July 20, 2018

Taxes: Here is how the IRS Contacts Taxpayers

Tax schemes abound; don't become a victim.  Many tax scams are masterminded by criminals posing as fake IRS agents.  We've all gotten these tax scam phone calls, right?!

From just-published IRS Tax Tip 2018-111, here is how the IRS contacts taxpayers:
  • The IRS doesn't normally initiate contact with taxpayers by email.
  • The agency does not send text messages or contact people through social media.
  • When the IRS needs to contact a taxpayer, the first contact is normally by letter delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.  Fraudsters will send fake documents through the mail, and in some cases will claim they already notified a taxpayer by U.S. mail.
  • Depending on the situation, IRS employees may first call or visit with a taxpayer. In some instances, the IRS sends a letter or written notice to a taxpayer in advance, but not always.
  • IRS revenue agents or tax compliance officers may call a taxpayer or tax professional after mailing a notice to confirm an appointment or to discuss items for a scheduled audit.
  • Private debt collectors can call taxpayers for the collection of certain outstanding inactive tax liabilities, but only after the taxpayer and their representative have received written notice.
  • IRS revenue officers and agents routinely make unannounced visits to a taxpayer’s home or place of business to discuss taxes owed, delinquent tax returns or a business falling behind on payroll tax deposits. IRS revenue officers will request payment of taxes owed by the taxpayer. However, taxpayers should remember that payment will never be requested to a source other than the U.S. Treasury.
  • When visited by someone from the IRS, the taxpayers should always ask for credentials. IRS representatives can always provide two forms of official credentials: a pocket commission and a Personal Identity Verification Credential.
Tax Concerns?
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

July 17, 2018

2018 Individual Income Taxes: Changes if you have taken certain itemized deductions

Individual Income Taxes have been greatly impacted by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by President Trump in December 2017.  Some items have been talked and written about significantly in the press, news programs, and on social media, but very little has unfortunately been said about certain Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions.

Which may make for an unpleasant surprise for some taxpayers when they file their 2018 individual income tax returns.

I'm talking about Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions that, in the past, were able to be deducted from an individual income tax return on Schedule A if the total amount of such deductions was more then 2% of the taxpayer's Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).  Tax regulations often speak of these Misc. Itemized Deductions being subject to the 2% AGI floor.  These deductions were an important tax planning vehicle for certain groups of people, particularly those who had unreimbursed employment expenses (employed taxpayers), and people searching for a new job in their current field of employment.

Here are a few for the many Misc. Itemized Deductions subject to the 2% AGI floor:
  • Unreimbursed Employee Business Expenses;
  • A Portion of Union Dues;
  • Tax Preparation Fees;
  • Job Hunting Expenses for a Job in Same Employment Field;
  • Certain Nonbusiness Legal Expenses;
  • Investment-Related Expenses;
  • Uniforms and Similar Work-Related Clothing.

There are many more deductions, the above are just a few.

But you know what?  Did you notice my use of the past tense?  They're gone.  GONE.  Yes, the new tax regulations signed by President Trump repealed all ... ALL ... of the Misc. Itemized Deductions subject to the 2% AGI floor beginning on January 1, 2018.

If you have taken these deductions in the past, and still plan to file an itemized individual income tax for your 2018 taxes, these Misc. Itemized Deductions will not be available to you.  I welcome your call or email if you have questions about this topic.

Tax Concerns?
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

July 14, 2018

Power to the Clothesline! English Townspeople Support Woman who was Anonymously Shamed for Drying Laundry Outside

Claire Mountjoy
Photo credit:  nytimes.com
Reading this article - about laundry, of all things -  in last month's New York Times really made me smile! 

I use a clothesline in my backyard to dry laundry whenever possible.  I love the smell of outdoor dried bedding and clothing.  Well, except for a couple of weeks ago when my sheets picked up a faint smoky smell when smoke from Northern California wildfires blew into the area!  Plus using nature's natural drying cycle saves money on your utility bills, and is gentler on your bedding and clothing.

Anyhoo ... Apparently Colyton, England resident Claire Mountjoy shares my love of drying laundry outside. But some anonymous person did not. You see, she received an anonymous letter in her mailbox asking that she use a dryer, or dry her clothes inside, so that the town would keep "looking good".

That letter .... from a person too much of a coward to sign it ... didn't sit well with Claire's neighbors and Colyton's business community.  There was a true laundry revolt in the town, with people supporting Claire by hanging clothing all around town.  Heck, apparently one person even place a bra atop a flag pole!

Read the entire NYT article in the link above.

I guess I'll just call this one "Power to the Clothesline!".  And thanks to all of he Colyton residents and businesses who supported Claire Mountjoy!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

July 12, 2018

Walmart Becomes the Latest Boneheaded Retailer. Just What Did Walmart Do?

Walmart may be the largest retailer in the world (Bet you thought it was Amazon, didn't you?!), but that didn't stop them from making a very boneheaded move.

