Tuesday, January 18, 2011
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Thoughts of April
It may feel like Christmas was only last week, but the ides of January are already behind us.
In the dead of winter, one can't help but conjure up warm thoughts that make scraping ice and shoveling snow just a bit easier to take. We may picture ourselves on a tropical island refreshed by a cool breeze. Or maybe we envision the azaleas in full bloom as we tenderly brush away the snow, allowing the sun's warmth to permeate its delicate branches.
Yes, thoughts of April can help us endure another northeast winter. Until our thoughts turn to that most dreaded day on the April calendar.
This year, we have a three-day reprieve on federal taxes. The good folks in Washington D.C. celebrate their most renowned holiday on April 16th. But since that falls on a Saturday, Emancipation Day will be recognized on Friday, April 15th instead. And the entire country gets a present with the extension of the tax deadline moved to Monday, April 18th. Your state return is still due on April 15th.
The extension won't be long enough to accommodate the snags we'll face this year. Changes to tax code were late in being enacted. The 50 million people who itemize on Schedule A will have to wait until February for the new forms to become available.
Those with investment income may not receive a revised 1099 until after the tax deadline has passed. The IRS estimates one in every eight already processed and mailed will need to be changed due to tax law changes.
Don't wait for paper tax forms to arrive in the mail. The IRS has discontinued sending them as of this year. Most people are now filing electronically. But if you still prefer to put your pencil to paper, you can find most forms at local IRS offices, some libraries and post offices. Or download them from the IRS web site.
The IRS offers free electronic filing for taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less. Find a list of participating companies at their web site shown above.
Make your appointment soon if you use a tax professional to prepare your return. The national average for preparing an itemized 2009 return, both federal and state, was $229. A simple return averaged $129. Avoid a preparer that bases your fee on your anticipated refund. Refuse to sign any blank form.
Organize your paperwork before your meeting with the tax professional. Your documentation for income, itemized deductions, business expenses or any other applicable category should be grouped separately. Expect to pay more if you stash all your receipts in a shoebox and expect the preparer to sort through them.
So filing day has arrived and you don't have the money to pay your taxes, now what?
The IRS understands job loss, health issues or unforeseen expenses arise that can affect your ability to pay your tax bill. And they offer options for distressed taxpayers on their web site. Deal with them directly. There's no need to call one of those firms running TV ads that are insulting to every honest American.
One option is the "Offer in Compromise" where you can negotiate a reasonable reduction of taxes owed. The keyword here is reasonable. Don't expect them to accept a dime for every dollar owed.
They may accept an interest-free short term payment plan, or spread the payments over longer time with interest.
If you're unemployed, they may overlook a skipped payment or reduce your monthly payment. They may suspend collection attempts.
Communication is the most important thing. As long as you don't give the appearance of avoiding them, they're likely to work along with you.
April isn't really too far off. Don't procrastinate. You'll feel much better once a dreaded chore is behind you. And that goes equally for doing your taxes as it does shoveling snow.
President Obama announced today a new effort to examine regulations that are detrimental to conducting business. The initiative is intended to reduce the burden felt by companies that find complying with the law hinders their ability to hire new workers. Or in some cases, limits their ability to function.
The President is seeking to resolve differences with the business community by reaching out to those who felt threatened by his earlier positions. For example, the health care reform act is believed to place an unfair burden on employers. The Clean Air Act demands goals that many deem unreachable and others of the like.
It bothers me when essential services are the first topics brought to the table whenever budget cuts are suggested. It's really nothing more than an emotional ploy to gauge taxpayer support for whatever new proposal is being touted. Those on both sides of the political fence play this game just as well, it isn't restricted to one party or the other.
Spending can be reigned in many ways without impacting the elderly or the handicapped. America's most vulnerable citizens deserve whatever meager benefits we offer them.
Yet Medicare fraud looms large. One provision of Obamacare calls for closer examination to identify and eliminate such fraud. So why was this not already happening? And why will this effort stop if the health care act is repealed as some are suggesting?
We're trying to recover from tough economic times. We're all stretching to make ends meet paycheck to paycheck. At least, those of us lucky enough to still be earning a paycheck. You can bet this type of fraud would not go unnoticed on our small, personal scale. Surely it should be detected on such a large stage.
My husband's small engine shop is a government contractor. We supply and repair equipment for local military installations. In doing so, we accept our government's credit card as payment.
This requires an annual agreement 48 pages in length. Twelve pages refer solely to whether or not we have international affiliations. I kid you not. Paragraph after paragraph of declarations that require a yes or no response to the same question worded differently to catch a slip up.
We are one small contractor, the federal government must do business with thousands of others as well. Imagine for one moment how much paperwork is involved with this annual ritual. Now include resources necessary in merely processing these applications.
Accepting an order from them is equally as burdensome. From the time you are contacted to provide a quotation to the time you deliver product, you might exchange several packets of 50 or more pages over a three-month period. Multiply this by every piece of goods or service required for our government to function, from groundskeeping to peacekeeping.
Our government should focus on eliminating conflicting regulations between agencies. And this effort is the first step in doing just that. By May, each agency will have to submit a plan that defines how they will periodically review regulations to determine if they need to be modified, expanded or repealed to make it easier for businesses to comply with them.
One hopes the practice will carry over to society at large. Maybe we wouldn't have to warn citizens about the dangers of ethanol fuel that we covered earlier this month in Beware of E-15.
Maybe farmers in the Midwest wouldn't have to worry about their dust raising a stir with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Or the presence of an endangered beaver stall the building of a dam that would provide water for thousands in an American town without an alternate supply.
It's time for the federal government to become as lean and mean as they're asking their constituents to become. By reducing conflicts, redundancy and paperwork, they can see budget savings without endangering our elderly and disabled.
Across the country, the unemployment rate dropped last month from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent in December 2010 according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Locally, New Jersey's economy improved reducing the jobless rate to an average 8.6 percent in 2010, the lowest rate since March 2009 according to Charles Steindel , the state's chief economist. The increasing personal income and the national recovery are the driving forces behind this improvement according to the NJ Treasury. They posted an economic report on the NJ Treasury's website last week for the first time. The unemployment rate in NJ stayed at 9.2 percent in November and October. The NJ treasury reported that 10,700 jobs were created through November 2010, while 115,600 jobs were lost in first 11 months of 2009.
The national statistics make the news, but it's nice to have better local impact! You can see what other tidbits the NJ Treasury has to add at http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/index.shtml. Each state has a similar website where individual state news can be found.
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