December 31, 2015

Just Say No to Food Fads ... or at Least Question Them

Bravo to Charles Krauthammer for his recent column about food fads:  Make mine Gluten-full talking about his skepticism of food fads.

 Charles Krauthammer:  Make mine Gluten-full
Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post: Make mine Gluten-full

To which I'll say:

Ditto that, and pass the cheese and butter!

I love to cook and bake.  Granted, I do base most meals around fresh seasonal produce (organic when possible); we eat whole grain pasta and organic brown basmati rice.  I garden extensively and grow many different types of vegetables and and herbs, and also have fruit and nut trees.  But poultry, meat, eggs, and/or cheese and other dairy is present is present at every meal.  I'll add that my Dutch Grandmother ate a daily breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, and a cinnamon roll; always had homemade baked good including cookies and apple pie in the kitchen.  Gramma lived into her late 80s:  healthy, active, and mentally spry.

Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve!

Mary Rae Fouts

December 30, 2015

There is Nothing More Lovable than a Mutt!

A put-a-smile-on-your-face video from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue showcasing some of their wonderful senior Mutts from 2015:  The video:  Muttville's Greatest Mutts from 2015 .

 Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, California
Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, California
Go Mutts!

Mary Rae Fouts

December 27, 2015

The Unsung IRS Hero who Busted the Silk Road Drug Case

A must read article in today's New York Times that vividly introduces us to the unsung hero of the Silk Road drug case:  IRS Special Agent Gary Alford.  Yes, one of those "Accountants with a Gun" broke open the notorious Silk Road case.  IRS Special Agent Gary Alford turned to good old fashioned sleuth work to uncover the identity of the mastermind behind the Silk Road internet drug site:  Ross W. Ulbricht from San Francisco.

Special Agent Alford (and the Internal Revenue Service in general) were met with disdain from other government agencies involved in the Silk Road investigation, including the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI.  Or, should I say, history once again repeated itself, as the article points out with the decades ago take down of mobster Al Capone, and the lack of historical reference to the fact that an IRS Tax Agent was responsible for success in that case, too.

IRS Special Agents are People, too.

I have interacted with IRS Special Agents not only for client matters, but also in IRS conferences and continuing education seminars.  I have always found the Special Agents to be among the brightest, hardest working, and courteous professionals I have had the pleasure of meeting, even when my interaction with them involved sometimes stressful client matters.  (I am an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury and provide Tax Representation, Preparation, and Planning Services to taxpayer clients, as well as Expert Witness Services for tax-related litigation and arbitration matters.)


Photo Credit:  Cole Wilson for the New York Times

Special Agent Alford, thank you for your hard work and persistence. Now go get some more bad guys!

Please contact me if you have questions about tax matters, including IRS and State Tax Authority audits.  For more information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 26, 2015

The Gorgeous Christmas Moon

After a simply great Christmas Day, we welcomed this morning with the full Christmas Moon in all of Her glory, majestically drifting in the morning's pastel-colored sky.

Here is the beautiful show Mother Nature put on for us this morning at 7:10 AM, as seen from our 2nd story veranda of our home in Pleasant Hill, California.  What a wonderful way to start the day!

The Christmas Moon


Happy Boxing Day!

Mary Rae Fouts

December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas!  

May Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
be filled with peace, happiness, and joy.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 23, 2015

Don't Fall Victim to an IRS Impersonator Scam

IRS Impersonator Scams have literally gone viral - via email, phone, and text messages - in which someone pretends to be a representative of the Internal Revenue Service.  You are told you owe back taxes, or that a lawsuit has been filed against you to collect back taxes.

5 words of advice:
Do not fall for it.

All of these communications are scams attempting to get money from you.  Remember:  the IRS does not initiate contact with a taxpayer via telephone, email, or text message.


If you are contacted by an IRS Impersonator Scam, please report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration ("TIGTA") on their website form:  IRS Impersonator Scam Reporting.

Be smart.  Don't fall victim to an IRS Impersonator Scam.  Please contact me if you have questions about this topic or tax preparation, tax planning, or tax representation (audit and collection) concerns.

For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 18, 2015

#Twitter, anyone?