Just what did Walmart do?

Well, looks like Walmart has been tone deaf to the reactions other retailers have experienced with controversial clothing lines.  You know, like fast fashion retailer H&M's decision to market a child's hoodie that said "Coolest Monkey In The Jungle" using a black young boy as the model.

H&M's "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle" Hoodie
Really, really NOT cool!

That went over well.  Really really well.  Not!

Getting back to Walmart ... The mega giant decided to dive head first into the bonehead category by introducing an "Impeach 45" clothing line.  As in Impeach President Trump.

Here's a peek:

Walmart's Impeach 45 Apparel Line
Shouldn't the world's largest retailer know that retail + politics = trouble?

Backlash has been fierce from conservatives.  The apparel has been pulled from Walmart's website sales, but is still available on Amazon through other vendors.  Apparently the impeach 45 clothing line was not sold in Walmart stores.

Regardless of my opinion of President Trump ... and I'll keep that to myself ... shouldn't retailers have figured it out by now that mixing retail and politics equals trouble?

Once again I am reminded that those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

July 10, 2018

Muttville Senior Dog Rescue: Takes in 28 dogs from a beloved local dog rescuer who passed away.

Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, California is a beyond fantastic non-profit dog rescue organization.  With a passel of volunteers, Muttville is dedicated to rescuing, caring for, and re-homing senior dogs ... including  dogs other shelters may have euthanized.

And they do the world's greatest at it!

Ready to some inspirational news?  Last month, Muttville took in 28 senior dogs from just one location, the large rural home of a beloved Solano county, California dog rescuer who had passed away.  So grab a tissue and watch the heartwarming video below about the late dog rescuer Marline, Muttville, and Marline's 26 senior dogs!


About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  She has 2 Faithful Canine Companions, Husky-Malamute mix Sid and Chow Chow-Pomeranian mix Lexi.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

July 7, 2018

Sales Tax: Head Shaking Regulations Make Compliance Nearly Impossible

Sales Tax.  Technically called Sales and Use Tax in many jurisdictions.  And the bane of all businesses that are required to collect it.

The topic of sales tax as been a hot discussion item recently,  given the United States Supreme Court's recent 5-4 decision (read it here) that states can impose sales tax on Internet purchases.  This new ruling effectively overturned the Court's 1992 Quill decision, which required a physical presence in a state before collecting sales tax.

While I concur with the Court's decision, the unaddressed issue about sales tax is very simple:  For businesses required to collect sales tax, the myriad of head shaking regulations makes full compliance nearly impossible.  And for nationwide businesses, they must deal with completely different sales tax regulations within the 44 states plus the District of Columbia that impose the tax.  (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon do not impose a general statewide sales tax.)  Oh, and different sales tax rates within every county, town, and city.  Take a look at a few sales tax rules.  Do these make any sense to you?

Massachusetts:  Clothing and footwear is exempt from sales tax.  Well, kinda.  The exemption is limited to clothing and footwear costing $175 and less.  For costlier items, sales tax is imposed portion of the purchase price about $175.

But wait, there's more!  "Certain" clothing and footwear items are always taxed.  Among items included in this always taxed group are shower and bathing caps, purses and handbags, the much-in-demand handkerchiefs, and clothing worn by horse jockeys.

Colorado:  "Canned" software that is purchased by disc or on other tangible personal property is subject to sales tax.  However, "canned" software purchased and downloaded electronically is exempt.  But  .... if you purchase and electronically download electronic media including music and books, those items are subject to sales tax.

Electronic Filing of Tax Returns and Electronic Payment of Taxes:  Want to electronically file your tax returns or electronically pay your taxes?  Every state that imposes a sales tax imposes the tax on the fee charged to electronically file your tax returns or pay your taxes.  So yep, you get to pay a tax in order to pay your taxes!  Yippee!!

California:  I could do a month worth of posts about California's sales tax quirks; I'll stick with a few for now.

California - Prescription Medication:  Prescription medication is exempt from sales tax in California.  Well, not really.  If you are human, it is.  But if you purchase a prescription for you dog or other pet, even if it is a medication also used by humans, the prescription is subject to sales tax.  It doesn't matter if the medication is purchased from your vet or a human pharmacy such as Walgreen's.

California - Food:  Complying with THIS items is a mind-numbing doozy!  Food eaten at a restaurant is always subject to sales tax, while the same food ordered and taken to go may ... or may not ... be subject to sales tax.  Oh, and it also depends on whether or not the food is hot or cold when taken to go.

