Finances Feed

This cool balloon was part of my neighbors' celebration back in 2017 of their son's graduation. Some Texas gusts, however, helped it take a post-graduation trip to our driveway. After snapping this photo (and Instagram video), I helped the light-headed graduate home. Attention class, here's you latest assignment. Wait. Didn't the school year just finish? Yes, for younger students. But those looking for financial help as they head off to college need to do some homework now. Students, or their parents, who are seeking financial assistance to meet higher education costs need to file a Free Application for Federal Student... Read more →


The summer solstice has finally caught up with Texas temperatures. The first day of the sunniest season arrived today at 10:54 a.m. Central Time. By then, here in Austin we already were at nearly 90 degrees. It wasn't much of a climb for the thermometer, since our overnight temps for the last week or so have been hovering in the 80s. By the time we get to mid-afternoon, it will feel like triple-digit heat for the third straight day. That's why so many of us are thinking of heading to the Texas Gulf Coast, or as we called it when... Read more →


Checking out food bank offerings. (Photo by Michael Losch-KOMUnews via Flickr CC) All of us here in Texas, especially lovers of Mexican beers and avocados, are breathing a bit easier now that the threatened tariffs on our Southern neighbor are, for now, off the table. The Chinese trade situation, however, is still simmering. As that standoff continues, American shoppers are paying higher prices for many consumer goods. That's because tariffs essentially are taxes. The higher prices we're already seeing due to the Chinese charges could go up even more if the self-proclaimed Tariff Man holds firm in his belief that... Read more →


Why yes, that is a bill you just got from the Internal Revenue Service. And like all past-due notifications, the sooner you take care of it, the better for you and your bottom line. The IRS is mailing letters or notices, including CP14s and CP501s, to taxpayers who filed their returns on time, but did not pay the tax that was due at that time. The notifications, most of which are going out in June and July, let the recipients know that they have a tax balance due. To minimize the associated non- or underpayment penalties, the IRS recommends that... Read more →


Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast on Aug. 25, 2017. (National Hurricane Center satellite radar image) After a record-setting run of tornadoes over the last two weeks across not just Tornado Alley and the Midwest, but also into the MidAtlantic, the Big Apple even the nation's capital city, it's time for a weather break. Or not. The 2019 hurricane season officially starts June 1. Yes, I'm starting to look at the tropics a bit early, especially since we got a bit of a preview on May 20 when this year's first name storm popped up near Bermuda.... Read more →


Photo by vxla via Flickr CC If gratuities are part of your work, then the 10th of the month is an important tax date for you. It's the day — or the next businesses day if the 10th falls on a weekend or holiday — that you must report your tip amount for the previous month when it totals $20 or more. The Internal Revenue Service requires these reports because the tax code considers all types of tips as discretionary, fully taxable income. Wisconsin workers, however, may soon get a break on the state tax level when it comes to... Read more →


Michael Cohen (left) and Tom Arnold run into each other in New York City in June 2018. (Photo via Tom Arnold on Twitter) Michael Cohen, Donald J. Trump's former attorney and previously self-described fixer, is heading to federal prison in a couple weeks. But in a recent conversation with actor Tom Arnold, Cohen said he didn't commit all of the crimes for which he will do time. Specifically, according to the story on the telephone discussion that the Wall Street Journal broke, Cohen says he's not guilty of tax evasion, one of the charges for which he's going to jail.... Read more →


The rate of Americans giving up their citizenship has slowed in the last few years. Are lower taxes a reason for fewer expatriations? Immigration remains at the top of most news lists, especially since the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate both rejected Donald J. Trump's emergency declaration to shift funds to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall. But the reverse phenomenon of U.S. citizens formally leaving the country forever isn't getting as much attention as it has in the past. Perhaps that's because the number of American expatriates is falling. The Treasury Department on March 12 published its quarterly list of... Read more →


