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skbell1
Native Texan, professional journalist, tax geek.
Interests: leafs, go!), crossword puzzles<br>cats<br>music, especially jazz and texas-based and/or inspired singers, songwriters and tunes<br>movies, especially independent and foreign films<br>birding<br>sci-fi (films, television and books and short stories)<br>dallas cowboys (still america's team)<br>houston astros (2005 nl champs!)<br>nhl hockey (go
Recent Activity
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Marvel's reluctant superhero Jessica Jones, portrayed by Kristyn Ritter on the eponymous Netflix series, is back this month in The Defenders. She's why I subscribe. But will I, and millions of others, keep watching if streaming services are taxed? It's the weekend, so that means binge watching. Especially with The Defenders — gotta get me some more Jessica Jones! — now out on Netflix. I'm not alone in subscribing to a streaming service or two. It's a relatively cheap entertainment option, especially when you consider that the 10 or so bucks a month are still less than one night's price... Continue reading
Posted 32 minutes ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Most of the time, employees who are fired must look elsewhere for work. However, that’s not the case for some Internal Revenue Service personnel. An audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) found that around 10 percent of more than 2,000 former employees the IRS rehired between January 2015 and March 2016 were folks the agency had let go earlier because of conduct and performance issues. Troubling terminations: Those 213 rehired workers, according to TIGTA, had previously been ousted for workplace issues that included falsifying documents, avoiding taxes and taxpayer privacy offenses. Specifically, the July 24 report... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Don't Mess With Taxes
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From 10:17 a.m. Pacific time until 2:47 p.m. Eastern time, give or take a few minutes before and after, on Monday, Aug. 21, millions of Americans will be watching — safely, please! — the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental United States in more than 38 years. The line shows the entire path of totality across the contiguous United States for the Aug. 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. Click image for a larger view. (Map by Ernie Wright, NASA/Goddard/SVS) That also likely will mean a big boost in businesses, both long-established and pop-ups related to the astronomical event... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Virginia GOP Rep. Thomas Garrett, sponsor of a legislative petition to force a House vote on a clean repeal of Obamacare without any replacement measure. (Screen shot from appearance on Fox News) Congress isn't meeting this month, but that hasn't stopped a group of conservative Republicans in recent days from devising a plan they hope will, as they've promised for seven years, repeal Obamacare. House Freedom Caucus members are looking to force a straight repeal of the Affordable Care Act, known as the ACA or more (un)popularly Obamacare, and the health care law's related taxes. The erasure of the law,... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Many drivers worry about the accessibility of electric vehicle recharging stations. That's not a problem for the owners of these electric cars charging along an Ontario, Canada, street. (Photo courtesy EVObsession.com) President Donald Trump signed an executive order today designed to streamline the approval process for building roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Contractors and the transportation industry say that will help improve the building and repair of the country's roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects. Critics say the Administration's approach could lead to rubber stamping permits without adequate scrutiny, especially when it comes to environmental effects of such construction. One... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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"Dear IRS, …" — If you have a question about how a tax law or regulation affects your particular set of circumstances, you can ask, in writing, for the Internal Revenue Service to weigh in. But be prepared to pay for the advice and, effective Aug. 15, pay electronically. Taxes are complex. That’s why it’s often wise to get professional help. In some cases, however, even tax pros need some guidance. This is particularly true when taxpayer circumstances are such that the individuals and their advisers feel the need for further interpretation as to how tax laws or administrative rules... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Downtown Seattle seen from Queen Anne Hill, with the Space Needle standing out and Mount Rainier in the background. (Photo by Rattlhed via Wikimedia Commons) Washington is one of seven states that does not have a personal income tax, but it’s largest city plans to collect one from its wealthiest residents. If the courts let it. On July 14, Seattle City Council bill 119002 became ordinance 125339, which beginning in 2018 will officially impose an income tax on high-income residents. The 2.25 percent tax will apply to individuals within the city's borders with an annual income exceeding $250,000 a year,... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Tax reform, or at least tax cuts, will top Congress' agenda when it gets back from August recess. But will Representatives and Senators actually rewrite the tax code the way most Americans want? Today's Shout Out Saturday piece says maybe not. Donald J. Trump reportedly is now backing a corporate tax rate of 20 percent to 25 percent, up from the 15 percent rate included in his April tax overhaul outline. That slightly higher business tax rate jibes with what corporate executives and business lobbyists say is attainable. That, however, is not what American taxpayers want, according to a recent... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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You’ve had enough of being a wage slave. It’s time to start your own business. That means it’s also time to consider the tax implications of becoming your own boss. Here are four tax matters to think about as you plan your move from the corporate cubicle to your own self-employed suite. 1. Select a business structure. How you’ll run your business will affect your taxes. You have several choices. The most common forms (and the federal tax forms required) are: Sole Proprietorship (Schedule C or C-EZ as an attachment to your personal Form 1040, along with Schedule SE to... Continue reading
Posted Aug 11, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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I’ve mentioned in few posts already this month that it’s hot. Here in Central Texas, we’re in a stretch of triple-digit temperatures that are breaking records every day. That’s why our pantry is full of Cokes — that’s Texan for any kind of soft drink — and bottled water, since I like the carbonated kind. The refrigerator also is stocked with juices and, of course, beer. Our increased liquid diet every summer means that we pay added sales taxes based on what beverages are in our grocery cart. Soft drinks are subject to Texas state and local sales taxes, but... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Before you can write off your business expenses, you must show that you were indeed trying to turn a profit. That basic business tax tenet was confirmed by a recent U.S. Tax Court decision. In a summary opinion, Special Trial Judge Daniel A. Guy, Jr., sustained the Internal Revenue Service’s accuracy-related penalty against Eric Zudak based on tax that was reduced by incorrect business expenses claims. The judge held that Zudak wasn’t entitled to a deduction for expenses he paid for his film festival activity because he didn’t conduct the activity in a businesslike manner or engage in the activity... Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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India tax officials say their effort to reduce large stashes of illicit cash has led to markedly more tax compliance. Such efforts to get more taxpayers to be honest are ongoing globally, including by the Internal Revenue Service here in the United States. 500 and 1000 Rupee notes that were recently demonetized by the Indian government. It’s no secret that the Internal Revenue Service looks much more closely at business that are cash heavy. The IRS, supported by other government studies, has found that cash intensive companies — which are, as the name indicates, businesses that receives a significant amount... Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Study up on ways to pay for your or your child's college costs. Some student aid, like scholarships, typically are tax free. (Photo courtesy On Campus Market/OCM.com blog) Here in Austin, fall 2017 classes at the University of Texas will begin on Aug. 30. But students must meet another important deadline on Aug. 18. That’s the day that UT tuition payments are due, either paid in full or in installments. It’s a scenario playing out across the United States. And it’s one that is a growing challenge. The College Board’s most recent survey of college costs found that a moderate... Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Look out tax criminals, there’s a new sheriff in town. OK, technically Don Fort is not a sheriff. But as the new Chief of Criminal Investigation (CI) for the Internal Revenue Service, he is the tax agency’s top law enforcement officer. Last week, he announced some of CI’s goals, which include going after bad tax guys nationwide and internationally. Fort discussed three areas in which CI will be more involved and touched on how the tax agency’s stretched resources can be supplemented by a data driven investigative strategy. Traditional tax cases remain job one: Some things, however, won’t change. “First... Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Meg White via Giphy It's the first weekend of August and my life is bucking the "take the month off" trend. I've got work to do this Saturday. Plus, the hubby would like me to spend some time with him. But I don't want to short-change you, my loyal readers of the ol' blog, so I'm initiating a new feature I'm calling Shout Out Saturday or, depending on the weekend day I take off, Shout Out Sunday. Regardless of which weekend day it runs, the idea will be the same. Instead of me composing a new post, some weekends I'll... Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Every computer user is familiar with the constant updates to software. So are identity thieves. And now these crooks are targeting tax professionals in a new phishing scam designed to steal usernames and passwords. The Internal Revenue Service and its state and tax industry Security Summit partners say that this latest impersonation scheme variant is a sophisticated scam designed to get information that can be used to file false tax returns and collect fraudulent tax refunds. It's the latest in a series of scams this summer that have targeted professional tax preparers. Software upgrade hook: This is the time of... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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The Trump Administration announced Wednesday, Aug. 2, support for an immigration plan that would dramatically reduce the number of people allowed to live and work in the United States. The president might want to rethink that. Newcomers could be needed to fill the slots left by people who are voluntarily leaving the country. Yes, I know it’s apples and oranges. But the apparently coincidental timing of the effort to limit immigrants as even more citizens and long-term residents permanently leave is striking. Surge in U.S. exits: The announcement of the latest group of expatriates, which will be officially published today,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Does the surging stock market mean it's time to take capital gains? Tax reform could complicate the decision. The U.S. stock market passed another notable boundary today, moving above the 22,000 mark. It didn’t stay there long, bouncing around a bit before, yes, finally closing at 22,031. Today's activity got investors wondering whether such flirting will turn into more than a one-day stand. A more solid investment gains relationship, perhaps. Or will it dip under 22,000 and eventually, as investment bears warn, tumble much lower? Those questions have investors pondering their options. Do they take earnings now at historic highs... Continue reading
Posted Aug 2, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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August's Dog Days of Summer are a great time to make some hot tax moves — from energy-related tax breaks to tax holidays to tax help for education costs — that could produce cool tax savings. Hello August. I’m not going to say welcome because, well, you’re typically not a good guest. August is one of the worst weather months of the year, at least when it comes to basic comfort. It’s hot. In many places it’s humid. And the thrill of summer’s arrival back in late May has worn thin. That’s why so many people take time in August... Continue reading
Posted Aug 1, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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With every story or study on retirement savings, I hope the news will be better. It usually isn’t. Overall, most of us aren’t saving enough — or any! — for our retirement. And things aren’t likely to get better. In fact, Uncle Sam is shutting down a program created just three years ago to encourage lower-income earners to save for retirement. The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced on Friday, July 28, that it soon will wind down the myRA program. Broadening retirement savings: The name is short for “my retirement account” and was a play on IRA in an... Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Every taxpayer is well aware of the length of the federal tax tentacles. What Congress does to the Internal Revenue Code affects state taxes, too. And it’s not just the residents who live in the states who are affected. It’s the states themselves. Even before any tax code changes have been made, many are already feeling the Trump Effect on their treasuries. “April income tax returns brought bad news for state budgets,” according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government. “Payments with tax returns usually arrive in April and early May, and often they are surprising. By mid-to-late May, states know... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Wisconsin workers soon could be working at new Foxconn plant if state lawmakers approve huge tax benefits for the Taiwanese electronics company. Are you worried that your next iPhone will cost more than you planned now that Foxconn is opening a plant in Wisconsin? The Taiwanese electronics supplier will be paying U.S. employees much more — an average of almost $54,000 a year plus benefits annually — than workers who put together Apple products in China. Don't be. Foxconn's American operation won't be making smartphone components. Instead, it will produce liquid-crystal display panels for televisions and computer screens. But Wisconsin... Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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"We looked at healthcare and said let's make sure that we do tax reform better and differently." — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) talking about what's next legislatively after the GOP failed earlier today to deliver on its seven-year pledge to end Obamacare. House Speaker Paul Ryan has been pushing his "A Better Way" economic and tax plan for years. Will he finally succeed in 2017 as a Republican-led Congress and White House turn their attention to tax reform? Doing a better job in rewriting the tax code than they did during the recent Affordable Care Act repeal and/or replace... Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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School supplies are among the items that are sales-tax-free during some of this summer's state tax holidays. (Photo by Kay Bell) Shoppers in 15* states are gearing up for their summer state tax holidays. Mississippi and Tennessee are next in line, with those sales-tax-free events set for this coming weekend. But are they really saving? As I noted in my blurb for this week's tax tip on these summer 2017 event, they are bad public policy. How bad? Political gimmicks like sales tax holidays distract policymakers and taxpayers from genuine, permanent tax relief. If a state must offer a "holiday"... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Alfred Hitchcock nailed it in his 1955 cat burglar-turned-romance starring Grace Kelly and Gary Grant. The pair teamed up, with Grant's character using his expertise as a former jewel thief, to catch a new criminal in the wealthy playground of Monte Carlo, Monaco. (Click film screenshot to watch the movie trailer on YouTube.) The Internal Revenue Service apparently is taking a hint from a Hollywood classic. It's thinking like identity thieves to catch identity thieves. That was among the messages from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in July 25 media teleconference. Cybercriminals are showing increasing savvy and tax expertise, particularly in... Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2017 at Don't Mess With Taxes