But wait, there's more!  As in exceptions.  Here's a bit of what California sales tax regulations say on this topic:
"Sales of food for human consumption are generally exempt from tax unless sold in a heated condition (except hot bakery items or hot beverages, such as coffee, sold for a separate price), served as meals, consumed at or on the seller's facilities, ordinarily sold for consumption on or near the seller's parking facility, or sold for consumption where there is an admission charge."
Got that?!  And golly gee, just exactly what foods do - and do not - fall into the above categories is subject to anyone's interpretation, including your California State Tax Auditor in a sales tax audit.  Here's what one of California's state taxing authorities, the State Board of Equalization, once had to say on this food and sales taxes matter:
"A cold food product sold individually and to go is not taxable. The sale of a cold food product sold as part of a combination package may be taxable ... If you sell an egg salad sandwich to go, you are not liable for tax on the sale. However, if you sell an egg salad sandwich as part of a combination package, you may be liable for tax."
Once again, got all that?!  May be taxable??!!   Geesh!!

I swear, if our politicians that enact these taxes actually had to run businesses and deal with sales tax compliance and collection, we'd see much simpler sales tax regulations!

Sales Tax Concerns?  
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

July 5, 2018

L.L.Bean: Lawsuit Against Outdoor Retailer's New Return Policy Given The Boot!

In this February 16, 2018 post, I wrote about outdoor retailer L.L.Bean's new return policy.  A small - but growing - number of people were abusing the no questions asked, lifetime return guarantee the company had maintained for decades.  The revised return guarantee (effective with L.L.Bean items purchased beginning February 9, 2018) provides a one-year return limit for most items.

And, as anyone who does any shopping knows, a one-year return limit is very ... very ... generous.

But, alas, not generous enough for some people.  As I stated in my original post, within 3 days of the return guarantee change, L.L.Bean was served with a lawsuit requesting class action status, claiming that consumers are damaged because L.L. Bean was dishonoring its "warranty", and therefore consumers are deprived of the said "warranty" they purchased.

Thankfully, a Federal Court Judge disagreed, and recently - pardon the pun - gave the lawsuit the boot!  The Judge stated that the Illinois plaintiff failed to prove (1) that he was financially damaged by his purchase of L.L.Bean boots, or (2) that he was dissatisfied with the boots he purchased.

Similar lawsuits against L.L.Bean are pending in three other states, including litigation-crazy California.  Hopefully they will get the boot, too.

United States Courts.  There's always somthin' crazy going on!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 29, 2018

Quiz Answer: Can you name this country?

I recently posted this quiz:  Can you identify the country that has the highest percent of land ... over 90%! ... covered by desert?   You can read the post and any comments here.

And the answer is ... drumroll ...

Egypt !

Yes, Egypt is considered to be the most desert-covered country on Earth, with over 90% of its land covered by desert.  Egypt is also home to the largest Arabian city, Cairo, with a population of approximately 19.5 million people.  No that's a lot of people!  Another million or so people live in the greater Cairo metropolitan area.

Desert + Human Population = Problems

And when you consider Egypt's population (nearly 100 million people) and desert habitat, you have a number of severe environmental impacts, sanitation among them.  Get this:  Only about 50% of Egypt's population is connected to a sanitary sewer system.  Because of this lack of basic sanitation, and estimated 50,000 children die each year in Egypt ... each and every year ... due to diarrhea.  That's beyond sad.

Getting back to the quiz .... one person guessed Libya.  Libya - who happens to be Egypt's neighbor to the west - is a close 2nd in desert coverage, with an estimated 90% of Libya covered by desert.  So good answer!

I hope you enjoyed this quiz!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 27, 2018

Another Bay Area Bookstore Bites The Dust ... But The Reason Likely Has Nothing To Do With Books

Bookstores ... the brick and mortar kind, anyway ... are becoming a relic of the past.  Both my husband Jim and I are avid readers, and miss browsing in our local Barnes and Noble.  Although located in upscale Walnut Creek, it closed over 2 years ago.  Amazon opened up a bookstore - Amazon Books - in Walnut Creek late last year, but the store is a joke.  With a very limited book and magazine selection, the store's focus is primarily on hawking Amazon electric gadgets.

And speaking of controller-of-the-world Amazon, we can't blame bookstore demise solely on the monstrous mega e-commerce retailer.  Plenty of other bad decisions are ingredients in bookstores' recipes for failure.

Here's one fresh example:  Oakland California's independently owned Laurel Book Store just announced it is closing at the end of August.  But don't blame the books or Amazon for the store's failure.  Rather, the blame - as it often does - appears to fall on the shoulder of bad business decisions by the book store's owner.

You see, Laurel Book Store owner Luan Stauss had successfully operated the bookstore for 13 years in Oakland's Laurel District.  The Laurel District has a diverse mix of culture, stores, and residents;  and a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly shopping district along MacArthur Boulevard.   In other words, a near perfect location for a bookstore.

But this wasn't enough for Ms Stauss.  She kept the store's name, but moved it to downtown Oakland near City Hall in October 2014.  Yep, near Oakland City Hall, the area that is the frequent site of protests and demonstrations, and is completely devoid of a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly shopping district.  Oh, and the store size was 4 times larger than the 900-square-foot store located in the Laurel District.