Tech stock Twitter closed at an all time low yesterday of  $23.31, way (or should I say #waaaaaaay) off its all time intra-day high of $74 plus dollars in December 2013.  The stock is trading down again today, currently off about another 2%.



The question that is the Elephant in the Twitter room is:  Can Twitter attract and maintain users, and prove that its 140 character platform is actually a useful communication tool?


I have my doubts.

Frankly, I find tweets and their Twitter language hash tags an annoying mess of garble.  Time will tell if Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey can turn the company around.  If I may, I’ll sum up Dorsey’s performance in 140 characters or less:

Poor.  He ain’t doing too well at the #TwitterHelm.

If the stock continues its free fall, I’d say Dorsey’s time frame is rather condensed to show positive results.

Please contact me if you have questions about financial planning matters.  For more information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 16, 2015

Taxable income? But I was paid in cash!

More than once I’ve had small business clients come to me for tax preparation and planning services
 who, in the past, had improperly accounted for cash payments in income.  The small businesses were involved in construction or landscaping maintenance trades; each offered a discount for payments in cash.

The “discount for cash payment” was not the problem.  The problem was how each business handled the cash payments on income tax returns. 

And it was a big problem.

For each business, upon reviewing prior income tax returns, I noticed a significant discrepancy of claimed income versus what showed up on their billing records.  The response from each?  Essentially “Oh, I never add the cash to my income for tax purposes.  It’s cash after all, not a check or credit card payment.”




Ugh.  Income is income and must be counted for tax purposes.  Doesn’t matter if the income is obtained via cash, check, money order, credit card, barter, virtual currency, or another method.  Payment for your services is income.

My advice was the same for each client:  We would need to amend prior year tax returns for which the statute of limitations applied, claiming the correct amount of income.  Each business would need to pay back taxes, penalties and interest.  Going forward, all income would be counted on current and future tax returns. 

Each client refused.  Consequently, I had no choice but to sever my tax preparation and planning services agreement with each client.  As an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury, I cannot prepare tax returns I know to be false.

Do it right the first time.

Cash heavy businesses are always a target for audit by the IRS and state taxing authorities.  I know of no one who likes to pay taxes – myself included.  But getting taxes right the first time will save you headache and grief down the road if the Tax Man comes along with an audit notice.

Please contact me if you have questions about tax preparation or tax planning matters.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 15, 2015

Is your dog covered for liability by your homeowners or renters insurance policy?


Notice I said generally.

Dog bite claims are a significant financial burden for the insurance industry, by some estimates counting for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims.  Some homeowners and renters insurance policies specifically exclude liability coverage for breeds deemed by insurance companies to have a high risk of aggression and biting, including but not limited to Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, and Rottweilers.

If your dog is excluded from liability coverage on your current insurance policy, no liability coverage is provided in the event your dog is involved in a bite, attack, or similar incident.  You will be responsible for all financial repercussions, including defense costs and any damages in the event you are sued. 


Sid and Lexi


Moreover, if you are applying for a new homeowners or renters insurance policy, the insurance company may refuse to insure you if you have a dog on their list of excluded breeds.  Another good reason (among many!) to never to let your current policy expire without first having new replacement coverage active.

I advise my clients to check their homeowners and renters insurance policies for dog breed restrictions, and to periodically do so during the time they have dogs and to absolutely do so before bringing a new dog into the family.  And you can always shop around for different coverage, or an insurance rider that provides liability coverage for your breed.

Fostering a dog for a non-profit animal rescue group?

Also, if you volunteer to foster a rescued dog for a non-profit animal rescue group, before taking possession of the dog, ask the group if they have a liability insurance policy in place that extends coverage to the fostered dog on your property.  If they say yes, ask to see a copy of the policy (the entire policy, not just a certificate of coverage) to ascertain the dog's breed is covered.  If no liability coverage is in place, or if the breed is excluded from such coverage, you bear the burden of liability.

Please contact me if you have questions about homeowners or renters insurance coverage.  For information about my Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 13, 2015

Oh where, oh where is Sid the Dog?

While decorating the Christmas Tree my True Love gave to me ...

One Doggie under the Tree!



Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Sid



December 11, 2015

Every wonder how many days Congress actually works per year?

Are you overworked?

In 2010, the Center for American Progress published a study which concluded the United States is the most overworked nation in the developed world.

