August 31, 2016

Gambler? Keep accurate records for taxes.

Enjoy gambling?  Make sure to maintain accurate records for taxes.

Gambling income is taxable, including the fair market value of non-cash items you win or receive as a prize, such as cars.

Taxability of non-cash items often hits new tax clients by surprise.  Remember the huge Oprah Winfrey flap in 2004 when 276 members of the audience received "free" new cars from her?  Only they weren't truly "free", given an estimated federal income tax of up to $7000 owed by each recipient, based on the fair market value of the cars.  And that doesn't include any additional state and local income taxes.

Taxpayers can deduct gambling losses to the extent of gambling income earned.  However, additional losses cannot be carried over to future tax years.

For more information, here is the IRS Newsletter Five Tax Tips for Gambling.

Questions 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.

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

Mary Rae Fouts

Pokemon Go Non Sequitur Comic by Wiley Miller

Yep ...

Mary Rae Fouts

Gorgeous Northern California Sunset

Monday's sunset was absolutely gorgeous!  Really enjoying the lovely Indian Summer weather.

Mary Rae Fouts

August 30, 2016

Another Example of Why California was Ranked the Least Friendly Business State in 2015

An Unnamed California State Senator
** Update 09/01/2016:  This bill failed to pass, so will not go to Gov. Brown for his signature.  **

**  Original post  **
Good God, don't our California state politicians have more important things to do than mandate specific wages for workers on Thanksgiving?

I guess critical issues such as the state's water supply, enormous public pension unfunded liabilities, state transportation infrastructure, and Jerry Brown's High Speed Train to Nowhere don't warrant politicians' attention anymore.

What's next?  Requiring employers to provide a free turkey dinner to employees, too?  Geesh!

California Senate Proposal:
Double Pay for Workers on Thanksgiving

Mary Rae Fouts

August 29, 2016

Fire Insurance: Adequate coverage is a must. Don't be caught without it.

I've posted before about the importance of adequate insurance coverage to protect owned and rented property.

In my professional opinion, Fire Insurance coverage through homeowners, renters, or commercial insurance coverage is an absolute must, even if not required by law. Tragedy can - and does - strike.

Look at this tragedy that recently happened in Livermore, California.  Family-run market a total lost due to fire.

And you guessed it - no insurance.

Fire is a tragedy, and it does happen.  But don't compound this terrible event by not having adequate fire insurance coverage.

Questions or concerns about insurance matters?

As a licensed Life and Disability Insurance Analyst, Life Agent, and a Fire and Casualty Broker-Agent, I provide consulting services and expert witness services to clients  for a wide array of insurance matters, including property insurance matters.

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

Mary Rae Fouts

August 26, 2016

Happy National Dog Day!



Have a barkin-good Friday, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

August 25, 2016

Peace and Harmony: Perhaps We Should All Take More Time to Watch the World Go By

My Faithful Canine Companions have taught me so much.

They instill a sense of peace and contentment in me each and every day.

Sid and Lexi remind me to live in the moment, as 
every day is truly a gift.

And to spend time each day, in a peaceful place, perhaps watching the world go by.

Here are Sid and Lexi watching the front yard world go by as their human Daddy leaves this morning.

And here is Lexi yesterday, so peaceful, gazing out into the front yard, soaking in the fresh smells from my front yard flowers.

Lexi was trying so hard to fight off Mr. Sandman.  She did finally give into a nap!

 Oh, how I love our former shelter dogs.

Take time to bring peace and contentment into your life.  Not just today, but each and every day.

Mary Rae Fouts

August 24, 2016

Caster Semenya: IAAF Will Likely Challenge Ruling Suspending Female Testosterone Monitoring

I posted about the Olympic Games yesterday, and mentioned Caster Semenya, the "intersex" female who crushed the women's 2016 Olympic 800 meter field to win the race.