And what happened after the move to downtown Oakland? Failure from day 1.  No foot traffic. Few sales. Long time customers did not follow her to downtown Oakland. As Ms. Stauss stated to online publication Hoodline last hear, in spite of packed office buildings in the downtown area, "I'm on a block where there's not really a lot going on.  There's not a lot of retail."
Three simple things to consider when business owners make business decisions:
  1. Bigger isn't always better.
  2. For a brick and mortar business, it's location location location.
  3. If it aint' broke, don't fix it.
As a book and newspaper lover, It's disheartening to see yet another bookstore close.  But it appears Ms. Stauss gave little, if any, thought to the three topics above when she decided to move from 13 years of success in the Laurel District.
 
Business Tax or Insurance Concerns?
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 24, 2018

Taxes: 2017 Tax Legislation May Impact Your Taxes

Let's talk taxes, shall we?  Specifically, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

President Trump signed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law on on December 22, 2017.  This legislation marks the largest overhaul to US tax regulations - specifically the Internal Revenue Code - in over 30 years.  The legislation became effective on January 1, 2018, although many of the Act's provisions are modified over future years. 

And just how extensive were the changes?  Let's just say that my reference book about this legislation  (pictured on this post) is 1088 pages long!

Throughout the rest of the year, I will be devoting more posts to taxes and tax planning, including provisions of the 2017 legislation that may impact your taxes.

And since 2018 is nearly 1/2 done already, don't delay implementing tax planning to determine how the legislation impacts your personal or business tax situation.  Otherwise you may be in for a very unpleasant tax experience when you file your 2018 tax returns next year!

Tax Concerns?
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 22, 2018

Quiz: Can you name this country?

Quiz Time! 

Can you identify the country that has the highest percent of land ... over 90%! ... covered by desert?  No cheatin' now ! 😊

I will post the answer next week.  Good luck!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 20, 2018

IRS Impersonator Scams: Is that really the IRS calling me?

IRS Impersonator Tax Scams are, unfortunately, ever present.   Here is one easy tool to help prevent you from becoming a Tax Scam victim.

If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS but you suspect the person is not an IRS employee:
  1. Record the caller's name, badge number (an IRS employee is always required to provide his or her badge number), call back number,  and caller ID if available.
  2. Call the IRS Identification Validation Hotline at 800-829-1040 to determine if the caller is an IRS employee with a legitimate need to contact you.
  3. If the person calling you is in fact  an IRS employee, call the person back.
  4. If the person is not an IRS employee, report the incident to both TIGTA (the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the prior link will take you to an online reporting form) and to the IRS via email at phishing@irs.gov , with the subject 'IRS Phone Scam'.  
Have Tax Concerns?
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 18, 2018

Sid Wonders: Is Daddy Every Coming Home?

Aw, life is always good with our Faithful Canine Companions, Husky-Malamute Mix Sid and Chow Chow-Pomeranian Mix Lexi.

Yep, Sid is a bit of a Daddy's boy ....


"Mommy, is Daddy ever ever coming home?  He's been gone for like 20 minutes.  That's like almost forever in Doggy time!" 
-- Sid the Dog

Every day is a good day with our Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi!

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 16, 2018

Slim Jims Meat Snack Sticks: Can You Guess How Many Pieces Are Produced Each Year?

Slim Jims. The worldwide meat-and-other-flavors snack stick that has been around since 1929.

The Troy, Ohio plant that produces all of the Slim Jims snack sticks - yep, just 1 factory does all the work - recently made headlines.  And in a good way.  Efficiency changes made to the plant both (1) eliminated unplanned production interruptions,and (2) reduced waste by 504 tons in a single year.  That's more than 1 million pounds of waste eliminated each year!  From a single factory!

But what really caught my eye was learning how many pieces of Slim Jims the factory produces each year.

Any guesses?
A Billion Pieces of Slim Jims!!

Now that's a lotta high sodium meat snack!

Read more about Slim Jims' production and waste saving efforts in this Troy, Ohio news article.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 14, 2018

AB 626 Homemade Food Bill - A public food poisoning crisis waiting to happen.

California Politicians are at it again.   And this time they are placing public health in great jeopardy.

So what's going on?  Glad you asked.  You see, AB 626, titled the Homemade Food Act, is pending in the California legislature.  If passed, the bill would would amend California's health and safety code by defining “microenterprise home kitchen operations” as legitimate food facilities. Supporters of this bill are supporting it as a way to "decriminalize" (they're word, not mine!) home cooks and bakers who want to legally sell food to the public that is made in their residential kitchens.

As an avid home cook and baker, I have a big .... BIG ... problem with AB 626. Absolutely do not support it. And here's why.

There is simply too much... WAY to much ... public health risk associated with this misguided venture.  Consider the free church-sponsored Thanksgiving meal in nearby Antioch, California 2 years ago.  3 people died and 26 others were violently sickened from food poisoning, suspected to come from roast turkey and/or mashed potatoes that were prepared in private homes and brought to the event to be served.

Do we want a catastrophic state-wide outbreak of similar avoidable events?  We could very well have it if AB 626 passes.

How many of these home-based kitchen operators are aware of critical food preparation factors, such as proper hot and cold holding/cooking temperatures?   Get this:  The AB 626 would "exempt a microenterprise home kitchen operation from various provisions applicable to food facilities, including, among others, provisions relating to handwashing, sinks, ventilation, and animals." That's flat out wrong, with perhaps the exception to certain animals, and a threat to general public safety.  I mean, give me a break!  No handwashing regulations for home kitchen operations?!

Moreover, the bill does not define what the 'other' unnamed food facility safety provisions the microenterprise home kitchen operations would be exempted from.   Can you believe that?!  Guess the politicians just plan on defining 'other' at their leisure, after the bill becomes law.  How convenient. 

Oh, and the bill mentions no requirement of a bond or liability insurance.

A solution alread exists for this issue.  (I'm not going to call this issue a problem, because I do not think it is a problem.)  Solution?  Home cooks and bakers who want to sell their goods to the public can do so by renting shared commercial kitchen space for food preparation.

Another solution for a problem that doesn't exist.  And a disasterous solution at that, one which poses a great life safety risk to California's general public.

Say no to California's Homemade Food Bill, AB 626.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 12, 2018

Sid: Do You Think Sid Loves His Daddy?

Sid.

Our goofy and lovable Faithful Canine Companion.  75-pounds of Husky-Malamute mix.  Found as a stray by an Animal Control Officer, we adopted Sid from a local public animal shelter in September 2014.  He's about 5 1/2 years old now.

And did I say lovable?  I'd say Sid loves his Daddy ... and that Sid truly thinks he's a small lap dog!  😊


Every day is truly a good day with our Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 10, 2018

Bored With Your Meals? Get A Wok!

My Wok.  It is one of the most versatile tools in my kitchen!  It's a 14-inch cast iron wok from Lodge.  Life long durable, this wok is very easy to use, fits perfectly on my gas stove top burner, and has excellent heat retention.  Plus, as an extra bonus, the wok cleans up in a snap.  I also have a lid for the wok; it fits both the wok and Lodge's 15-inch cast iron skillet.  The lid comes in very handy when I want to keep things warm for a few minutes, or when I need to use some vegetable broth and steam to finish cooking larger stir-fried vegetables.

Stir-fry dishes are easy to prepare in a snap.  Sometimes I use a true recipe, other times I just throw together whatever I have on hand, including fresh vegetables that need to be used up.  And the wok is not just for stir fry meals, it is so versatile for general sauteing, including making the best sauteed vegetables.

Here are a couple recent wok-prepared meals:  (1) Shrimp and Bacon with Pea Pods and Yellow Bell Pepper, and (2) Chinese BBQ Pork Tenderloin with Green Beans and Red Bell Pepper.  A snap to prepare and beyond delicious!





Oh, and for great wok-based recipes and general Asian cooking inspiration, visit the Wok & Skillet website!  Both of the above stir fries are based on recipes from Char's website.

If you're looking to simply meal preparation - and jazz up your cooking - get a wok today! 

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 8, 2018

California Primary Election: Voter Turnout Lower Than Low

California's Primary Election was held this week on Tuesday, June 5.  As we always do, both my husband Jim and I voted.

But regretfully, most other registered voters skipped the process and stayed away from the polls.  Our their mail-in ballots, which is how Jim and I vote.

And just how low was voter turn out on Tuesday?  Astonishingly low, as in I can't think of a single word to truly describe the low-of-the-lows turnout.  So I'll give a few statistics instead.

Contra Costa County California, where I live, had a minuscule registered voter turnout of 20.74%.  (Data as of Wednesday, June 6).  This means that in a county with a population of approximately 1.127 million people, 11% of the population - 124,874 voters, including Jim and I - made the election decisions for everyone.

That's beyond pitiful.

And San Francisco was no better.  San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Heather Knight  published this insightful column on the issue.  Ms. Knight looked at San Francisco's vote by mail statistics, and found that the SF Election Department had issued more than 320,000 mail-in ballots.  But as of Tuesday afternoon, only a paltry 80,000 ballots had been returned.

And as for the young voters in San Francisco?  You know, the tech workers who have flooded into the city to live, the young adults who campaigned for Bernie Sanders, and the teens and young adults who protest social issues including gun violence?  Well, they were nearly completely absent.   In San Francisco, just 3% of the received mail-in ballots came from people registered to vote since 2016.  By contrast, 2/3 of the received mail-in ballots came from people age 50 and older.

Ms. Knight spoke to a 20-something year old working in the Chronicle newsroom, who said that many of her friends didn't even know Tuesday was election day.

I've said this many times before, and I'll say it again:  If you are eligible to vote, don't complain about society issues if you don't vote.  Complain' won't solve a thing.  Only action does that.

Onward to the November General Election, where I hope more people will take the time to become informed and vote.
 
