Friday, October 30, 2009

Tax Tip

It’s Friday night and I don’t want to write a long post. The tax tip below will outline a concept, no phase out numbers or anything like that. If the idea has merit for you, call your friendly accountant to facilitate the strategy.

The tax code has a juicy nugget available for 2010-11. Anyone, regardless of income, can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. If you don’t know, the Roth IRA grows tax free and doesn’t require distributions at 70 ½.

Here is my tax tip: If your income is too high to make a Roth IRA contribution for 2009, put the money in a non-deductible traditional IRA instead. Convert this IRA to a Roth in 2010. This allows you to get additional money into a Roth for tax-free growth. The original money is not taxed on the conversion.

How about a two-fer Friday? Consider converting all traditional IRAs in 2010-11. If the value of your IRA is down, you are converting at a discount. You also lock in today’s tax rates. My crystal ball says tax rates are going up over the next years to pay for additional government programs and to balance a budget $1.5 trillion in the red.

Chew on it over the weekend and then decide. See you Monday.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Life Insurance Audits

Some people think “life insurance” is a dirty word; I think it is a tool. Life insurance cash values are over $3 trillion, second only to mutual funds in size (Accounting Today Vol. 23 No. 17, Pg. 18). This vast store of wealth requires more attention than many give it. This blog post deals with those that already have life insurance and is in no way a recommendation to buy, cancel, or change your life insurance situation. Rather, use this post as a guide to discuss your life insurance with your agent. Also note, I am life insurance licensed, but haven’t sold a policy in five or so years. I like to keep informed on financial matters to serve my clients best and defer personal insurance needs to agents that make a career in insurance. Much of the information in this post is from the above listed article in Accounting Today. For more information, check out their website at

All assets should be reviewed periodically to ensure it is optimized. You and your agent should review your insurance plans on a regular basis. Life insurance comes in many flavors. “Cash Value” life insurance is powerful tool when used correctly. The greater your wealth, the more likely it is you will need some sort of life insurance, term or cash value (whole, universal, etc.) to reduce your tax burden now and in your estate. Business owners need to consider life insurance to protect their business. Used correctly, life insurance can assure a smooth transition of a business to new owners and survival of the business should a key employee or owner die.

Many new life insurance products handle business and personal needs better than older policies at a lower premium. A good insurance agent can help you plan accordingly.

Families also need to consider life insurance. Children and the surviving spouse may need funds to keep the house, send the kids to college, and so forth. A good plan is always preferable to flying blind.

The details of life insurance are vast. A short blog post doesn’t do it justice. See your agent. And while you are there, ask to review your home, auto, and umbrella insurance. Demand an explanation on the differences in uninsured, underinsured, and liability. Some day I’ll write a post on these issues. Until then, do yourself a favor, review your insurance. That is what your agent is paid to do.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It Pays to Ask

Today I will outline how your friendly accountant handles services provided by major corporations and how you can get many of the things you have for a fraction of the cost.

I live in the country where cable TV is unavailable. Instead, DirecTV provides my family with several hundred channels of quality programming. {cough} When local stations switched to digital, a few channels didn’t work, including the channel that broadcast most of the Packers games. Since I watch little TV, I was not bothered… until the Packers game situation arose.

The Packers play Minnesota in Lambeau Field this weekend and if the situation is unresolved I will miss it. {sigh} So, I call DirecTV and tell them to add the local channels. They say, “Sure, you just need a new receiver box. Fifty dollars please. Oh, and your bill goes up three bucks a month.” I explain I don’t want it that bad since I could swing for a new $20 antenna and get it for free. In the grand spirit of customer service they transferred me six times before I hung up and took a different approach.

The accountant in me was boiling by now. The only way to win this battle is to make it personal. I called Disk Network and got their best deal that included a free receiver and local channels and then called DirecTV back and told them I wanted to cancel. This brought me to a totally different department. They didn’t transfer the call then. Now I was offered a FREE receiver and an instant $50 credit on my bill to pay the next twenty months of local channel costs. They install the whole thing Friday morning.

