How close are we to AI automating tax preparation? We’re not at the point in Jurassic Park where the velociraptors learn how to open doors. Not yet. But we can hear them sniffing around in the next room.
On January 19 – possibly at the very moment you’re reading these words – the US government will hit the $31.3 trillion debt ceiling. Roughly, this translates into maxing out Uncle Sam’s American Express card.
Last month, the Wall Street Journal published an investigation into why 300,000 accountants have left their jobs over the last two years. It’s not just baby boomer retirements. Young and mid-career professionals have been leaving since before the pandemic. And the article identified a fundamental problem with the talent pipeline: “Many college students don’t want to work in accounting. Even those who majored in it.”
What do you think? Would you be willing to bare your own tax data to your family, friends, and professional colleagues if it meant getting a peek at theirs? Or are you happier controlling your financial image the old-fashioned way with your house, your car, and your wardrobe?
Christmas is almost here, and Santa has to decide who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Sometimes that’s a tough call. But there’s one overgrown elf who spent the year trying to convince Santa he belonged on the Nice List, who’s sure to get a lump of coal in his stocking.
Holidays have always been a time for celebrating tradition. Maybe you like to gather your family around the tree for hot cocoa. Maybe you like over-decorating your yard with dozens of blow-up Santas and reindeer. Maybe you like caroling with neighbors. Maybe you like to watch Grandpa and Uncle Bill get liquored up and argue football or politics. (We don’t judge, and some families really do need to spike the eggnog before spending time together.)
Remember privacy? Of course, you don’t. Back in the 90s, you might have signed on to AOL expecting that when you got mail, it would be your business and nobody else’s. But now it’s 2022, and it’s all about the data.
Last Tuesday, Taylor Swift opened “just-for-fans” ticket presales for her upcoming 52-date “Eras” concert tour – and promptly broke the internet. 14 million users flooded Ticketmaster’s website, jamming the site with 3.5 billion requests. Swift herself said, “It’s truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.” It doesn’t help that Swift is the hottest act in music right now.
Most people think that when it comes to paying taxes, April 15 is the biggest deadline of the year. But when it comes to paying less, December 31 is when the real action happens, and flex-spending accounts are just one reason why. Don’t let time run out on you!
But nobody, and we mean nobody, is as bad at answering the phone as the IRS. Someday, when Crappy Customer Service finally becomes an Olympic sport, the International Olympic Committee will rule that the IRS is too professional to compete. Erin Collins, the National Taxpayer Advocate, reports that during 2021, the IRS logged 272 million calls – with just 11% of them reaching the holy grail of a living, breathing human being.
The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans spent $10.6 billion to celebrate spooky season this year. That includes $29.51 per household for candy, $31.59 for decorations, $33.75 for costumes, and $5.30 for greeting cards. (That decorations line item goes way up if you scored one of Home Depot’s 12-foot skeletons.)
“So, this audit went on for three years. I’m spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in accounting with accountants for the audit and I am getting so mad, and so frustrated,” Perry said. “We get to the end of the audit and they, the IRS, owed me $9 million,” he added. The accountants were delighted. But not Perry. “I said ‘hell naw! How did you miss me paying $9 million?’” Perry then joked, “I had to stop going to H&R Block for my taxes at some point.”
Uncle Sam is all in on electrification. In 2008, Washington offered the first electric vehicle credit limited to 200,000 electric vehicle sales per manufacturer. In August, the Inflation Reduction Act recharged that $7,500 credit for American-assembled electric cars. Eligibility tightens in 2023 — taxpayers earning up to $150,000 ($300,000 for joint filers) will be able to claim it for sedans costing up to $55,000, or trucks and SUVs up to $80,000, so long as battery components meet specific sourcing and manufacturing rules. (Structuring the incentive as a tax credit gives grounding to lawmakers who don’t want to be seen shoveling more money into Elon Musk’s already bulging pockets or backing the wrong horse like Solyndra.) There’s even a $4,000 credit for used electric vehicles costing up to $25,000.
October is here, and Hot Girl Summer has faded into Pumpkin Spice Fall. Leaves are turning yellow, temperatures are turning cool, and shirts are turning plaid. Children are dreaming of costumes and candy corn. (It’s OK, they’ll outgrow the candy corn part.) We’re all celebrating with bonfires, hayrides, haunted houses, and more. And every town seems to have its own favorite fall tradition.
Rock musicians generally win more praise for their riffs and melodies than their lyrics. Everyone loves Jimmy Page’s screaming guitar solo from "Stairway to Heaven," while no one can explain that bustle in the hedgerow. True, Bob Dylan was a poet at heart – if you can make out the words through the mumbling. But Steely Dan decided that since everyone else was singing love songs, they could sing about eating dumplings after a coke deal. And for sheer lyrical inscrutability, it’s hard to top Phil Collins and Genesis. "Paperlate." "Sussudio." "Abacab." Admit it, you have no clue what any of those songs were about.
When COVID broke in early 2020, it was clear that our economy would catch the virus. So Washington did something they’re actually pretty good at: finding new and creative ways to throw money at the problem. The stimulus payments we all love and remember were the first and most obvious example. These included a first round of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child, a second round for $600 per person, and a final round of $1,400 per person. For some, they were a lifeline; for others, they were a route to a new 55-inch TV.