College and its ever-increasing costs certainly have gotten a lot of attention. There's the group of Democrats seeking their party's 2020 presidential nomination. Obviously spurred by the enthusiastic supporters of Independent-turned-temporary-Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders and his promise of free college, many other White House wannabes also are talking up educational assistance. Then there's this week's Operation Varsity Blues. You might not have caught the name, but let me drop two others to spur recognition: Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Yeah, that's the name federal investigators gave to their take down of a far-reaching college admissions scheme. Wealthy parents, elite school... 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 →


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 →


Welcome to the Year of the Pig, the twelfth of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. While this year and sign has many meanings in the Chinese culture, it also conjures thoughts of the ubiquitous piggy bank and how we can save more this and every year, regardless of which calendar we follow. Click image to watch full Year of the Pig video from Global News Canada. More of us could use a bigger, and fuller, piggy bank this 2019's Year of the Pig arrives. The recent federal government shutdown... Read more →


As the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history drags on with no end in sight, furloughed workers are looking at any and all ways to pay their bills. Some have taken hardship withdrawals from their workplace retirement accounts. Thousands of others have applied for unemployment. Few of us can blame folks who are struggling financially for taking these steps. At some point, many of us or our family members and friends have done the same. There's no shame in taking available help when bills you can't pay continue to arrive. And while such actions can help out-of-work folks make... Read more →


The current, and longest-ever, federal government shutdown has made it painfully clear that many of Uncle Sam's employees don't have an emergency savings cushion. They are not alone. A study released last summer found that only about a quarter of all Americans across nearly all ages and generations have no savings whatsoever in an emergency fund. Just more than a quarter of U.S. residents, 29 percent, had saved enough to cover six months' worth of living expenses. When people do save, they tend to do so for retirement. It's not necessarily that they're looking ahead to their golden years. Rather,... Read more →


Even in the best of tax times, folks are impatient when it comes to getting their refunds. They want them yesterday, looking to collect on the forces savings account they created when they intentionally had too much put into their paycheck withholding. Then comes 2019, where every day it's looking more like parts of the federal government, including the Internal Revenue Service, will be in shutdown mode when the annual tax return filing season starts on Jan. 28. While the Treasury Department and IRS say they will do what it takes to make this year as normal as possible, many... Read more →


Longest U.S. federal government shutdown in history be damned! That's apparently the Internal Revenue Service's motto this year. It announced last week that it will start working on our 2018 tax returns — and issue any related refunds — this filing season, which is set to start on Monday, Jan. 28, even if it's technically still operating in modified shutdown mode. The IRS underscored that commitment on Friday, Jan. 11, when it announced that taxpayers who qualify to use Free File can now access the online no-cost tax preparation and e-filing option. Yep. Free File 2019 is now open for... Read more →


UPDATE, 9:05 p.m. Central Time, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019: Donald J. Trump has signed into a law a short-term funding bill that should get paychecks flowing again for the around 800,000 federal workers — including the 14,000 or so Internal Revenue Service employees who called in sick during the tax agency's partial closure — who were affected by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. ***** Twenty-two Thirty-five days and counting (updated Jan. 25, 2019). We now are in the midst of the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history. National park properties, such as the National Mall west of... Read more →


I'm getting a lot of feedback about the partial government shutdown, specifically about the pay status of Internal Revenue Service (and other federal) personnel who will report to work next week and those who are furloughed. More than 420,000 federal employees who will work will do so without pay, according to a report from the Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The additional 380,000 furloughed workers head home to wait out the closure, again without pay. Those 800,000 or so federal employees earn this week's By the Numbers honors. Many folks objected to my description in recent government shutdown blog... Read more →


We're now into the third shutdown of federal offices this year. The other two were brief closures back in January and February. Will this latest federal government shutdown, which began at midnight today (Saturday, Dec. 22) be similarly short-lived? Maybe, but closure #3 of 2018 already is the longest of the year, with the January shutdown lasting three days and the one in early February technically shutting federal doors for just a few hours. Nothing is expected to happen until after Christmas. Some are predicting the impasse will continue into the new year. And Donald J. Trump has vowed that... Read more →