April 26, 2016

Selfies: It's ok to just say no. Might save yourself a cosmetic lip implant procedure.

Selfies.

I've never seen the attraction of them.  People taking photos of themselves, sometimes with odd expressions such as pursed lips, overly dramatic facial expressions, or tongues hanging out.
I wonder:  Has social media caused some people to become overly self absorbed?
Society has responded in more ways than one.  Tourist locations - including museums - have banned selfie sticks.  But in another trend, incidents of cosmetic lip surgery have greatly increased in the United States.  A jaw dropping  27,449 cosmetic lip implant procedures were performed in 2015.

Common reason for the cosmetic lip implant procedure?  People want their lips full and puffy for selfies.

That's a lot of cosmetic lip filler.  And perhaps a lot of personal self-absorption.

But hey, you know what?  I've never taken a selfie.  Never felt the desire or need to do so.  Nor have I had any cosmetic surgery procedures done.  My Chanel lipstick and lip gloss and MAC lipstick look just fine on the unaltered lips I've sported for 50 years.

That makes me wonder ... How many others have never taken a selfie?

Give yourself a break today:
Just say no to selfies!

Mary Rae Fouts

April 25, 2016

Prince's Estate: Value expected to soar, much like Michael Jackson's Estate following his death.

Did the late music and recording artist Prince take prudent steps to care for his Estate upon death?

Excellent article in the Los Angeles Times covering this topic.  Entertainment business reporter Ryan Faughnder explores Prince's Estate ... the value of which is expected to soar, much like Michael Jackson's estate following his death ... and potential issues regarding the control of Prince's Estate and associated estate taxes.

Valuation of Prince's estate holdings will be a key issue in preparation of Prince's federal estate tax return (Federal Form 706, Estate and Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Return), any state estate tax returns (including Minnesota's Estate Tax Form M706), and calculation of Prince's estate taxes.  The estimated $300 million plus value of Prince's estate, coupled with the difficulty establishing the value of some of its holdings, including Prince's music royalties, places Prince's estate tax return square in the cosshairs of the  Internal Revenue Service and the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

Yes, Minnesota is one of 18 states plus the District of Columbia that currently has a state-based estate tax, inheritance tax, or both.  These states are adverse residences for individuals subject to estate tax, which should be an estate planning consideration for high net worth individuals such as Prince.  Hopefully Prince's professional advisors counseled him as such.

Your Estate ...
Plan So You Have Control and Your Wishes are Honored

Thinking about death can be uncomfortable for people.  But as I counsel my Fouts Financial Group clients, death (like taxes) is an unavoidable part of life.
Do you want control of what happens to your possessions and dependents following your death, or would you rather a state court (intestate succession law) make decisions that may be adverse to your wishes?
Prudent Estate Planning will ensure that your wishes are followed.

Estate Planning considerations and documents should not be limited to those related to death, such as life insurance, revocable living trusts, and wills.  (And, for high net worth individuals subject to estate tax, the state in which you reside.)  Estate Planning should also include a coordinated Life Planning component to address what happens if you become incapacitated or otherwise are unable to handle your affairs.  Documents to consider for the Life Planning component include but are not limited to an Advanced Health Care Directive (also known as a Living Will) and various Power of Attorney documents.

Please contact me if you have questions about Estate Planning and Estate Tax Preparation and Representation matters.

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

Mary Rae Fouts

April 23, 2016

Trupanion Pet Insurance Update: Good Luck Cancelling this Worthless Pet Insurance

I recently posted about my extremely negative experience with Trupanion Pet Insurance.  Namely, that Trupanion trumps up bogus reasons to deny valid claims, based on my experiences and those of many other current and former policyholders.  I advised readers not to waste their money on this worthless pet insurance.

Trupanion won't pay valid claims, but they will gladly take your premium money each month.


But wait, there's more!

I initiated cancellation of my Trupanion Pet Insurance on April 12 with a phone call to their 24 hour customer service number.  The customer service person I spoke with stated she did not have authority to cancel the policy.  I checked my policy, which stated coverage could be cancelled by written notification via email, fax, or postal mail.  Over the course of the next 8 days, I submitted 4 separate requests in writing (3 via email and 1 via fax).

Trupanion is very good at silence when it comes
to responding to cancellation requests.

Or should I say, failing to respond.
And Trupanion's response?  You know, Trupanion, the pet insurance company who responds via email within a couple hours of filing a claim to tell you they have denied the claim?


Silence.  As in silence like crickets chirping.

My 4th and final request stated that I would (1) dispute any future premium charges with American Express, and (2) file a complaint with the California Department of Insurance the following week if I did not receive immediate notice of cancellation and unearned premium refunded.  I finally got a response on April 21, a phone call from Trupanion's customer service department telling me they needed to verify all of my information before processing the cancellation.

Yep, that's right.  Yet another hassle from good ol' Trupanion Pet Insurance.

Well, the company picked the wrong person to mess with.  I promptly informed the caller that the company had all of my information, I did not need to verify it in order to cancel the policy, and that they were once again failing to honor the terms of their policy.  I told her to provide confirmation of cancellation that day, or I would file a complaint the following day with the California Department of Insurance.

And then I hung up the phone.  About 2 hours later I received an email from Trupanion confirming cancellation of the policy.  Now let's see how long it takes for my unearned premium to be refunded.

How many other policyholders have gotten bamboozled by Trupanion?

What bothers me is that while I knew what to do with Trupanion's mess - I've worked in the insurance industry for 28 years, including working as an Expert Witness for arbitration and litigation insurance disputes - I realize that Trupanion's typical policyholder is not an insurance expert.  How many Trupanion policyholders ... good people trying to do the best for their companion pets ... get the same denied claims that I received, and get the same run around attempting to cancel a policy?  How many people simply continue to pay monthly premiums thinking they have a value medical insurance policy for their pet, when the coverage has been proven to be worthless ... annual premium increases, denial of valid claims, money down the train into Trupanion's pockets ... for so many people?

Insurance consumers deserve much better than what Trupanion provides.  Perhaps a future Insurance Department Market Conduct Examination will help provide more publicity about Trupanion's deceptive pet insurance practices.

In the meantime, don't waste your money on Trupanion's worthless pet insurance coverage.

Questions about insurance coverage?  I welcome your call at (925) 979-9972 or email to Mary@FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

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

April 20, 2016

Only in Crazy California: Claims of "price discrimination" in women's clothing and other stuff.

Yep, another Only in California crazy idea ...

KPIX Channel 5 has reported that California lawmakers are proposing a new law that would ban "price discrimination" of women's clothing and other stuff, presumably because women's "stuff" costs more than men's "stuff", and our politicians by golly think that's not right:
State Lawmakers Target 'Pink Tax' Of Women Paying More Than Men For Goods: California lawmakers are seeking to end price discrimination between the cost of women’s and men’s goods like clothes and toiletries.
Wow, don't California state politicians have anything better to do?  So, instead of focusing on critical issues - like Jerry Brown's crazy train (aka high speed rail), our dismal public school performance, broken roads and bridges, and promoting use of recycled water for irrigation and future drinking water - they instead focus on women's blouses.

That's right.  Women's blouses are a victim of discrimination.  The horror of it all!!!

What's next?  Legislation to eliminate separate departments for women's and men's clothing, shoes, and accessories?

Oops, I probably just gave our state pols an idea.

Memo to politicians in Sacramento:  As a lover of clothes, shoes, fragrance, makeup, handbags, scarves, and pretty much everything Nordstrom, I can confidently tell you that (1) women's and men's "stuff" in general cannot be compared unless you want an apples to oranges comparison; and (2) women's clothing and other feminine-orientated items do typically require additional detail work and design, and therefore warrant a higher cost.

Now get back to work on important California issues, will you, pols?

And please ... Leave my blouses alone!

Mary Rae Fouts

April 13, 2016

Trupanion Pet Insurance: Don't Waste Your Money

The tag line should read:
"No medical insurance for your pet
because we won't pay your claims, Sucker!"
When we adopted our dogs Husky-mix Sid  (in late Sept. 2014) and Chow-mix Lexi (in late Oct. 2014) we decided to purchase pet health insurance from Trupanion.  The coverage seemed to have improved since we looked at it (but didn't purchase) for our late Chow-mix Titus.  We provide our dogs with the best veterinary care possible, and knowing what costs can be (Titus had 2 TPLO surgeries and also surgery and chemotherapy treatment for canine cancer) thought it prudent to purchase coverage for catastrophic events.

Boy.  Were We Wrong.

Our Trupanion policy supposedly ... and I stress the word supposedly ... provided coverage for 90% of of vet costs, excluding ordinary and routine care including exams, following a $1000 deductible.  The most recently monthly premium for both dogs (currently about 4 years and 3.5 years old) was $54.40.

Sid the Dog snoozes in "his room" (a guest room) on a rainy Spring 2016 afternoon.

Lexi relaxes in the back yard on a glorious Spring 2016 afternoon.

We didn't file any Trupanion claims for Lexi, but we did file claims for Sid.  While Sid's claims did not meet the $1000 deductible, we wanted to get claims started in the event the conditions manifested to need additional care that would meet the deductible.  For three claims - the last one being this week, when we threw our hands up in the air and cancelled the coverage to avoid more money going down the drain - Trupanion denied the claims.  Reason?  Sid had an infection in 1 ear when we adopted him from the local county animal shelter.  We treated it, it cleared up in 2-3 weeks.  Our 3 claims involved separate and distinct acute infections, yet Trupanion insisted that since Sid had an ear infection prior to coverage, that infections were pre-existing conditions and not covered.  Claims denied.  (And by the way, I am a licensed insurance agent and insurance analyst, and have worked with insurance matters, including insurance coverage and claims, since 1988.)

No kidding.  Infections ... unrelated, newly-onset infections ... not covered because Sid happened to have an ear infection more than 18 months before that was treated then and completely cleared up within 2-3 weeks.   We could see the writing on the wall that Trupanion will do whatever they can to deny a claim.  Surely the same would have held true with Lexi, they likely would have denied claims tying some connection to her prior neglect and abuse, or her surgically-removed fractured lower canine teeth.

A quick search on the Internet reveals many similar complaints from both current and former Trupanion Pet Insurance policyholders.  Denied claims time and time again.

Don't waste your money on Trupanion Pet Insurance.

If you have pets, don't waste your money on Trupanions' worthless pet insurance.  Based on our experience and that of many other pet owners, the policy premiums are (or were) simply money down the drain.  Set the money aside for the day when you need it for unexpected pet veterinary needs.  Don't expect Trupanion to be there when you need them, although they will gladly take your premium money each month.

California Insurance Complaints

If you live in California, are a Trupanion Pet Insurance policyholder, and believe all or part of a claim has been wrongfully denied, you may have the matter reviewed by the California Department of Insurance:
California Department of Insurance
Consumer Services and Market Conduct Branch, Claims Services Bureau,
300 South Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Phone:  800-927-4357

You can also file an online complaint with the California Department of Insurance.

Questions about insurance coverage?  I welcome your call at (925) 979-9972 or email to Mary@FoutsFinancialGroup.com.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group

Once again, another life lesson learned with help from my Faithful Canine Companions!

Mary Rae Fouts

April 11, 2016

IRS Audit: Perhaps not so bad after all?

Not often you can put a positive spin on an IRS Audit!


Questions or Concerns about Tax Matters?

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

April 8, 2016

7-11 Stores: You can now get your hotdog, slurpee, cigarettes, and also make cash tax payments to the IRS

This is not a joke.  Although I actually thought it was when I first heard about this rather unusual ... ok, very unusual ... partnership.  I didn't believe it until I read the official IRS Announcement.

As reported in various media outlets, the Internal Revenue Service has partnered with 7-11 convenience stores to offer payment of taxes - in cash - at select 7-11 stores in 34 states including my very own California.

My initial thought?

Giving your Social Security Number to a 7-11 store ...
What could possibly go wrong?

/Sarcasm off./  I have so many security, identify theft, and financial privacy concerns with this arrangement that steam may be coming out of my ears.  I will not recommend this payment method to any of my clients.

The 7-11 pay-taxes-in-cash process is not as simple as walking into the store and paying taxes.  It requires a multi-day sign up process.  Cash payments are limited to $1000 per day with a $3.99 convenience fee.

Many of you are probably wondering "Why not just go to your local IRS Office and make a tax payment in cash?"  Answer:  not all IRS Offices (now called by the kinder title of Taxpayer Assistance Offices) accept cash tax payments.  Yes, the legal tender of the United States of America is not accepted at some IRS Offices.

Rather ironic, isn't it, considering that the Internal Revenue Service is a division of (technically called a bureau of) the United States Department of the Treasury.  You know, the government department responsible for currency (cash) and coinage.

To find out if your local IRS Office ... oops! Taxpayer Assistance Office ...   accepts cash tax payments, find your local office and learn what services it provides here.

Questions or Concerns about Tax Matters?

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

April 6, 2016

9-year-old newspaper publisher Hilde Kate Lysiak fires back at "adult" critics. You go girl!

Have you heard about tenacious and talented 9-year-old Hilde Kate Lysiak, the reporter, editor, and publisher of the Orange Street News in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania?

Yes, 9 years old.  As in attends the third grade.  This young lady has been publishing the newspaper since age 7, when it started as a crayon-drawn family newspaper.  Hilde now publishes a monthly print edition (can be mailed anywhere in the United States for a mere $14.99 a year), and maintains a Facebook page and website for her newspaper.  Family members help with video and other tasks.

As reported nationally including this article in The Washington Post, Hilde recently broke a story about a murder in Selinsgrove, beating out all other media outlets with the headline:

“EXCLUSIVE: MURDER ON NINTH STREET!”.

End result?  Hilde and her parents received a barage of criticism (including some profanity-laced comments) from so called "adults" who took to the Orange Street News Facebook page to berate Hilde and her parents for allowing Hilde to pursue her journalist work.  Here are a couple comments:
"I am disgusted that this cute little girl thinks she is a real journalist. What happened to tea parties?"
"9 year old girls should be playing with dolls, not trying to be reporters."
Reminds me a bit of my late father, who told me when I was about Hilde's age that my career goals should consist of becoming a nun or a secretary.

Uh, no.

Unfazed, Hilde responded with a video, recorded with the help of her sister Isabel:


My thoughts?  Seems to me that Hilde is behaving like a mature adult, much more so than the so-called "adults" who criticised and berated her.  Jealousy, perhaps?

You go, Hilde!  I do believe those so-called "adults" now realize what Mark Twain meant when he said

"Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel."

Mary Rae Fouts


April 4, 2016

It's Baseball Season ... Go Giants!

I'm a huge baseball fan, not only the game, but also its history and statistics.  And heck, 2016 is an even year, a positive sign for my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants are playing the Milwaukee Brewers in today's opening season game.  Check out the game at MLB's Gameday.

Mary Rae Fouts

April 1, 2016

Police K-9 Mocha: Meet Livermore, California's Latest K9 Officer Mocha! (Happy April Fools' Day!)

This just in from the Livermore, California Police Department:

Officer Sanchez is excited to introduce their newest K-9 Officer, a non-traditional :)  K-9 named Mocha.  Watch the video below to learn about Mocha's police dog talents, including her awesome "tactical rolls".


PS - This is a must view video; will put a smile on your face!  Great community public relations work and a cute April Fools' Day message from the Livermore Police Department.  (Edited on 04/02 to embed the video rather than having a link.)

Mary Rae Fouts