March 31, 2016

Nap Time: Oh, to be able to nap in the style of our Faithful Canine Companions!

My Faithful Canine Companions Husky-mix Sid and Chow-mix Lexi are loving our Northern California Springtime.  A warm-ish day with a gentle cool breeze makes for perfect outside activities.

For Sid, one of those activities is, well, Napping in Style.  As in Airing It All Out.  Apparently the weather makes for the perfect time for Sid to catch a few zzz's and some sunshine at the same time.

Sid in the backyard napping in Springtime Style!
Yes, he is sound asleep.  Sid's goofiness always puts a smile on my face.

My husband Jim calls Sid our "Backyard Solar Panel".

"Huh?  Fur brother, just WHAT are you doing?!"

Poor Lexi clearly is a bit concerned and isn't too sure what to think of Sid's napping activity.  The photo doesn't show it, but the expression on Lexi's face was one of "Huh?!"

Happy Springtime!  And Sid and Lexi say:

Don't forget to nap!

Spring nap time for Lexi; warm sun with a cool breeze.
This is her favorite sunning spot, next to a small fig tree that provides filtered shade.
Lexi has lounged here so often that the lawn underneath her is actually just dirt!

Mary Rae Fouts

March 30, 2016

Got Tax? 2015 Form 1040 Tax Returns (or extensions) due this year on Monday, April 18, 2016.

Aw yes, 2015 Tax Day for Individual Income Taxpayers is rapidly approaching.  But you all get a bit of extra time this year to get your 2015 taxes in order, until:

Monday, April 18, 2016

Prior year Federal, State, and Local Individual Income Tax Returns (including payment of any tax due) and the first estimated tax payment for the current year are typically due on April 15 (when April 15 falls on a weekday).  However, this year Friday, April 15 is also Emancipation Day, an official public holiday in the District of Columbia, which the IRS views as a "legal holiday".

So I guess we can all thank Washington, D.C. for an extra tax prep day this year.

Individual Income Taxpayers:  What you Need to Do
On or Before Monday, April 18, 2016

(1)  File your 2015 income tax return (Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ) and pay any tax due; or
(2)  You may request an automatic 6-month extension of time to file your return.  File Form 4868 to extend your filing deadline to October 17, 2016 and pay any tax due to avoid interest and underpayment of tax penalties.
(3)  For those who pay estimated taxes, pay your first 2016 estimated tax payment.

For those of you who pay state and/or local individual income taxes, similar rules apply.  Please check with your taxing authorities to ensure they adopted April 18, 2016 as their tax due date.  It is standard procedures for state and local taxing authorities to follow federal tax due dates (for instance, California state taxing authorities follow federal due dates), but it is always possible there may be a taxing authority outlier that does not.

Have tax concerns?

I am an Enrolled Agent licensed by the Department of the Treasury which allows me to provide tax services to taxpayers in all 50 states and US territories. I provide tax services to individual income, business, estate, and trust clients.  Please contact me if you have questions about tax preparation, tax planning, or taxpayer representation (audit and collection) matters.  (Please note that I do not have consultation times available for new tax preparation and planning clients until after April 18, 2016.)

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

Mary Rae Fouts

March 29, 2016

Pre-packaged salads: Do you really want to eat that questionably fresh pre-packaged salad?

My love of gardening (which includes growing herbs and veggies year round, the types depending on weather) intermingles with my love of cooking and baking.  Fresh vegetable, herbs, and fruits received star status in meals and in my cooking.  As far as lettuce is concerned, butter lettuce - particularly red butter lettuce - is my favorite, but I also happen to think that lowly iceberg lettuce is delish and makes for a mean wedge salad or sandwich fixin'.  We also enjoy garden-grown arugula, mixed salad greens, spinach, and salad veggies including onions, peppers, cucumbers, radishes, and peas.

My gardens were still producing veggies and fruit in late October
that are typically from summer months, including various types of
peppers, green and yellow string beans, tomatoes, and juicy sweet strawberries. 

And green cabbage, made into a simple coleslaw or chopped and added to homemade sauces and stoups.  A simple side salad often adds just the right touch to a meal, and I think sandwiches with extra lettuce, well, just taste better!

Main dish dinner salads are a snap to make, with lettuce, veggies, hard boiled eggs, cheese, and whatever meats or poultry you have in your refrigerator.  Add some delicious bread and you have a delicious meal ready to eat.

Which brings me to a discussion of a salad concept I personally think of as simply yuck:  pre-packaged salad mixes and pre-packaged salads.  I mean, how long ago were the packaged ingredients prepared?  Given the frequent appearance of many of these items, they often do not appear fresh to me.  Do you really want to eat the salad's chicken and other ingredients when you have no idea when (or sometimes where) they were prepared?

Lastly, are people really too busy to wash, chop, and prepare their own salad?

On that topic, here is a article from my local newspaper about the best ... and slimiest ... of pre-packaged salads.  Appears that Fresh Express salads may be anything but fresh.  Again:  yuck!  But perhaps the article will get more people to have fun in the kitchen making their own salads.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 28, 2016

Equity-Indexed Annuities: Are you certain of what you are buying … or bought?

Back when I started working in the insurance industry some 28 plus years ago, deferred Fixed Annuity Contracts were fairly simple insurance products.  But all that changed when the deferred annuity on steroids, Equity-Indexed Annuities, also known as Indexed Annuities, entered the insurance and financial services marketplaces.


Generally speaking, a deferred fixed annuity is a contract between an individual and an insurance company that promises to pay a minimum guaranteed payout stream at a future date.  Before the annuity payout commences, contract growth accumulates at a fixed rated during what is called the tax-deferred deferral period.  Indexed Annuities were designed to fall within fixed annuity regulations and salesperson licensing requirements (meaning a securities license is not required to sell Indexed Annuities, only an insurance license), with the caveat that the fixed rate returns were tired to stock market index returns, such as the S&P 500 index.

Indexed Annuities are often marketed with phrases such as participate in the stock market and you can’t lose your money.  But are those phrases true?  Index Annuities are very complex insurance products, including terms such as “participation rate”, “cap rate”, “annual reset”, and “high water mark” to name just a few.  This Equity-Indexed Annuity alert from the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is a good quick reference tool.  Insurance agents received commission payments for the sale of Indexed Annuities

Indexed Annuities:
Do you understand what you bought or may buy?

During the periods of stock market downward volatility we’ve experienced over the past year, I provided 2nd opinions to a number of clients who were considering purchasing Indexed Annuities from an insurance agent.  During the current period of stock market recovery, I’ve provided consulting services to a number of clients who purchased Indexed Annuities during down markets and are now concerned about their Indexed Annuity contracts’ stock market participation calculations, among other concerns.
Outcome?  In every instance, although my clients are intelligent people, it has been clear they did not have a comprehensive and accurate understanding of the Indexed Annuity Contracts prior to purchase or potential purchase.
Do you have questions or concerns about Indexed Annuity Contracts?  Among numerous credential and licenses, I am a licensed Life and Disability Insurance Analyst, and provide fee-only (no commission) annuity consulting services.  I welcome your call at (925) 979-9972 or email to Mary@FoutsFinancialGroup.com if you have concerns about annuity contracts or related financial planning and tax matters.

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

Mary Rae Fouts

March 25, 2016

A glorious start to Spring!

A few photos from my gardens;  taken on the First Day of Spring, Sunday, March 20.  Glorious!

Happy Spring Everyone!

Yes, I do love my roses!



A blooming California Lilac bush.  A very hardy native plant.  The honey bees love it!

Mary Rae Fouts

IRS Imposter Scams: Don't fall victim to emails and texts claiming to come from the IRS


The Internal Revenue Service recently published a warning about a mega increase in IRS imposter email and text scams.

How big of an increase?

A 400% increase compared to a year ago.

Kinda makes you want to say goodbye to email and text, doesn't it?

According to the IRS:
"The emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies.  The phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. E-mails can seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information."
But wait!   You don't need to say goodbye to email and text, but you do need to be prudent with social media communication.  Remember: the IRS does not initiate contact with a taxpayer via email or text message.  If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, please report it by forwarding the message to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

For more information, visit the Internal Revenue Service's Report Phishing and Online Scams page.  The page is an informative read and contains helpful, easy to use information and tips.


I am an Enrolled Agent licensed by the Department of the Treasury which allows me to provide tax services to taxpayers in all 50 states and US territories.  Please contact me if you have questions about tax preparation, tax planning, or taxpayer representation (audit and collection) matters.

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

March 24, 2016

Sid the Dog does a Happy Dance on the First Day of Spring

My Husky-mix Sid was so excited about the arrival of Spring, he did a Happy Dance with his favorite Big Stick!

Sid is such a lovable, affectionate, and playful goofball ...

"Hmmmm .... Today is the First Day of Spring.  What should I do to celebrate?"

PS - That is grass and dirt on Sid's tongue.
He had just been into something in my gardens or the back yard lawn.
And yes, Sid's "gardening" is a daily occurrence.   Multiple times daily.

"Sweet!  Here is my favorite Big Stick.  How about a Happy Springtime Dance?"

"Grabbin' my Big Stick Dance Partner just right!"

"Do see do and around we go!"

"Twirling and dancin' good!"

"Weeeeeeeeee!  I like dancin'!"

"Hold on Big Stick Partner, I hear Squirrel!"

Unconditional Love is as Close as your Nearest Animal Shelter.
Please Adopt.  Don't Shop.

Mary Rae Fouts

A Random Act of Kindness in Brussels from a Taxi Driver Named Ahmed

The Letters to the Editor in today's New York Times - specifically those grouped "Voices From Brussels and America" are a must read.

Photo from New York Times website "Voices From Brussels and America"
David Lawsky's letter describing the Random Act of Kindness in Brussels from a Taxi Driver named Ahmed ... yes, Ahmed ... reminds us, simply, of the good and thoughtfulness in people.

Mr. Lawsky, thank you for sharing your experience.  And thank you Ahmed!

Mary Rae Fouts

March 20, 2016

Happy First Day of Spring!

Happy First Day of Spring!

Honey Bees enjoying the blossoms on a blooming onion in my gardens.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 17, 2016

Bill Cosby: Got Insurance? He does and he's using it to pay for his legal defense.

An interesting sidebar to Bill Cosby's sordid mess of sexual assault, date rape, and defamation accusations.

Go Insurance?  Bill Cosby does, and he's using it to pay for legal expenses and possible damages in his pending defamation suits.  But not without his insurance company going to Court to try to get out of paying.

As reported recently in the New York Times, Bill Cosby and his wife have extra insurance coverage for personal injury tied to their homeowners' insurance policies; apparently $37 million dollars of coverage in total across 3 policies.  (That coverage would not be cheap to purchase.)  But hey, his insurance carrier American General Group (better known as AIG) likely thought Bill Cosby, formerly thought of as a true family man and crusader for good behavior, was a slam dunk risk.

Uh, not so fast.

Bill Cosby is now using the personal injury policies to pay for his legal costs associated with his pending defamation lawsuits, and to pay for any related damages that may result from settlement or trial.  His insurance carrier AIG subsequently took Mr. Cosby to court, claiming that the policies do not provide coverage for the allegations in the pending defamation lawsuits.


Insurance Company American International Group
says it should not have to pay for defense and possible
 damage expenses in Bill Cosby's defamation lawsuits. 

So far, the courts have sided with Bill Cosby and against AIG, but this litigation remains pending.

What do you think?

Interesting and worth a read.   Provides a reminder to insurance companies:  Don't have ambiguous language in your insurance policies.  If you do, courts hold in favor of the policyholder/insured and extending coverage.

I provide Consulting and Expert Witness Services for insurance matters, including those related to homeowners' insurance and personal injury and liability insurance coverage.  I welcome your call at (925) 979-9972 or email to Mary@FoutsFinancialGroup.com if you have concerns about insurance matters.

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

Mary Rae Fouts

March 16, 2016

Dogs: What do they see that humans cannot?

My Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi frequently spend time on my living room sofa, gazing out onto the front yard and down the lane.  Sometimes they are together on the sofa; sometimes not.  But always peaceful.  Happy.  Content.


Husky-mix Sid and Chow-mix Lexi gaze out onto the front yard
following their breakfast on March 16, 2016.
Good Dogs!



I wonder ...

What do Dogs see that Humans cannot?  

I bet more than a few things!  Perhaps some day I'll find out.


My fluffy fur ball Lexi relaxes and gazes into the front yard on February 27, 2016.
Good Girl, Lexi!




Mary Rae Fouts

March 15, 2016

Wounded Warrior Project: Executive Officers Get the Boot

In January I posted about criticism surrounding the Wounded Warrior Project and allegations that the charity spent lavishly, turned a blind eye to criticism, and treated employees harshly.  I questioned if the allegations were (1) valid, or (2) a witch hunt.

Looks like the former is correct;
for the most part, anyway.


The New York Times recently reported that following an independent investigation which substantiated many of the criticisms and complaints brought to the public's attention in January, the Wounded Warrior Project's Board of Directors fired the charity's
chief executive officer, Steven Nardizzi, and its chief operating officer, Al Giordano.  The Board of Directors stated it is focused on (1) restoring trust in the charity, (2) the charity's mission of supporting wounded military women and men.

The original founders of the Wounded Warrior Project, brothers John Melia and Jim Melia, have made public overtures about getting involved once again with the charity.   (They left the Wounded Warrior Project in 2010.)  No word on whether or not that will happen.

I'll revisit the Wounded Warrior Project in a couple of months, including looking for any changes to the charity's rating on Charity Navigator.

In the meantime, I welcome your call at (925) 979-9972 or email to Mary@FoutsFinancialGroup.com if you have concerns about charitable giving and related financial planning and tax matters.

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

March 10, 2016

Teachings from my Faithful Canine Companions


Need a smile?
Take a peek into my life.

Husky-mix Sid knows how to sleep in style, and thinks there is no weight limit for Lap Dogs.



Comfortable, Sid?  And yes, Sid is sound asleep!

While Chow-mix Lexi constantly reminds me of the peacefulness of simply lounging on a warm blanket on the sofa, watching the front yard world go by.


Lexi:  Good Girl, Sweetheart!

How fortunate I am to have such wonderful Faithful Canine Companions.  With them, how cannot all be good and well in our world?  Sid and Lexi constantly remind me:

not to worry;
to enjoy the small things in life; and
to live in the present, as every day is truly a gift.

Mary Rae Fouts

March 8, 2016

Want to start your own business? Think smart and plan smart!

I routinely work with financial planning, tax, and insurance clients who are either business owners or thinking about starting a business.  As a self-employed professional since 1999, I can tell you first hand about my own joy, frustration, excitement, and occasional struggles related to being my own boss and running Fouts Financial Group.  No paid vacation.  Making time for continuing professional education and the expense of maintaining my numerous professional licenses and credentials.

If you are self-employed, you gotta dig into your own wallet to fund your retirement plan.  Benefits?  Yep, you  personally pay for those, too.  And for many business owners, keeping up with business planning, bookkeeping, taxes, marketing, advertising, employees (for those who have employees) and related business administrative issues can be an overwhelming ... and frustrating ... task.  

And if you are self-employed or in a partnership business formation, you get the distinct pleasure /sarcasm off/ of paying your own self-employment tax .  Yes siree, a tax on self-employment.


But you know what?  With risk comes the potential for reward.  Personal fulfillment.  The opportunity to enjoy what you do for a living.  The chance to seize on business opportunities that present themselves.  The chance to grow and adapt as your business climate changes. 

Realistic expectations are a must, including the length of time necessary for your business to become profitable. 

Business Ownership:  Hard?  Yes.  Challenging?  Yes.  Worth it?

Yes!

What impact do small businesses have on the United States economy?  Huge!  According to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau data, there were 5.73 million businesses/companies operating  in the United States.  Of these 5.73 million business entities,  89.6% of them had fewer than 20 workers.

Are you a business owner – or thinking about becoming one – with concerns about financial planning, tax, or insurance matters related to your business operation?  I welcome your call at (925) 979-9972 or email to Mary@FoutsFinancialGroup.com to discuss your concerns.

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

Mary Rae Fouts

March 7, 2016

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan: Nice Tribute Column

Nice tribute to former first lady Nancy Reagan, written by the Editorial Board of my soon-to-be dissolved local newspaper, the Contra Costa Times.  Hopefully I will always be able to face life's challenges with Mrs. Reagan's tenacity and devotion, as well as continue to enjoy an extra-special bond of love and friendship with my husband Jim.

Grace.  Tenacity.  Devotion.  Courage.



Mary Rae Fouts

March 3, 2016

Donald Trump: Wacky Soap Opera of US Republican Politics Continues

I am not supporting any candidate (current or past) running for election in the 2016 US Presidential race.  Nor do I have sympathy for the screwed-up-beyond-belief Republican Party Establishment Members (not that the Democratic Party is in any better shape) for their prior arrogant belief that Donald Trump was not a viable presidential candidate.

Photo Credit New York Times, 03/032016 article
‘Never Trump’ Movement Dealt Setback After Super Tuesday

Now some Republicans are considering changes to Republican Convention nominating rules to fit their own self-centered desires.  Really?  So much for our esteemed "public servants" respecting the will of the people.  Not!  8 more months of this political mind-numbing crap to put up with before the general election.

Caricature from www.NationalMemo.com

One thing is certain, however.  It would be just plain fun ... FUN ... to watch Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debate.  Bet it would be the highest watched TV program of the year.  I can just hear the "You're gay!" "You're a wife cheater!"  "You're a cattle futures thieve!"  "You're a tax cheat!" insults and allegations hurled back and forth.  Their debates (yes, I do believe Trump and Clinton will be our choices at election day) are sure to instill many stated-word or stated-phrase drinking games across the United States.

Hmmmm ... Just wonder what former Miss America Trump will pick as his Running Mate?

Mary Rae Fouts

March 1, 2016

My local Contra Costa Times newspaper founded in 1947 bites the dust ... Aaarrrrgh!

I like print newspapers, something to pick up in my hands and read, starting with my early morning breakfast and to finish reading later in the day.  Goodness gracious, I spend enough time looking at a computer screen during the day, the last thing I want to do is get all of my news from a computer screen.

I've subscribed to daily delivery of my local Contra Costa Times and the national edition of the New York Times for more years than I can remember.  The Contra Costa Times for local news (Contra Costa is the county in which I live, the newspaper is headquartered in my neighboring city of Walnut Creek), and the New York Times for its national news, international news, specific sections including its Book Review, and cool articles, columns, and reporting you won't find anywhere else.

And do not, do not forget the New York Times daily crossword puzzle I must, must complete.

This newspaper will be no more as of April 5, 2016.
Big thumbs down from this long time daily subscriber.

Just as I was checking my email late this morning, in came one from the Bay Area News Group, publisher of the Contra Costa Times news.  Ugh, after 69 years, the CC Times will be no more as of April 5; it's being consolidated with other newspapers to create an East Bay Times newspaper.

Bay Area News Group:  a big thumbs down
to your newspaper consolidation!
Granted, the CC Times has slowly morphed to more regional reporting over the past few years, including non-local restaurant reviews from all over the Bay Area. (No, I'm not going to Oakland, San Mateo, or Berkeley for lunch or dinner.)  One print newspaper a while back (August 11, 2015) was also mistakenly titled "The Times" instead of the "Contra Costa Times" which created a suspicion in me that changes were underway.  When I asked the newspaper about the printing error, I got no response.

What will this mean for a subscribers like me who live in Pleasant Hill?  Less local news.  Perhaps ... or most likely ... way less.  And likely some of my favorite local reporters out the door.  From the email, seems the new consolidated paper will likely focus on the Oakland area.  For those of you who do not live in the San Francisco Bar Area, please note that the Pleasant Hill/Walnut Creek, California communities have very little to do with Oakland, California, including the ongoing issues of gang violence and related problems in Oakland.

To the Bay Area News Group:  big thumbs down.
Give me back my local Contra Costa Times newspaper.

Mary Rae Fouts