Smart TaxesSmart Taxes

New Yorker combats rising 'sin taxes' by growing tobacco in her Brooklyn yard.

By Kay Bell Feb 25, 2011 6:15PM

Sin taxes have always been a popular way to raise money.


They tend to adversely affect a relatively small group, which makes the legislators enacting the taxes, and the majority of folks who don't have to pay them, more comfortable.


They are usually presented as "it's for everyone's good" campaigns. The catastrophic results of the sin are emphasized and at least part of the new tax money is targeted to programs tied to the specific bad habit. 


That's the case with cigarettes. When tobacco taxes are hiked, the health dangers to both smokers and breathing bystanders are regularly cited. And the tax money typically goes to fund some sort of health-related program.


In the short term, a tobacco tax hike can cause state revenue problems. The National Conference of State Legislatures says that such tax increases can result in stockpiling of cigarettes prior to the implementation of the tax, producing a temporary drop in sales immediately following the tax increase.


And at least one New York woman has gone beyond simply stockpiling cartons.


In Audrey Silk's backyard, along with the rose bushes, geraniums and impatiens, are 100 tobacco plants in gardening buckets. She dries the leaves in her Brooklyn home's basement.


Agency says it will file fewer liens and make it easier for businesses to pay on installment plans.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 24, 2011 5:06PM

This article is by Stephen Ohlemacher of The Associated Press.

The Internal Revenue Service says it's trying to help people who are struggling to pay delinquent tax bills, so it's reducing the number of property liens and easing rules for small businesses to enter into installment agreements.

As the economy has soured, the agency has filed an increasing number of liens on property owned by delinquent taxpayers. The IRS filed nearly 1.1 million liens in the budget year that ended in September, compared with 426,000 in 2001.

The steps announced Thursday will double the amount of back taxes a person can owe before facing a possible lien. Previously, taxpayers who owed at least $5,000 and ignored numerous IRS notices would get an automatic lien placed on their property. Under the new policy, the threshold is increased to $10,000.


Credit Suisse employees indicted as part of U.S. crackdown on offshore banks that help Americans hide assets.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 24, 2011 5:00PM

This article is by Matthew Barakat of The Associated Press.

Four bankers with Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group were indicted Wednesday on conspiracy charges, accused of helping U.S. taxpayers hide as much as $3 billion in assets from the IRS.

Arrest warrants have been issued for all four, who are believed to be in Switzerland: Marco Parenti Adami, Emanuel Agustoni, Michele Bergantino and Roger Schaerer. All are Swiss citizens except for Adami, who is Italian.

Prosecutors allege in the indictment that the conspiracy goes back as far as 1953. The indictment alleges that as of late 2008 Credit Suisse was maintaining thousands of secret accounts for U.S. customers with as much as $3 billion in assets.


Nebraska tops the list, with total taxes of 23.69%. Oregon has the lowest rate, 1.81%.

By Kay Bell Feb 23, 2011 6:40PM

Just how much do we love our cellphones? So much so that, in most places across the United State, we're willing to put up with astronomical taxes to stay connected.


An analysis of cellphone taxes by the Tax Foundation finds that the levies on the devices are significantly higher than many other common consumer items.


And while we tend to complain about the IRS, in this case the tax damage is more local.


The average U.S. wireless customer pays taxes and fees of 16.26%, says the Tax Foundation, with state-local charges accounting for 11.21% of that overall amount.


If you add in local levies, the highest sales taxes are on Indian reservations. Arizona is home to 9 of the 25 localities with the highest sales tax rates.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 22, 2011 5:39PM on MSN Money
This post is by William P. Barrett of Forbes. 


President Obama's proposed budget calls for tax increases mainly on the well-to-do and rich. But many states are already raising the one big tax that falls disproportionately upon the poor.


In 2010 the average combined sales tax bite rose by a full percentage point, reaching 9.64% at the year end, according to an annual report from Vertex, which calculates sales taxes for Internet sellers. That's the highest rate since the Berwyn, Pa., firm started calculating the number in 1982 and the second year in a row that it has set a record.


The year-to-year change is noteworthy and real. But Vertex's stated average is a bit artificial and likely higher than what Americans pay on average. Vertex calculated separately the average sales tax levied by states, by counties, by municipalities and by special districts such as business improvement zones and Indian tribes, and added them together. Five states (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon) have no sales tax. Nor do a huge number of counties and cities. Most people aren't on a tribal reservation, either.


Still, there's no disputing that last year was a big one for sales tax hikes. Vertex tallied 542 new sales taxes or sales tax rate increases, compared with just 52 decreases. Since there is no federal sales tax, this clearly reflects mounting budget woes at the lower levels of government -- in states, counties and municipalities.

Tags: state tax

President wants to give agency more money for service, but don't expect that to be easy in this political climate.

By Kay Bell Feb 21, 2011 8:08PM

President Obama released his fiscal year 2012 budget earlier this month.

For every president, the annual budget is like a kid's long Christmas wish list. It's what an Administration would like for Congress to OK.

And just like how Mom and Dad Santa picks and chooses which goodies actually show up under the tree, Congress has its say on every Commander in Chief's myriad budget requests.

One Representative immediately denounced any money to hire more IRS "goons."

But the annual fiscal exercise is how the system works (or doesn't, depending on your point of view). And it provides insight on what a president believes is important.


These credits and deductions may make organizing and filing your taxes less painful.

By Stacy Johnson Feb 18, 2011 8:03PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


Filing taxes isn’t a lot of fun, but maybe if you find out that you’ve got some good deductions coming, it will be easier to start.


Let’s start with this news story I recently shot that will provide some of the most important breaks you’ll get this year. Then meet me on the other side for a condensed version of the nitty-gritty.


The agency began processing returns with Schedule A on Feb. 14, but is having trouble keeping up with the flood of electronic returns sent this week.

By Kay Bell Feb 17, 2011 5:56PM

As planned, the IRS on Monday, Feb. 14, began accepting tax returns that had been delayed while the agency got its computer system up to speed with tax law changes enacted in December.


Now, however, the IRS is asking for one more favor from e-filers. Slow down!


The Council for Electronic Revenue Communication Advancement (CERCA), the association founded 15 years ago at IRS request to deal with the electronic filing of tax returns, says that although the IRS is now processing delayed returns -- primarily ones that include Schedule A itemized deductions -- there will be some continued delays in return and refund processing.


To help alleviate these continuing processing issues, the IRS would really, really appreciate it if "private sector transmitters of e-filed returns" (in plain English, that's tax preparers who've been holding onto the returns in anticipation of IRS filing acceptance) would stagger their submission of returns over the course of this week.




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