Sebastian Coe, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, has indicated the IAAF will likely challenge the ruling which stopped monitoring of female athletes who have extremely high testosterone levels. The ruling allowed Caster Semenya to discontinue taking testosterone-lowering medication, which had the direct effect of a dramatic decrease in Semenya's middle-distance race times.

Read the article in the Guardian here.

And here is the photo on the article. Pretty telling, huh?

I'm sorry, but this person should not be allowed to race as a woman.  Being sensitive to Caster Semenya's physical deformities is one thing.  But allowing her to compete as a woman is quite another thing, and is simply not fair to the rest of the competitors.  No woman would naturally have this physical appearance, nor would a woman naturally have a sky-high testosterone level.

Hopefully common sense will prevail.  But then again, as my late father-in-law said, "There is really no such thing as common sense, because sense is not common."

Mary Rae Fouts

August 23, 2016

Olympics: Are the Olympic Games Even Relevant Anymore?

I didn't watch any of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.  The TV production and event announcers are put-to-sleep boring.  Plus, who knows who is doping, and who is not?  Sometimes doping cheats are not found out for years, resulting in ongoing changes to past Olympic results.

Heck, according to an analysis by the New York Times, at least 120 athletes at the Rio Games were previously suspended for doping.  And of the 974 Olympic medals awarded, 35 went to athletes who previously served doping suspensions.  That's beyond sad.

And don't get me started on the women's 800 meter race. How can it possibly be fair to other competitors when a person who is a hyperandrogenic female is allowed to run as a female in the woman's 800 meter event?  I'm talking about Caster Semenya, of course, who crushed the field to win gold.  According to the The Daily Telegraph of Australia, Semenya has internal testes and three times the testosterone level of a typical woman.  However, the Daily Telegraph's claim has never been verified.  A claim that Semenya has no uterus or ovaries also has not been verified.

Caster Semenya has dominated women's middle-distance running since a ruling which previously forced her to take drugs to cut her testosterone was overturned.  Here Semenya is winning a semi-final heat at the Rio Olympics, and another photo from a 2009 race in Berlin.  Don't they speaks volumes?

Photo Credit:  Unknown
Plus, that the International Association of Athletics Federations allows Caster Semenya to compete in women's track events via an unpublished gender-verification process adds more controversy and questions to this highly-debated matter.

Are the Olympic Games Even Relevant Anymore?

The days of Jim McKay, a field of amateur athletes, and figure skating compulsory figures are gone from the Olympics.  Heck, the US Men's Basketball Team is stacked with NBA pros.  The US beat Serbia 96 to 66 to win the Olympic gold medal.  That level of dominance is not an Olympic event to be glorified, it's a superhuman joke.

Video:  Figure Skating Compulsory Figures Through the Years
Video Credit:  floskate 

I'm beginning to  think the Olympic Games are no longer relevant.  At least in their current state.  Perhaps creating permanent Summer and Winter Olympic Venues with rotating host countries would at least add consistency and financial stability to the games.

Yes, perhaps I'm a sap for yearning for Olympic events such the gutsy yet charming Olga Korbut, the challenge of the figure skating compulsory figures, and all-smiles Dorothy Hamill telling Jim McKay that she had a hot fudge sundae for dessert after winning her Olympic gold medal in the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics.

But I can still wish.

Mary Rae Fouts

August 22, 2016

Homeowners Insurance: Is Your Coverage Adequate?

Is your Homeowners Insurance or Renters Insurance coverage adequate?

When is the last time you reviewed your Homeowners or Renters Insurance Policy, or took an inventory of your home and its contents?  If its been a while (or if you've never done this), you may be surprised to learn that your coverage is far from adequate, and that you are at risk for significant financial loss in the event of an unfortunate  insured event.

Here is a handy booklet from the California Department of Insurance about taking a Home Inventory for insurance purposes.  This booklet will help walk you through the process.

Questions or concerns about insurance matters?

As a licensed Life and Disability Insurance Analyst, Life Agent, and a Fire and Casualty Broker-Agent, I provide consulting services and expert witness services to clients  for a wide array of insurance matters, including property insurance matters.