On September 29, 1916, John D. Rockefeller became America’s first billionaire. (That was a day after crude oil prices jumped by 10 cents/barrel and Standard Oil of New Jersey stock hit $2,014/share.) Now we have almost a thousand of the Gucci-clad fat cats buying Senate seats and monopolizing prime properties in Nantucket and Jackson Hole. Some of them obsess over their place on the Forbes list. (Oracle’s Larry Ellison would probably do dark, unspeakable things to climb just one place higher in the rankings.) Others would prefer not to appear at all.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II at age 96 last week is truly one of those moments that marks the passing of an era. The longest-serving Queen’s reign lasted through 14 prime ministers and fully 30% of our own country’s entire history. She was best-known for keeping calm and carrying on with a typically British stiff upper lip. Yet her subjects also loved seeing her sly wit, like when "she" parachuted into the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony with James Bond or shared marmalade sandwiches with Paddington Bear.
It’s just a matter of time before artificial intelligence surpasses humankind. (Scientists working to find signs of intelligent life in space might do well to try scaring it up here, first.) What happens when Skynet becomes self-aware? Will it trigger a global nuclear war to eradicate mankind? Will our robot overlords treat us brutally like HAL in 2001: A Space Oddysey? Or will they protect us like in Transformers? Who would win a fight between the Terminator and RoboCop? If you’re looking for answers, don’t ask scientists – they’re the ones causing the problem! Just turn on Netflix.
Picture this: you’re an ambitious yogi in New York City, circa 2006. You want to teach Downward Facing Dog to upwardly-mobile students. Never mind that you’re a convicted felon (forgery and car theft) and accused rapist. You’ve had a moment of satori, and you’ll make your brand of inner peace available to everyone, whether they can afford it or not. What could go wrong? You call your studio Yoga to the People. You open a no-frills space on trendy St. Mark’s Place, minus the usual pricey yoga mats and designer leggings. You plaster the words “No Ego No Script No Pedestals” on your website. You tell The New York Times that you truly believe if more people were doing yoga, the world would be a better place.
Governments have love-hate relationships with the activities they hit with so-called “sin taxes.” These include drinking, smoking, and the stuff your children winkingly refer to as “the devil’s lettuce.” On the one hand, none of it is really good for you. On the other, cigarettes and alcohol are genuinely addictive, and we all have that one Falstaffian friend who truly believes that Moon Pies, Ring Dings, and Ho Hos are an official food group.
Washington has just passed an “Inflation Reduction Act” that includes billions in new spending to cut carbon emissions and extend Obamacare subsidies. The act pays for it with a new 15% corporate alternative minimum tax, a 1% excise tax on stock buybacks, new Medicare drug pricing rules, and enhanced tax enforcement. In fact, the bill should actually cut $300 billion off the deficit over the next ten years. Sounds great, right?
Remember 1935? Bread lines across a country still mired in depression, dust storms ravaging the Plains, the Lindbergh kidnapping trial. Good times. That’s when Washington passed the Revenue Act of 1935, raising the top tax rate to 79% on incomes over $5 million ($108 million in today’s dollars). Just one American paid that top tax rate, and his name was Rockefeller. Back then, votes meant more than dollars – we didn’t have billionaires buying up governors’ mansions and Senate seats for themselves and their minions. (Today, Forbes estimates that Rockefeller’s descendants are worth just $8.4 billion combined, ranking them behind almost 100 American billionaires.)
2022 is a cynical time, full of cynical men and women bending and breaking the rules that govern every aspect of our lives in a cynical race to do whatever cynical thing they can justify to themselves to squeeze out extra crumbs of money, or power, or both. (You’d be amazed to see the things some people can justify.) That’s why it’s so refreshing to stumble across inspiring stories where common sense triumphs over bureaucracy, stories where someone recognizes the injustice in the red tape, rages against the machine, and champions the spirit of the law over the constipated written letter.
The first sighting came from California’s Orange County in 2006. Then quickly spread to New York, Atlanta, New Jersey, and DC. Then Beverley Hills, Miami, Potomac, Dallas, and Salt Lake City. Most recently, more have popped up in Dubai. What are we talking about? TikTok’s hottest meme? The newest COVID variant? Nope – we’re talking about Bravo TV’s Real Housewives. Where will they reveal themselves next? Nashville? New Orleans? Dayton, Ohio?
Most of us look back on the 70s as a time of louche excess: garish bell bottoms, deep-pile shag carpets, slouchy conversation pits, and coke spoons on gold chains. But 70s style is back, baby! Fashion houses are rolling out psychedelic prints, flared bottoms, and knotted tops. Interior designers are bringing back nubby textured fabrics, earth tones, and velvet furniture. Somewhere in Hollywood, a rogue producer is probably remaking Soylent Green. (The original was set in 2022, of course.) As the blue-collar poet Bruce Springsteen once wrote: "Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies some day comes back." (Springsteen just sold his song catalog for $500 million, which suggests there’s way more money in blue-collar poetry than any of us realized.)
A recent poll from the Pew Research Center finds that 54% of Americans think violent crime is one of our country’s biggest problems. You would think the last thing we need is more of it. Yet millions are obsessed with true crime stories, whether we find them on cable TV, streaming video, or podcasts. If a podcast isn’t about murder, is it even a podcast?
On July 4, 1776, a determined group of colonists clinging to the shore of a harsh new world declared independence from the political bonds connecting them to the British Crown. The colonists cited all sorts of injuries and usurpations to justify their revolutionary decision: the King had plundered their seas, ravaged their coasts, burned their towns, and destroyed their lives, blah blah blah. But the real non-negotiable that we remember today is that the King had imposed taxes on the colonies without their consent.
