaried employees paid weekly or biweekly,... Read more →


For folks with money in the stock market, the coronavirus' effect on their holdings is more terrifying than Michael Myers, the persistent slasher of "Halloween" horror movie fame. I confess. I've been glued to cable TV financial channels this week. They're showing, for owners of stocks, a real-life horror movie. The evil and infectious COVID-19 monster is maniacally slashing investment gains. Who or what can show up (soon, please!) to stop this crazed killer of our planned comfortable retirement? OK, I might be taking this sequel — and that's what it is; market corrections and recessions have happened before —... Read more →


Erin Collins, representing KPMG, speaking at the 2014 Step Up Inspiration Awards (Photo courtesy Step Up) Erin M. Collins was named today as the Internal Revenue Service's National Taxpayer Advocate. The former managing director of KPMG's Tax Controversy Services practice for the Western Area in Los Angeles assumes the post vacated last July by Nina E. Olson. Bridget Roberts of the Taxpayer Advocate Service had been serving as interim Taxpayer Advocate. "I am deeply honored to join the talented team at the IRS as the National Taxpayer Advocate," said Collins. "I will work every day to be a strong and... Read more →


(Pixabay via Pexels) When you're in the military, taxes are likely far down on your list of concerns. Members of the military, however, bear the same tax responsibility as do all U.S. citizens. The one bit of good tax news here is that the tax code and Internal Revenue Service take into account the special circumstances that armed services personnel face. Here are some tax highlights for military taxpayers. Affected armed forces: Military tax benefits typically apply to active duty or reserve members of the armed forces. The eligible forces are: United States Army (including Army Reserve and Army National... Read more →


Millions of Americans are self-employed. In the Internal Revenue Service's Statistics of Income count for tax year 2017, more than 26 million of U.S. nonfarm taxpayers filed as sole proprietors, submitting Schedule C along with their annual Form 1040 individual tax returns. The great thing about Schedule C is that is offers lots of ways sole proprietors, of which I'm one, can reduce our gross self-employment earnings. But one of those deductions that many likely claimed on their 2017 Schedule C has in subsequent years become a source of confusion and consternation. The tax break for business meals and entertainment... Read more →


To make sure you, not the U.S. Treasury, gets more of these, don't overlook possible tax deductions and credits. At tax time, filers are always searching for ways to reduce their final tax bill. You can claim deductions, either by itemizing if that gives you more than your standard deduction amount or by claiming some income adjustments, still referred to (by me, at least!) as above-the-line deductions that reduce the amount of income that's taxed. There also are tax credits, which are even better because the directly reduce what you owe Uncle Sam dollar-for-dollar and in some cases could produce... Read more →


Oh, Canadians. A recent report on tax attitudes north of the 49th parallel is upsetting my idealized vision of your country. A recent Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) internal memo, first reported by Blacklock's Reporter, found that around 20 percent of Canadians believe the benefits of tax cheating outweigh the risks. In fact, the CRA said 26 percent don't think that tax officials will discover their tax evasion. The CRA also found that many Canadians did not view tax evasion on amounts less than $1,000 to be "serious tax cheating." And it classified 13 percent as outlaws who view tax evasion... Read more →


Texas doesn't have a personal income tax, but there are plenty of other levies we Lone Star State residents must pay. Most U.S. taxpayers also must file a state return every spring. Only those of us who live in one of the seven states — Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming and my home Texas — don't have to mess with state income tax forms. Some more local jurisdictions, generally large cities, also levy income taxes. And most of those other 43 states (and cities et al) plus the District of Columbia also follow the federal April 15 deadline.... Read more →


Taxpayer Advocacy Panel members provide information on how to improve the IRS at the agency's annual Tax Forums. (Photo courtesy TAP News) How many times, perhaps times per day, have you said, "If I were in charge, I'd do things differently." Now's your chance to follow up on that, at least when it comes to how U.S. taxpayers interact with our tax system and the agency that administers it. Become a member of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, or TAP as it's called, and improve the Internal Revenue Service. My personal TAP dance: I can hear the skepticism coming through the... Read more →


Millions of us file taxes every year. And millions of us, even those who get refunds, dread it. Why? We worry that we'll make a mistake. That's a legitimate concern. Despite lawmakers' perpetual promises to make our tax lives easier, they somehow seem to screw up that political pledge. Yes, I am looking at you Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), with your new forms and confusing tax breaks even when they provide some relief. Thanks, Congress! But sometimes, we filers have to bear some of the blame. We make things worse by making easily avoidable mistakes when we fill... Read more →


Having plenty of money apparently also has some drawbacks. Really. One is that you could soon get more attention from the Internal Revenue Service, especially if you've been, shall we say, a bit lax in letting Uncle Sam know about your how well you're doing. The IRS announced today that it will be sending agents to visit taxpayers who haven't filed returns or didn't do so in a timely manner in 2018 or previous years. These particular in-person tax inquiries, according to the IRS, will be on those whose income is $100,000 or more. Audit income disparities: These in-person audits... Read more →


Photo by Carlos Cuadros via Pexels It's prime tax-filing time! That's not just my observation. The Internal Revenue Service itself says it typically sees a surge in filings in the final two weeks of February. One of the main reasons for the rush is that folks finally have the tax statements they need. Most of those documents were required to be issued, or at least in the snail mail, to taxpayers by Jan. 31. Even given U.S. Postal Service delays, it's now been plenty of time for the documents to arrive. The crucial document for most filers is the W-2... 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) Happy Washington's Birthday. I know, most of us, including all the retailers offering us sales savings, tend to call today President's (or Presidents'; the apostrophe is mobile) Day. But officially on the federal level, the third Monday in February is Uncle Sam's day to honor the birth of the Father of Our Country. George's actual birthday is Feb. 22, 1731. We've celebrated it... Read more →


Even with increased e-filing, taxpayers still don't seem to be in a big hurry to send their 1040s to the IRS. At the start of every filing season, there's a lot of talk and media coverage (guilty!) about how folks are champing at the bit to get their returns in to the Internal Revenue Service. And for the last five years, taxpayers have said "meh," at least as far as filing as soon as they can. Comparing IRS filing data for early February from 2016 through 2020, we see: Filing Season Week Ending # Returns Filed % Change from Prior... Read more →


The Setting Up Every Community for Retirement Enhancement Act, or SECURE Act as it's popularly known, was attached to the omnibus spending legislation enacted in late 2019. Taxpayers, lawmakers and investment advisers generally supported most of the measure's changes to how we stash and ultimately access our retirement funds. One SECURE provision, however, is causing some concerns, especially among those who have accumulated large IRA holdings and who had planned to leave the bulk of that money to heirs. They and, more importantly, their heirs no longer have access to what used to be known as a stretch IRA. Ending... Read more →


First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then come two filing as one When it comes to their taxes. OK, "marriage" and "taxes" in my opening verse don't rhyme, which is why I'm a journalist, not a poet. But since I focus on taxes and today is, so romantics tell me, the most important day of the year for couples, I thought I'd give the marrying of taxes and wedded bliss a try. Here are five love and tax considerations. 1. Marriage date matters Sure you marry for love. But you might want to consider when you formally tie the knot.... Read more →


My [too] many medical treatment folders and dedicated medical travel log. (Kay Bell photo) I'm in the tax filing minority. I still itemize. Medical issues are the primary reason I've been filling out Schedule A for the last few years. Not to bore you with the gory details, but recently I've had a couple of medical scares and surgeries. Combine those with the requisite multiple physician follow-ups (this afternoon I'm heading to my fifth of sixth doctor appointments this month), continued testing and, of course, prescriptions and let's just say I'm helping many, many doctors pay off their vacation homes... Read more →


You're working on your tax return and discover you owe Uncle Sam more than you expected. It happens. And in most cases, you're stuck with that larger Internal Revenue Service bill. After all, the 2019 tax year is long gone. It's too late to make those year-end moves that could have helped cut your tax bill. But wait! In a couple of instances, you still might be able to reduce last year's taxes with some tax saving moves that are allowed as late as the April 15 filing deadline. You can make a potentially tax-deductible contribution to a traditional IRA.... Read more →


Every salaried worker is well aware of payroll taxes. These are taxes that come out of our earnings and go toward the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) programs, or what we know as Social Security and Medicare. Or, as the old first-time worker joker goes, "Who the heck if FICA and why is he getting some of my money?" FICA for now: Each FICA component is a percentage of a workers' pay and is paid by both the employer and employee. The total Social Security tax is 12.4 percent, split evenly between the two tax sources every pay period. The... Read more →


Treasury was one of only five departments or major agencies — the others are Defense, Veterans Affairs, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Homeland Security — that got budget bumps in the Trump Administration's Fiscal Year 2021 budget request. (Screen shot of CQ/Roll Call video of delivery of budget books to Capitol Hill) The annual presidential wish list, formally known as the administration's fiscal year (FY) budget, is public. Bottom line, and it's a big one, is the FY 2021 proposals top out at $4.8 trillion. When it comes to this funding exercise, regardless of which president or party... Read more →