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February 2021

A panoramic view of Positano, Italy, the famously vertical town where actor and food/travel show host Stanley Tucci found the highly-desired Amalfi Coast lemons. (Image courtesy Italia Agenzia Nazionale Turismo) Tonight, the hubby and I will watch our latest favorite television series, Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. The CNN show is part travelogue, but with routes determined by Tucci's tastes, which are so far spectacular. The award-winning actor, director, screenwriter, Instagram bartender and cookbook author (you're not surprised, are you?) essentially is eating his way through Italy, the county from which both sides of his family hail. He started in... Read more →


While GameStop's valuations captured a lot of attention because so-called ordinary investors were taking down the Wall Street pros, another investing sector also has been exploding. Cryptocurrency is riding a new wave of popularity, with a not-so-ordinary guy helping here, too. Elon Musk, who threw his social media support behind the video game retailer with his Gamestonk!! Tweet last month, now has helped push bitcoin's price sharply higher with pro-crypto tweets. That his electric car company Tesla adding $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin to its balance sheet also didn't hurt its value. Bitcoin's price rose last week to almost $60,000.... Read more →


In addition to looking for another job, folks who got unemployment benefits also have to deal with paying taxes on the payments and, in some cases, other complications. Unemployment benefits can be a lifesaver. That's been especially true during the year+ that we've been dealing with COVID-19 complications. Employers had to reduce services or close completely. In addition to the business costs, the establishments' workers were suddenly facing steep pay cuts or no pay at all. Congress has boosted state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits through much of the coronavirus pandemic. The latest federal UI add-on is set to expire in... Read more →


A VITA volunteer helps a taxpayer prepare and e-filer her tax return for free. (IRS video screenshot) Tax software works fine for millions of taxpayers. Another sizeable chunk of filers opt for more personal service from a tax professional. Then there are people for whom software just doesn't cut it. They need or want more help and assurance that their taxes will be filed correctly. But they can't afford a tax preparer. Say hello to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE). Trained volunteer tax filing help: VITA programs across the United States offer free... Read more →


Winter can be gorgeous. It also can be disastrous, as all us Texans more accustomed to heat waves than winter storms found out last week. (Photo by Kay Bell) It's been near 80 degrees for the last two days in my part of Texas. This time last week, we were in the teens during the day, after single-digit overnight low — and record-breaking — cold temperatures. This surprisingly strong cold snap left a lot of damage. People lost power and water. Freezing pipes in freezing houses burst. Food was spoiled. Many are looking at weeks to even get repairs underway... Read more →


IRS Washington, D.C., headquarters (Photo by Davide Boeke via Flickr CC) Taxpayers are not the only ones ticked off because they got failure to file notices from the Internal Revenue Service. "Enough is enough," two leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee has told IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig in a recent letter. W&M Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-New Jersey), chair of the tax-writing panel's Subcommittee on Oversight, took the agency to task not only for the 260,000 incorrect non-filing notices it recently sent, but also for a series of other missteps. "[W]e are... Read more →


It's National Margarita Day! Each Feb. 22, the focus is on appreciating this popular tequila-based cocktail. Or as we call it here in Texas, every day. FX/FXX TV's spy-turned-private detective Sterling Archer offers his margarita recipe. If, however, you're looking for a drink that's a bit more elaborate that the basic one preferred by the animated (in so, so many ways!) and self-absorbed bon vivant, check out the Cooking Channel's top 28 margarita recipes. Personally, I prefer beer. But if a 'rita is your drink, I hope you enjoy a safe happy hour today — I hear they are quite... Read more →


What's worse than getting an Internal Revenue Service notice? Getting a wrong IRS notice. That just happened to potentially more than a quarter million taxpayers. The IRS last week acknowledged that it sent approximately 260,000 taxpayers notices that they had failed to file return for the 2019 tax year. Some, perhaps many, of those mailings, officially known as CP59 notices, likely are incorrect. The reason is the same one we've all seen or used ourselves for the last 13 months: COVID-19. Pandemic processing delays: "Due to pandemic related shutdowns, the IRS has not completed processing all 2019 returns at this... Read more →


In addition to working on federal tax returns for the 2020 tax year, taxpayers in most of the United States also must file state taxes. I used to do that when we lived in Maryland. But I've also spent most of my combined taxpaying life in Florida and my native and current home in Texas, two states without personal income taxes. Still, I remember the hassle, both of filing and paying from my days in the Old Line State. And I feel for all y'all dealing with dual — or more, thanks to changed 2020 work situations due to COVID-19... Read more →


The tax filing season clock is ticking, but will the alarm go off on April 15 as usual? That's the IRS plan for now, but some in Congress and the tax community would like Uncle Sam to extend the 2021 Tax Day deadline like happened last year. The Internal Revenue Service is insistent that despite a later than normal opening of the 2021 tax filing season, it will end as usual on April 15. Some lawmakers and members of the tax community, however, think this filing season needs to follow the 2020 example and be extended beyond the usual mid-April... Read more →


