Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Cyber awareness is a key element in our weekly GCFlash eNewsletter. Find the best of our past articles on one page for your easy reference.
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Whew! You Made It!
Trivia time: What contained 400 pages when originally written but consumes 73,954 pages today?
No, not Obamacare. That started with 2,700 pages and is up to nearly 20,000 today. Even if you add the 21 pages of the application form, you're still not close. Try again.
Bingo if you said the U.S. tax code. And you might feel like you studied each and every page today, now that your return is filed. It's an exhausting exercise unless you're among those who qualify to use Form 1040-EZ.
The Sixteenth Amendment is recognized as the official beginning of U.S. tax code. After it was ratified, the United States Revenue Act of 1913 was enacted to fulfill the provisions of the Amendment. The Revenue Act itself contained approximately 27 pages.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the annual ritual Americans have come to dread.
The original law levied a 1.0% tax on income, plus a graduated scale on income over $20,000. That's the equivalent of about $465,000 today.
The highest bracket was 7.0%, paid by those with income over $500,000 or $11.6 million in today's dollar. There were no separate brackets for single or married filers.
The law allowed for exemptions and deductions. Individuals qualified for a $3,000 per person exemption, plus an extra $1,000 for married couples.
Certain deductions were available. But capital gains and dividends were taxed the same rate as normal income.
Today's tax brackets begin at 10% for single filers earning between $0 and $8,925 or $17,850 for married joint filers. Seven graduated brackets apply to designated income levels, with the highest paying 39.6% on income $400,000 and above. Married joint filers reach that level at $450,000 combined income.
The code itself is complex and confusing. How confusing? The head of the IRS hires someone to do his taxes.
Forbes estimates Americans spent more than 6 billion hours on their tax returns this year. The confusing code leaves taxpayers scratching their head, overlooking items that may be to their benefit simply because they can't decipher the double talk.
Those that attempt preparing their own taxes know what I'm talking about. Those of you that don't may want to visit the IRS website and glance at any publication for a good laugh.
State tax laws can be just as complex. Taxes must be filed not only in your home state, but every other state where you work. Many states have a reciprocal agreement with their neighbors. New Jersey residents working across the Ben Franklin Bridge can take a credit for their Philadelphia wage tax on their New Jersey state taxes.
This is one situation where being a professional athlete can prove pretty tough. Athletes have to file taxes in every state, and some cities, where they play. States use different calculations based on percentage and which sport you play.
Pennsylvania taxes baseball, basketball and hockey players on the ratio of games in the state over their total games played including pre- and postseason. Football players are taxed on days worked in the state over total days worked. Michigan doesn't count pre-season games.
Signing bonuses are tax exempt under certain circumstances. It's a good thing athletes can afford to hire CPAs specialized in their profession. It takes a specific skill set to figure out how much is due where, and make sure their client gets back every penny they're entitled to when teams estimate payroll taxes.
On April 16th, we can all sit back and relish the fact that this year's ritual is behind us. And start preparing for the 2013 filing season.
The Man, The Legend
Though he was assassinated 148 years ago, Abraham Lincoln has been very much in the media lately. Books and films dedicated to his legacy have been widely acclaimed.
America was a very different place in the 1860s. A self-taught lawyer would never have made the bar, much less win the presidential election, today.
Seven states had seceded from the Union before his inauguration. The Civil War began a mere month later. We discussed the Civil War, beyond the slavery issue, in a previous issue of GCFlash. You can refresh your memory here.
Lincoln was born February 12, 1809. His father moved the family from their Kentucky home to the wild region of Indiana when he was eight years old. His mother died when he was only 10 years old.
He taught himself how to read, write and basic math. He fulfilled his quest for knowledge while working on a farm and as a store keeper in Illinois.
Lincoln spent eight years in the Illinois legislature and worked the circuit of courts for many years. He ran for Senator against Stephen A. Douglas in 1858, losing the election but gaining a reputation that won him the presidency.
The performance of a president is seldom recognized while they're still in power. It takes time and history to reveal which practices proved beneficial and which didn't turn out exactly as planned.
This is certainly true of Abraham Lincoln. Today, he's regarded as one of the greatest leaders our nation has ever seen. But folks back in his day may have thought otherwise.
His policies and personality were attacked by all sides. Radical Republicans thought he was too soft on the South, Democrats thought he wouldn't compromise. Other anti-war groups despised him and plotted his death.
He favored the Declaration of Independence over the Constitution, believing it more clearly upheld freedom and equality for all.
Lincoln oversaw important legislation during his presidency. Two were measures to raise revenues. The Morrill Tariff was intended to limit competition from European industry, but in fact, it crippled the South. They were cut off from the industrialized North. Not only did they have to pay more for the goods they now had to buy from England, but they could no longer sell them the cotton that was their main cash crop.
He also instituted the first U.S. Federal income tax with the Revenue Act of 1861 to finance the Civil War. It imposed a 3% flat rate income tax on those making above $800. The tax was repealed in 1862 and replaced with a temporary version on a graduated scale.
The National Banking Act created a strong financial network in our country and established a national currency.
Other enactments provided for the First Transcontinental Railroad and formation of the Department of Agriculture.
Lincoln's image has changed over the years as each generation's revolutionists use his values to champion their cause. During the Cold War years, Lincoln symbolized freedom for those oppressed by communist regimes.
His nationalism, support for business, banking regulations and principles of both liberty and tradition made him a conservative hero in the 1970s. Liberals labeled him a racist who only sought to free slaves so they could be sent to another country.
As we bicker over our political stance today, let us remember that each leader of this great nation has made both good and bad decisions in their short time at the helm. Only time and history reveal which were which.
Tip of the Week
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