To sweeten the deal, about six months ago I called and talked them into giving me a $10 per month discount for a full year. All the new goodies are in addition to the $10 a month discount I already had.

I tell this story so you can use it as a template to save money. Commodity items are easy to get discounted. You can apply the same philosophy to phone service, cable, credit cards, bank products, and more. A rule of thumb is: if it is a mass produced product or mass provided service, it is subject to discount.

Where doesn’t it work? Let me illustrate with an example I am intimately familiar with: accounting services. You can keep your friendly accountant and get a discount if you do it right. If you are a business and have your books in order, I am willing to discount my fee in some cases. Never ask for a discount in the middle of tax season when I am working sixteen hour days. I will not take a pay cut to work more hours February through April; I would rather lose an account and spend more time with my girls. Sorry.

A better approach: ask for a free tax-saving consultation when tax season is over. I will always say YES. It is something I can do later, get my work done now, and is more valuable to you than a fee reduction. Let me save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in a free tax review versus a fifty or hundred dollar tax season discount. You see, even non-mass produced services can be discounted if you try. And I really don’t mind sitting with a client outside tax season working tax saving strategies.

When in doubt, ask. No harm, no foul. The worst that can happen is you stay where you are at. Ask businesses for goodies. There are many unadvertised deals to be had. I know I give a lot of tax consults gratis. If you don’t ask, I’ll bill. I’m not mean; I just want to feed the wife and kids.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Good Deed

You never know when a good deed done will benefit you later. Life works that way. Treat someone nice and you may later find that person in a position to make your life better. Not always, but sometimes. And if you treat enough people nice, the odds go way up.

I bring this up because recent circumstances have allowed me to help one of the nicest people I know and in ways I will never be able to measure.

Back in the mid 90s I purchased Zig Ziglar’s “How to Stay Motivated” series. It includes 3 parts: Changing the Picture, Developing the Qualities of Success, and The Goals Program. I have listened to each tape over a hundred times and it allowed me to build better relationships with my family, friends, and clients; set and keep goals; and see myself in a positive light.

The recordings are on cassette tapes. My car now has a CD player and I wasn’t able to listen as often as I liked so I bought a new set in the CD version about 30 days ago.

Fast-forward to today. A long-time client is struggling in her personal and business life. I will not share details, but rest assured, it is a litany of serious issues. She is a hard worker, mild-tempered, and nice person. She sees herself as always being a victim. I asked her if she could afford the Zig program. She can't. She really has no money right now. None. She has a cassette player in her car, so I borrowed her the cassette tapes version of the Zig program.

One message Zig has is that you should treat other with respect at all times, even if they don’t deserve it. You never know where it will lead. The point is: things come round full-circle.

For some reason, I can feel, deep down inside, this client will pull herself up and have a positive self-image before long. I can’t shake the feeling I did something good for me, too. I did it for her, not expecting anything in return. Yet, somehow, some way, I know I will be very happy I helped another human being today, grow. I wonder if my daughters will benefit. Maybe my children will have a better life as a result. Who knows? Only time can tell.

Anyway, I feel good about myself. And that is good enough for me.

If you want a real treat, check out Zig and his programs by clicking here. I don’t get paid to say this. Zig has no idea who I am. Consider this my gift to you.

I think I am on a roll today.

Monday, October 26, 2009

10%+ Guaranteed Government Bonds

Okay, I’ve exaggerated a little. It isn’t government bonds, it is Social Security. Yes, Social Security pays over 10%, except this year (it only pays 8%), and might even be tax-free.

How can you get in on these goodies? Simple. Delay taking your Social Security. Don’t run for the door; I’m serious. Let me explain.

Here is how it works: From your normal retirement age to age 70, you get an 8% annual boost in your benefits on top of normal COLA (cost of living adjustment) increase. Once you lock in the higher benefits, your surviving spouse also gets the additional benefit.

You want to collect benefits now? No problem (if you are married). You can collect Social Security benefits based on your spouse’s benefit now, and collect your own benefit later. Granted, you only get half the benefit amount, but look at the total advantage. Each spouse collects half of each other’s benefit until ago 70 and then collects their own higher benefit. Get a little now and a ton later.