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

Mary Rae Fouts

August 19, 2016

Lexi the Dog: Look at the Wonderful Transformation in my Pretty Girl!

My little princess Chow-mix Lexi.  My, how she has blossomed since we adopted her from the Antioch Animals Services Shelter in late October 2014!

Our Chow-mix Lexi lead a horrific life before we adopted her.  She was one of 7 dogs seized by Antioch, California police in August 2014 due to severe abuse and neglect in a backyard puppy mill.  Lexi was the only dog to survive.  She remained at the shelter for 3 months while legal proceedings related to the seizure, abuse, and neglect made their way through the courts.  During that time she gave birth  to a litter of puppies; sadly none survived.  We adopted Lexi as soon as she became available.

At adoption in late 2014, Lexi was very skinny, thin furred, and very frightened.  So frightened she held her tail between her legs and shook.  As my husband Jim says, Lexi was scared of everything including her shadow.  She clearly had never been walked in a neighborhood setting, each walk was a wonderful new experience as she soaked in all the sights and smells.  Poor Lexi was terrified of men, sticks (and anything resembling a stick), garden hoses, unfamiliar approaching dogs, and people who attempted to pet her on the top of her head.  Lexi was never fear aggressive, she just wanted to flee when frightened.  Lexi would only walk up 2 steps; I had to carry her upstairs at bedtime.  Poor soul didn't even know how to get into the backseat of a car.  Didn't know what a toy was, or what to do with one.  Her 2 lower canine teeth were fractured from trying to chew her way out of her backyard puppy mill pen; we had them surgically removed.  She also had a v-shaped chunk of her tongue torn off, it likely got stuck in her pen while she was trying to chew her way out.  Poor Soul.

But with time, love, patience, and positive exposure, Lexi flourished and blossomed into a wonderful, confident, healthy, gorgeous, and simply fabulous dog.  We laugh that Lexi now has a set of furry haunches the Kardashian sisters would envy!  Our friendly, goofy, wants-to-meet-every-dog Husky-mix Sid was instrumental in teaching Lexi "how to be a dog" again, what rough house dog play was like, and how to chase squirrels.  Sid actually got Lexi to start wrestling/rough housing and playing chase with him by rolling onto his back next to Lexi and whining.  Pretty darn incredible, that brought tears to my eyes, Sid trying so hard to help Lexi.

Within 5 days of adoption, Lexi and Sid were bonded as if littermates.  Within 2 1/2 to 3 weeks she was playing and wrestling with Sid.  And within 2 1/2 to 3 months Lexi came up to husband Jim for pats and scratches; she had been terrified of him before.  Lexi is a wonderful Canine Companion with the face and facial expressions that melt your heart.  And she is absolutely full of fun mischief, a professional shoe and slipper thieve!  Lexi is an excellent watch dog and the alpha of our dog pack.

Here is Lexi at adoption in late October 2014.

And here is Lexi now.
This photo was taken yesterday after our morning walk.

Is that a coat of fur, or what?

And as you can see, Lexi is now one Happy Girl!
Here she is smiling earlier this summer.

Would you ever think these are the same dog?!

We love you so, Lexi.  You will never be abused or neglected again, Sweetheart.  Good dog!  

Mary Rae Fouts

August 18, 2016

Solar City and Tesla: Definition of Disaster

What can Elon Musk possible be thinking?

I posted earlier this month about the need for realistic company expectations at Tesla Motors.  I also questioned the wisdom of the pending purchase of Solar City by Tesla.

Well, this story only keeps getting better.

Media outlets announced today that Solar City is laying off an undisclosed number of workers and restructuring operations.  And get this:  even with all of the financial support the solar industry receives from big fat tax subsidies, Solar City has never .... NEVER .... made a profit.   Even though SolarCity revenues grew 80% in the last quarter, the company  still had net losses of $55 million.

