May 27, 2016

How many toys do we have for our dogs Sid and Lexi? Apparently not enough.

Someone recently asked me how many toys we have for our dogs Husky-mix Sid and Chow-mix Lexi.


Apparently not enough!

Sid and Lexi sometimes prefer snagging the humans' stuff rather than playing with their toys.
So far this week it's been:

My Ugg Boot

Jim's Athletic Shoe

And a Lambskin Rug

And who is responsible for these thefts?

Little Princess Lexi!  This fur ball may look like a princess, but she can be an exceptionally feisty thief!

"Look how pretty I am, Mommy.
I'm innocent, Mommy.  Really I am."

Never a dull moment with our Faithful Canine Companions.  I wouldn't have it any other way!

Have a great Memorial Day holiday weekend, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

May 26, 2016

Worker Classification: Employee or Independent Contractor?

On-demand companies such as Uber have brought attention to classification of workers.  Namely, when are workers employees, and when are workers independent contractors?

Proper classification of workers is critical for any business that retains a work force.  The Internal Revenue Service views the matter of employee payroll taxes very seriously.  Did you know that the owners of a company (and not just the company itself) can be held personally liable for failure to withhold and transmit employee payroll taxes to the IRS and other taxing authorities?


And let me tell you ... Business tax audits that delve into employee payroll tax matters can quickly turn into a lot-of-no-fun for the business owners.

A business does not have a legal right to arbitrarily choose how to classify its workers.  Rather, worker classification (employee or independent contractor) is determined by reviewing (1) the degree of control a business has over the worker, and (2) the degree of independence, including financial independence, possessed by the worker.

IRS Publication 1779 provides guidelines for determining worker classification.  If a business cannot successfully render a determination of worker classification, it can request the IRS do so by completing and filing Determination of Worker Status Form SS-88.  Keep in mind the IRS may take 6 months to render its determination of worker status. 

Questions about Financial, Tax, or Insurance Related Business,
Employee, or Independent Contractor Issues?

I welcome your call or e-mail if you have tax or insurance concerns related to business, employee, or independent contractor matters.  For information about my Insurance Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 24, 2016

Kohl's shopper Candace Payne: Who would have thought a Chewbacca mask could be so entertaining?

I admit it.

I don't shop at Kohl's.

And I'm not a Star Wars fan.

But this gone viral video of Kohl's shopper Candace Payne wearing her new Star Wars Chewbacca mask is funny. 

 As in hilarious!

She is one happy lady.  Watch it for a smile and a laugh; it's about 4 minutes long.

Won't turn me into a Kohl's shopper, but I do think Ms. Payne may have a new career in comedy!  Or at least she should get a few appearances on late night TV.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 20, 2016

Sid the Dog and the Apple Tree: Anyone else have a dog obsessed with apples?


My Husky-mix Sid.

And my poor Fugi Apple Tree.

I posted earlier about Sid's love of "gardening", including picking - and eating - fruits and vegetables from my gardens.

But Sid ...
did you reallllly have to completely break off a branch from
the semi-dwarf Fugi Apple Tree while trying to pick an apple? 

Sid:  "Hmmmm?  Why did Mommy drag my Fugi Apple Tree branch onto the patio?"

Sid:  "Goodie!  I see what I've been looking for!"
Chow-mix Lexi:  "Bro, I really don't see what's so great about this tree branch.
Plus you are probably really in trouble with Mommy."  

Sid:  "Awesome!  I have my treasure and am heading to a shady spot to enjoy it!"
Lexi:  "You're really a dork sometimes, Bro."

"Ah!  My treasure, my very own little Fugi Apple.  Got one!"

Kinda sour, though.  I thought Fugi Apples were supposed to be sweet.
Maybe I picked it too early?"

"What, Mommy?  I swear ..."

"I'm innocent!  Lexi did it!"