On September 17, 1873, the brand-new Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College opened its doors to 24 students. (Future President Rutherford B. Hayes was an early booster, and since you don’t remember anything he did as President, you may as well remember him for this.) Five years later, the school graduated its first class of six. And that same year, the Ohio legislature changed the school’s name to “The Ohio State University.” Today, it’s one of the finest schools in the country – a Public Ivy. OSU educates the most students who score in the 95th percentile or above on the ACT or SAT of any public university. ESPN ranks OSU’s football rivalry with the Michigan Wolverines as the greatest North American sports rivalry. And if you’ve ever seen the marching band perform “Script Ohio,” you know they really are the best damn band in the land.
Fifty years ago, on June 17, a former CIA officer and four Cuban anti-communists carrying bugging devices found themselves handcuffed outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. What started out as “a third-rate burglary” morphed into “a cancer on the Presidency” and then a “long national nightmare” before President Richard Nixon finally resigned in disgrace two years later. Even now, Watergate is the gold standard of scandals. Controversies don’t go prime time until someone sticks a “-gate” to the end of a word. Remember Nipplegate? Bountygate? Deflategate? (There’s a word for it: gatesuffixing.)
Every so often, I come across a newspaper headline and think, "I have got to turn that into a Tax Beat story!" Usually, it comes from someplace like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Sometimes it’s from a specialized business publication like Bloomberg or a tax journal. But this week’s "ripped from the headlines" story would be just as appropriate in The Onion as it would in any of those places. I’m talking, of course, about Walmart’s decision to stop selling Chaokoh-brand coconut milk.
Americans tend to think of “the taxman” as a single all-consuming Moloch, demanding sacrifices of cash instead of children. In reality, though, our federal system of government gives us tax collectors at national, state, and federal levels, all chasing the same income dollar. And that’s before the taxes we pay to go out and buy something with what’s left over! In New York City, the combined/federal/state/city rate can reach nearly 52%, which is why New Yorkers move to Florida.
In 1917, the Salvation Army sent 250 volunteers called “Donut Lassies” to deliver donuts to soldiers serving on the front lines in France. They collected excess rations for the dough, used shell casings and wine bottles as makeshift rolling pins, and filled a soldier’s helmet to fry the first batches of crullers. In 1938, the organization sponsored the first Donut Day event in Chicago to commemorate those brave angels. And while Christmas comes just once a year, today there are two National Donut Days – one on the first Friday in June and the second on November 5.
On the first day of 2022 trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at a record high of 36,585.06. Since then, markets have dropped like a Paul Walker movie: fast and furious. Last week, the world’s richest dudebro Elon Musk lost $12 billion in a single day. (That might be more than your entire portfolio.) Crypto owners have lost over a trillion; apparently, you really can’t spell “crypto” without “cry.” Bonds are down, too. Home values are still up, but many observers think they’re like the coyote chasing the Road Runner off the edge of a cliff – he just hasn’t looked down yet to see his fate. About the only things going up in Wall Street’s vicinity are inflation, interest rates, and Xanax prescriptions.
15,000 years ago, ambitious social climbers had just two career tracks to choose from – you could hunt, or you could gather. (Cave painting was a fun hobby, but no one had figured out how to monetize it.) Training was entirely on-the-job. There were no classrooms, written exams, or licensing boards, and "distance learning" meant watching someone else spear a mammoth or saber-toothed tiger while you were safe in a tree.
Back in the day, investors looking to realize gold-plated dreams on Wall Street spent hours poring through newspapers and magazines to sniff out promising stocks. By the 1980s, though, many investors grew tired of picking their own and turned management over to mutual funds. Peter Lynch became the iconic celebrity manager after first joining the company as an intern (after caddying for Fidelity executives). Today, the Investment Company Institute reports that Americans have $25 trillion socked away in funds, and there are actually more funds than individual stocks listed on the three major stock exchanges.
Sometimes, when Washington changes tax laws, it’s Big Freakin’ News. Back in 1986, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives rewrote the entire Internal Revenue Code from stem to stern. Publishers killed entire forests printing their analyses in newspapers and magazines, and tax pros spent years catching up with the changes. (Passive loss limits! AMT up!) Five years ago, a Republican majority passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The Lorax breathed a sigh of relief because we all got the news online this time, and tax pros are still digesting the new opportunities. (Qualified Business Income! AMT down!)
It’s Spring Break, and millions of Americans are doing their best bird imitations and flying south. College kids will find their way to budget motels in places like Myrtle Beach, Daytona, and South Padre Island, where beer is cheap, bar bouncers understand an ID doesn’t have to be perfect to get the job done, and police turn a blind eye to minor misdemeanors in exchange for sweet tourist cash. Grown-ups head to classier resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean. Some adventurous spring breakers venture even farther to South American destinations like Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, where, centuries ago, the Incas built their empire.
