September 18, 2018

Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Try this version to take grilled cheese to the next level!

Grilled Sandwiches.  Endless variations.  Delicious, nutritious comfort food.

Like Grilled Cheese Sandwiches?  I sure do!  Each one I make is a bit different from the grilled sandwich before.  The one consistent must?  The sandwiches are always ... always ... made on my homemade sourdough sandwich bread!

Photo Credit:  California Avocados
To take you next grilled cheese sandwich to a whole new level, here is a delicious sounding recipe from California Avocados:  Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Avocado and Creamy Sunflower Romesco Sauce.  Click on the link below for a short video of the recipe and preparation:


The Romesco Sauce itself is one reason to keep the recipe.  Romesco Sauce is a roasted sweet red pepper, nut, and garlic-based sauce that originated a long time ago in Europe.  Fishermen initially used it to flavor fish, but the sauce truly is adaptable to so many uses!  Easy to make, too!

Happy Grilled Cheese!
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

September 16, 2018

Estimated Tax Day: 3rd payment for estimated individual income taxes is due tomorrow!

Do you pay quarterly estimated tax payments for your individual income taxes?  If so, your 3rd quarterly payment for your 2018 individual income taxes is due tomorrow, Monday, September 17.

Generally the payment would be due on September 15, but since the 15th falls on a non-business weekend day, the payment is due on the next business day.

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.  Mary provides tax return preparation and planning, tax consulting, and audit representation to clients throughout the United States.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 14, 2018

Hurricane Florence: Relentless storm slams North Carolina coast.

Hugely powerful and massive Hurricane Florence is battering North Carolina.  The Category 1 hurricane is slowly moving further inland into North Carolina and part of South Carolina, then will likely head northwest into Kentucky and West Virginia.  The storm is expected to cause catastrophic flash flooding and storm surge flooding, followed by possibly weeks of river flooding.  The river flooding will be exacerbated by the storm surge at the coast, which acts to prohibit water from draining out rivers and into the ocean.  This phenomena was the cause of much devastation during Hurricane Harvey in the Houston, Texas area.

Hurricane Florence is moving at a crawl, currently at about 5 miles per hour.  This turtle-like-pace creates an exponential amount of rain for the affected areas.  Hurricane Florence is expected to drop 40 inches of rain in some areas, possibly in just a 3 day span.   As of late this morning eastern time today, some parts of North Carolina had already received 15 inches of rain. 3 million people are estimated to eventually be without power (electricity), with no timetable for restoration of power.  Pure devastation.

Here is what Hurricane Florence looked like about 7:15 eastern time this morning when the center of the hurricane reached landfall along the North Carolina coast:


As an admitted weather buff, it is hard for me to fathom how massive this storm is.   I'll post about insurance coverage for hurricane damage in the future.  (And yes, it gets complicated what damage is covered in insurance policies, and what damage is not.)  But in the meantime I hope people are adequately prepared, and hope for no loss of life.

Stay safe everyone!

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

September 12, 2018

San Francisco Giants: Another Soap Opera of a Season

Ugh, the San Francisco Giants' dismal 2018 season.  Yet another Soap Opera like, injury filled, and illness filled season for my favorite baseball team.

I looked at the Giants' season stats earlier this week on Monday morning.  Talk about Tommy-has-drowned-in-the-well dismal.  Record last 10 games?  1 win, 9 losses.  4th place in the National League West division, 11 games out of first.  And with a current .472 winning records, it appears the team will yet again end the season under .500.

And the Giants' misery has only continued.

During the Giants' Monday game against the Braves, the last 20 Giants' batters were all retired .. all ... with little effort from the Braves' pitcher.  Oh, ad the Giants lost again yesterday (Tuesday), giving them a 10 game losing streak, tying the worst losing streak since playing in San Francisco.   If the Giants lose to the Braves again today, the' team will have a new San Francisco franchise string of losses record:  11 in a row.

Before Tuesday's Game, manager Bruce Bochy went as far as speaking to the team, reminding them they needed to meet the playing obligations of a major league baseball team.

Ouch.

And more Giants players injured.  More going into surgery for various 'repairs'.

Double Ouch.

I personally think Bruce Bochy needs to go, and have since before the 2017 season.   Something's just not right with the Giants' dynamics throughout the entire organization.  I think the team needs a new skipper to bring a fresh start and outlook to the ball club.  In addition, with the conflagration of injuries to Giants' players this year, the Giants' training staff needs an urgent and extensive overhaul.   Just my opinions.

But heck, there are a couple somewhat rosy items on the horizon.  At least the Giants won't loose 100 games or have the worst, or 2nd worse, record in Major League Baseball this year.

Onward to next season.  Go Giants!

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

September 10, 2018

One A Day Vitamins: Is it truly a One A Day if it is not ... well ... one a day?

Bayer's One A Day Vitamins brand has earned the Bonehead of the Month Award.