Please note:  Fresh apple slices (with the core removed) are a nutritious low calorie, high fiber treat for dogs.  However, dogs should not consume significant amounts of apple seeds, which contain trace amounts of cyanide and can harm a dog if regularly consumed (in significant quantities) over time.  Take care if you have a goofy dog like Sid who likes to pick fruits and vegetables from your gardens.

Rarely a dull moment with my Faithful Canine Companions!

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 19, 2016

Bernie Sanders and his campaign: Will the real Bernie Sanders please stand up?


Defined as “a situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities”.

Paradox also seems to define Bernie Sanders and his campaign.

This morning my daily newspapers, the local East Bay Times and the national edition of the New York Times, pointed to an evolving paradox with Bernie Sanders and his campaign.

So which is it?  

Hillary Clinton is unmistakably part of the Democratic establishment.  Is Mr. Sanders softening his attack on Mrs. Clinton, or plotting to harm her essentially assured candidacy?  The New York Times reported that (unnamed) advisers to Mr. Sanders said he “held out hope of capitalizing on any late stumbles by Mrs. Clinton or any damage to her candidacy, whether by scandal or by the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump.”

Scandal?  I wonder what new juicy Clinton tidbits Mr. Sanders and his campaign are attempting to dig up.

True, it is not mathematically impossible for Mr. Sanders to win the Democratic presidential nomination.  Not quite impossible.  But darn close to impossible.

At the same convention, not all of Sanders’ supporters that were asked to attend showed up, and others were ruled ineligible to participate.

If Sanders’ supporters … surely not all, but some of them, anyway … are going to turn to violence and death threats to get Sanders’ political platform message across; if Sanders’ supporters fail to show up when desperately needed by him; how can Sanders count on his supporters?  Will Sanders’ supporters also fail to show up to vote in November, if indeed Sanders were to be the Democratic Party presidential nominee?

I am not supporting any candidate running for President, nor did I support any who have dropped out of the race.  However, it does appear the only presidential candidate Mr. Sanders is helping right now is, ironically, Donald Trump.

Too bad Mr. Sanders is so overcome by his own opportunistic desires he can’t see that.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 18, 2016

Got Traffic? San Francisco Bay Area Sure Does!

Ugh.  How's this for traffic?

My husband Jim (he's an architect) had to go to a job site in San Francisco this morning.  Jim had to drive (rather than take the BART train) given the architectural testing tools he had to take with him.

How many miles for the drive from Pleasant Hill to the San Francisco location?


Drive time?

1 hour and 45 minutes.

Yep.  1 hour and 45 minutes to drive 22 miles.  

Here was the San Francisco-area traffic map at 9:15 this morning.  Take a look at all of the accidents and slow spots marked by red and yellow.

Traffic nightmares like today's East Bay to San Francisco commute make me very thankful for my home office.

Drive safely, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

May 13, 2016

Voting: Could California Make It Any More Difficult For "No Party Preference" Voters To Vote?

I've voted in all but a few elections during the 32 years I've been registered to vote.  But this election year I'm wondering:

Could California make it any more difficult for "No Party Preference" voters to vote?

According to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, about 23.6% of California registered voters are registered as "No Party Preference", or "NPP", aligning with no political party.  The designation is also worded as "Decline to State" in some states.  This year I changed my prior voter registration to become one of the 23.6% of voters registered as NPP.  That's approximately 4,141,860 registered voters.

But boy oh boy.  Looking at next month's Primary Election voting on June 7, I'm wondering if California could make it any more difficult for NPP voters to vote.

In California, an NPP registered voter may only cast a Presidential Primary vote for a Democrat, Libertarian, or American Independent presidential candidate.  I get that; the decision to allow NPP votes is up to each political party.

But what I don't get, and simply find head shaking, are the hoops an NPP voter must jump through if she wants to cast a vote in the Presidential Primary race for a Democrat, Libertarian, or American Independent candidate.  Here is the supposed "streamlined" voting process for NPP voters, as outlined in an article in today's local weekly newspaper the Pleasant Hill/Martinez Record:

"NPPs who prefer a Democrat candidate may go to the polls as usual, but must request a special NXD Democrat ballot that allows them to vote for a presidential candidate, but not party central committee candidates. With two Democrat ballots, poll workers will have to be careful to make sure voters get the correct version". 