Last year, as companies and employees were struggling with operational changes necessary to safely deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internal Revenue Service IRS provided relief that allowed employers to tweak benefits plans so that employees had increased flexibility to make mid-year changes to dependent care spending accounts. This change helped parents who had set aside tax-deferred money in child care accounts, but because their kids were at home while mom and/or dad also worked at home, did not need as much care account funds as they anticipated pre-pandemic. Today, the IRS has issued additional guidance on the latest coronavirus... Read more →


Just can't bring yourself to do your taxes? Don't worry. There's no rush (yet). And there are some good reasons to wait a bit before finishing your Form 1040. The 2021 tax filing season is finally underway. The Internal Revenue Service started processing returns on Friday, Feb. 12. A lot of the 1040 forms actually had been submitted electronically weeks earlier, and were just waiting for Uncle Sam to accept them. This is not unusual. Millions of taxpayers file as early as possible, with good reason, every year. But there's something to said for those of us who wait. Here... Read more →


Much of Texas got record snowfall on Feb. 14-15, with around 6 inches covering our backyard. Thank goodness for some much welcome sunshine today, but it's still below freezing, meaning our heater is working overtime! (Photo by Kay Bell) We have sunshine here in Central Texas! Still, the high temperature today in the greater Austin area is not expected to break the freezing mark. That means my home's heater is still in overdrive. And that means my next bill is going to be ginormous. The only consolation, is that I can count part of that heating bill as a home... Read more →


President Joe Biden, flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris, addresses the Department of Defense. (White House Facebook page photo) It's a new tax year, a new filing season belatedly underway and a new Administration with some ideas on tax changes. Every time a new president moves into the Oval Office, especially one of the opposite party, political wags try to make pithy observations. Personally, I bow to some esteemed wits of the past, like Will Rogers, who said, "The difference between death and taxes is death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets." Rogers' sardonic comment came to mind because... Read more →


Happy Valentine's Day! This Feb. 14, the hubby and I are snuggling, but today it's mainly to keep warm. Like much of North America, we're dealing with a serious arctic blast. I hope you and your sweetie are having a good Valentine's Day. And I hope you got exactly what you wanted from your love. In many cases, it might be something simple or homemade. Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering financial ramifications mean that spending on Valentine's Day gifts this year has dropped. Those celebrating plan to spend an average $164.76, down $32 on average per person,... Read more →


I'm not sure if Luisa Madrid is a tax professional, but her winning caption for the New Yorker magazine contest sure hits home at filing season. One of the oldest tales of pushing the tax return envelope is taxpayers who try to claim pets as dependents. Children. They're a challenge. They're a joy. They cost a lot. A whole lot, if you ask parents. They also provide some tax breaks. And if the Biden Administration and some in Congress have their way, children could be worth even more in the proposed next round of COVID-19 relief. Things are still in... Read more →


Tax Season 2021 is finally here! The Internal Revenue Service has started accepting tax returns and, more importantly, is now processing the filings as of today, Friday, Feb. 12. Millions have already filed. Most of them used tax software, either on their own or through the Free File program, which the IRS and its tax prep partners opened up a month ago. Those 1040 forms have been on hold. Now they've been transmitted to the IRS. Others, however, still have some work to do. We're waiting for some tax statements to straggle in, either to our snail mail or email... Read more →


Today's unemployment numbers offered a hopeful sign for the U.S. economy struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. The news, however, is not so good for many who in 2020 got these out-of-work benefits. Many recipients of the emergency financial assistance are surprised to learn that unemployment benefits are taxable. Others are even more surprised at the amounts on their Form 1099-G. This is the document sent to taxpayers and copied to the Internal Revenue Service. While social media messages and comments on the ol' blog are purely anecdotal, it seems that quite a few folks think their 2020 unemployment benefits have... Read more →


Tax preparers nationwide already are working on clients' returns. Crooks also are working to steal info on and from those tax professionals. The Internal Revenue Service won't start accepting and processing 2020 tax returns until Feb. 12. Tax professionals, however, have been working of their clients returns since the new year arrived. That means tax criminals also doing their so-called jobs. The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and tax industry today announced that there's a new scam email being sent to tax professionals. The phishing message impersonates the IRS and attempts to steal Electronic Filing Identification Numbers (EFINs). While... Read more →


I've always done my taxes. When the hubby and I married, I continued this annual task, now filing our joint return. The only change is that every tax season the hubby periodically peers over my shoulder as I work on our return and chants, "Deduct! Deduct! Deduct!" Although taxes aren't his thing, he's right. Deductions can help lower taxes. And for most of our marriage, we've found it better to itemize deductions on Schedule A. But even then, we've been able to use now and then what are known as above-the-line deductions. Back when these write-offs got that name, they... Read more →