In 1942, Captain Louis Renault, commander of French troops in Casablanca, was “shocked, shocked” to find that gambling was going on at Rick’s Café Americain. As the Captain collected his winnings, he shut Rick down. While that might not sound like a promising start, the pair ultimately joined forces to help the Czech freedom fighter Victor Laszlo and his wife escape to Lisbon. As the Laszlos boarded the plane to safety, Renault shot the German Major Strasser and ordered police to “round up the usual suspects.” For his part, Rick predicted the whole adventure would be “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has made it an uncharacteristically rough time to be a Russian oligarch. Everyone from western central banks to amateur yacht-tracking sleuths has joined the effort to track down their riches. But a former Wall Street Journal columnist caught our attention in one especially entertaining report: “Western governments have quietly contracted multiple teams of ‘combat bookkeepers’ to secure the estimated hundreds of billions of dollars worth of sanctioned assets the Russian president and his oligarch cronies have spent the past 27 years legitimately laundering through international capital markets.”
With Vladimir Putin’s troops wreaking havoc in Ukraine, Western governments have hammered Russia with unprecedented sanctions that may have already destroyed the country’s economy for a generation. However, those moves have cost us here at home, too. Russia is the world’s second-largest oil producer, and gas prices have hit all-time highs. Millions of Americans are feeling violated every time they fill their tank, and the war shows no sign of ending soon.
The ancient Greeks understood that sometimes life calls for sacrifice. In Greek mythology, King Minos of Crete forced the people of Athens to send him seven young men and seven maidens in retribution for the death of his son Androgeos. They can’t have been happy to board the boat, knowing they were destined to become monster chow for the half-human, half-bull Minotaur. But they swallowed their hopes and dreams for the promising futures they had lost, and they did their duty by sacrificing their lives to their fellow citizens.
Back in the 1980s, sharp-eyed visitors to New York's Greenwich Village might have spotted a disheveled man wandering the streets in pajamas, a bathrobe, and slippers. Sometimes he mumbled to himself. Other times, he talked to parking meters. Who was this sad, strange figure, they may have wondered? One of the throngs of homeless people crowding the Big Apple's streets? Perhaps a kindly grandfather who'd just forgotten to take his meds? Or had he wandered away from a nearby assisted living facility?
After eighteen long and grueling weeks, the NFL is finally into the playoffs. The Cincinnati Bengals proved they could finally win a playoff game after 31 years. The Buffalo Bills proved that the Patriots without Tom Brady are just another football team. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers proved that any team is a contender with the GOAT at quarterback, even if said GOAT is reaching an age where other men start contemplating Crestor prescriptions and AARP discounts.
Sunday night, Paramount+ aired the season four finale of their hit drama Yellowstone. (No spoilers!) The show follows the Dutton family, sixth-generation heirs to the largest contiguous ranch in the United States, as they fight to defend their legacy. On one side, greedy developers want to turn the area into the next Park City. On the other, the neighboring Broken Rock tribe just wants their ancestral home back. Real Montana ranchers report the show is remarkably true-to-life, especially the gunfights, explosions, and occasional "long black train" to the back of the head.
Yellowstone has everything you'd expect in a modern western. There's Kevin Costner, playing patriarch John Dutton, riding through gorgeous mountain scenery. There's a comic side plot following the wranglers living in the bunkhouse, which usually winds up with someone bleeding on the floor. (Mammas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.) There's a terrific soundtrack, full of edgy, energetic country music and lonesome cowboy ballads. (Conspicuously absent: any of that watered-down Nashville pop that drives so many people nuts.)
And Yellowstone has something else that might surprise you — plotlines that turn on taxes instead of ridin', ropin', and shootin'. Do you think Clint Eastwood and John Wayne would be impressed?
Here's the problem. The Dutton property is the size of Rhode Island, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. (In one episode, the greedy developers offer half a billion to turn a 50,000-acre slice into an international airport.) But ranch operations don't turn a profit, leaving the Duttons land-rich but cash poor. So, how do you force the family out? Just build a casino or ski resort next door, push up the value of the Dutton land to raise their property tax, and watch them slink off in defeat.
Of course, in the real world, it's never that easy. For starters, have you met John's daughter Beth Dutton? It's too bad she's not in the tax business — it would be fun to watch her gut an auditor like a grizzly guts a fish.
But the real blocker comes from Montana law. Properties bigger than 160 acres automatically get agricultural use valuation unless they're clearly being used for something else. Once agricultural use is established, the land is valued according to its ability to produce crops or sustain livestock. That means it doesn't matter what the greedy developers put next door as long as the Duttons continue using the property for ranching — they can't be forced out by higher golf course or ski resort taxes.
There's another tax threat, though, that could bring the series to early cancellation. When John finally takes his last trail ride, his estate will owe a tax of 40% on anything above $12 million. Ranch heirs can claim special-use valuation discounts and defer taxes for up to 14 years. But there's still no way the Duttons can come up with that sort of cash. We might suggest premium-financed life insurance to prepay the bill without dipping into current operations. But that takes someone healthier than John, who's survived enough cliffhangers to kill any character who isn't played by the Executive Producer.
Season five is already in the works, and Yellowstone has spawned an origin story (1883) and a spinoff (6666). What adventures lie in the Duttons' future? Will a different developer propose mining the ranch? Will the Broken Rock tribe — headed by a chief with Harvard MBA — launch a hostile takeover? Will a crooked accountant loot the ranch of what little cash it has left? Stay tuned for more, and call us to pay less when the greedy developers come for your land!
2021 is almost over — a dank, foul, depressing funhouse mirror of 2020 — and for most of us, it can't end too soon. Covid is still here, taunting us with new mutations every time we finally think we've turned the corner. Americans still hate each other as much as ever. The "Real" "Housewives" still burgle our dignity with each episode that airs. NFL teams have turned into quarantine clinics, and Tom Brady is still winning games. Is it any wonder so many people have started rooting for a comet to hit the planet and wipe out anything larger than the rodents?