Huh?  First , this means California NPP voters who have requested to vote by mail cannot do so if we want to vote for one of the allowed presidential candidates.  We have to go to a polling place and requests a "special" ballot.

Second, does anyone really think that NPP voters who request a Democrat ballot are always going to get the "special" NXD Democrat ballot rather than the "regular", or perhaps I should say "un-special", Democrat ballot?

(I'd also like to know what in the heck the acronym NXD means.  I'll check into that at a later date.)

Only a bureaucratic politician would think that the above NPP voting process is a "streamlined" election process.  FUBAR is a much more accurate description.

And looking back at the June 2014 Pleasant Hill polling place that didn't even exist ... 

I thought my local Contra Costa County Election Office was unbelievably screwed up in the June 2014 Primary Election when they published the address for my precinct's polling station as 3100 Oak Park Blvd., an address that does not even exist!  My polling station was actually at 1 Santa Barbara Road, an address more than a mile away.  (Here is the local newspaper's article about that incident.  I'm quoted in it, as I provided the tip to the newspaper.)  But the runaround and jump-through-hoops requirements the State of California has placed on NPP voters this Primary Election earns my "just as extraordinarily bad" vote.

Well, at least we all have some entertaining debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to look forward to.  Fix a drink, pop some popcorn, and pull up a chair for those events, which surely will provide plenty of material for late night comedians.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 12, 2016

MetLife: Fined $25 Million for Negligent Variable Annuity Sales. Bet Snoopy Isn't Very Happy About That.

Do you have a MetLife variable annuity?

MetLife's MetLife Securities, Inc. subsidiary was recently fined $25 million by the securities industry regulatory authority FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) "for making negligent material misrepresentations and omissions on variable annuity (VA) replacement applications for tens of thousands of customers" according to FINRA's news release.  $5 million of the fine is slated to be paid to MetLife variable annuity policyholders, with the remaining $20 million paid to FINRA.

Yes, $25,000,000. 
That's a lot of zeros.

The fine resulted from FINRA's investigation into MetLife' variable annuity sales practices and representations made to variable annuity policyholders.

FINRA's findings in the investigations (as laid out in the previously-mentioned news release) are, simply put, damning, including that:
"The firm's principals ultimately approved 99.79 percent of VA replacement applications submitted to them for review, even though nearly three quarters of those applications contained materially inaccurate information."
I was not involved in FINRA's investigation. However, I anticipate that MetLife will be on the receiving end of customer annuity litigation and annuity arbitration claims in the near future.

Annuity Consulting Services
Annuity Arbitration and Litigation: Expert Witness Services

I welcome your call or email if you have concerns about annuity matters.  I provide Consulting and Expert Witness Services for annuity matters, including annuity arbitration and litigation.

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

Mary Rae Fouts

May 11, 2016

Dogs: Empathy and Awareness of Human Emotions

If only all humans could show as much empathy, understanding, and love as our Faithful Canine Companions.

Oh, how I love my Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi.  Both former shelter dogs (Sid was a stray, Lexi was seized by police for severe abuse and neglect in a backyard puppy mill along with 6 other dogs, and the only dog to survive).  We adopted them a month apart in autumn 2014 after our late Chow-mix Titus passed away.

Within 5 days, Sid and Lexi bonded as if litter mates.  Sid has been essential in helping the once terrified, once fearful, and once skinny Lexi (emphasis on once!) gain confidence and grow into the feisty, happy, and spunky girl she is today.  