So, how about our elected Congressional leaders?  Do they have their noses to the grindstone as much, too?

Uh, no.  Not even close.


How would you like this many days off per year?

Here is the official 2015 Congressional Calendar that lists the days Congress was scheduled to be in session this year:  a whopping 132 days.  Yes, 132 days out of 365 days.  That leaves 233 days our elected "leaders" are free to, well, do other things.

2015 Congressional Calendar
Congress scheduled to work only 132 days in 2015.

Pretty sweet deal, wouldn't you say?  No wonder only 11% of people polled last month stated they approved of the way Congress handled its job.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 8, 2015

Looking for a dog friendly getaway? Carmel!

If you live in California and are looking for a dog friendly getaway, I highly recommend a trip to beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea,California.  One of the most dog friendly communities in the United States; good dogs are even allow off leash on the beach.

We have many fond memories of trips to Carmel.  People are so very friendly, lovely stores, fun to walk through the town and enjoy the beach and crashing waves.  Oh, and don’t forget the unforgettable food and wine.  Did I mention unforgettable?  The breakfast popovers at Doris Day's Cypress Inn (where we always stay) are themselves worth a trip.

Carmel:  Wonderful Memories Every Trip

Here are a few photos from our January 2012 trip to Carmel with our late Chow-mix Titus.  Wonderful memories!  What are you waiting for? 








Mary Rae Fouts


December 7, 2015

Yes Santa, I also despise these annoying online ads.

Excellent article in today's New York Times about all those annoying online ads that pop up/and or automatically play.  A must read for anyone who, like me, has tired of these irritating ads.  A large draw on my wireless data plan, plus hearing the automatic sound in my normally quiet home office startles me and is rude if I'm in a quiet public location.



I'll add another online annoyance:  videos embedded in articles that automatically start playing, sound and all.

What to do?  Time to check out Ghostery, I guess.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 4, 2015

Marin County's Attacking Squirrel

And just when I thought things couldn't get nuttier (pardon the pun) in the San Francisco Bay Area, I've learned that we now have .... drumroll ...

an Attacking Squirrel in Marin county.



Mary Rae Fouts

December 3, 2015

Are you using your wood fireplace safely?

Household fires can be heartbreaking experiences.  Working with financial planning and insurance clients who have experienced a fire in their home, rental, or commercial property requires more than putting on my analytical consulting hat to properly help them identify loss and resolve insurance claims.  I also contend with the emotional aspect of a fire and related losses, including loss of human lives, companion pet lives, and loss of irreplaceable sentimental items.


This week, my local area had its first seasonal home fire started by improperly disposed fireplace ashes.  The fire was ignited by fireplace ashes placed in a plastic bucket near a woodpile on the home’s back porch.  The fire quickly spread and caused major fire, smoke, and water damage to the home.  Sadly, this fire was completely preventable by safe disposal of fireplace ashes.

Safety Tips:  Fireplace Use and Ash Disposal

If you have a wood burning fireplace (or wood stove) that you intend to use this autumn and winter, have you thought about fireplace and ash disposal safety?   Here is an informative Fireplace Safety Tips handout
 from the Fairfax County, Virginia Fire and Rescue Department.  Take a look at it; it just might save your home and the lives of family and pets from fire.

Please contact me if you have questions about insurance or financial planning matters.  Complimentary initial consultations.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

December 2, 2015

Think your online email is private? Think again.

So, you think your email is private?

If you keep your email in online storage, the answer is: 

No.

The 30-year old Electronic Communications Privacy Act (yes, in spite of just a few advancements in technology over the past 30 years, this ancient Act remains law) allows government access to your emails stored online for more than 180 days, simply with a subpoena?

Yes.  Our government.  Access to your emails with a subpoena, no search warrant required.

That is wrong.  The law needs to change, although government organizations - including the Securities and Exchange Commission - oppose any changes.  No surprise there.

Big Brother at His finest.                          

Mary Rae Fouts

AIDS: Finding a cure or losing the war?

I received daily delivery of 2 newspapers:  my local Contra Costa Times and the national edition of the New York Times.

Today’s papers included completely divergent articles on the topic of AIDS.  (Yesterday was World AIDS Day.)