Every year, PNC Bank publishes its "Christmas Price Index" to track the cost of the Twelve Days of Christmas. For 2021, it's a hefty $41,206 — up 5.6% since we looked two years ago. (Have you heard about the "supply chain"?) The index may not be completely accurate — for example, the ten lords-a-leaping are valued using the cost of male ballet dancers rather than board-certified British lords. As for the eight maids-a-milking, well, "cows not included." But still, it got us wondering . . . what sort of taxes are we looking at on the whole affair?
The men and women who write our nation's tax laws aren't known for their sartorial style. Ohio Representative James Traficant, who served 17 years in the people's House before serving seven years in the "big" house, raised eyebrows with an occasional denim suit. (We're pretty sure a Canadian tuxedo would get him fined today.) And Texas Representative Charlie Wilson rocked a unique collection of custom shirts featuring epaulets to hold his suspenders and button flap pockets. But most of the men, at least, are content to settle for a gray suit, blue shirt, and red tie straight off the nearest Brooks Brothers rack.
That all changed for a hot minute this fall. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leader of her party's progressive wing, has called for raising top tax rates to 70%. On September 13, she showed up at the Met Gala wearing a white off-the-shoulder gown by Aurora James emblazoned with the words "Tax the Rich" in bold red satin on the backside. AOC, as she's universally known, is used to flattering appearances in Mother Jones and Rolling Stone. Now you'll find her in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, too.
Many of AOC's critics have called her a hypocrite for showing up at a $35,000-per-plate dinner calling for higher taxes. They seem to think her fellow attendees would be offended at her call to pay more. That attack seems misplaced — if you wanted to start a 12-step program for limousine liberals, you probably couldn't find a better place than the Met Gala. But there's another tax story here, too: it turns out that designer James, who also dresses Beyonce, Rihanna, and Megan Markle, doesn't like paying her own taxes. Maybe she just doesn't consider herself rich?
In 2011, James formed an LLC to manage her business. From April 2018 to April 2019, the IRS has placed $103,220 in liens on the company for failing to pay withholding taxes on her employees' paychecks. That didn't stop her from claiming $41,666 in federal Paycheck Protection Program aid. PPP money was supposed to go primarily towards retaining workers and maintaining payroll, which makes you wonder if she sent Uncle Sam the withholdings on any of those wages, either.
The State of New York has piled on, too. The Department of Taxation and Finance has hit the company with 15 warrants for failing to pay state withholding taxes. They're still waiting for $14,798. And the state Workers’ Compensation Board has fined James $17,000 for not carrying coverage between March 2017 and February 2018. She owes another $62,722 on the account itself.
The good news is, everything's cool on the tax front with the $1.6 million house that James bought last year in California. Oh wait, it's not. It turns out she's already $2,504 behind in property tax on the Tudor-style house in the Hollywood Hills.
James doesn't seem to like paying her rent, either. In 2018, her former landlord sued her for over $5,000 in unpaid rent at her shop on West 38th Street in Manhattan's Garment District. Her next landlord filed to collect $25,000 in holdover rent and evict her from a location in trendy Brooklyn.
Here's one thing that's true no matter what you think about AOC's politics. Those couture gowns the guests wear to the Met Gala can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and you can't afford them if you're wasting money on taxes you don't have to pay! The good news is, all you have to do is accept our invitation to plan better, and you'll have a better shot at wowing the paparazzi lining the red carpet.
Roughly 180 million miles into space, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, astronomers have found millions of asteroids — solid rocks that failed to form a planet. Most of the time, those asteroids coexist quite peacefully with earth. However, occasionally one drops out of the belt to check us out a little closer. If one hits us, it could literally mean the end of civilization. So it behooves us to learn as much as we can about these celestial companions. Sixty-five million years ago, the dinosaurs failed to plan — we all know how that turned out!
Last week, NASA launched an unusual probe towards one random rock. Next September, the probe will hit the asteroid at approximately 15,000 mph to test the limits of kinetic impact deflection. In other words, we're trying to nudge it out of orbit just slightly enough to see if that could protect us from a planet-killer heading straight towards us. The test can't come soon enough. In August, scientists announced that the asteroid Bennu, the size of the Empire State Building, has a 0.037% chance of making September 24, 2182, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
You can guess by now that the news made our mind wander to where our friends at the IRS would be if one of those game-changers decides to ruin our day. And we know you'll be pleased to discover that our friends at the IRS have planned for that sort of disaster and more!
The first level of IRS emergency preparedness deals with day-to-day disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. These responses focus on helping taxpayers manage business as usual until things return to normal. They include predictable strategies like helping protect and reconstruct records, documenting valuables and equipment, checking fiduciary bonds (to protect yourself if your payroll processor goes bust), and updating your emergency plans. The Service also generally pushes back filing deadlines in affected areas to give taxpayers more time to recover.
But the real action for IRS planners involves "continuity planning" for existential threats like biological warfare, nuclear winter, or an asteroid strike. IRS officials have been planning since the Cold War days for solutions to help restart tax collections within 30 days of the emergency. These include stationing government agents in the usual hollowed-out mountain bunkers to hand out cash to restart the economy and deciding which pre-disaster taxes to give up trying to collect.
