Golf and Tax — Part I

What do golf and tax have in common?  As the colorful and wise Will Rogers said, “The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.”

It was reported this spring that the IRS paid out upwards of $513 million (that’s $513,000,000 of real money!) in fraudulent claims for the home buyer tax credit.  This is just ONE tax credit; it doesn’t include the notorious earned income credit which is known to be widely abused.  They (US News, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, etc.) reported that 1,295 prisoners (including 241 serving life sentences!) received $9.1 million.  10,282 taxpayers received credits for homes already claimed by someone else.  If you can imagine, 67 taxpayers claimed the SAME home.  13,448 taxpayers claimed a credit for a home that they “promised” to buy in the future.  This was so easy that even 100 IRS employees received the credit from  fraudulent claims.  I was irate when I read this.  How could the IRS hand out so much money with absolutely no oversight!

I mentioned this to a friend, and he said, “I can’t believe that people would do that.”  People?  People?  What was he talking about?  It had not once occurred to me to blame the people filing the fraudulent claims.  All of my anger was directed at the IRS for being so stupid as to hand out chunks of $8,000 a whack without requiring some serious documentation and a way of policing the procedure.  But who is to blame?  The IRS for offering the easily obtained $8,000?  Or the taxpayer for filing a fraudulent return?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Zen and the Hard Drive Crash of 2011

There are several stories that influence the way I strive to live my life. I wrote about one such story in this blog post.  Another favorite is a little Zen story that goes something like this:  A Zen master finds a beautiful horse, and all of the people of the village are excited at what a good thing has happened to him.  The Zen master goes about his day.  Some days later, his son falls from the horse and breaks his leg.  “What a terrible thing it was finding that horse,” laments the village people.  A war starts; the young sons of the village are sent to battle.  When all are slain, the village people gather around the Zen master rejoicing that his son was saved by his broken leg.  The Zen master makes no judgment on the events of his life — they are just events.  We don’t know or see the whole.  Much of our heartache is caused by how we look at events, and I struggle to take events as they happen without placing a judgment on them.  A hard drive crash during my busiest work time was a challenge.  Well, truthfully, I was a wreak!  And I certainly can’t say that I was able to keep a Zen approach.  But the times when I caught myself bemoaning the “horrible” thing that had happened to me, I reminded myself of this little story.  I was able to change my focus from pitying myself in this situation to doing what was needed to get my work back on track.

Here are some tips I learned from the Crash of 2011:

1.   Use a battery backup with an AV regulator to help protect your hard drive.

2.  A complete system backup can only be restored to the same (or identical) computer.

3.  Backup in several mediums — external hard drives, flash drives, DVDs and online storage are options.

4.  Save all program disks, hardware drivers, and installation codes.

5.  Backup data each time you have done more work than you would want to do a second time.

6.  Label and keep backups in a safe place.

And who knows, it may have been the best thing that has ever happened to me — that is, if one is judging.

Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 7:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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What is this thing we call “Christmas”?

Christmas is over — a sigh of relief.  Decorations are put away — another sigh of relief.  But Christmas still lingers — the credit card bills have arrived!  What happens to us during the Christmas season?  I can’t believe that the shopping, traffic jams, crabby people and all of the rampant spending have anything in the world to do with the birth of Christ. If there is a connection, please tell me. And don’t give me the story of the three wise men bringing gifts — that doesn’t come close to explaining what happens to us.  I’m a scrooge — and darn if I don’t get caught up in all the madness!

There so many things I love about Christmas — the music, the festivities, the lights, the family gatherings are all wonderful.  And of course, the Celebration of Christmas.  Why the emphasis on buying?

Is it possible that we have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to Christmas?  I do realize that a shift from the season’s buying frenzy would have an impact on our economy — maybe even a very large impact.  Christmas is what makes the retail business.  And just maybe Christmas also makes us a country of debt.

Published in: on February 7, 2011 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Golden Rule – Universal Truth or Coincidence?

Christianity:

“As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” -Luke 6:31

Buddhism:

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” -Udanavarga

Judaism:

“That which is hateful unto you, do not impose on others.” -Talmud, Shabbat 31a

Hinduism:

“Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” -Mahabharata 5:1517

Confucianism:

“Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” -Analects 15:23

Islam:

“No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” -Sunan

Universal truth or coincidence?  I don’t know, but for me it’s the handiest guide when I’m trying to decide if my action is the right thing to do.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 2:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Burley on my mind. . .

I loathe tobacco products and all of the grief that accompanies them.  With that said, burley tobacco has a special place in my heart and has been on my mind recently.  Can one have a fondness for one aspect and overlook the destructive side, or am I encouraging that which is harmful?

The process from seed to finished leaf has changed very little in the hundreds of years since our forefathers began growing it as a crop.  There is something “connecting” about this participation in the crop cycle.  Whether sitting on a setter on a beautiful May day, chatting with your fellow worker while keeping rhythm with the clicking of the wheel, or days later witnessing a miracle as those wilted, straggly plants rise to become a study plant.  A miracle that reminds us that we too are resilient.  All in the same manner as families and communities for generations past.

Burley is a beautiful plant — those broad green leaves topped with a most delicate pink flower.  And even more beautiful as it hangs cured in a barn; nothing compares to the rich, golden hue and earthy fragrance.  Each step of the process — just as generations before — cannot be done by one alone.  It requires community.  Burley forces one to cooperate with others.

For generations this crop has made the farm payment, or paid the taxes, or in some other way allowed the small farmer to continue with his passion.  These days are gone.  Although a few farmers still take the chance that their crop will be purchased for a fair price, most burley is moving overseas.  The economic loss is great, but also there is the loss of tradition and community.  The big empty tobacco barns a haunting sight.

When I pulled those golden leaves from the stalk in a warm, chatter filled room — enjoying participation in an age old tradition — was I contributing to the world’s suffering caused by tobacco products?

Published in: on December 13, 2010 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How much land does a man need?

The cost of taking money out of your retirement account before retirement age is much higher than anyone likes to consider.  There is the 10% penalty right off the bat — and people usually have 10% withheld and think they are “covered.”  This is just the beginning.  I have seen people end up paying 50% of their distribution in taxes and penalties.  If you’re not retirement age and thinking of taking an early distribution, I’m happy to go over the implications with you.  CMR Accounting PSC — after all, that’s what we accountants do.

Now, I do understand that sometimes an early retirement distribution is just what you have to do — life is that way.  But recently a client contacted me about withdrawing his retirement to buy another piece of land — a piece of land adjoining his farm.  Leo Tolstoy’s very long short story, “How Much Land does a Man Need?” came to mind.  It has been a favorite of mine for years, and I’ve retold it countless times.  For those of you who haven’t worked through the Russian names to get to the story, it goes like this:

Early in the story, a peasant named Pakhom makes the comment that his only trouble is that he doesn’t have land enough.  He works hard and obtains some land.  He is content for a while, then he realizes that he needs more.  The pattern repeats again and again.  He hears of a place where a man can have all the land he wants.  After selling everything that he owns, he travels with his one thousand rubles to this distant land.  The Chief explains that they sell the land by the day — “As much as you can go round on your feet in a day is yours, and the price is one thousand rubles a day… But there is one condition: If you don’t return on the same day to the spot when you started, your money is lost.”  He began at dawn and walked the first boundary of a beautiful piece of land, but before turning back to the beginning spot he sees a lush meadow.  Just past the lush meadow was a clear lake, and so the day continued with him seeing more and more land that he needs.  As the sun begins to set, he realizes that he can’t make it back in time and begins running — his heart pounding.  He makes it back just as the sun sets, and falls to the ground — dead.  “His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pakhom to lie in, and buried him in it.  Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”

How much do we need?

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 10:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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