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 6, 2018

Cast Iron Cooking: Cleaning is a snap with a Chain Mail Scrubber!

As my husband Jim will tell you, I love to cook and bake.   Some of my favorite cookware and bakeware pieces are cast iron, both traditional cast iron and enameled cast iron.  With proper care, they have life long durability, and have excellent - and even - heat retention.  Plus with use, traditional cast iron develops a wonderful seasoned coating that creates a natural nonstick surface.  Awesome!

My Stainless Steel Chain Mail Scrubber

My Lodge Cast Iron Wok.
Love It!
When cleaning your traditional cast iron, I've found that my good old fashioned stainless steel Chain Mail Scrubber is a life saver.   I keep the scrubber hanging from a hook near my sink.  Clean up is a breeze, once again proving that old fashioned - rather than high tech - is sometimes best.  I bought my scrubber at my local grocery store, but they are also available on Amazon.

Oh, and don't forget to thoroughly dry your cast iron, and give it a light coating of oil (I use avocado oil) after cleaning.  Your cast iron will thank you for that, and only improve with each use.

Happy cast iron cooking and baking!
 
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 4, 2018

Supreme Court Sides with Colorado Cake Baker

Masteriece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips
Reuters photo: Rick Wilking
Well throw me an Uncle Charlie.  I didn't see this one coming.

I have followed this matter (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111) since before the case was heard before the Supreme Court.  The matter centered on a Colorado Cake Baker, Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips.  Mr. Phillips - on religious grounds - refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

The gay couple then lodged a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The commission ruled in favor of the gay couple, stating Mr. Phillips violated a state law baring discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Mr. Phillips appealed to state courts, which upheld the commission's ruling.

I listed to the Supreme Court's oral arguments, which to me appeared to be focused on (1) what is freedom of speech, and (2) what/who is an artist.  Based on the Justices' questioning, I felt strongly the Court would rule in favor of the gay couple, although not unanimously.  Justice Sotomayor's questioning, in particular, displayed affirmative support for the gay couple's argument.

But here comes the well throw me an Uncle Charlie interesting part.

The freedom of speech and definition of artist topics are not the Supreme Court's narrow ruling is based upon.  Rather, the Court's narrow ruling written by Justice Kennedy found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's ruling was both biased and demonstrated hostility toward religion.

As Justice Kennedy wrote:
“The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”
As stated in this New York Times article about the decision,

"Though the case was mostly litigated on free speech grounds, Justice Kennedy’s opinion barely discussed the issue. Instead, he focused on what he said were flaws in the proceedings before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Members of the commission, he wrote, had acted with “clear and impermissible hostility” to sincerely held religious beliefs.
One commissioner in particular, Justice Kennedy wrote, had crossed the line in saying that “freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.”
Ouch. 

The Supreme Court’s decision does, however, strongly reaffirmed protections for gay rights and includes language asserting that other cases with similar issues could very well be decided differently.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

June 2, 2018

What Happens When A Fallen Police Officer's Son Asks That A Police Officer Take Him To School?

Ready for an inspirational story?

5-year-old Dakota Pitt's father, police officer Rob Pitt, was recently killed in the line of duty, in a shootout while trying to apprehend a murder suspect.   Before his first day back to school following his father's death, Dakota asked his Mom if one of his Dad's police officer friends could take him to school.

And what happened?  Well, Dakota was driven to school by police officer ... And greeted at school by an honor guard of 70 other officers.

Watch this inspirational news clip from CBS video below.  What an amazing young man!


About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 31, 2018

Congratulations Warriors!

The Golden State Warriors are once again headed to the NBA Finals.  

And they once again are facing the Cleveland Cavaliers.  For the fourth year in a row!  Or, as Yogi Berra would say,

"It's déjà vu all over again."

Good Luck!

Photo Credit:  sfchronicle.com
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.


May 29, 2018

Print Newspapers Encounter Yet Another Problem In Their Fight To Survive. And It's From President Trump Himself.

Print Newspapers.

My husband Jim and I read two of them a day:  The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.  I also work the crosswords, my favorite being the New York Times crosswords, both the full-size puzzle and the Monday through Friday mini puzzle.


True, Jim and I area anomaly with our daily print newspaper reading.  There is no secret about the decline in the once-mighty print newspaper world.  In fact, across the U.S.,  subscriptions to print newspapers have declined nearly every year since 1990. 

One can debate the many reasons for the sometimes not so slow demise of the print newspaper industry.  But now the industry have a new problem.

And not much has been publicly said about it.

And this new problem is a shot directly from President Donald Trump, who makes no secret of his anger at the press.

No, it's not related to Twitter.  Rather it's a newsprint issue.  More specifically, a tariff on imported newsprint.

And the tariff 's resultant effect is a direct hit where it hurts:  rising costs for print newspapers.