Sid is a bit more of a Daddy's boy.  Lexi a bit more of a Mommy's girl.  Just a bit.
One thing is for certain about both dogs:  their ability to read the emotions and body language of both me and husband Jim.  Even the slightest of hints.
I've been working on some tedious projects in my home office the past few days.  I didn't think my body language changed, but Sid picked up on something.  He's spent time in my office, sleeping at my side for a bit periodically throughout the past few days.  
As if I needed moral support and 67 or so pounds of large paws, fur, and Sid's insatiable love of food to comfort me.
Sid in my home office, sleeping directly behind my chair this morning while I worked.
And you know what?
Sid was right.  
I did need that extra somethin' of comfort, support, and love.

Sid.  Sid the Protector.

I am so blessed in my life.  Another life lesson from my Faithful Canine Companions.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 10, 2016

Bernie Sanders: Nonpartisan Analysis Shows his Proposals Would Increase the Federal Deficit by $18 Trillion. That's a Lot of Zeros.

Bernie Sanders.  Turns out I'm not the only person or organization that thinks his Single-Payer Health Care Plan is doomed from the start.

And then some.

In February I wrote about Bernie Sanders' health care plan and why I believed it was doomed from the start.  One reason?  The plan's reliance on taxes paid by high income taxpayers.

Yesterday the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center published a study estimating the cost and effect of not only Bernie Sanders' proposed single-payer health care plan, but also his proposals for long-term government services such as Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California), family leave benefits, expanded Social Security benefits, and free (Free!  Yes, free!) education at public colleges and universities.

(By the way, the Tax Policy Center's study is well written, substantiated, and easy to read.  I suggest reading it if you have any interest in this topic.)

"Over the next 10 years, the Sanders plan would increase federal revenues by $15.3 trillion but also increase federal outlays by $33.3 trillion, growing the cumulative budget deficit by about $18 trillion or roughly 7.5 percent of GDP ..."1
Gulp.  $18 trillion.  As in
$18,000,000,000,000 increased federal deficit.

That's a lot of zeros.

Would nearly double the current federal deficit of $19 trillion.

In other words, Bernie's proposals are, in fact, not free.  Someone or somethings gotta pay for them.

In my professional opinion, I think the net addition to the current federal deficit would likely he greater than $18 trillion, given plausible adjustments to other government spending; changes to income, asset preservation, and tax and estate planning by high income taxpayers; and inevitable increased programs costs.  (Ya know, government programs always cost considerably more than anticipated.  Just ask California Governor Jerry about the cost of his High Speed Rail Crazy Train to Nowhere.)  But I do believe an $18 trillion increased federal deficit is a prudent starting estimate for discussion.

I am not supporting any candidate running for President, nor did I support any who have dropped out of the race.  However, I do hope people will take time to consider what the candidates' proposals ... and quasi promises ... actually mean when they are reviewed by nonpartisan experts without the candidates' rose colored glasses.

Sometimes, as with Bernie Sanders' proposals, the result is simply a big reality bite of


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

Mary Rae Fouts

1  "AN ANALYSIS OF SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS’S TAX AND TRANSFER PROPOSALS" by  Gordon Mermin, Len Burman, and Frank Sammartino; May 9, 2016' Page 6.

May 9, 2016

The Good Wife: Good Riddance. Series finale was one of the worst TV drama episodes I have ever watched.

True, I don't watch much TV.  But I will say this about the series finale of "The Good Wife":


Very Bad.

As in One of the Worst TV Drama Episodes I Have Ever Watched on TV.

Even Worse than the 1991 Series Finale of "Dallas" (my favorite TV series of all time) and its Devil-Like Character Adam.

Disappointing (and frustrating) to see a series that started off with such brilliant writing, yet over time fall into unbelievable, weak, and seemingly-thrown-together-at-the-last minute story plots.  You know, like law offices getting demolished, a funeral cake and flowers delivered to a wedding, and implausible antics and behavior in court.

"The Good Wife" finale appeared to me nothing more than a mishmash of farfetched ... and, at times ... very sophomoric story lines written by different writers and ostensibly thrown together at the last minute.  As if no care, no thought, went into the series finale at all.

