Most of us — Internal Revenue Service data shows around 70 percent of taxpayers — don't mess with itemized deductions. Instead this large group of filers claims the standard deduction. It's easy. The amount to claim is based on your filing status and found directly on the 1040 and 1040A forms; it's included with the personal exemption amount(s) on 1040EZ. It's also adjusted annually for inflation, so generally if you make more the next tax year, your standard deduction is larger. But sometimes standard deduction claimants feel a bit left out at tax time, since so much is written (guilty!)... Read more →


Judge Neil Gorsuch, nominated by Donald J. Trump to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by the unexpected death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia, was sworn in April 10, 2017, becoming the 113th person to serve on the nation's highest court. Image courtesy White House Facebook video Gorsuch's wife, Marie Louise Gorsuch, held the family bible as Justice Anthony Kennedy administered the oath of office to his former law clerk during a White House Rose Garden ceremony with the president watching. The 49-year-old Gorsuch no doubt will have a say on many tax matters during his lifetime tenure... Read more →


You know there's Free File, but you'd really feel more comfortable getting some face-to-face help filling out your taxes. The problem is you don't have a lot of money to pay for accredited tax assistance. Good news. You might qualify for free, in-person tax help. Free tax-preparation and filing help, like that shown here at a Rutherford Country, Tennessee, VITA office, is available at thousands of sites across the country. No-cost tax return preparation and e-filing is available at nearly 12,000 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) sites across the United States. These filing-season... Read more →


Back before I was totally focused on taxes — yes, I know that's hard to imagine — I worked for a corporate conglomerate that had an aerospace subsidiary. That company also was a government contractor. To underscore our connection to federal government, my employer offered the option to buy U.S. saving bonds through a payroll purchase program. I still have a bundle of those Series EE bonds. Yes, real paper bonds. That's some of them pictured above. It seemed a little silly back then, even though the purchases cost me only half of each bond's face value. Compared to other... Read more →


One of the biggest taxpayer fears is being audited. Realistically, unless you're aggressively pushing the tax envelope, it's not something that should keep you up at night. That's not just my assessment. It's borne out by Internal Revenue Service data, which shows that the individual tax return audit rate in 2016 was just 0.06 percent. That's the fifth straight year audits (or examinations, as the IRS calls them) have dropped and the number of returns examined last year was the fewest since 2004. A key reason that audits have fallen is because the IRS is understaffed in this area. (More... Read more →


It was supposed to be the annual Capitol Hill review of how the current tax filing season is going. It was supposed to be a time for the Internal Revenue Service to shine since, as the IRS commissioner said during a public speech yesterday, it's been the smoothest filing season since he took the top job in December 2013. It wasn't. During a Senate Finance hearing today, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen revealed more details of security breach connected to federal student aid applications that require inclusion of tax data. Student loan tax data security concerns: While 2017 filing season specifics... Read more →


Click image to watch Stephen Colbert's character Otto Sanchez "advise" H&R Block customers. Stephen Colbert has assumed a variety of personas during his comic career. On his April 5 CBS late night show a new, sort of tax-focused character appeared. Hello Otto Sanchez, hoax H&R Block tax professional. As the company itself asked on its Facebook page, what could go wrong? Plenty. From singed and mistakenly shredded tax documents to an impromptu serenade to beer during the consultation, three customers of the country's largest franchised tax preparation service were amazingly good-natured victims of Colbert's skewed tax humor. I hope the... Read more →


Tax filing must keep evolving. That's the word from Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen, who today made his fourth and final appearance as head of the U.S. tax agency before the National Press Club. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen holds a paper Form 1040 during his speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Each event attendee got a souvenir form, complete with a personal "thanks for filing" note penned by the commish. That means, Koskinen told the assembled group of media in Washington, D.C., more digital solutions to taxes. And if tax reform can help achieve that, then... Read more →


And so it starts. Again. As mandated by Congress, the Internal Revenue Service has turned over some delinquent tax accounts to private debt collectors. These collection agencies will begin calling affected individuals this week. Yes, private debt collectors are again calling about unpaid federal taxes. Worried much? I am. New tax scam potential: I spelled out my primary concern in a post last month about the private collection letter the IRS had finalized. "If you think this opens the door -- and windows and attic vents -- wide for tax scammers, you are probably correct. And you are not alone.... Read more →


Wait. It's April, right? And isn't it March that has the proverbial lion-like entrance? Well, April apparently is trying to steal some monthly arrival literal thunder. Over the first weekend of this new month, violent storms raked much of Texas and are still marching east. Little April showers on spider web GIF by SomethingTraLaLa via Giphy Yes, I know spring heralds thunderstorm season, which is often dangerous and deadly like this weekend. But I also know I speak for a lot of us who were hoping simply for some more soothing April showers. So instead of just worrying about filing... Read more →