The ultimate "Plan B" in case an asteroid makes its way through our defenses involves ditching income taxes altogether in favor of a sales tax, probably in the 20% range. Sales taxes would certainly be easier to collect in a land with no more 1099s or expense reimbursement forms. And, like any consumption tax, it would encourage survivors to save as much as they can, which they could use to help rebuild the country. Just think — rooting for Team Asteroid might finally mean the end of those annoying Black Friday mall crowds!
Until then, you're just going to have to suck it up and pay under the regular system. But there's good news, too. For starters, about half a penny out of every tax dollar goes towards NASA, including their efforts to defend us from killer space invaders. And second, you don't have to launch a rocket to nudge your tax bill down, sometimes by a lot. So, call us before the air raid sirens start blaring, and let us help you prepare for some more predictable financial threats!
Four hundred years ago, a group of 50 pilgrims sat down with 100 Wampanoag guests for a three-day feast that we now celebrate as the first Thanksgiving. It was a mostly young, mostly male group that survived the colony's harsh initial year in New England. The menu featured venison and shellfish — while Governor William Bradford reported sending four men "fowling" to stock up for the meal, there's no evidence actual turkeys ever made it to the table. There were no potatoes or pumpkin pie, and Thanksgiving football didn't appear on TV until 1953. (The Lions actually beat the Packers!)
Back in The Good Old Days, fame was something you earned by throwing a ball, selling a million records, lighting up a cinema screen, or landing on the moon. Then Paris Hilton decided she wanted to be famous without all that bother. So, armed with little more than a famous family name and fortune, a sex tape, and some good old-fashioned moxie, she set the dial on her transporter to "celebrity" — and probably much to her surprise (and certainly ours), she actually got there!
Ronald Reagan won the White House in 1980 partly by campaigning against incumbent Jimmy Carter and partly by campaigning against the 70% top income tax rate. Reagan preached a new gospel of "supply-side" economics, arguing that tax cuts would put money back in the pockets of ordinary Americans and unleash a wave of new economic activity and growth. And while Reagan's own running mate originally mocked it as "voodoo" economics, for forty years, that philosophy has influenced American tax policy, leading to more recent rounds of tax cuts in 2001, 2003, and most recently, 2017.
Democrats in Congress are working on an impressive list of spending priorities they hope to pass as soon as this week. There's an infrastructure bill with $1 trillion for roads, bridges, climate resilience, and broadband access. There's a budget reconciliation package with another $1.75 trillion for fighting climate change, child care and universal pre-kindergarten, and extending the expanded child tax credit. And those numbers don't include proposals they dropped for free community college, paid medical and family leave, and expanding Medicare to cover dental and vision care.
Back in 2000, a scrappy little startup named Netflix was losing millions every month on their business renting DVDs online, mailing them to subscribers through something called the "Post Office." (Remember them?) The founders had the bright idea to sell their company to Blockbuster video — for the princely sum of $50 million — and turn themselves into "Blockbuster.com." Blockbuster said no, and now they're corporate roadkill. Netflix is the 800-pound-gorilla in the streaming video world, spending billions annually to create new content in 37 different languages.
Fifty-five years ago, NBC debuted a new series that producer Gene Rodenberry called "a Western in outer space — a so-called Wagon Train to the stars." Star Trek starred a journeyman Canadian actor named William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, helming a crew of comically diverse stereotypes (the Russian! The Scot! The Vulcan!) aboard the Starship Enterprise. Shatner went on to play the defining role of his career throughout the series' three-season run, as well as an animated spinoff and seven feature films.
People have always aspired to "make the grade" and take their place on the lists of the world's most famous and accomplished people. A generation ago, business executives and politicians aimed for Who's Who in America, while athletes aimed for the Hall of Fame and entertainers pined for stars on the Walk of Fame. Today, the internet has brought those lists online, made them searchable, and added new ones: Wikipedia.com for general noteworthiness, IMDB.com for Hollywood players, and the Forbes 400 for billionaires.
In 1895, H.G. Wells launched his sci-fi career with a tale about a Victorian gentleman who travels to Earth in the year 802,701AD. The "Time Traveler" discovers that humanity has evolved into two different species: the Eloi, elfin descendants of the upper-classes, and the Morlocks, ape-like descendants of the working classes who live underground and feed on the Eloi. Wells' story, The Time Machine , coined the term we now take for granted and popularized the notion of using such a device to travel back and forth in time.
Captains of industry like John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and JP Morgan created enormous fortunes before dying and passing their wealth to their heirs. A century later, most of that money is so old it's gone, vanished into the spray of mansions, parties, and philanthropy that defined Gilded Age and Gatsby-era wealth. Forbes estimates today's Rockefeller clan of 70+ descendants is worth just $8.4 billion. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Everyone knows that Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer — one last blowout weekend for trips to the beach or lake, cookouts, and carefree fun. So which holiday kicks off fall? Obviously, that's National Talk Like a Pirate Day, which we celebrate on September 19. Talk Like a Pirate Day kicks off a whole series of year-end celebrations that peaks on Halloween, continues with Thanksgiving (really, just an excuse for tryptophan-fueled napping in front of TV football), and finishes up with the commercial-fueled madness of Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and Festivus.
To paraphrase Tolstoy, "All honest taxpayers are alike; every dishonest taxpayer is dishonest in his own way." But what happens when a dishonest taxpayer is dishonest in every way? Turn on your speakers and cue the theme from Cops while you enjoy this week's story.
