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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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The only thing that comes close to the chaos that is tax law is a telephone bill. Especially a cell phone bill. In addition to the phone charges — Remember those? That's when you use your device to talk to another person. — there are, among lots of other line items, things such as data charges, text charges and, of course, taxes. My monthly mobile phone bill is six pages long. One of those pages, thankfully sent digitally, is full of taxes and user fees. That's an excerpt of some them in the photo at the top of this post.... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Around 2 million Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs) must be renewed by year's end. Here's a look at these special tax identification numbers, who uses them and how to renew or get one if you're not eligible for a Social Security number. Numbers obviously are what the Internal Revenue Service is all about. There are special identification numbers for a variety of tax circumstances. There are earnings amounts and tax code references and line numbers on forms and of, course, identification numbers of both tax professionals and taxpayers that must go on returns. For most individual filers, a Social Security... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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It's Columbus Day. Stop. Before you start with the emails, yes, I know this second Monday in October is a controversial holiday. In recent years, many jurisdictions beyond the federal government have opted to spend today commemorating the original inhabitants of our country. That's why you'll read and hear about Indigenous Peoples' Day events today. pic.twitter.com/l2LymtmS2J — Bobby (@Bobbyobbo) October 14, 2019 But, like it or not, today still is officially Columbus Day, a celebration of Christopher Columbus' accidental discovery of North America. And it's still a federal holiday in the United States. Holiday tax effects: A federal holiday can... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Attention, tax preparers. Next week is a big one. The filing extension deadline is Tuesday, Oct. 15. Then the very next day, the renewal season opens for paid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) applications and renewals. Also note that while there won't be any requirement to pay a user fee to obtain or renew a PTIN, this likely is the last time that the identification number assignments will be free. Last week, as the U.S. Supreme Court began its new term, the justices decided not to hear the case that reinstated the fees for PTINs. That means the ruling affirming... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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More than a dozen states now provide marketplace options to health care shoppers. And although the federal enrollment mandate and penalty is gone, some states still require their residents to get coverage or pay a price. Plus, federal tax help remains for some seeking medical insurance on their own. The annual employee benefits enrollment period, usually referred to as open season, is underway or about to begin across the country. During these weeks, workers choose from an array of employer-provided and usually tax-favored benefits. I'll be writing more on this shortly. Some folks, however, don't work for a company that... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Millions of taxpayers will be working on their 2018 tax returns this weekend, frantically filling out forms to meet the Oct. 15 filing extension deadline. Some of them will likely take advantage of Free File, the Internal Revenue Service partnership with the tax software industry that allows eligible filers — this year that's those whose adjusted gross income is $66,000 or less — to prepare and electronically file their returns at no cost. Free File came under fire earlier this year when Pro Publica reported that some of the tax prep major players that participate it the program also used... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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I've dealt with bill collectors over the years. Fortunately for me, it's been on behalf of a couple of relatives who found themselves in over their heads financially. Fortunately for my family members, after much — way too much — and often contentious back and forth, we were able to come to a satisfactory resolution. That's why I tend to share former Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson's skepticism about the way that private collection agencies, or PCAs in tax-acronymese, interact with folks who owe taxes. But despite my, Olson's and many others' lingering distrust of these operations, private debt collect is... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Teslas are the most popular electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States. Creator Elon Musk, however, isn't riding on his EV's laurels. The space exploration and auto impresario says some unusual custom horn sounds are coming. That's right, the honk of your high-dollar Tesla soon could replicate fart and goat noises. That should spark more potential owner interest, although the biggest market for this change, 9-year-old boys, can't drive. Still, Musk knows he needs to do something to keep interest in Teslas high since the EVs no longer qualify for the federal tax credit. Worse, a new report from an... Continue reading
