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Jul 13, 2011
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CORRECTED: Who benefits from student loans and educational tax benefits?

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On Wednesday, we looked at mortgage debt and the home mortgage interest deduction, based on new data released in a Joint Committee on Taxation report. Today, we’ll look at student loans and their corresponding interest deduction.

The numbers here are far, far smaller, and therefore less likely to be a meaningful target in the ongoing budget discussions in Washington: The amount of student loans out, $33 billion $330 billion, represents a sliver of total household debt of $13.4 trillion, and is dwarfed by the $10.2 trillion in home mortgage debt. While the ever-rising cost of higher education is an enormous issue for anyone who’s facing those college costs, as a country we’re more indebted for our cars.

Jul 13, 2011
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Our homes, our tax deductions?

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Even if you realize how indebted to our homes we’ve become, the numbers in a new report from the Joint Committee on Taxation are mindboggling: Mortgage debt at the end of 2010 reached nearly $10.1 trillion, and accounted for 88.4 percent of total household income.

That’s down slightly from the peak, in 2007, of 101.1 percent of household income, but it’s “roughly 40 percent higher than 2000, 50 percent higher than 1990, and 230 percent percent higher than 1960,” according to the report.

Jun 29, 2011
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Tax delinquencies and the economic downturn

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The Internal Revenue Service’s Offers in Compromise program — in which taxpayers negotiate down the tax debts that they owe — has a long and tumultuous history. Critics have long complained about the complexity of the program, and the low rate of accepted offers, which amounted to just 24 percent between fiscal 1996 and 2005, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

In testimony before the Senate on complexity and the tax gap, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson showed that the result of trying to collect from delinquent taxpayers during the economic downturn was what you might expect — a long line of taxpayers waiting for resolution.

Jun 1, 2011
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The tax rate you should care about most

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We talk a lot about tax rates here, and about whether they might go up in the future and for whom. But to think intelligently about tax policy — not to mention your own tax strategy — it pays to stop and ask: Which tax rate do you mean? And what tax rate matters most to you?

When most people talk about tax rates these days, what they’re really talking about are marginal tax rates. Your marginal tax rate is the percent you’ll pay on the last dollar of income you bring in. Today, those federal marginal tax rates range from 10 percent to 35 percent; under the terms of last year’s tax agreement, they’ll expire next year and the one thing you can count on is another big debate over what tax policy should look like.

May 16, 2011
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Inheritance, taxes and portfolio rebalancing: How to get it right

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There are rare opportunities to rebalance your portfolio without paying taxes. If you’ve inherited assets, you now exist in one of those rare times.

Often, when people inherit stocks, funds or other financial assets, they’re loath to get rid of them. There’s an emotional attachment to the asset, as a last connection to the person, that goes beyond logic.

Apr 28, 2011
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Tax season is over (phew). Now what?

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Tax season is over, are you prepared for next year — and beyond?

I know, the last thing you want to think about now is taxes. Taxes, taxes, taxes, it’s really tiresome. But the truth is that tax planning in advance can save you more than any last-minute maneuvers. And some people are already beginning to think ahead to the uncertainty of tax rates after 2012.

After all, the rules put in place by last year’s tax deal last for two years only, and if there’s one thing that’s clear it’s that there will be another battle over taxes soon.

Apr 13, 2011
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Think tax time is bad? Try doing estimated taxes

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If you’ve recently become an entrepreneur, consultant or self-employed person: Welcome to the world of quarterly taxes. While tax day stories typically focus on getting through last year’s filings, even harder, for the surging number of people affected, is figuring out what to pay for the first quarter, due at the same time.

Guess too low, and you’ll owe penalties. Guess too high, and you’ll have less cash to spend during the year. But guessing just right means estimating your income, and your business expenses, for the year. And that’s no easy task.

Apr 6, 2011
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10 mistakes to avoid at tax time

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It’s the simplest things that can trip you up at tax time, like not getting money into your account or forgetting to sign your return. But this year, with so many tax changes, there are even more minefields.

If you were thinking you’d do your tax return the old-fashioned way, by hand, just stop now. Get an accountant or a tax-software program. Without software — which, yes, even accountants use — you’ll be unlikely to get through your return without errors.

Apr 4, 2011
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8 crucial tips for last-minute tax filers

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There’s just two weeks to go till tax time, and Bill Fleming, managing director in the personal financial services division of PricewaterhouseCoopers, has been cranking hard on his clients’ returns, but has yet to start the one he’ll file for himself and his wife. “I know all about procrastination,” he laughs.

If you haven’t finished your taxes — and fear waiting in line at the post office on April 18th — you’re not alone. In fact, this year tax season may be moving a bit slower than usual because the last-minute, year-end tax agreement delayed the usual timetable for the Internal Revenue Service to get its forms and systems ready. “We are probably a week behind last year,” Fleming says. “Everything has been pushed back a week or so.”

Mar 28, 2011
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Philanthropy: How to make even small gifts matter

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Giving money away has such an emotional component to it that it’s hard, sometimes, to think about in strategic terms. But the truth is that if you pay as much attention to your giving strategy as to your investing one, you can have more impact and fund more of the organizations you care about without getting sidetracked by requests.

Tom Tierney, chairman of the Bridgespan Group, which advises both philanthropists and nonprofits, and co-author of the forthcoming book Give Smart: Philanthropy That Gets Result, has been thinking about how to make your philanthropy count for a long time. Before co-founding Bridgespan in 1999, Tierney, who has an MBA from Harvard, had been chief executive of Bain & Co. But as he reached his mid-40s, he made a career shift that few on Wall Street understood at the time. “Midway through the ’90s, I started asking, ‘Are there other ways to live my life?’ ” he recalls. “I had a couple of senior partners come into my office and shut the door, and say, ‘are you okay?’ They were expecting me to say I had gotten bad news from the doctor.”

    • About Amy

      "Amy Feldman is an award-winning journalist and writer, specializing in business and finance. She writes a twice-monthly column on taxes for Reuters. The opinions expressed are her own."
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