Yikes.  Can you imagine what the losses would be without the tax subsidies?  What happens when the tax subsidies are decreased or entirely go away?  According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, wind and solar developers received approximately $24 billion in federal tax subsidies between 2008 and 2014.  And this figure does not count tax subsidies consumers receive for installing solar panels.

And her we have Tesla Motors, a company that has never made a profit.  Trying to buy SolarCity, another company that has never made a profit.  For $2.6 billion.

A wise financial decision?  NOT.

Well, the companies do have one thing in common, they are pros at being unprofitable.  Maybe Tesla and SolarCity are a match made in heaven.  Or would it be hell?

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

Mary Rae Fouts

August 17, 2016

Beef Stew, Anyone? Yum!

I absolutely love to cook.  While I use recipes for baking, most of my cooking is done without recipes, using fresh ingredients, including garden fresh seasonal vegetables and herbs.

And one other thing:  I never taste what I'm cooking.  I judge the dish by appearance, smell, and the feel of the stir.  Works like a charm!

Here is a recent dinner of homemade Beef Stew.  Nothing better than melt-in-your-mouth tender Beef Stew Meat and copious fresh vegetables and herbs.  Wonderful healthy and nutritious comfort food.  The stew was even better when we enjoyed the reruns (our word for leftovers) for lunch.  Amazing how flavors continue to blend.

At the start of cooking ...

And after a very low simmer for 4 hours ... Yum!

Recipe?  This Beef Stew consisted of:

Fresh beef stew meat from the butchers at my local Lunardi's Market.
Onion *
Anaheim Peppers *
Green Bell Pepper *
Red Potatoes
Sweet Italian Basil *
Thai Basil *
Green Sage *
Flat Leaf Parsley*
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Au jus from prior roast chicken and BBQ baby back ribs.

Simmered on very low for 4 hours, lid placed with a slight opening.  Stirred in sprinklings of Bob's Red Mill Organic Unbleached All Purpose Flour  toward end of cooking to thicken.  Beyond delicious!

By the way, Bob's Red Mill makes the absolutely best flours ever!

* From my gardens, organically grown.

Mary Rae Fouts

August 15, 2016

AC Transit: Redefining Government Stupidity

AC Transit is the largest public bus line in the San Francisco East Bay area. 

But with this latest news, AC Transit may now be best known for:

Redefining Government Stupidity

Just how was this grand feat accomplished, you ask?

AC Transit has introduced a smart phone app that allows bus riders to anonymously report troublesome activity on AC Transit buses.

And here's the kicker.  Or should I say kickers.

Question:  What is  AC Transit's policy for handling the smart phone data privacy of bus riders who use this app?

Answer:  AC Transit does not have any such policy.  But heck, they may have one in 6 months or so, though.

Question:  How will AC Transit determine if this app is successful?

Answer:  They don't know.  AC Transit has no metrics or process in place to evaluate the app's operation and success or failure.

Only a government agency would make a smart phone app available to the public, without first having a written policy governing the privacy of app users' smart phone data, and without first establishing procedures for evaluating and measuring the efficacy of the app.

Once again, government at its finest.

Mary Rae Fouts

San Francisco Giants: Looks like their wheels have completely fallen off.

I love baseball.

In particular, the San Francisco Giants.

But, I do have to say that after losing yesterday 8-7 to the Baltimore Orioles - amazingly giving up a 6 run lead they carried into the 7th inning - I now have to say:

Looks like the Giants' wheels have completely fallen off.

Oh well.  At least they were not once again victims of a 3-3-5 triple play.

But then again, as Duane Kuiper, half of the most awesome and fantabulous sportscasting duo Kruk and Kuip famously said:

"Giants baseball... torture!" 

Go Giants!

Mary Rae Fouts

August 12, 2016

Airline Flight Paths: Change is a disaster for some Northern California residents

How would you like to be quietly living in your home.  Then suddenly and without warning have all that quietness taken away by  150 to 300 very loud commercial airplanes flying over your home at a low altitude of about 4000 feet, rattling your walls.

Each and Every Day.