Posted Oct 9, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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You've now got one week, until next Tuesday, Oct. 15, to file your 2018 Form 1040 that you extended earlier this year. During these next seven days, you need to at least get a start on that return. The deadline will be here before you know it. And this time, there's no more time. Here are 9 tips and reminders to help you get that 1040 on its way to the IRS by next week. 1. Gather all your tax material. By now you should have every document you need to file your taxes. Double check. Now. There's no give... Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Relationships, even in the best of circumstances, are hard. When one partner is abusive, then things get untenable. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. During this month, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) and similar groups are highlighting the victims and survivors, their children and families, their friends and family and their communities that are impacted by domestic violence. More importantly, these organizations are providing assistance and counseling to those in abusive relationships and looking for ways to leave them. Financial as well as physical abuse: While most of us immediately think of physical harm when we hear of... Continue reading
Posted Oct 7, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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The Internal Revenue Service and its Security Summit partners have made major strides in recent years in fighting tax-related identity theft. Much of the effort has been in educating taxpayers and businesses about ways to recognize and avoid scams and other tax ID schemes. The IRS also has improved the way it works with taxpayers who do fall victim to identity thieves. Now Uncle Sam is expanding a way that taxpayers can be more proactive in fighting identity theft. The IRS' opt-in Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) now is available for the 2020 tax-filing season to taxpayers in... Continue reading
Posted Oct 6, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Märzen Oktoberfest beer photo courtesy Kegerator Oktoberfest celebrations are wrapping up here in the German communities of Central Texas, as well as around the rest of the Lone Star State, nation and world. That means we'll all be back to drinking our regular routine beers. What won't change are the federal and state excise taxes collected on brewskis. Tax price of imbibing: It's a notable amount. The Beer Institute says that more than 40 percent of the retail price of beer comes from taxes. A big chunk of that is from the federal alcohol tax of up to 58 cents... Continue reading
Posted Oct 5, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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This is a regular spread in our kitchen, not just on Taco Tuesday or today's National Taco Day. (Kay Bell photo) Today is National Taco Day, which raises a big question here in Texas. Why is there just one specific day celebrating taco consumption? (Corollary question: why isn't it on an alliterative Tuesday?) We Lone Star State residents consume vast quantities of soft and crispy/crunchy tacos multiple times every day, starting with the most important meal of the day, the breakfast taco. Various foodstuffs, various taxes: The day commemorating a Tex-Mex favorite also raises the question among tax geeks about... Continue reading
Posted Oct 4, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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The Internal Revenue Service's form revision process isn't quite the red-pencil technique used on text documents, but it gets the job done. The latest group of revised tax forms will affect corporate taxpayers. (Photo via pxhere) Many business taxpayers and their tax advisers are working this week on the Form 1120 returns that that they extended until Oct. 15. Next year, though, these corporate filers will be looking at a new return. The Internal Revenue Service is continuing to tweak a wide variety of returns, many in response the changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). The... Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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We've yet to see autumn leaves here in Central Texas. It's still too hot and dry. But the arrival of October does bring another seasonal certainty: the Oct. 15 tax deadline. October is here and I've got to say that although it's still early, the month so far is disappointing. Here in Central Texas, by now we're usually enjoying daytime temperatures in the 80s, with overnight lows dropping into the 60s. That typically means our windows are open 24/7 to get full enjoyment of autumn weather. Not in 2019. We're at least 10 degrees higher both days and nights. One... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Business meals are covered by per diem rates. Business travel entails a variety of expenses. In addition to the costs of getting to your work-related destination, you've got to pay for a place to stay, a rental car if you flew there, meals and incidentals. When you hit the road as an employee, your boss has a couple of options when it comes to reimbursing you. You can collect all your business travel receipts and turn them in with an expense report. Or the company can provide you with a set-per-diem amount. Per diem, from Latin for by day, is... Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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No, that's not me. I would be the person face down on my exercise mat next to this woman. (Photo by Stefano Montagner via Flickr) My exercise class instructors are trying to kill me. OK, not exactly and not me specifically, but for all practical purposes I'm on their hit list. My fitness club's new teachers are real feel-the-burn, you-can-do-it types. Plus, due to some recent pressing personal matters, I haven't made it to my regular classes for a while. Now that I'm attending again, my out-of-practice aging body is having a harder time keeping up with the reps. I'm... Continue reading