You see, there are only 5 newsprint mills remaining in the United States; yet another good that the U.S. seemingly can't manufacture itself.   The United States is the world's largest importer of newsprint.  The largest supplier?  Our neighbor to the north, Canada.  And by far the largest supplier.  Some years Canada supplies 90% of newsprint imported into the United States.

So what did President Trump do last month?  His team imposed a 32% tariff on newsprint imported from Canada.  (The tariff supposedly came about after a complaint from just 1 of the 5 U.S. newsprint mills.)  Since most of the newsprint used in the U.S. is imported from Canada, this 32% tariff has resulted in newsprint costs across the United States increasing by an average of 30%.

Yep, a 30% price increase for newsprint in the United States.  And newsprint is the 2nd largest expense for U.S. newspapers, only topped by payroll expenses.

Yet another example of the dirty world of politics.  I must admit, I never previously considered that newsprint would get involved in the often putrid culture of U.S. politics.  Taking a clue from something Mark Twain once said, I guess it's much easier to "pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel" when that someone can no longer afford to buy newsprint and print a newspaper.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 27, 2018

Isabella Rossellini: Her life had gone to the chickens ... Literally!

Isabella Rossellini.


More gorgeous than ever at age 65.  A natural, no-cosmetic-surgery beauty.

Model, actress, author, and filmmaker.  She recently signed a contract to model for the cosmetics giant Lancôme.  Yep, at age 65.

Oh, and one other thing.  Add organic farmer and chicken breeder to the list of Ms. Rossellini's accomplishments.

Yes, when she is not busy with other ventures, you will find Ms. Rossellini on her 28-acre Long Island New York farm, where she breeds chickens, grows organic produce, and produces honey and eggs.  She even hand delivers her multi-colored eggs to the local farmer's market every week.

Isabella Rossellini on her farm in Bellport, N.Y.
Photo Credit:  An Rong Xu for the New York Times  
Credit
One amazing woman!

To learn more about Ms. Rossellini's farm and current ventures, read this put-a-smile-on-your-face New York Times article.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  Oh, and she doesn't raise chickens, but she does love to garden!  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 25, 2018

111-Year-Old Lucy Mirigian Forced To Prove To The U.S. Government That She Is, In Fact, Still Alive

Lucy Mirigian.


A sharp and feisty 111-year-old San Francisco resident who recently learned yet another new lesson in life:

It ain't easy convincing the U.S. Government that you are alive.
When the U.S. Government thinks you are dead.

According to this must read, heartwarming article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Lucy's 'hell no, I'm not dead odyssey' began last November.  You see, Lucy is retired from the United States Mint, and receives a  small federal pension of $377.26 a month.  In November, the government agency that administers her federal pension decided that Lucy was dead because she had not returned a form letter saying she wasn’t.

111-year-old Lucy Mirigian in her home on May 2, 2018.
Photo credit:  Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

And the agency - the Office of Personnel Management - cancelled her monthly pension payment, and notified her that her health insurance would be cancelled, too.

Problem is, Lucy never received such a form letter.

And she was very much alive.

But proving so to the Federal Government turned into a nightmare-of-an-odyssey for Lucy, her daughter, and her son-in-law.

Letters and phone calls were made, yet the OPM continued to believe that Lucy was dead. It took a trip to the local office of Rep. Jackie Speier, and intervention from Speier's staffers, to solve the problem.

In other words, help from a federally elected official was needed to convince a govermennt agency that a person was in fact alive, and not dead.  

Crazy, huh?  Geesh, couldn't a simple phone call from OPM to Lucy have solved the problem?! 

But Lucy is not bitter. Au contraire.  Here pension payments are up-to-date, her health insurance is in force. What's next for Lucy in her grand life?

A vacation to Calistoga. And perhaps a cruise. Which would be Lucy's 44th cruise!

Government bureaucracy at its finest.  But in this instance, it's feisty 111-year-old Lucy Mirigian as the victor!  Lucy 1, United States Government 0.
 
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 23, 2018

Taxes: Did your paid Tax Preparer sign your return?

If you pay a Tax Preparer to prepare your tax returns, here are a few things you may not know about requirements for a Tax Preparer's signature.

(1)  A paid Tax Preparer is required by law to sign your tax return.  An exception to this requirement is that a paid employee who prepared his or her employer's tax return is not required to sign the return.

(2)  If you hire a Tax Preparer to review a not-yet-filed  tax return that you (or someone else) has prepared, and you pay the Tax Preparer for reviewing the return, the Tax Preparer is required by law to sign the tax return.  And he or she must sign the return, even if someone else has previously signed the return.  

Also, by signing the return, the Tax Preparer accepts professional responsibility  ... and therefore, professional liability ... or all positions taken on the return.  That is why I do not provide "review" services for tax returns prepared by someone else.  Given the liability I would assume, I would need to re-prepare the return to be certain of the tax return's accuracy.

