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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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Image courtesy SimpsonsWorld via Giphy.com The Tuesday after Presidents Day generally is the busiest day of the year for calls to the Internal Revenue Service's toll-free help line. That also means that callers find themselves on hold. Such waiting, compounded by being forced to listen to tunes that would never ever make your Spotify playlist, is common throughout the filing season. That then leads to taxpayer frustration, which often prompts filers to try different avenues to get answers to their questions. Don't, however, just randomly call any IRS phone number seeking tax help, cautions the IRS. And definitely don't call... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Don't Mess With Taxes
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If you've been wondering when you can take advantage on your 2017 tax return of a recently renewed tax extender, your wait could be over. The IRS announced today, Feb. 22, that it's now ready to process returns claiming three recently renewed tax breaks Surprise extenders: Congress threw the tax world for a loop earlier this month when it tacked some expired tax break onto its budget bill. The tax laws, popularly known as extenders because they are temporary and must be periodically renewed or extended, included a variety of tax breaks for businesses and individuals. Immediately following the Congressional... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Patrick Gordon With identity theft and refund fraud being so ubiquitous, folks might understandably think an unexpected tax refund notice is a scam. This time though, it's real for more than 133,000 U.S. military veterans who may qualify for their portion of federal tax refunds totaling an estimated $78 million. These former service personnel are due the money because they wrongly paid taxes on disability severance pay. Some of the erroneous tax payments go back as far as Jan. 17, 1991. The amount due eligible veterans varies based on rank and... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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My mother and my furry little brother having a conversation. Mum doesn't care that today is Love Your Pet Day. She celebrates it every day, much to her very spoiled dog's delight. (Photo by Kay Bell) Today, Feb. 20, is Love Your Pet Day, which has its own trending hashtag on Twitter (here's my contribution). This is the most unnecessary special day ever. Ask any pet owner and they'll tell you that every day is love your furry family member day. In fact, a National Retail Federation poll projected that just last week folks would spend $751 million on Valentine's... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, got together in the Oval Office in 2009. The five living U.S. presidents are part of an exclusive club. They also are part of the reason for today's Presidents Day celebration. (Photo by White House photographer Eric Draper/GWB White House archives) Happy Birthday, George! George Washington's birthday actually is Feb. 22, 1731. However, we've celebrated it on the third Monday of February since 1968 thanks to a law that mandated most federal holidays occur on Mondays. We've also unofficially changed the Father of Our Country's day to... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Most taxpayers now are focusing on completing their annual tax returns. But if we have to deal with the Internal Revenue Service to finish that Form 1040, or if the agency subsequently has some questions about it, Uncle Sam's tax collector wants us to know we have some inalienable tax rights. The 10 components of Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TBOR) are this week's By the Numbers figure. Here they are: 1. The Right to Be Informed: Taxpayers have the right to know what they need to do to comply with the tax laws. They are entitled to clear explanations of... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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You open the package expecting, well you don't know what, but probably not 500 cockroaches. That, however, is what happened to a mail thief. Crooks will steal just about anything. And criminals who focus on U.S. Post Office boxes tend to increase their activity around this time every year. The reason? Tax refunds. Tax-related mail theft: Every February, people are either getting refund checks from the U.S. Treasury or they're receiving tax documents they can use to file their annual federal and state returns. Either option is a crook's dream. The checks can be cashed. The tax statements' info can... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Princess Bride impatience via Giphy.com Mid-February is finally here, the time when the Internal Revenue Service can finally issue refunds to taxpayers who had claimed the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) and/or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Does that mean these refunds will show up today? No, that's a refund myth, even if you filed your Form 1040 on Jan. 29, the first day that the IRS began processing returns. Neither is your refund likely to be directly deposited into your bank account, loaded onto a debit card or as a paper check stuffed in your snail mail box... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Beavis (sans Butt-head) offers callers, uh, help? (Image via Giphy.com) Looking for tax filing help from the Internal Revenue Service? Prepare beforehand. Tax identity theft concerns mean you'll have to prove to the IRS that you are you if you call the agency's tax hotline. And if you want face-to-face help at your local Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC), you'll have to make an appointment. Telephone tax ID issues: I know. You're already unhappy with the IRS phone hotline. The IRS knows, too. Every filing season answering taxpayers' questions telephonically is on the agency's to-improve list. Last year, it even opened... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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I hope she said yes! (Photo by Matt via Flickr) Valentine's Day has become one of the most popular days of the year to propose. If you're anticipating popping or answering the big question at an intimate romantic dinner tonight, taxes likely won't be on your mind. But perhaps they should be. Love and money: I'm a big fan of marriage. I've been in a mostly happy one with the hubby for a looong time. (Yes, I was a child bride!) But even back then, I was a tax geek. That's why our choice of wedding date — the year... Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Your tax refund showed up in your bank account! Party time, right? Wrong. It's possible that the money isn't really connected to your filing. It could be part of a new tax scam that's appeared this filing season. And crooks are using even more chicanery to get the money that's in your account, from posing (once again) as Internal Revenue Service agents to pretending to be debt collectors (you knew this would eventually happen). But before this latest effort to steal your tax refund got to this point, it started with stealing your tax identity. Here's the tax tale in... Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Same old, same old. That's the message the Internal Revenue Service got today when the Trump Administration released its fiscal year 2019 budget. The IRS' base budget amount is about the same as prior years and some old tax enforcement ideas are proposed again. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney discussing the Trump Administration budget last year. For release of the 2019 fiscal year budget, Mulvaney decided to stay off camera "because it's really boring." You can decide if he was right by listening to his remarks yourself via C-SPAN. It's no secret that the Internal Revenue Service... Continue reading
Posted Feb 12, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Elmer Irey headed the Internal Revenue Bureau's Intelligence Unit in the 1930s. It was under Irey's direction that evidence was gathered leading to the conviction of Al Capone for failure to pay his income tax. Read more about Irey and Capone at The Mob Museum. I'm a big sports fan. But sometimes I need a break. So in my channel flipping today to find something other than the Olympics, soccer/futbol, NHL hockey and part 1 of NASCAR's 83-step Daytona 500 qualifying process, I ran across one of my favorite movies, "The Untouchables." I'm talking the 2007 version, with Kevin Costner... Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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While most investors have been closely following the recent gyrations of the stock market, fans of cryptocurrency also have been on their own frenzied financial journey. One bitcoin, as of this morning, was worth almost $8,433. I'd be happy with that value, but that's less than half what the cryptocurrency was worth in mid-December. On Dec. 16, 2017, the digital currency topped out at more $19,000. The cryptocurrency can be spent like real money — don't email me bitcoin et al fans; it will always be just one step above Monopoly money to me — but many tax collectors worldwide... Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Since Congress decided to slip some expired tax breaks into the budget bill enacted earlier today and make them retroactive to the 2017 tax year, some folks will be amending the 1040 forms they've already filed. Ignore that smirking sound loud enough to make it onto the internet. It's the perpetually procrastinating hubby being all smug about how sometimes it does pay to put things off for a while. However, if, unlike the hubby, you don't defer tasks and were an early tax filer who now can claim, for example, the tuition and fees above-the-line tax deduction, you're probably already... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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During an overnight session, Congress ended a brief government shutdown and retroactively approved some expired tax breaks. Remember those tax breaks that expired at the end of 2016? Most of them, including four were claimed by many individual taxpayers, are back. But just for the 2017 tax year. That's good and bad news for filers who last tax year: paid college tuition and fees, had a mortgage payment that included private mortgage insurance (PMI), made certain energy efficient improvement to their homes or reworked their home loan and in that process had some of the debt forgiven. Yep, those tax... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Dealing with taxes is tough enough, but when folks get the wrong information, things can go really bad really fast. That happens every filing season. Someone's uncle who works down the hall from a tax attorney says this. A neighbor's accountant brother says that. And, of course, there's the internet, probably the greatest single source of, to borrow a phrase, fake tax news. The 2018 filing season is in full swing; it officially opened on Jan. 29, with Free File taking submissions since Jan. 12. Most of the folks who've already filed did so because they're expecting refunds. With those... Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Yesterday was a big day for electric vehicles. One was shot into a solar orbit. Terrestrially, a group of U.S. Senators launched an effort to extend tax credits for electric and alternative fuel vehicles. SpaceX's Falcon Heavy successfully launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Click image to watch the full video. SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, successfully launched one of the heaviest rockets ever. For those of us of a certain age, the Cape Canaveral lift off brought to mind the powerful Saturn V rocket that propelled NASA's Apollo... Continue reading
Posted Feb 7, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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I don't like roller coasters. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, not Space Mountain, is my Disney World speed. Plus, as an investor, I get enough virtual and financial whiplash from following my portfolio. This week especially. From watching CNBC the last two days I've learned: The Dow is having its worst month in almost eight years. The market's fall of 1,179 points on Monday, Feb. 5, was the Dow's biggest drop ever. The 4.6 percent fall to close at just over 24,300 yesterday was, on a percentage basis, the biggest one-day drop for the blue-chip average since August 2011. We are... Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Rovio Entertainment, creators of Angry Birds, and the National Football League have teamed up to create a Super Bowl themed video game. But unlike the bird above, the Philadelphia Eagles are far from angry today after winning the NFL championship last night in Super Bowl LII. It was not a super Sunday for either the New England Patriots or Nevada's casinos. When all the numbers are tallied, it looks like the Silver State's sports books might lose only their third Super Bowl in 28 years thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles' 41-33 upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl... Continue reading
Posted Feb 5, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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If you're going to a restaurant or bar today to watch the Super Bowl instead of to your buddy's for an LII party, tip your servers well. They soon could be losing their gratuities. That's the worst-case scenario feared by wait staff and employee advocacy groups under the Trump Administration's effort to reinstate tip pooling. Return of shared tips: With tip pooling, restaurants took all servers' tips, combined them and then handed out the money to all staff at management's discretion. In 2011, the Obama Administration issued a rule prohibiting such tip distribution. Obama's Department of Labor (DoL) said employees,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Throwing a Super Bowl Party? Gunaxin has some tips to help you make it the best party ever, regardless of which team wins. Are you hosting a Super Bowl party tomorrow? If your NFL championship game is typical — and I'm talking expense-wise, not your exemplar hosting abilities! — then you'll probably spend more than 200 bucks. That's what 1,000 folks recently surveyed by LendEDU, an online marketplace for student loan refinancing, said they planned to spend. The precise amount, according the results of the online inquiry conducted by Pollfish, was $207.16. That amount is this week's By the Numbers... Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Tom Brady and his New England Patriots teammates look to win back-to-back Super Bowls on Sunday, Feb. 4. (Screen shot from NFL Super Bowl LII preview video) We're two days away from Super Bowl LII. That means it's time for my annual post on how gambling winnings are taxable income. Here goes. The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates Americans will wager approximately $4.76 billion on Sunday's National Football League championship game. More than $4.6 billion of that, what the AGA calls "a staggering 97 percent of total wagers" on the game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, will... Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have 31, Except for February, Which has 28 to put to use doing your taxes. OK, I took some liberties with the traditional poem. But it is true that despite its reduced days, February still provides plenty of time to make some key tax moves. Here, since it is a short month, are three. Collect your tax statements: Most of the tax statements that you need to fill out your Form 1040 should be arriving by early this month. They were supposed to be to you or at least... Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Every tax season, the April filing deadline gets the most attention. But today, Jan. 31, also is a big tax day. It's when most statements with information you need to complete your Form 1040 (or 1040A or 1040EZ) are supposed to be delivered. Technically, the Internal Revenue Service gives these information statements the same leeway it offers filers on Tax Day. Earnings and other tax-related statements due today are considered on time as long as they're on the way, either electronically (if you agree to that delivery method) or via snail mail by Jan. 31. So if you don't have... Continue reading
Posted Jan 31, 2018 at Don't Mess With Taxes