Some Northern California residents are experiencing just that due to the FAA's new flight paths for commercial airlines using San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport.

Just how bad is it?

In June 2014, San Francisco International Airport received 449 noise complaints from 73 Northern California residents. This was before the changes to fight paths in 2015.

This year in June, the airport received ... get this ... 320,000 noise complaints from 2160 Northern California residents.

One airport.  320,000 noise complaints.

In only one month.

And FAA Regional Director Glen Martin has the mind-blowing arrogance to say that although the FAA appreciates hearing residents' concerns, the FAA is not going to work with Northern California residents to "undo" the new flight paths.
"We are not looking into completely redesigning all of Bay Area air traffic from Sacramento to Carmel," Martin said. "We're not closed-minded here, but we're not expecting this to be a continuation for more and more suggestions."
Sorry, Mr. Martin.  Closed-mind is exactly what your bigheaded government agency is.

Mary Rae Fouts

August 7, 2016

Sid and Lexi say "Nap Time!"

Another things my Faithful Canine Companions have taught me:


Sid.  Once again demonstrating that he is not a modest boy.

Lexi.  So peaceful.
Happy nap time, everyone!

Mary Rae Fouts

August 5, 2016

Tesla Motors: A dose of realism needed for stockholders, Elon Musk, and company expectations

I’ve posted before about the importance of prudent and realistic financial planning expectations, including those related to investments.

My question today is:  When will Tesla Motors (TSLA, Nasdaq) and its stockholders do just that?

Tesla Motors recently announced its latest quarterly earnings.  No surprise to me, another loss ($2.06 per shared, WAY larger than analyst’s forecasted loss of $.95 per share);  and, once again, fewer than  Tesla electric cars produced than planned (14,402 vehicles, less than the company’s 17,000 vehicle target).

CEO Elon Musk has become the Donald Trump of the electric vehicle world, constantly “promising” unrealistic financial assumptions and vehicle production numbers that are never met.  Heck, Musk’s Tesla forecast involves producing 500,000 vehicles annually by 2018.  That’s just less than a year and a half away. 

Elon Musk:  Let's get real, shall we?

Fact check:  Tesla produced 50,000 vehicles in 2015.  Does any prudent person actually think Tesla can produce 500,000 vehicles annually in 2018, only three years later?  That’s an annual production increase of 450,000 vehicles, or 1000%!  I know of no company in the United States that has ever  … ever … ramped up production in that magnitude.

Why anyone would pay $229.19 for one share of Tesla Motors stock today is beyond me.  For goodness gracious sake, the company has never been profitable.

And heck, Musk isn’t even staying focused on the ongoing problems at Tesla Motors.  Rather, he’s off buying a solar power company, Solar City.  Why in the heck would an electric car company want to buy a solar power company?  As the New York Times surmised today, seems the only people who find value and a good company fit in this purchase are Tesla shareholders. 

Hopefully Tesla Motors, CEO Elon Musk, and Tesla shareholders will wake up and smell the coffee, before its too late.  Otherwise, history just may repeat itself.  Remember how Webvan’s unrealistic expectations and unsustainable business model led to its demise?

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

August 3, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: Looks like I have plenty of company not supporting either candidate.

As I’ve stated in past posts, I am not supporting either Clinton or Trump for president. 

Looks like I have plenty of company.

Clinton and Trump kinda look like they
could be brother and sister, don't they?

There just isn’t much love in the room for either Clinton or Trump.  In a brilliant graphic in the New York Times, analysis of 2016 presidential primary voting results estimates that only 14% of adults eligible to vote in the United States voted for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  Put another way, that represents just 9% of all people living in the United States.

But There is Something to Look Forward to

But we do have something to look forward to, in addition to the sure-to-be-lively (and that will likely spur many word-related drinking games) Clinton-Trump presidential debates.  As columnist Kevin Rennie recently wrote in his “Ways to Escape this Political Mess” column for

“Here’s some good news: they can’t both win. On the night of November 8 one of the two lying, greedy New Yorkers running for president will begin to recede from the national stage.”