Posted Sep 30, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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via GIPHY The Kansas City Chiefs, with its star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, is among the handful of teams that National Football League watchers say have a shot at winning Super Bowl LIV next February. But the Missouri professional football team could be facing a tougher fight off the field. Last week, the Chiefs' attorneys argued before the Missouri Supreme Court that most of the NFL team's expenditures on items to renovate Arrowhead Stadium almost a decade ago should not be subject to the state's sales tax. This current court tax battle, which started in 2014, is due to an appeal... Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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The wealth-tax proposal advocated by Sen. Elizabeth Warren includes a hefty marriage penalty, according to one leading economist's analysis. (Photo courtesy Warren's Facebook page) It's another weekend, so that means it's time for another look at wealth tax proposals. Yeah, I know it seems like I'm in a bit of a rut, having posted about proposals from Democratic presidential hopefuls in recent weekends (on Aug. 18, Sept. 14 and a Monday, Sept. 16). But the suggested ways to get more money from the rich are still getting attention. Wealth tax roadblocks: Personally, I don't think any of these sweeping measures... Continue reading
Posted Sep 28, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Photo by creditdebitpro Voluntary compliance is the backbone of the U.S. tax system. But when that doesn't work out as Uncle Sam hopes, he knows the Internal Revenue Service has ways to get the money. One of the most drastic ramifications of unpaid tax is the loss of other property. In extreme unpaid tax cases, the federal government places a lien on delinquent taxpayers' other assets. This ensures the Treasury gets something of value to offset the overdue tax bill. Criminals know this process, too. That's why, warns the IRS, we all need to be on alert for a new... Continue reading
Posted Sep 27, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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The tax gap is holding as steady as this gap on the old Florida Keys bridge. (Photo by Ewen Roberts via Flickr) We might want to revise Benjamin Franklin's famous tax saying. The new version could read, "In in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes and the tax gap." The tax gap is the difference between the amount of tax that filers should pay and the amount that they actually hand over voluntarily and on time to the Internal Revenue Service. And IRS data continues to show that while tax years come and tax... Continue reading
Posted Sep 26, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Nonprofits are a bigger part of our lives than we tend to realize. The hospital your or your children were born in likely was a nonprofit. That museum you visited on your last vacation opens its doors as a nonprofit entity. And, of course, the house of worship you attend each week is one, too. In addition, millions annually give time and money to nonprofit groups. In most instances, cash donations to charities are not driven by tax breaks. Folks simply give to a favorite charitable organization because they support its goals. Still, says a new report from the National... Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Lyft and Uber rides would face a new fee in Seattle to help pay for a public transportation option. (Photo by Daniel X. O'Neil via Flickr Creative Commons) The hubby inherited some gas leases from a distant relative many years ago. It's not quite the same as Texas legend Eddie Chiles' famous urging that "if you don't have an oil well, get one," but the royalties have come in handy. One of the first purchases we made using this money was to buy new bicycles. We got a kick out of fossil fuels paying for a more climate-friendly way to... Continue reading
Posted Sep 24, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Vaping was once thought to be a safe alternative to cigarettes. That perspective is changing. Dramatically. Nationwide, 530 cases of lung illnesses believed to be from vaping have been reported in 38 states and one U.S. territory. Seven deaths have been reported from six states. When the illnesses and fatalities started surfacing, even the White House reacted. Donald J. Trump initially floated a ban on some electronic cigarettes, but that position apparently has been revised. Some Republican political data show that a no-vaping position could pose a problem with Trump's electoral base. Maybe that's why Trump more recently walked back... Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes
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Law enforcement officers across five U.S. federal agencies successfully concluded a four-month investigation this month with the arrest of 281 people allegedly involved in global email scams. The scams, officially known as Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes, are designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals, including many senior citizens. Most of the alleged cyber criminals, 167, were arrested in Nigeria. Insert your own fraudulent prince email comments here. Another 74 people in the United States were taken into custody. The remaining arrests were made in France, Ghana, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Turkey and the United Kingdom.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2019 at Don't Mess With Taxes