Californians who just can't kick their nicotine habit are now paying substantially more for their addiction. Effective April 1, the Golden State's tobacco tax went up by $2 per a pack of cigarettes. The state's tax on smoking now is $2.87 per pack. And while that is indeed a massive jump, it's just catching up on years of a low tax rate. It's been 20 years since California increased its cigarette tax. The tax increase, the final tax amount and the years it's taken for California to get here each were in the running for this week's By the Numbers... Read more →


Have you made it through April Fools' Day without getting pranked? Good for you. Now be sure you don’t fall for a costly tax scam as the 2017 filing season winds down. Tax criminals are looking to steal identities and then use them to file for fraudulent tax refunds from not just taxpayers, but also the tax preparers who help us file. On Friday, March 31, the Internal Revenue Service, state tax departments and the tax industry — collectively known as the Security Summit, which was formed back in March 2015 to fight growing tax crimes — warned tax professionals... Read more →


The Congressional investigations into alleged improper Russia-Trump Administration connections are attracting worldwide attention. Click image to watch the NBC News clip of Vladimir Putin paraphrasing a famous U.S. tax quote. Even Vladimir Putin, Russia's president and Donald J. Trump's sometimes bromantic partner, chimed in on the issue of his country's hacking of computers during America's 2016 presidential election. "Ronald Reagan, debating about taxes and addressing the Americans, said, 'Watch my lips.' He said, 'No. Watch my lips. No,'" Putin said through an interpreter during a CNBC-moderated discussion March 30 at the annual Arctic Forum in the Russian city of Arkhangelsk.... Read more →


The Internal Revenue Service collected more than $3.3 trillion during the 2016 fiscal year. That tax tidbit is part of the agency's 2016 Data Book, which details IRS activities from Oct. 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2016. After taking a dive in 2009, IRS collection of taxes has increased each of the last five fiscal years even though it's been forced to so with smaller budgets. Bringing in tax dollars and making sure that you, I and all the other U.S. taxpayers comply with the nation's tax laws are two of the IRS' major jobs. But for the last few... Read more →


Everybody saw this coming. The Republican-controlled Ways and Means Committee killed the latest effort by Democrats to get a glimpse of Donald J. Trump's tax returns. The tax-writing panel held a hearing Tuesday, March 28, afternoon on H. Res. 186, a measure sponsored by committee member Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-New Jersey), that would have ordered the Treasury Secretary to provide 10 years of Trump's tax returns to the House. New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell makes a point during the markup of his resolution seeking to see a decade's worth of Donald Trump's tax returns. In addition to the president's... Read more →


Most high-income investors last were likely a little bummed last week when the Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act failed. It didn't have anything to do with their personal opinions on Obamacare or health care in general. It meant that the Net Investment Income Tax, or NIIT, remains on the books. This 3.8 percent surtax is assessed on capital gains, dividends, interest, and other passive income earned by single investors making more than $200,000 a year or $250,000 if married filing jointly. It was one of the many ACA-related taxes that would have been repealed if the GOP... Read more →


The annual tax filing due date is the big day each April. Instead of falling on the usual April 15, the deadline for getting your taxes to the Internal Revenue Service this year is April 18. But some older taxpayers, specifically that first big batch of Baby Boomers who turned 70½ last year, are facing a key April 1 tax deadline. April Fools' Day is the deadline to take your first required minimum distribution, or RMD, from certain tax-deferred retirement accounts if you didn't do so by the end of last year. No kidding. If you miss the April deadline,... Read more →


House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) is confident that tax reform will happen this year. And here's a note for your tax planning purposes. Brady sees any changes made in coming months to the Internal Revenue Code as being retroactively effective from Jan. 1, 2017. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) talked tax reform tactics and timetable with Fox News' Maria Bartiromo on Sunday, March 26. Click image to watch the full interview via YouTube. That will make tax moves this year, uh, exciting. Effective dates are always a pain any time Congress changes laws. Retroactive... Read more →


Did you hear the Amazon.com tax news? No, I'm not talking about the online retailing giant's decision to collect sales tax in all the U.S. jurisdictions that have the levies. A U.S. Tax Court ruling on Internal Revenue Service attempts to collect more tax from an Amazon U.S.-Luxembourg arrangement went the global internet giant's way, saving it billions in taxes. The Seattle-based company also was a big winner last week when it comes to paying tax. We're talking $1.5 billion big. That's how much a U.S. Tax Court ruling on March 23 apparently has saved Amazon. European location, U.S. taxes:... Read more →


Ah, youth. The excitement. The energy. The illusion of immortality. The first-ever filing of a tax return. Boom. Taxes often are the first indication of young adulthood. And apparently it's a grown-up responsibility that many millennials are turning over to other grownups, specifically their parents. Real mom-and-pop tax help: More than a third (37 percent) of millennials relies on their parents at least in part for tax help, according to a new study released by TaxAct. The survey, conducted by ORC International earlier this year on behalf of the tax software company, also found that young men are more likely... Read more →