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December 2020

Even though we definitely are more than ready for 2020 to end, the celebration of its official departure in a few hours — that's for us here in the United States; Happy New 2021 to all y'all on the other side of the International Date Line — likely will be subdued. Thanks, no thanks, COVID-19. May you, too, be gone soon in the coming 12 months. But even if the ringing in the New Year will be in smaller, pandemic-precautioned pods, some adult beverages will be raised as the clock strikes midnight. And among those celebrating the most will be... Read more →


Some taxpayers awoke today to $600 (or more!) in their bank accounts. The money is the maximum per-person amount authorized by Congress and signed into law on Dec. 27 as part of the second COVID-19 economic relief measure. The Internal Revenue Service, which once again is in charge of distributing the economic impact payments (EIPs), says the electronic delivery will continue into next week. Some account holders may see the direct deposit payments as pending or as provisional payments in their accounts before the official payment date of Jan. 4, 2021. Sorry, but you'll just have to wait for the... Read more →


Most of us are cheering the rapidly approaching end of tumultuous 2020. I definitely am right there with you with some pre-New Year's Eve joyfulness. But take a little time off from your anticipatory year-end celebrations to check out these tax moves. These final three tax tasks for the final three days of the year could pay off at filing time in 2021. 1. Know the value of donating items instead of cash. You have until Dec. 31 to donate to an IRS-qualified charity so you can claim the gift as a deduction on your 2020 tax return. If you... Read more →


My neighborhood optometrist is encouraging medical flexible spending account (FSA) owners to stop by and spend that money before the end of the year. (Photo by Kay Bell) You just discovered that you have money in your medical flexible spending account (FSA). For folks who don't have an FSA, this is a workplace benefit that allows you to put money into the account as an automatic withdrawal from your paychecks. In 2020, you could put up to $2,750 into your FSA. Since inflation has been low, that amount stays the same in 2021. You then use FSA funds to pay... Read more →


UPDATE, Dec. 29, 2020, 4:20 p.m. CST: Good news for those who saw their unemployment benefits lapse by the delayed signing of the second COVID relief bill. The Department of Labor say they will get the full 11 weeks of benefits, although most will have to wait a few weeks for state agencies to reprogram the package's provisions into their computers. To reflect this decision, the original headline "Millions out of luck and money as federal unemployment assistance ends" was changed. UPDATE, Dec. 27, 2020, 7:34 p.m. CST: The presidential COVID bill holdout is over. Donald J. Trump tonight signed... Read more →


Happy Day After Christmas, or as it's known in many parts of the world, Boxing Day. As a lover of cats, be they large (like these in an earlier Tumbling Taxes item), small or domesticated (as much as cats can be), I certainly understand the feline interpretation of Boxing Day. But I also appreciate the other ways, taxes included, to celebrate Boxing Day. Boxing Day's evolution: Boxing Day got its name in the 1800s when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Since then, it's been celebrated in Great Britain and many of its former colonies, notably Canada, Australia and New... Read more →


Or rather, Moooy Christmas! Christmas cows a-plenty occupy our house each December. At top is a holiday gathering, including a cow, on our hearth. The bottom row, left to right features a moooy mantel decoration, our seasonally festive kitchen cow and a Roku bovine from our nativity. (Photos by Kay Bell) In our home, we have several indicators that Christmas time is officially here. I hear Silver Bells somewhere other than my personal holiday play list. We get a card from a friend in a place where we used to live. Our kitchen cow dons her annual holiday wig o'... Read more →


Santa Claus, Indiana, is one of many merrily named communities across the country. However, this Christmas-year-round town is the only one with an official U.S. Postal Service Santa postmark. (Photo by tengrrl via Flickr CC) Ho! Ho! Ho! And Merry Christmas Eve from all the holiday themed towns across the United States. There are the municipalities dubbed North Pole in New York, Colorado, Alaska and yes, it's even OK in Oklahoma. For those who revel in the season's greenery we have up the road from me Garland, Texas, as well as virtual forest full of Evergreens. There's an Evergreen in... Read more →


There's some bad and not-so-bad news when it comes to the recently discovered hacking of the Treasury Department. Since we're still in god-awful 2020, let's start with the bad news. The hackers, believed by most security experts and many government officials to be Russian, were able to burrow deeply into the U.S. Treasury's computer operations, breaking into systems that are used by the department's highest-ranking officials. The better news is that the Internal Revenue Service, the largest division within Treasury, appears to be unaffected by the cyber attack. That's a relief to those of us who upon hearing that Treasury... Read more →


Welcome to Part 10 of the ol' blog's series on 2021 tax inflation adjustments. We started with a look at next year's income tax brackets and rates. That first item also has a directory, at the end of the post, of all of next year's tax-related inflation updates. Today we wrap up the series (finally!) with standard optional mileage rate changes. Note: The 2021 figures in this post apply to that tax year's returns to be filed in 2022. For comparison purposes, you'll also find 2020 amounts that apply to this year's taxes, due April 15, 2021. via GIPHY As... Read more →


Congress plans to pass this evening its second round of COVID-19 help for millions of Americans. It's a huge bill. Granted, much of its 5,593 pages of dense legislative language cover the funding bills required to keep the federal government open through fiscal year 2021. Lawmakers decided to incorporate some pandemic relief measures into this must-pass bill. Obviously, there are associated tax implications. I'll be writing about some of those coronavirus-related tax matters in the coming days once they are officially enacted and I've had a change to read and decipher them. Some checks, but not as big as the... Read more →


Movie burglar Harry Lime, played by Joe Pesci (left), cases the house where Kevin McCallister, played by Macaulay Culkin, was left "Home Alone" leading up to Christmas Day. (Image courtesy 20th Century Fox) "Home Alone" has been a beloved Christmas movie since it was released in November 1990. Young Kevin McCallister's adventures foiling inept burglars as his frazzled and forgetful family frantically tries to make it home to him by Dec. 25 have delighted audiences for 30 years. It's also been an annual favorite of Illinois tax collectors. Yes, home where the titular alone youngster repeatedly bested the Wet Bandits... Read more →


OK, I can't confirm that the Greek dramatist Sophocles said this. But it's on the internet, so…. What is irrefutable is that bad advice is too often given and worse followed, especially when it comes to taxes. (Image by Quote Coyote) That cheering you hear is, well, everyone as 2020 finally is winding down. This mess of a year can't end too soon for most of us. But in our enthusiastic anticipation of the Year of COVID-19, we still must get ready for the upcoming tax season. At the start of the month, I offered some year-end tax moves that... Read more →


No, there isn't an electric version of Chevrolet's iconic Corvette (because who would want that!), but you have lots of other electric vehicle options that could get you not only a new car, but a nice federal tax credit. There are a couple of television commercials I look forward to every holiday season. There's the Corona Extra "Oh Tannenpalm" spot that's been airing for 30 years. And, of course, there's Hershey's Kisses handbell choir, which has been running even longer. Not as welcome, but as inescapable this time of year are the automaker ads with cars bearing giant bows. I've... Read more →


Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, left, and Committee Chairman Charles Grassley at a hearing in February to question Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about the president's fiscal year 2021 budget. (SFC hearing video screen capture) The two men who head the Senate Finance Committee want answers about whether the Internal Revenue Service was among the agencies hacked by foreign agents and they want them now. Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) sent a letter today to IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig seeking, in their words, "an immediate briefing on the IRS' efforts to discover whether... Read more →


The Internal Revenue Service has a bit of good, although very belated, news for taxpayers still waiting for their 2019 tax return refunds. The agency says it plans to issue most of those delayed refunds by the end of the year. Coronavirus pandemic mail pile-up: The problem stems, of course, from COVID-19. In the spring, most of the federal government and many private companies instituted pandemic protocols. Among those put in place by the IRS were closures at most of its campuses nationwide. That meant tax work that had to be handled in-office went undone. The closures also produced a... Read more →


It's been a tough year for millions. In addition to worrying about keeping themselves and their families safe during the coronavirus pandemic, millions have lost their jobs. But there may be a little bit of help for those relying on government payments as 2020 winds down. The House and Senate are working on a compromise COVID-19 relief bill. It's huge and there still are congressional hurdles to overcome, but right now the proposal calls for a federal unemployment benefit of $300 a week for 16 weeks. That's welcome news for the nearly 13 million Americans who, without Congressional help, are... Read more →


We all have enough to worry about right now and I don't want to add to anyone's anxiety, but I know some in the tax world are wondering about the implications of the Treasury Department being among U.S. agencies breached by apparently foreign hackers. Multiple news sources reported this weekend that cyber intruders made their way into Treasury, Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security. Word of the U.S. government hacks come on the heels of an announcement by a global cybersecurity firm that it had been breached. Right now, we don't know exactly what happened at Treasury. We're still... Read more →


Add "The 12 Days of Christmas" to the list of things that were affected by the coronavirus pandemic this year. No, not the iconic holiday song. That's still around. But some of the lyrics took a hit when they were evaluated in 2020 for the annual PNC Christmas Price Index (PNC CPI). For this 37th look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) Consumer Price Index and how it applies to procuring the song's 12 gifts from a True Love, The PNC Financial Services Group had to make some hard choices. Notably, the 2020 PNC CPI had to adjust for... Read more →


Update, December 30, 2020: When the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, finally was signed into law on Dec. 27, the new law OK'ed the $600 COVID-19 economic relief payments now going out and meant the federal government would stay open through Sept. 30, 2021. But it also included the No Surprises Act, a measure that should help end the unexpected medical bills many patients receive even though they have insurance. The new health care law will take effect in 2022. Also, the $1.4 trillion CAA included another welcome medical tax break. The threshold for claiming eligible health care costs now is... Read more →