Maybe you already collect Social Security. Boy, do I have a trick for you. You can collect at any age and later pay it back, qualifying for the much higher benefit. You get interest-free use of the money. The problem is to come up with all the money. Not everyone can do this. If you paid tax on any repaid Social Security, you qualify for a refund. Run the numbers, folks. It really works. (If you live at least five or so years.)

And remember, I said it might be tax-free. Under the current tax code, singles under $25,000 of MAGI (modified adjusted gross income) and marrieds under $32,000 get all their social security tax-free. No matter what, 15% is tax-free, regardless of income. Many states don’t tax some or all of Social Security.

Want to read another article on this, click here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

History 101

Why do we have the taxes we have? I will attempt in a series of posts to expose historical tidbits of the tax code in the United States. Every week or so I will cover little known or understood historical tax issues that affect us today. On to today's lesson:

In colonial times, the Federal Government’s source of tax revenue came from tariffs, excise taxes, and customs duties. Each colony had greater responsibilities than the colonial government prior to the Revolutionary War. Each colony chose the taxes they would levy. Southern colonies relied heavily on import and export taxes; some middle colonies taxed property or had a poll tax; New England focused on real estate, excises, and occupation taxes.

The Constitution, adopted in 1789, endowed the Congress with the power to "…lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States." Many tax scams exist today claiming the Federal government has no authority to tax. As you can see, the government has the authority. Later, the 16th Amendment allowed income to be taxed, too.

Under President Jefferson, all direct taxes were abolished. From 1802 – 1812, only excise taxes were collected. War and economic difficulty are the leading cause of significant tax changes. The War of 1812 is no different. Internal taxes were again levied, but repealed in 1817. For 44 years the Federal Government collected no internal taxes. Most Government revenues came from customs duties and the sale of public lands during this time. How things have changed.

Debt is nothing new to the Federal Government. At the beginning, the Federal Government took responsibility for much of the each state’s debt. To fund the War of 1812, additional Treasury notes were issued. Only one President can claim a debt-free Federal Government under his term: Andrew Jackson. And it didn’t last for long, but that is another story.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Continuing Education

It’s that time of year when I spend more time in class than I do in the office. At least it feels that way. Yesterday afternoon was endless tax issues on agriculture; this morning I listened to a bank exec wax on endless about the financial industry. In each case, I gathered good information that will make me a better accountant/tax preparer.

Five more days of my life before the end of the year will be in a classroom. The wealth of information I receive will serve my clients well in the year to come. A lot of folks groan about these classes, but I like them. The interaction with my peers and the new ideas always invigorate me. The knowledge I gain will make a difference in my client’s lives and that juices me.

If I miss your call, don’t worry. I will call as soon as I get in.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's Never Too Late

Once or twice a week I get a request to prepare five or more years back tax returns. I like the work. It is steady all year round and I enjoy the summer work. I also require a retainer, so I know I’ll get paid.

Many people are shocked when I tell them I take in about 100 clients a year this way. “How can they get away with that?” I am asked. “They don’t,” I reply. “That is why they are calling me. Something changed to make them want to file.” Getting a mortgage requires completed tax return. And IRS letters bring me frantic calls.

Other accountants tell me they don’t get as many new clients per year as I do with multiple returns to file. I don’t know why I get so many, other than to say, I let people know I specialize in unique tax situations. Since starting this blog a few months ago, three new clients with five or more returns to file called me. One became a client. Old habits die hard.

Too many of these people are repeat offenders. I don’t keep statistics on this, but it feels like about half fall off the wagon within a year or two. The sad part is many have refunds and the statute of limitations expires and they lose the refund. I just can’t feel sorry for people that do this.

My advice if you missed the tax extension deadline: Call your local, friendly accountant and set an appointment. The longer you wait, the greater the risk. Tax pros are here to help and we are qualified to do so. Make sure you call a CPA or enrolled agent. They should also have a few years experience, too.

Don’t be embarrassed because you haven’t files since 2002. Accountants don’t care why; all they want to do is get you filed. We have seen it all before.