Scientists recently announced finding a fossilized horseshoe crab brain from 310 million years ago. As the New York Times reported, "Siderite, an iron carbonate mineral, accumulated rapidly around the dead creature's body, forming a mold.
Last week, we talked about one of Uncle Sam’s priciest problems. Specifically, the current lineup of taxes on income, payrolls, corporations, gifts, estates, imports, and gas and alcohol sales isn’t getting the job done. We’re collecting almost $12 billion/day, and we’re still $29 trillion in the hole! Clearly, we need some creative thinking. So why...
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan quipped that the government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases, including, "If it moves, tax it." Well, Uncle Sam is already chasing income, payrolls, corporations, gifts, estates, imports
Fifteen months of COVID-19 have changed the face of employment here in America. The pandemic wiped out 20 million jobs, yet employers are struggling to hire while employees reevaluate their post-pandemic plans.
Writing a funny tax column every week, and keeping it as consistently brilliant as we do, is actually harder than it looks. (Less glamorous, too.) Sometimes there just isn't an obviously fun story to cover.
Fifty years ago on June 30, Paramount Pictures released an enchanting spun-sugar delight of a movie that remains a classic. Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory features Gene Wilder as the reclusive confectioner who hides five Golden Tickets in his
The post-punk philosopher and M&Ms enthusiast David Lee Roth once said, "Money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it." So, if you like big boats and you
In 1979, China launched what would become the world's toughest population control measure, the "one-child policy." Families with just one child got rewarded with a "one-child glory certificate" and five yuan per month (about as exciting as a stack of
Taxes were in the news this Memorial Day weekend: the new administration leaked word that the higher capital gains taxes included in their American Families Plan would be retroactive to April when they first rolled out the bill.
People have loved advice columns, in print and elsewhere, since Daniel Defoe launched the "Scandalous Club" back in 1704. Since then, we've lobbed questions to Abby, Ann, Polly, Prudence, Miss Manners, Dr. Phil, Dr. Ruth Dr. Drew, Dr.
The Biden administration has rolled out an ambitious set of tax hikes to support new spending on infrastructure, families, and other priorities. While the plan includes raising rates, much of the action focuses on closing loopholes, especially for corporations.
One April day, in 1564/ (We know the month, but sadly not the date)/The Bard the world would someday all adore/Was born to write the plays we’d see as great./ Today we think of Shakespeare’s clever quatrains./Yet he was so much more than just a scrivener./His businesses included trading grains/And storing them for buyers making...
This time of year, millions of Americans celebrate Easter and Passover, the holiest days of their faith. But the calendar is loaded with plenty of "Hallmark holidays," too, usually invented by companies looking to sell something.
American Rescue Plan (ARPA provisions)
The following is a brief summary of key provisions included in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, called ARPA for short.
All provisions are for 2021 only unless stated for 2020.
America has always been a land of opportunity, and there are many paths to fame and fortune. If you're physically gifted, consider professional sports. If you're blessed with good looks, Hollywood beckons.
Although the stimulus package known as the Covid-19 Relief bill has not been signed by the President, we expect the legislation will pass with or without his approval. So we expect the following provisions to
The Time: July 25, 1965. The Place: The Newport Folk Festival. Master of Ceremonies Peter Yarrow steps out to introduce the singer-songwriter sensation Bob Dylan. Festival organizers are perplexed as they watch his crew setting up heavy equipment.
A hundred years ago, billionaires were a big big deal. Tycoons like John D. Rockefeller, worth the equivalent of two Jeff Bezoses in today's dollars, were celebrities, the overachieving substitutes for today's merely overexposed Kardashians and Tiger Kings.
"If you are truly serious about preparing your child for the future, don't teach him to subtract — teach him to deduct." -Fran Lebowitz
Here in the United States, we spend about $1.3 trillion on education, including early childhood programs
Back before Covid-19 shuttered theaters, courtroom dramas were a cinema staple. In Twelve Angry Men, Henry Fonda shines as Juror 8, trying to convince his fellow jurors the case they were considering wasn't so clear-cut.
President Trump's war on Tik-Tok, the Chinese video-sharing app that's loaded with more spyware than James Bond's latest car, illustrates just how ubiquitous those programs have become in our lives. Apple offers 2.2 million apps in their iStore.
After World War II, a generation of returning veterans turned California into America's golden dream. Industries like shipbuilding and aerospace created thousands of good jobs. California engineers and educators built world-class roads and universities.
In 2004, Stephanie Meyer sparked a bona fide cultural phenomenon with her debut novel, Twilight, recounting the romance between 17-year-old schoolgirl Bella Swan and 109-year-old "vegetarian" vampire Edward Cullen.
One of the delights of living in America is the variety of local delicacies that different places champion as their own. Maine's lobster rolls serve up a briny mouthful of golden summer tucked into a lightly-toasted bun.
Forty years ago this weekend, Orion Pictures released a comedy producers pitched as "Animal House on a golf course." The movie featured a scrappy bunch of misfit locals battling a group of rich snobs played by ad-libbing comedy legends.
Congress recently passed the payroll Protection Flexibility Act making changes to the loan forgiveness.
Today, the SBA issued new forms and the interim final rules.
You can find the new forms here:
In China, it's a curse to say "may you live in interesting times." If that's so, 2020 is surely cursed. It all started with coronavirus in January or thereabouts. April brought the murder hornets to Washington State.