I, for one, can’t wait.

Mary Rae Fouts

August 2, 2016

Peanut Butter: Sorry Jif. Choosy Moms might choose Jif, but choosy dogs choose Skippy!

So, one morning recently during breakfast, I went outside to move a back yard sprinkler.  But I made one teeny tiny mistake.

I left my 1/3 eaten piece of sourdough toast with Skippy Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter
 on the kitchen counter breakfast bar.

With my Faithful Canine Companion Husky-mix Sid in the kitchen.

Yep, how truly stupid was I for going that?  If you follow this blog or have read my website, you likely know what happened.

As I came back inside, there is Sid in the kitchen, looking at me.  Licking his chops. 

And there sat an empty plate that was occupied just minutes before
by my partially eaten piece of toast. 

The plate was even licked clean of toast crumbs.

Exactly in the spot I left it in.

The only evidence that remained was one piece of peanut from the crunchy peanut butter, sitting on the seat of my breakfast bar stool.

As Jim and I walked dogs Sid and Chow-mix Lexi that morning, we pondered the question:

If we consider this morning a test for Sid, did Sid lose the test, or did Sid win the test?
(A) If Sid lost the test, then he failed by getting up on the kitchen counter and snagging the high value crunchy peanut butter toast treat.
(B) If Sid won the test, then he won by successfully snagging the high value treat, yet not knocking the breakable light blue ceramic plate off the kitchen counter.  In fact, the plate was unmoved from its place.  Plus Sid was very clean in his toast eating execution, even licking toast crumbs from the plate.
What did we decide?

Sid enjoying a meal.  To say Sid loves food is a supreme understatement.

We decided Sid won the test.  After all, I know Sud gets up on the kitchen counters, and have learned to remove food (including unbaked cookies on baking bans) before leaving the kitchen when Sid is around.  Oh, the stories I could tell!  Yes, Sid is getting better about doing not so with the command “off!”.  But no way in Heaven can I be mad at Sid for doing this.  He is very food motivated, especially considering he was a stray in the past, and had to be resourceful in getting food.

We love you, Sid!!  Thanks for putting smiles on our faces and helping make each day a great day for humans and dogs alike.

Mary Rae Fouts

August 1, 2016

Financial Planning: Make sure your expectations and plans are realistic. CalPERS certainly does not.

One topic that is a constant with my financial planning clients is that financial planning expectations and plans must be realistic.  Investment risk tolerance, investment return assumptions, financial management, retirement planning, business planning, and general life planning needs to be undertaken with assumptions and plans that are prudent … and realistic … for each individual, family, or business.

Too bad the country’s largest public employee pension plan, the $300-billion California Public Employees’ Retirement Systems, or CalPERS, refuses to follow that prudent advice with its investment return assumptions.

So what’s going on at CalPERS?

CalPERS provides pension benefits to 1.8 million public employees and retirees in California.  The plan’s annual investment return assumption for current and future years is 7.5%.  

What’s wrong with that, you ask?  Well, that assumption flies in the face of CalPERS’ own historical investment returns, which over the past 20-years have been about 7%.  In fact, the plan’s most recent annual return for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 was a measly 0.6%

Consequences?  As recently reported by the Los Angeles Times:
CalPERS’ “unfunded liability – the — the gap between how much it has on hand and how much it needs to cover future retirement benefits — is expected to be around $130 billion, an increase of nearly 40% over the previous year.”

And just who is responsible for making up unfunded liability shortfall?  California taxpayers.  That’s because by law, CalPERS is backed by the full faith and credit of the state of California.  In other words, backed by California taxpayers.  But keep in mind this also affects California public employees and retirees in the CalPERS plan, as they are also California taxpayers, presuming they work and/or live in California.

So far, expert advice that CalPERS lower its current 7.5% annual investment return assumption have fallen on deaf ears.  

But then again, this is our government working.  And once again, government at its finest.