Alicia Florrick:  Where did you lose yourself?

And the character of Alicia Florrick?  What a disappointment.  The woman who grew, gained confidence, and found herself in the beginning half of the series spiraled into nothing more than a woman to be towed along, a woman who couldn't make and follow-through with decisions to save her soul.

So much for actress Julianna Margulies' (character Alicie Florrick) stating in an interview that the ending was "brilliant".  But if she had been accurate in her overview of the series finale, many fewer people would have tuned in, no?

Good Riddance to "The Good Wife".

Mary Rae Fouts

May 6, 2016

Prince: Ugh. No estate planning likely means years of litigation.

Last month I wrote about the late musical artist Prince, questioning whether or not he had completed prudent estate planning before his death.  Several clients have told me about the timeliness of that post, given the answer to my question seems to be, unfortunately:

Media outlets across the United States have reported that Prince routinely dismissed his financial, music, and legal advisors.  Allegedly Prince preferred handling personal and music-related issues on his own.  Apparently getting Prince's signature on documents was tantamount to pulling teeth.

Also, no will (or trust) for Prince's estate has been found.  Which likely means years of litigation over disposition of Prince's assets and control of his music empire.  It will be interesting, albeit sadly interesting, to see who comes out of the woodwork to get a chunk of Prince's purported $300 million plus estate.

Without a will or trust, what happens now?

If Prince died intestate (without a will or trust, as it now appears), the intestate laws of his residence state of Minnesota will determine what happens to Prince's assets.  Sadly, rather than Prince controlling what happens to his estate, Minnesota' court system will decide, perhaps with decisions adverse to Prince's wishes.

How regrettable.  All of this ... everything ... was easily avoidable to prudent estate planning.  Of which Prince apparently (as of now, anyway), did none.

Don't get caught in the same unfortunate morass.
Take time ... make time ... for estate planning to ensure 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

May 4, 2016

What's new with Sid the Dog and Lexi the Dog? Happy Springtime Update!

My Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi say "Happy Day and Happy Spring!"  Here's an update on what they've been up to recently.

Because all good dogs deserve a proper eating area ... 

Cool new food bowls and customized place mats from In The Company of Dogs.  The mats are really nice; manufactured by a boating company for use as boat mats.  They are very durable, the personalization is way beyond cute!  We have 2 more on order for use under inside water bowls.

And speaking of food ...

Carrots getting ready to slow cook.
I cook for Sid and Lexi; no Chinese dog food or dog treats in this house!  Their meals consist of "Canine Unfried Rice" made with:  Roast Turkey or Roast Organic Chicken; Organic Brown Basmati Rice; Canned Pumpkin or Slow Cooked Organic Rainbow Carrots; Crumbled Hard Boiled Organic Egg; and a dollop of Organic Nonfat Plain Yogurt on the side.

Both Sid and Lexi tend to want to eat fast.  Their large food bowls allow me to spread out their food so Sid and Lexi enjoy and "work for" their meals rather than gulping it down.

Sid and Lexi absolutely love the yogurt!  Kinda' surprises me, given how tart plain yogurt tastes.  Often eating the yogurt is where they begin their meals.

Here is a batch of Sid and Lexi's carrots (Organic Rainbow Carrots from Cal-Organic Farms) ready for the slow cooker.  4 pounds of peeled and sliced carrots, a bit of vegetable broth, and slow cooked for 3 hours in my Krup's 4-in-1 multicooker.  I keep enough in the refrigerator to last for a few days, freeze the rest in plastic containers.  Easy!

Sid and Lexi especially like the dark carrots.  They are extra sweet and smell like pumpkin pie.

And time for some chillin' with Sid and Lexi ...

Takin' it easy outside on a gorgeous April weekend; sunny and warm with a cool breeze.  Awww, a Dog's Life!

Lexi relaxes in the backyard while remaining on squirrel alert.

Yes, Sid is a certified Canine Goofball. 