The Contra Costa Times had an upbeat article on page 1, extolling that UCSF researchers hoped to have a cure for the AIDS virus in 5 years.  The New York Times, however, took a completely contradictory approach to the topic, with a gloom and doom article starting on page A14 warning the United States is in danger of losing the war on AIDS.


So, which is it?  

Is an AIDS cure truly in the pipeline, or is the country embarking on a deadly loss in the war on AIDS?

Mary Rae Fouts

December 1, 2015

Does your Charity Spend Its Donations Wisely?

Speaking of year end charitable contributions, have you taken time to see if your charity spends its donations wisely?

Just because an entity is a non-profit organization does not, unfortunately, guarantee that charitable donations to the organization are spent wisely.  Some of the worst charities in the United States actually spend less than 1% of contributions (gulp!) on charitable programs; all other money goes to “other” expenses such as board member and employee salaries, entertainment, travel …. Well you get it.

The Tampa Bay Times newspaper does an outstanding job with ongoing charity research.  Here is their very informative compilation listing the Worst Charities in the United States.  Eye opening and jaw dropping, to say the least.

Benchmark for a Well Run Charity

When discussing charitable contributions with my financial planning and tax clients, I generally counsel clients to consider a charity efficiently run if at least 75% of its its budget is spent on the programs and services the charity delivers.  (This is also the benchmark suggested by Charity Navigator.)



My festive live Christmas tree in my
home office, a a stone mountain pine.


Good charities generally publicize how well they use their contributions toward charitable programs.  One of my personal favorite charities, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue
in San Francisco, California, states in its  current newsletter that 83% of every donated dollar is spent on the senior dogs it rescues from more than 135 animal shelters.  (Disclosure:  I donate to Muttville Senior Dog Rescue.)  

That’s pretty darn awesome!
Or should I say pawsome!
   
There are many wonderful charities like Muttville that prudently use your charitable contributions.  A little bit of investigation will provide peace of mind knowing that your charitable donations are well spent.

Please contact me if you have questions about financial planning or tax matters.  Complimentary initial consultations.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

November 29, 2015

My Vote for Retailer Flub of the Year Goes to ...

Restoration Hardware!

How about THIS for a Holiday stocking stuffer gift?

We received our 2015 Restoration Hardware Holiday Catalog in early November.  Take a look at what this San Francisco Bay area retailer included as a stocking stuffer gift for the grill enthusiast:  A meat tenderizer modeled after brass knuckles!

Here is a page from the Restoration Hardware website a couple days after we received the catalog.


Does Restoration Hardware not realize that brass knuckles are illegal in many states, including California, where possessing brass knuckles is subject to felony prosecution?  Yeah, no wonder this item is no longer available!

Me thinks Restoration Hardware has some 'splaining to do.

Mary Rae Fouts

November 27, 2015

Thinking about Year End Charitable Giving?

Where has the year gone to?  The end of 2015 will soon arrive; many of my financial planning and tax clients are thinking about year end charitable giving.  Also, many charities are soliciting donations, as my mailbox and telephone will tell you.

Which brings up an important question:

Is the organization you intend to donate to really a charity?

This year a new tax client came to me for tax planning and preparation of individual income tax returns.  While looking over the client's prior year tax returns, I noticed several thousand dollars of tax deducted charitable donations I thought questionable.  Upon discussing my concerns with the client, I learned they had made donations to a Go Fund Me campaign initiated for private individuals.  Since the campaign was soliciting "donations", my client automatically assumed the donations were charitable, and therefore available for tax deduction.

Wrong.  The private individuals soliciting the donations were not non-profit entities, therefore the donations were not charitable and not tax deductible.  I prepared amended tax returns to correct the error.


A simple bouquet of my gardens' autumn flowers and basil.

Word to the Wise

Before making a donation you assume to be charitable, make sure the entity you are donating to is truly a non-profit organization.  A non-profit's financials and tax returns are open to the public.  If you know where the non-profit is located, you can check with the respective State Government office (in California, the Secretary of State) to see if the organization is an active non-profit.

A little bit of research can prevent hassle and headache down the road.  Please contact me if you have questions about this topic or your tax or financial planning matters.  Complimentary initial consultations. For information about my Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts