Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Translate complex financial concepts into easy-to-understand terms! You'll find reprints of Financial Insights articles that once appeared in GCFlash in our Financial Glossary.
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The Dawn of a New Tax Year
As I walked down the aisle of my local pharmacy last night, I couldn't help but notice new merchandise stacked on the top shelf waiting to take its proper place next week. That's when the Halloween goodies hit the clearance table.
In their place you'll find twinkling lights, colorful wreaths and other assorted reminders that Christmas is right around the corner. And we're about to close the book on another calendar year.
This means only one thing. It's time to review what's going to change in IRS land in 2014 and take whatever actions we need to prepare for them now.
Most of the tax law changes already enacted relate to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Budget-related changes have been proposed but not yet finalized.
Your 2014 W-2 will have a new box for your employer to report the value of your health plan to the IRS. This is how they will determine if you're eligible for a subsidy or have to pay a penalty. This value is not considered income, no need to report it as such or worry about it adding to your tax burden. You'll see this amount appear in Box 12 labeled DD.
Securities purchased January 1, 2013 or later will now be taxed on a cost basis rate rather than paid as capital gains. This was enacted with The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 with various types of covered securities phased in to the reporting method between 2011 and 2014.
Originally, debt securities, options and all other financial instruments were to be considered covered securities as of January 1, 2014. But because of the complexity involved with certain debt instruments, the last group will be included in two separate phases.
Simpler debt securities such as fixed rate bonds, original issue discount (OID) bonds and zero coupon bonds and options acquired on or after January 1, 2014 will be reported on a cost basis. This will apply to more complex debt instruments acquired on or after January 1, 2016.
President Obama wants to implement the proposals he made during December's fiscal cliff negotiations into his fiscal year 2014 budget. Most notably is the Buffett rule, ensuring households with income over $1 million pay at least 30% of their income after charitable donations in federal tax.
He's calling it a "Fair Share Tax," equal to 30% of the taxpayer's adjusted gross income less a charitable donation credit equal to 28% of their allowable itemized charitable contributions.
Another proposal aimed towards those single taxpayers earning over $200,000 and married filing jointly over $250,000 would limit the value of tax deductions. Their tax liability cannot be reduced below the 28% rate level.
A number of tax preferences for oil, gas and coal production industries would be repealed, while additional credits for advanced energy manufacturing will be introduced.
Cancellation of certain home mortgage debt or student loan forgiveness remains excluded from income.
These items were all proposed in the FY 2013 budget as well, but none enacted except for the debt cancellation as income. Only time will tell which will stick this year.
You Can Make History
Or at least, preserve it for future generations. This generation has the ability to do something that hasn't been possible at any other point in human history.
Archeologists today setup outposts in remote areas to unearth secrets of the past. They'll dig, sometimes for years, in search of an elusive piece of history buried under centuries-deep sediment. A fragment of a utensil or bone from a creature long extinct sheds light on how they lived. And what may have caused their demise. All lessons essential for our own survival.
Physical artifacts can be reconstructed and preserved to paint a portrait of life in places long forgotten. Documents, on the other hand, have a limited life cycle before their decay renders them unreadable.
This is where you come in to the picture. The National Archives is looking for volunteers to help transcribe hundreds of historical documents for future generations.
Some documents are handwritten, others typed. They date from the late 18th century through to the 20th century. You might find letters to a civil war spy, presidential records or files on historical cases in need of transcription.
Select documents based on several criteria. Use keywords like "slavery" or "WWI" to find those that match your interests.
You can play a role in preserving history for generations to come. Interested? Point your browser here.
If history isn't your thing, how about the climate? Transcribe Navy, Coast Guard and Revenue Cutter ship logs dating between pre-Civil War through World War II.
A ship's log details all notable events occurring on and around a ship. They include which officer was assigned a particular duty, outline the activities of each day and ship maintenance records. They're used to record navigational data such as time, course, distance and position. Arrival and departure points, average speed, etc.
Most important among the "etc." category is weather and wind data.
Scientists test climate projections by inputting readings into a database to identify weather patterns and extremes. They try to predict future developments based on how the climate has behaved in the past.
The process uses current data. But imagine how much more in-depth they could analyze if they add historical data to the mix.
By inputting temperatures and atmospheric pressures at a particular location as recorded in old ship logs, a 3D picture of weather around the globe could be constructed. Logs from trade ships between the UK and India or China or Antarctic expeditions provide data from times and places where information is scarce.
The more data available for analysis, the better scientists can project the likelihood of such events happening again.
The program's success relies on how many volunteers participate. Numbers are easy to transpose when reading off a page. The more eyes transcribing a particular book, the greater probability of catching errors.
These actual logbooks are now stored in various archives. Scientists, geographers, historians and the public at large need the information digitized so it can be processed by a computer.
More information on this project can be found here.
Perhaps your gaze wanders more to the sky. There's opportunity to pitch in here, too.
The Milky Way Project needs your help. Their mission is to sort and measure our galaxy. But sifting through more than 10,000 images can be a daunting task. Particularly since such minute specs can be easy to overlook.
Volunteers will tell scientists what they see when observing images from the Spitzer and Herschel telescopes. Bubbles indicate the life cycle of stars. Flag important or unusual characteristics for further observation by scientists.
Clouds may house dark matter containing massive, young stars. Studying them may help us understand how stars form. Other dark places are nothing more than holes in the sky. Help determine which dark places scientists should focus on to watch for development.
Join the Milky Way Project here.
We spend a lot of our spare time in front of our computers. Use that time for a worthy cause.
Tip of the Week
The computer age has flooded scientists and researchers with more data than they can handle. Pitch in to help at Zooniverse.org. With science projects in five different categories or laboratory experiments to choose from, you'll find something to match your interests.
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