What if your employees don’t want to come back to work because the unemployment benefits are too good? The federal government is supplementing unemployment benefits with an additional $600 per month for 3 months and some employees may make more
A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about the great toilet paper shortage of 2020. It gave us a great opportunity to indulge in the sort of lowbrow humor that made MAD magazine such a hit with 10-year-old boys.
Unemployment for Non-Traditional Claims is Now Available!
Claimants will now be able to file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
They can do so by applying online here: https://www.mass.gov/how-to/apply-for-pandemic-unemployment-assistance
PUA is a program open to the following individuals
Our calendar is full of "Hallmark holidays": meaningless commemorations and celebrations, usually created by marketers and publicists. Just this month, there's National Talk Like Shakespeare Day, National Hug a Plumber Day, and National Wear Pajamas to Work Day.
As of 4/9/20, the IRS has already begun depositing stimulus money for those with direct deposit/direct debit information on file with the IRS (based on your 2019 or 2018 tax return), so don't be alarmed if you see a
Coronavirus has turned millions of Americans who used to laugh at the doomsday preppers on National Geographic into converts. Your neighborhood supermarket is working overtime to keep shelves stocked as panicked shoppers rush to settle in for stay-at-home orders.
Millions of us who are staying at home in this time of coronavirus are discovering to our dismay just how much the clown car of halfwits, freaks, and grotesques of "reality TV" has taken over our living rooms.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines "digging your own grave" to mean doing "something that causes you harm, sometimes serious harm." Kids who don't do their homework, politicians who cut popular spending programs, and people who overshare on social media all dig
When talented musicians join forces, they epitomize Aristotle's maxim: "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Collaboration is the essence of music, and even the most technically proficient soloists benefit from an ensemble framing and highlighting their
The French newspaper Le Monde called it "the robbery of the century." So what was it? A Mission Impossible-style crew of balaclava-wearing acrobats bypassing sophisticated alarms to burgle a museum or gallery?
Back in 1621, a group of hardy Pilgrims sat down for a three-day festival of thanksgiving to celebrate surviving plague, starvation, cold, scurvy, Indian attack, and all the other obstacles that made life in the "new world" so delightful.
On Monday, Veterans Day commemorated those brave and selfless Americans who've served in our military. We honor them with History Channel specials, parades, and one-day-only sales on chicken sandwiches and big-screen TVs.
We added this as an addendum in my book, The Real Estate Investor Tax Guide to include changes made by the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed in December 2017, which affects returns for 2018 through 2025. Most
Every fall, in one of nature's enduring miracles, birds fly south for the winter. The Sterna Paradisaea , or Arctic tern, flies as far as three times the distance between the earth and the moon in a lifetime.
Reddit's r/relationships forum is one of the internet's favorite soap operas. Posters sum up their angst in a snappy shorthand: "I (22M) have fallen in love with the woman I serve (21F). I left to seek my fortune.
Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money. Maybe that's why the heist movie is still a Hollywood staple. It's been a while since we thrilled to classics like Heat, or Oceans 11, or The Sting.
Picture yourself at an “ozmiza,” or “eight-day tavern,” overlooking the Adriatic Sea on Italy’s Carso coast, near the Slovenian border. A guitarist serenades you and your companions with local folk tunes.
Back in December 2017, while you were finishing up your holiday shopping and spiking the eggnog, Congress spiked the tax code. The goal was simple: First, eliminate a bunch of deductions that made the whole thing more complicated.
On March 12, the “Varsity Blues” scandal hit the headlines, and gossips across America leaped at the fresh meat. That’s the day we learned about a group of 1%ers who paid anywhere from $15,000 to $6.5 million to cheat their kids’ way into some of the most prestigious colleges in America. The Department of Justice...
Graduation season is here, and grads of all ages are excited to move on! Kindergartners are celebrating mastery of letters, shapes, and not eating crayons. Awkward eighth-graders just want to finish getting through puberty.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (okay, on May 21, 1980), The Empire Strikes Back introduced the world to Yoda, the oldest, most-powerful, and most syntactically-challenged Jedi knight in the universe.
Last weekend, Hollywood made history. Disney's three-hour popcorn epic, Avengers: Endgame sent box-office records scrambling in panic, grossing $350 million here in the U.S. And $330 million in China. And $600 million more in another 43 countries.
When it comes to raising revenue, governments usually find it most efficient to follow the immortal advice of bank robber Willie Sutton and go "where the money is." They turn to income, payroll, property, and sales taxes to fund most
Sunday night, millions of Game of Thrones fans who waited breathlessly for 20 months finally got rewarded with their next installment what's become the biggest TV show on the planet. Cersei discovered (redacted). Jon Snow learned that ....
She's a long-haired European exotic beauty. She lives a life of glamour and luxury that most of us can only dream of. She has 300,000 followers on Instagram. She's earned $3 million in royalties and endorsements.
Americans love puzzles, games, and brain teasers. Newspapers publish crossword puzzles, word-search puzzles, and word jumbles. Bookstores sell jigsaw puzzles. And airport gift shops stock Sudoku puzzles to pass the hours in the sky.
In 1982, the movie Blade Runner presented a technologically advanced vision of the year 2019. There were flying cop cars. (What grim dystopian movie doesn't feature flying cars?) There was commercial space travel.
Movie fans, quick: what do you get when you combine Night of the Living Dead, Deliverance, and The Mist — with just a hint of Sophie's Choice? It probably looks a lot like like Netflix's newest hit, Bird Box.