Here he is ... sound asleep while airing it all out.  I was drying laundry on my backyard clothesline and Sid used the shade created by the hanging laundry for this prime snoozing spot.  Hopefully Sid is comfortable :)

And always remember to Live in the Moment as dogs do, as every day is truly a gift.

Happy Spring!

Mary Rae Fouts

May 3, 2016

California Top 1%: Is it fair to make them pay 48% of the state's income taxes when they make only 24% of the state's income?

One of Bernie Sanders' campaign talking points is that the top 1% should pay their fair share of taxes.

Well, let's take a look at California and state income taxes. 
How is this for "fair"?

One of my favorite newspaper columnists, straight-shooting George Skelton with the Los Angeles Times, published a column yesterday about California State Income Taxes and Bernie Sanders' ongoing reference to the top 1%.  Can you guess who pays what percentage?

Top 1% = 48% of California State Income Taxes.  

Yes, The top 1% of Californians paid nearly half - 48% - of California state income taxes in 2014, while making about 24% of the state's income.  Yes again, the top 1% (about 150,000 taxpayers) make 24% of the state's income, but pay 48% of California state income taxes.  How's that for an eye opener?

Credit:  George Skelton and the Los Angeles Times
While I realize the only thing that is truly fair in life is a baseball hit between 1st and 3rd bases, the above statistic begs the question:

Is it fair to make a group of people pay 48% of California's state income taxes when that group of people makes only 24% of the state's income?

And what happens when this small group of people doesn't make as much money, or members moves out of state?  Simple:  Potential devastation to California's economy.  Placing so much dependency on a very small group of people is simply irresponsible ... and plain stupid ... fiscal planning.

As an Enrolled Agent with high income tax clients, I can attest that California's "1%ers"  are tax conscious and are keenly eyeing the upcoming presidential election as they consider tax planning strategies.

Please contact me if you have questions about tax planning, tax preparation, or taxpayer representation (audit and collection) matters.

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

Mary Rae Fouts

May 2, 2016

'The Biggest Loser': Sadly most contestants ended up losing their health, rather than permanently losing weight.

'The Biggest Loser' contestants?  They have certainly ended up losing, but not in a good way.  Seems like rather than permanently losing weight, they've permanently lost their health.

Credit:   That Lost Weight? The Body Finds It.  By Gina Kolata, New York Times

Long article in today's New York Times profiling 14 of the Season 8 (2009)  participants on the extreme weight loss reality show 'The Biggest Loser'.  Current results?  13 of the 14 contestants regained weight in the past 6 years; 4 of them weigh more now than at the start of the show.  Only 1 contestant weighs less than she did at the end of the 7-month show.  Uncontrolled binge eating was also a common current theme among the former contestants.

The contestants were all adversely affected by permanent (1) unhealthy decreases in metabolism and (2) unhealthy hormone changes.  Why would this surprise anyone?  Quick fixes ... in this case, weight loss in an extreme, controlled environment that cannot be replicated away from the show ... are just that:  quick and temporary, not permanent.  No wonder the contestants' bodies revolted.
Extreme diets don't work long term.  (Heck, just take a look at Oprah Winfrey's failed dieting history.)  But changes in lifestyle, as well of acceptance of our bodies and who we are as individuals, do help achieve long-term health and weight-related success. 
Healthy eating does not have to be skinless chicken breast and steamed broccoli.  Learn to cook and bake tasty food using high quality ingredients.  Don't deprive yourself, but rather monitor portions.

And get to moving.  Enjoy the outside with simple activities.  Walk.  Garden.  Bicycle.

And what about Health and our Faithful Canine Companions?

Exercise?  You don't have to spend big bucks on a gym membership.  Did you know that a Preventative Medicine study showed that individuals who own a dog, and who walk the dog, are almost 25% less likely to be obese than people without a dog?

Once again, another lesson in life from our Faithful Canine Companions.

Mary Rae Fouts