Remember, if you are required to file and don’t, it is a crime; you can go to jail. If you can’t pay, there are options. So file.

I see someone at the back of the room picking up the phone. Good man.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Words To Live By

After the cheers have died and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written and after you are back in the quiet of your room and the Super Bowl ring has been placed on the dresser and all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring things that are left are: The dedication to excellence; the dedication to victory; and the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live. --Vince Lombardi

Is there any doubt why Vince Lombardi was a winner? It gives me shivers just thinking about it.

Doing It Right

I finished a large tax return today (I am writing this Monday night) for filing later in the week. He had a valid extension, but he waited until it was impossible for me to prepare an accurate return. Several pieces of information didn’t arrive in my office until after the due date.

As much as I hate missing a deadline, even if not my fault, I hate inaccurate returns more. I will never file an inaccurate return intentionally. This brings up a good question: Where do you draw the line on accuracy?

Remember your college days? All the quizzes and exams had a correct answer from the information provided. In the real world, people forget to keep receipts, lose mileage logs, and sometimes wait years before deciding to file.

Rather than go into a long dissertation on what the tax code says, I want to provide some user friendly guidelines. First, if the information is obtainable, you need to acquire it before I am willing to file the return. If documentation is lost or never recorded, a best effort to get a reasonable number is allowed. This is the least preferred way to file a return and used as a last resort only. But you still need to file. If data is impossible to get, you need to make a best guess.

The IRS will do the same thing if you lose documents. However, their reasonable number will be different than your reasonable number. A good accountant comes in real handy at times like these. I use formulas that have withstood IRS scrutiny and help clients build a strong reasonable number.

Accountants refer to this as Cohen’s rule. I will not bore you with tax court rulings; this is a family-friendly blog. The only way I will delay a return is if the information is available and forthcoming. Otherwise, we file the return and amend later if better data becomes available.

To reduce or eliminate this problem, start early. Lowers stress, too.

Monday, October 19, 2009

If You Want To Sell Me Something...

Everyone has pet peeves and I am no different. The phone skills of most telemarketers guarantee I will not buy. Here is what the typical call sounds like:

TELEMARKETER: Is the decision-maker available? (Or they start with: Can I speak with the owner/manager/boss/head kahuna?)

Here are the mistakes: 1.) Caller didn’t introduce themselves. 2.) Caller did zero research; they don’t even know who I am.

Depending on my mood, here is how I answer:

KEITH: Which owner?
The company is shutting down.
You have the wrong company.
He died.
Do you know who you are calling?
And if a phone company calls: We don’t have a phone.

Why do I respond in any of these ways? First, because you called me and I expect you to introduce yourself. Imagine a stranger walking up to you on the street and asking you how much money you have on you. How would you respond? Now you know how I feel. Second, you did no research. You don’t even know my name so you are making the coldest of all cold calls. Here is what could work:

TELEMARKETER: Hello, my name is Alice with XYZ Taxes R Us. I am calling for Keith about our new tax program.

This doesn’t guarantee I’ll buy, but at least you didn’t blow the sale before you finish the first sentence. In most cases, I will listen. I get 10-20 sales calls per day and I never buy from a sales call. But I do ask for more information a few times a month. When I have quiet time to review, I go over those that sent me the information requested.

If a sales call comes from a computer, as most do, you lose every time. I know the telemarketer sales person doesn’t control this, but it is a deal breaker for me. If I have to wait for someone to pick up on a call made to me, even for a fraction of a second, forget about it. If it isn’t important enough to have a live person contact me, then the product or service is something I really don’t care to have.

Break my taboos and I shoot you down every time. You want my time, and if you want my money, better follow my rules. “That isn’t fair,” I hear you say. Maybe. But my money, my rules. If you want a chance, call yourself, don’t send a machine; introduce yourself, company, and reason for the call; and know who you are calling. If you don’t know who handles the phone service/copier/computer/on ad nauseam, how can I trust you know anything about the product you are selling?

Friday, October 16, 2009

First-Time Homebuyer Credit Running Short

If you have plans to buy your first home, you better hurry. The first-time homebuyer credit expires November 30, 2009. There is no plan to extend the credit at this time.

The $8,000 credit is refundable, meaning, if your taxes are under $8,000, the excess will be paid to you. You can amend your 2008 tax return to claim the credit immediately.

The old credit for 2008, capped at $7,500 was no more than an interest-free loan. Those credits must be paid back in 15 equal installments starting with the 2010 tax return.

For 2009, the credit expanded to $8,000 and doesn't get paid back. The home must remain your primary residence for three years or the credit is forfeited.

You must close on the home prior to filing an amended return for the credit. Use form 5405. The IRS is slow sending checks for this credit due to the volume received and for fraud prevention. The credit has turned into a fraud problem for IRS, so they are reviewing all claims for the credit.

Follow-up note: After I wrote this post I read that there is an effort in Congress to extend the credit. Stay tuned; I'll fill you in if it is extended.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Times Up

If you haven't filed your taxes you may suffer a late filing fee. If you have a refund, no problem; if you owe, penalties and interest will apply.

Note on how to make a tax accountant happy: Get you stuff in early.

A couple people in my office waited so long (and brought in boxes) so I couldn't finish on time. Sorry. Get it in sooner or you risk financial loss.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Great Minds and "I Can"

Zig Ziglar asks in his motivational seminar series: Why is that with only 3 million Americans in 1776, we produced Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Paine, and many more, and today, with over 300 million Americans we produced...

He lets the words hang intentionally. It is a powerful question to ponder.

Later he talks about an inner city LA school with all the problems inner city schools have; how they started an "I Can" program and solved the problems. The "I Can" program started to reward kids for good behavior rather than focus on punishing bad behavior. Teachers and administrators would give coupons or points to kids caught picking up trash, helping another student, being polite to others, and so on. Six months later there were zero instances of drugs, graffiti, assault, or other crime. He goes on to explain an administrator talking about six kids chasing down one piece of trash blowing across the school yard from an adjacent park. When the picture of themselves changed, they changed. And the community was better for it. Most of all, the kids learned so much about themselves. What it is like to help others, be kind, and respect their community.

I bring this up because I think the United States has it all wrong when dealing with crime. We have over 2.5 million people in our prisons and jails as I write this, and the problem continues to grow. No society has ever incarcerated so many per capita or per volume, save modern Russia. The policy doesn't work. Most of these people will rejoin society with a chip on their shoulder. The families that are broken become bitter and the cycle keeps on growing. Even worse, some states are opening prison doors due to economic contraints. Is this really the way to run a society?

I am an optimist. I think an "I Can" program for adults would go much further than building another prison. It would work like this. Businesses would allow the police to hand out $5 certificates redeemable for services. Fast food restaurants and retail stores would find this a low-cost advertising program. The stores wouldn't be charged for distribution of the certificates. They would just have to provide the $5 discount, their only cost.

The police would reward adults and children alike. Imagine: You pull into a parking lot and a police officer follows you. (I don't think the police should pull anyone over for this.) The officer says to you as you leave your car, "I noticed back there you yielded right-of-way when you didn't have to. That was neighborly of you." He then hands a certificate for the store you are at.

I know I am crazy, but imagine: A probation agent rewarding an individual for good behavior rather than gearing toward punishment for bad behavior. If you want attention, do good. The person on probation for DUI gets recognition or a certificate for a period of sobriety. A prison inmate gets additional privileges for walking away from a fight. Instead of punishing bad actions, reward the positive and reinforce it.

A blog post is too short to spell out the whole program as it sits in my head. Maybe I live in an idealized world... in my head. It's my world as I see it. I think we would all be better off praising the uplifting. We should end our squandering of resources dealing with bad behavior only. Just think, fewer victims and lower taxes. Am I really nuts to think this is worth trying?

I know we still need jails for the incorrigible. But how many are really incorrigible? How many became incorrigible from the ongoing cycle? And is it possible to prevent people from becoming this way by adjusting our view of ourselves. How does it make you or the officer feel when an arrest takes place? If the police are friends rather than accuser, our community is better off.

In Japan, where crime is significantly lower than it is in the United States, where it is safe to walk the streets, day or night, the attitude is different. People have a high moral view of their community and feel they belong. We can learn a lot from those succeeding at social stability.

I dream. Our world can be better. I can say thank you, smile, be kind and friendly, pick up the trash, and speak highly of my community. I dream. It starts with me. I can do this. One person at a time, we make our society a better place. I bet it is contagious.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

6 Degrees of Separation

I love the concept that every one of us knows each other in 6 steps of less. The idea of six degrees of separation has been around since shortly after WWI under different names. The mathematical models have changed, depending on the research performed, and has included email/internet testing in recent years. The number isn't perfect, but a rough idea of how things stand.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, six degrees of separation says we know everyone on the planet in six or fewer steps, where your acquaintances are step one, their acquaintances step two, and so forth. So, how can we use this data personally?

First, I recommend being nice to everyone you see. They probably know someone that knows you, if in your local community, and only two or three steps for someone regionally or nationally. People on the other side of the planet are a mere six or seven steps away, so be nice when on vacation, too.

The importance of six degrees is even larger for businesses. People talk. We know that. People spread a bad experience faster and more often than a positive one. Do good work and ask your clients to spread the good vibes.

A group of people that needs buzz more than just about anyone is authors. Authors can't see every person that will purchase her book. Understanding six degrees of separation plays well here. Imagine: Author has a friendly gathering at her local, small town library. Let's say 100 people show up. Author gives a wonderful presentation, is personable, asks guests to buy her book, and politely reminds guests to spread the words to their friends. Something so simple can get the snowball rolling.

I haven't advertised my practice in over ten years; yellow pages don't count. Still, I acquire 3-4 new clients per month during the summer and 30-40 during tax time. A cordial attitude goes a long way. Be nice and people will talk... and talk... and talk...

Before you know it, you can have a real business or tons of book sales. Smile big.

Tax Deadline October 15th

The deadline to file your taxes is October 15th, assuming you filed an extension. After that... [friendly accountant drags index finger across his throat].

Monday, October 12, 2009

High Taxes

If you didn't already know, Wisconsin has very high taxes. We are number 12 on the list. Read all about it here.

IRS Email is a Fake

I have seen an increase in the number of fake IRS emails over the last month. Below is the bulk of the email.

Taxpayer ID: keiths-8253US
Issue: Unreported/Underreported Income (Fraud Application)
Please review your tax statement on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website (click on the link below):
review tax statement for taxpayer id: keiths-8253US

The header reads: "Internal Revenue Service []"

The IRS never sends this kind of email. Before you respond or click on a link, call me. I'll talk you down and put the fear of God in you so you don't do something stupid. I didn't check the link, but my guess is that it is a pfishing scam.

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER open an email like this. Send it to the spam folder. I've blocked the sender several times and they come up with new ways to sneak things through. The same goes for fake IRS emails offering an additional refund. The IRS NEVER sends refund requests via email. They don't audit by email either. Get it?

Friday, October 9, 2009


I must be doing something right, I’ve been censored. What surprises me is who censored me.

Proposed FTC regulations requiring bloggers to disclose if they receive payment or free product, has some blogger’s up in arms. I pooh-poohed the idea and got censored. I commented to a post with humor, downplaying the idea that disclosing payments or free products, is a real issue. The blogger refused to post my comment.

Here is the part that may shock you: I was censored by a member of the publishing industry. Censorship is a far greater issue to the publishing industry than any FTC regulation. Yet, she exercised her right. Good for her.

Her argument is that disclosing free products for review or payment will harm her ability to make a living. Why? On this blog I allow Google to place ads so I can, you guessed it, make some coin for my efforts. You also understand I will charge for my tax and accounting services, don’t you? If not, you’ll find out soon enough.

If I receive a free product and review it, I want to disclose that fact. Likewise, I will tell you if I am compensated for an opinion. My opinion remains unchanged, but you need the facts to make a quality decision.

This morning I received a blistering email from above discussed blogger, complete with four-letter words. It was an email, a private correspondence, so I will not share details here. However, if you write a comment to this blog, it will post after I review it. As long as the comment doesn’t contain private information (this is a tax blog after all, I’ll answer those privately), is illegal or unethical, it will post. Before you hit the send key, know this. Once posted, it will stay posted. Nothing you say or do will make me take it down. If you comment, it is a public discussion.

I like getting paid for what I do. I like getting free stuff. I am not bashful about it when it happens. You shouldn’t be either. And no, the FTC didn’t pay me to write this blog. If someone clicks a Google ad, I’ll eventually get some spare change. If you become a client, again, I’ll have greenbacks to pay the light bill. Is this something the publishing industry should censor? Now I need this person to spout-off publicly so I can get a quarter million viewers on this blog per day. Can you help? For free?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Scam Alert

Guess what I got in the mail today. A nice letter from Check Into Cash: Your One Stop Money Shop.

They want me to promote their services. They will send me, your favorite accountant/tax preparer, ten bucks every time you cash a check there, including refund checks. If a tax office asks you to do something so stupid, clutch your wallet tight, and run. You DO NOT pay to have your refund check cashed. Once you walk into a payday loan store you are poorer. Much poorer. What they do is legal, but in my opinion, unethical. I call it financial rape.

A few tips: If you need to get your refund fast, use direct deposit. If you don't have a bank account, go to a small bank or credit union that charges no fees for opening a money market or savings account and open the account with $5. Bring the bank info to your friendly tax preparer and he will see that your refund, federal and state, is direct deposited. Your refund will be fast, 10 days or so, and no added fees. Isn't that nice? No financial rape required. Same goes for Refund Anticipation Loans. Save your money.

Now I want to share additional details of the letter I received. The letter is hand signed. Very nice. They must care. They care so much they addressed the letter to: To Whom it [sic] May Concern. I am informed that I will get $10 every time a client comes in and cashes a check. If 100 people come in, they will give me $1000. Woooo hoooo! Then they ask me to "share" the enclosed flyers with employees and customers. You know, I really like my employees and customers. Why would I introduce them to the local loan shark?

There's more. The nice lady that sent me the letter says, "We also have pens, pencils, and rulers," if I would be interested. Ahhhh, no. "Marketing goes both ways," she continues. She invites me to send a stack of my business cards and flyers. "...we would be more than happy to share them with our customers." Let me make this clear: I don't want clients that frequent payday loan stores. People that have this nasty habit do not remain clients for long. They go broke is what they do.

Please, please, please, do not use payday loans or check cashing products. As a nice accountant, I must inform you, I've only seen disaster from people who do. These companies are not a last resort. They are the dirt packing tight on your financial grave.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

WRWA Conference In Pictures

And now, for your viewing pleasure, the Wisconsin Regional Writers' Association's fall conference in pictures.

WRWA's Youth Member Services Coordinator, Cassie Hansen, and Board of Director (BOD), "Boone", conduct serious WRWA business.

The future of the industry.

Note to Barbara Poelle: Expect queries from these folks any day now.

Books on tape are expensive so we had LaMoine McLaughlin read his poetry for us.

If I only understood poetry.

Hellooooo ladies.

I wish I had names.

If names are left in the comments sections, I'll update the post.

Barbara Poelle, agent extraordinaire at the
Irene Goodman Literary Agency, spreads the gospel.

Amen, Sister Poelle!

What? A pop quiz? I'm outta here.

<---- is thinking "These Wisconsin people are so dear. I could just pack them up and take'em home with me.

Our Youth Member Services Coordinator is now running the show.

Jean Feraca shares her wisdom and compassion.

Never point the camera at the floor while your finger is on the button.

Nice shoes.

Boyd Sutton, WRWA's secretary, is snuggled in between two lovely ladies. Mrs. King is to the right. Please provide full names and I'll update.

James Boone? I hope I have the name right. WRWA BOD.

Dave Rank, WRWA BOD. "You wanna take a poke at me? Go ahead, make my day."

WRWA treasurer. Ohhhh, what a fine looking specimen he is. Looks familiar in a weird sort of way. I think I saw the guy in the mirror this morning.

Did he have more hair last week?

Outgoing WRWA president, Robin Butler. He looks serious, but I've heard him read his material. He ain't that serious.

Thanks for your years of dedicated service. I think I speak for everyone in the organization when I say, we look forward to your guidance in the future.

All right class, face the front, hands on the table, and give us your complete attention.

It was a remarkable conference. See y'all at the spring conference.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Greatest Query Ever Told

I have a few more writing blogs to post before I get back to pressing tax issues. Tomorrow I will post on the WRWA fall conference in pictures. They are a fine looking bunch, I guarantee you. Now, for today’s topic: The Greatest Query Letter Ever Told.

Nearly 146 years ago, President Lincoln addressed a crowd of 15,000 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg. Pennsylvania. His query… his plea to preserve this nation is arguably one of the most important speeches ever delivered. With so much at stake, President Lincoln, without the luxury of internet query samples, gave us the greatest query ever told.

In just over two minutes, Lincoln spoke a mere 10 sentences, sentences that echo down to us today. Let’s look at the address from a query point of view.

  • Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Lincoln delivered the hook. Number of words (years), and the theme of the story (the reason our nation should continue).

  • Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Now, in four sentences, we get the book. If Lincoln can explain the state of affairs in 1863 in four sentences, why can’t writers describe their book with the same brevity? I aspire to communicate as clearly and concisely as Lincoln. Wish me luck.

  • But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate...we can not consecrate...we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And the cook. Agents love to talk about query letters containing: the hook, the book, and the cook. Lincoln, without the benefit of endless samples to draw from, produced the greatest query ever told with the nation at stake.

Notice how the cook begins. Lincoln provides our nation’s resume the way a writer will outline his publishing credits. There are no wasted words, only clear, concise phrases. When I read the last 15 words, a shiver runs down my spine. I think he would have had no problem finding an agent.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Brett Farve Can't Win

The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings square off this evening. Brett Favre has his opportunity to show the world he still has the right stuff. But can Favre win?

There is no doubt the Minnesota Vikings can win the game on the score board; the story for Favre is different. If the Vikings blow the Packers away, the fans will cheer in Minneapolis. And everyone will say, “That is what he is expected to do.” If the Vikings lose, or if the game is close (anything short of a blowout), fans on the west edge of the Mississippi will say, “Brett still thinks he’s playing in Green Bay.” Or, “The ‘ol boy is too old to play.” And angry fans may say, “Go back to the bayou, boy.”

Brett Favre can’t win. His best outcome is to avoid embarrassment. He will put on a show at the Metrodome, if anybody cares anymore.

I pity Brett. His best years are behind him and he wants to hold onto his youth at any cost. Too many of us do the same. There is a lesson in this for everyone. Brett Favre used to do things with style; now he just does things. There is an honorable statesmanship in maturity. May we all learn the lesson before we suffer a career ending injury. I will cheer the Packers on and pray Brett steps off the field with his head held high, uninjured.

Brett, you can still be part of the game even if your hands aren’t tucked into the center’s crotch. Man, I hope I learn that lesson well myself.

Friday, October 2, 2009

6 Financial Moves That Sound Good--but Aren't

Check this out. I firmly believe in sound financial advice. This is it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Balancing the Budget

The federal government is spilling red ink to the tune of $1.5+ trillion over the past year. A large part of this is waste. I have a solution to sop up some of the red stuff taxpayers will need to pay for eventually.

Accountants use the Power of Attorney to open communication with Revenue for specific clients. Once the POA is signed and filed, the IRS sends every document to the taxpayer and accountant. When the job is done, we disengage the POA and Revenue should stop sending duplicates to us.

But they don’t. Several days a month the mail doesn’t fit in the mailbox. A thousand letters per month or more from taxpayers no longer clients, grace our shredder. Revenue could save millions in postage and paper costs by honoring our request to withdraw from the POA. Think of all the trees saved. The only loser is the post office.

And I pray they never decide to send it all email. If they do, they will be sent to the spam folder automatically.