(3)  If a Tax Preparer prepares your tax return for free - in other words, receives no compensation - the Tax Preparer is not required to sign the return.  Same holds true if a Tax Preparer reviews a not-yet-filed tax return prepared by someone else, yet charges no fee for the revieswservice.  In these instances, the uncompensated Tax Preparer assumes no professional responsibility or liability for the tax return.

Tax Questions?
Contact Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 21, 2018

Obamacare: Covered California 2019 Premium Estimates? A Bunch Of Baloney, I say.

Covered California, the California health insurance exchange for Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) coverage, recently released it's state-wide estimated premium increase for policies sold on the exchange in 2019.

Covered California is currently negotiating 2019 rates with health insurance companies. Final 2019 rates are expected to be released in July.

And my opinion of the estimated state-wide premium increase for 2019?

I think its a bunch of baloney.  Here's why.

Covered California health insurance premiums, and the annual increase in premiums, can vary dramatically among California's 19 different "pricing regions" (this "pricing region" scheme is yet another head-shaking problem with Obamacare).  In 2018, the California state-wide average premium increase was 12.9%.   However, this average figure is very misleading, given the eye popping variations in premium increase from one pricing region to other.

Just how eye popping?  In 2018, the average Covered California health insurance premium increase in California's 19 pricing regions ranged from a low of 4.3% average premium increase in Pricing Region 8 (San Mateo county), to a jaw dropping 33.2% average premium increase in Pricing Region 1 (which consists of 22 counties in the most northern portion of the state).

That's simply crazy!  Nuts!

California's 19 Pricing Regions for
Covered California/Obamacare  Health Insurance

Fast forward to the recently released estimated state-wide average premium increase for 2019.  Covered California estimates that (1)  enrollment statewide will drop 12%, largely due to the removal of the individual mandate requiring health insurance, and (2) that on average, health insurance premiums for policies sold in the 19 Pricing Regions will increase by 11%.

Huh?

The anticipated 12% enrollment drop will likely consists of healthy people dropping health insurance coverage.  That will leave a smaller - and sicker - group of insureds who will require more health care, which in turn drives up costs for the health insurance companies selling the policies.

So we've got a smaller group of more expensive and sicker insureds, yet Covered California estimates that the state-wide average premium increase in 2019 - 11% - will actually be lower than the 2018 average state-wide premium increase of 12.9%??!!  That's crazy.

How can one possibly expect that a sicker and therefore more expensive group of insureds will lead to a lower premium increase that the preceding year?

More expensive does not equate to less cost.  Duh.

I'll post this summer when final 2019 Covered California/Obamacare premiums are released.  Until then, I wouldn't put too much faith in Covered California's current Guessing Game.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 19, 2018

Quiz Answer: Can you name this food item?

I recently posted this quiz:  Can you name this food item?   You can read the post and any comments here.

And the answer is ... drumroll ...

An apple!

Yes, a medium-sized apple contains only 95 calories, but is packed with nutrition:

25 Grams Total Carbohydrate
4.4 Grams Dietary Fiber
No Cholesterol, Sodium, or Fat
1% of Daily Recommended Protein
1% of Daily Recommended Calcium, Vitamin A, and Iron
5% of Daily Recommended Potassium and Vitamin B-6
2% Daily Recommended Magnesium


A locally grown Fugi apple.
And remember to eat apples with the skin left on.  According to this post by the University of Illinois Extension:
"Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. Most of an apple's fragrance cells are also concentrated in the skin and as they ripen, the skin cells develop more aroma and flavor."
I always have apples in the hanging fruit basket in my kitchen.  I refer a sweet-flavored crisp apple.  I enjoy eating a variety of different apples, although my favorite apple is probably a Fuji apple.

And as for nutrition of a red apple versus a green apple?  There is very little difference.  Green apples tend to have a bit less sugar and a bit more fibre, while red apples are a bit higher in antioxidants.

What is your favorite apple?

 Enjoy an apple today!
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 17, 2018

Neighborhood Eggs and Honey ... Yum!

Local organic eggs.

Local honey.

Really local.  As in local from from a neighbor's backyard!

A neighbor recently closed their small pizza patio restaurant, so they now are able to sell eggs and honey from their "backyard farm", Chicks Backyard Farm, that previously went toward pizza making.

The eggs are organic.  Their flock is free roaming in their backyard, and fed organic feed and organic veggies and greens.  The honey is obtained from their backyard bee hives.

I recently purchased my first dozen eggs and 8 ounces of honey.  Haven't tried the honey yet (I'm going to use it for more special uses, such as honey on toast), but can tell you the eggs are spectacular!  Beautiful yolks, full of flavor, and a hard shell.  Here, take a look ...


Yet another reason I live where I live.  So thankful to have access to local and regional eggs, honey, produce, seafood, meat/poultry, and other cooking and baking products.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  She is an avid cook and baker, although backyard chickens are a no-no given the high small prey instinct of dogs Sid and Lexi.  Same goes for a bee hive, as Lexi is very allergic to bee stings!  😟  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts