Virtually everyone in the United States is eligible for some sort of free tax preparation help, from free in-person preparation and electronic filing to filing free forms online.
Every year Americans spend millions of dollars paying professionals to do their tax returns when they could be getting the same help free.
Don’t be one of those Americans.
If you made less than $49,000 last year, you can have your taxes prepared and electronically filed by a trained volunteer for nothing. If you made up to $58,000, you can find free online preparation and electronic filing. And no matter how much you made, if you’re willing to fill in the forms online, you can also file electronically for free.
Military widows can't collect both survivor benefits and benefits from an annuity bought by the dead veteran -- unless they remarry after they're 57.
This article is by Kimberly Hefling of The Associated Press.
Tens of thousands of the nation's war widows find it perplexing and downright disrespectful to their late military husbands: In order to fully collect on insurance their husbands bought for them when alive, they must marry another man.
And to qualify, the widows must remarry when they are 57 or older. Those who remarry earlier miss out, as do widows who never remarry.
At the heart of the issue is a government policy known as the "widows' tax." It says a military spouse whose loved one dies from a service-related cause can't collect both survivor's benefits and the full annuity benefits from insurance the couple bought from the Defense Department at retirement. Instead, the amount of the annuity payment is reduced by the amount of the monthly survivor benefit.
You can order your tax transcripts and copies of returns online. Transcripts are free, but those copies will cost you.
Everyone's hoping that the housing market will at least begin to recover in 2011. And it looks like that might just happen. Sales of existing homes in December 2010 grew at their fastest pace since May 2010.
Where home prices are still dropping, Housing Predictor says its data show the values are deflating at a slower rate for the second year in a row. And now there are indications that as many as 17 states, primarily in the Midwest and Northern-most parts of the country, will see home prices rise in 2011, demonstrating, says Housing Predictor, that housing markets are recovering.
If that indeed does come to pass and you're in the market for a new place to live, you'll need your tax information when you apply for a loan.
Lenders used to want several years of tax returns to show that you had a solid earnings history. That practice was eased in the crazy "everyone must buy a home" era that led to the housing bubble that burst and tanked our whole economy.
Now, I hope, they're being more diligent before doling out mortgages.
The IRS is making it easier for you to get the tax data that your lender wants with an online tool for ordering tax transcripts and tax return copies.
Americans are paying less in federal taxes than they did under Bush, and taxes are taking the smallest share of GDP since Truman was president.
This article is by Stephen Ohlemacher of The Associated Press.
Taxes too high?
Actually, as a share of the nation's economy, Uncle Sam's take this year will be the lowest since 1950, when the Korean War was just getting under way.
And for the third straight year, American families and businesses will pay less in federal taxes than they did under former President George W. Bush, thanks to a weak economy and a growing number of tax breaks for the wealthy and poor alike.
Income tax payments this year will be nearly 13% lower than they were in 2008, the last full year of the Bush presidency. Corporate taxes will be lower by a third, according to projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
A professor argues that raising the tax on beer would reduce both consumption and crime. But powerful lobbies make that move unlikely.
Would raising the tax on beer reduce the number of young folks who get caught up in crime and the high budget and social costs of locking up so many people?
In a provocative article, "The Economist’s Guide to Crime Busting," in the new issue of The Wilson Quarterly, Duke University’s Philip J. Cook and the University of Chicago’s Jens Ludwig suggest that it would. (The article is here, but isn’t free.)
The profs argue that crime policy (from an economist’s point of view) should focus "both on making criminal opportunities less tempting and the law-abiding life more rewarding" and offer three strategies which they say have been shown to do just that: raising the mandatory age through which kids must attend school; creating business improvement districts with private security guards (a tactic Los Angeles has used with great success); and yes, raising taxes on alcohol.
"It’s obvious," they write "that in considering criminal opportunities, such as whether to break a beer bottle over the head of the obnoxious Yankees fan on the next bar stool, people often make foolish, impulsive choices. There are many reasons for that -- hormones, immaturity, stress -- but surely one of the most important is intoxication."
Taxpayers got $33 million in credits for vehicles that didn't qualify, including a Hummer.
This article is by Ken Thomas of The Associated Press.
Car companies are slowly rolling out rechargeable electric cars. But that didn't stop thousands of U.S. taxpayers, including prisoners and some IRS employees, from incorrectly claiming lucrative tax credits for the electric vehicles last year.
A Treasury Department inspector general report says nearly 13,000 taxpayers erroneously claimed about $33 million in credits for plug-in electric and alternative vehicles during the first six months of 2010. The inspector general says about 20% of the $163.9 million in credits provided to taxpayers were claimed in error.
President Barack Obama has pushed for 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015 and the tax breaks are part of that strategy. The government has offered numerous incentives to drum up interest in the vehicles, including a $7,500 tax credit for a plug-in electric drive motor vehicle and incentives for converting a car into a plug-in.
Senators agree to revert to old law and throw out new requirement that businesses send 1099s to vendors. Landlords still must do additional reporting.
They did it! They really did it!
Democratic and Republican Senators actually worked through the 1099 repeal issue yesterday afternoon, agreeing to scrap the expanded reporting version and go back to the way the system operated pre-health care reform.
The repeal of the provision was tacked onto the $34.5 billion Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. Competing versions were debated and votes actually taken.
The 1099 amendment that was approved, offered by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., calls on the Office of Management and Budget to cut unnecessary unobligated spending, but exempts Social Security Administration administrative expenses from the budget ax.
The FAA measure, like the 1099 repeal add-on, enjoys wide bipartisan support, so there's hope that the House will leave the Senate version pretty much as is so that we can finally be done with this controversial reporting requirement.
Agreement between the IRS and federal prisons seeks to end scam in which prisoners filed fake tax returns to collect refunds.
This article is by Michael Gormley of The Associated Press.
A new agreement aims to stop federal prisoners from filing for and collecting millions of dollars in bogus tax refunds from their cells.
Pressure from U.S. senators in New York, Ohio, Minnesota and Florida led to an agreement signed Wednesday between the Internal Revenue Service and the federal Bureau of Prisons to break down bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to end the practice. The memorandum of understanding struck between the two agencies overcomes legal obstacles that hindered their own efforts and paves the way for states to make similar agreements that apply to their prisons.
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