Finances Feed

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 →


Welcome to Part 7 of the ol' blog's 2019 series on tax inflation adjustments. Today we look at changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and next year's Social Security wage base. You can find links to all 2019 inflation posts in the series' first item: income tax brackets and rates. Note: The 2019 figures apply to 2019 returns that are due in April 2020. For comparison purposes, you'll also find 2018 amounts to be used in filing this year's 2018 tax return due April 15, 2019. Taxpayers who face the alternative minimum tax, or AMT, see it as the... Read more →


Don't let tax turkeys gobble up your money. Make these tax moves, a couple of which are related to recent tax reform, this November and for sure by the end of 2018. South Park turkeys via Giphy It's November! The start of the holiday season. Time to get into the festive spirit with some year-end tax moves. "Whoa! Wait! What the what are you thinking?" you say. "I'm still adjusting to Standard Time and already have a huge to-do list to make sure my family has the perfect Thanksgiving. Then as soon as that's over, I've got to start with... Read more →


This dog might not feel as guilty as he looks, but shame can be useful in some tax collection situations. (Photo by Ansel Edwards/Flickr) When I was a kid and did something I wasn't supposed to, all it took was one quick glance from my mom to make me feel so ashamed. I'm not sure even my mother's steely look would work nowadays on kids who've grown up on reality TV and who make their every move, good or bad, public on social media. But when it comes to taxes, shame seems to work. Many U.S. jurisdictions post the names... Read more →


Since it's unofficial retirement week here at the ol' blog, let's close it out with a look at how to move money from one retirement account to another and not upset the Internal Revenue Service or your nest egg. Life changes. That means sometimes you want or need to change your retirement plan. Say, for example, you have a 401(k) at one workplace, get a new job and open a 401(k) with that employer. What happens to the 401(k) you had at your prior job? In many cases, the company where you worked will let you keep it, although obviously... Read more →


You don't need a golden goose to have a great nest egg for retirement. You just need to contribute to one or more tax-favored retirement accounts. (Photo by 401(k) 2012 via Flickr) Congratulations to America's newest billionaire, the owner of the ticket bought in South Carolina that matched all the Mega Millions lottery numbers. That person is $1.537 billion richer, or more probably an $878 millionaire, since that's the cash payout amount. That lucky lottery player won't have to work another day or worry about retirement as long as he or she isn't a total spendthrift. Most of the rest... Read more →


Some of my retirement money is in stock funds. They've been going gangbusters. Until this week. I'm fighting the urge to look at what's happened with these plans' value. Did they tank along with the broader market a few days ago? Or are they edging back up with today's sort-of recovery? I'm curious, but I don't need that money right now. And I believe my investment choices are sound. So I'm going to ignore the current market gyrations and just let things ride. That's the advice most financial gurus are offering now. This week's downward trend is just an overdue... Read more →


Today is a great day for my mother. The Social Security Administration announced that she and her fellow Social Security recipients will get a get a 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2019. The 2019 COLA — the largest since the 3.6 percent bump in 2011 — means the average single retiree's federal retirement benefit will be $1,461 or $39 more a month than this year. My mom is thrilled. Those 30+ bucks will cover her monthly phone bill. Still stretching each month: Unfortunately, the upcoming benefits adjustment won't be enough to make up for more than a decade of... Read more →


Old-school passbook savings accounts are safe, but have been paying minuscule interest over the last few years. The White House might be unhappy, but all of us with money in safer assets like certificates of deposit (CDs) or plain-old savings accounts are sending the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, aka the Fed, a big fat thank you. The Fed's decision yesterday (Wednesday, Sept. 26) to raise rates to a range between 2 percent and 2.25 percent means we'll be seeing few more pennies of earnings in our accounts. And it is just pennies. Those of us old enough to remember... Read more →


One thing almost everyone agrees on, both politically and financially, is that we all need to do a better job of saving for retirement. But some young savers are undercutting their own efforts by regularly tapping their workplace retirement accounts early. As part of Labor Day celebrations, Donald J. Trump signed an executive order that, in part, instructed the Treasury and Labor departments to look into ways to make it easier and cheaper for smaller employers to band together to offer 401(k)-type plans for their workers. Expanding these tax-deferred workplace retirement plans is a good idea. With the demise of... Read more →