Why so?  Glad you asked!  One A Day Vitamins have been around since the 1940s.  During this time ... nearly 80 years ... their key selling point was (duh!) that a person took one vitamin a day.  Yep, just like the label boldly says.  One A Day, as the label states on this One A Day Kids Gummies Vitamin:

Photo credit:  oneaday.com


But wait, there's a big problem!  Can this Gummies chewable vitamin be a One A Day when it is actually a Two A Day?

I personally don't think so.

You see, One A Day vitamins came out with this chewable Gummies vitamin last year.  It's marketed as a children's chewable Gummies vitamin, and comes in kid-friendly shapes like the Batman Gummies in the photo.  One A Day's website broadcasts the Gummies with its One A Day label.

But it's only until you look at the fine print on the back of the label that you discover kids age 4 and older, as well as adults, need to take 2 Gummies a day to get the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals.  Heck, One A Day so obscures this fact that they do not make it easily available on their website.  I had to download a separate .pdf label document about the One A Day Gummies Chewable Vitamin to learn it's actually a Two A Day Gummies Chewable Vitamin:


Oops!  Looks like One A Day needs a new Two A Day brand and label for their Gummies Vitamins.  Because clearly the Gummies are a Two A Day vitamin!

And a California appellate court appears to agree with my opinion.  The court has reinstated a class action lawsuit against Bayer and their One A Day Vitamin brand over just that fact:  the One A Day Gummies Vitamin label is misleading.

Did Bayer actually think they would get away with this misleading marketing and sales scheme?  Crazy!

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

September 3, 2018

Insurance: When is the last time you reviewed your Homeowners Insurance or Renters Insurance coverage?

Insurance.  Not the most exciting of topics, for sure.  But an important one nonetheless.

If you carry homeowners insurance or renters insurance, when is the last time you reviewed your coverage?  Are you certain you have adequate coverage for the value of your home and contents.  Do you know basic coverage is limited for certain contents, including jewelry?

I recommend reviewing homeowners insurance and renters insurance coverage each year; more often if you've made improvements to your home, or have acquired significant new household contents.  I do not sell commissioned-based insurance policies.  All of my insurance services are provided on a consulting basis.  My professional compensation is based on my hourly rates and reimbursable expense.

I welcome your call at (510) 421-5457 or email to Mary@FoutsFinancialGroup.com to schedule your  insurance policy review, or to address other insurance concerns you may have.

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

August 30, 2018

Chicago Fire Update: 10 Children Dead

This post updates my last post regarding a horrific residential fire in Chicago last Sunday morning.

Death Toll Update:  The death toll in the fire has now been updated to 10, all children between the ages of 3 months and 16 years.  It was originally reported that 2 victims were adults; this was incorrect.  All victims died from smoke inhalation.

Residence:  The residence was originally described as an apartment building.  That is a bit in accurate.  It is actually a home (described as a 2-story Coach House) that appears to have been separated into unique rental living units by floor.  Whether or not the building separation was legal and permitted has not been disclosed.  The first floor was vacant, the children were all on the 2nd floor of the residence.  The Coach House sits behind the main house on the property, a 3-story brownstone.  Code Enforcement had issued Code Citations since 2007 on both homes, although the details of the citations have not been made public.

Children:  The children were all at a sleep over.  The children were unattended, no adults were present at the home.  A Child Neglect Investigation has been opened up by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Service.

Smoke Detectors:  It has been reconfirmed that no working smoke detectors were found in the building.  Investigators did find 1 smoke detector on the 2nd floor, but the battery had been removed from it.  Fire investigators have stated that it is the building owner's responsibility to install smoke detectors, but the tenant's responsibility for maintaining the smoke detectors, including keeping batteries in the units.

Cause of Fire:  Not yet determined.  The fire started in an enclosed porch at the rear of the building.  It has been called the deadliest Chicago fire in more than a decade.

As I stated earlier ...

According to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesperson Larry Langford, the deaths and injuries could have been avoided if working smoke detectors had been in use:
"It was not hard to get out. The fire started in the rear, and the entryway to the front was wide open," Langford said. "Had they been awake or if someone had woken them, they would have gotten out."
The people would be alive today had there been working smoke detectors in the apartment.

During a fire, a person can become unconscious and die from smoke inhalation in as little as 2 minutes.  2 minutes!  This is one life saving issue I counsel clients on when I review residential and business fire insurance.  Make sure your home and business has working smoke detectors.  If battery powered, change the batteries every 6 months.  Replace smoke detector units every 10 years, or sooner if they malfunction.

Smoke detectors.  Inexpensive and life saving. 

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

August 27, 2018

Fire Safety: Smoke Detectors Save Lives. Make sure you have them, and that they work.

Another completely avoidable fire-related tragedy, this one in Chicago.

Early Sunday morning, 8 people - 6 children and 2 adults - were killed in a residential apartment fire in Chicago.  2 additional children are hospitalized in very critical condition, so the likely death toll will be 10 people - 8 children and 2 adults.  1 firefighter was also hospitalized.

The fire started in an enclosed porch at the rear of the building.  It has been called the deadliest Chicago fire in more than a decade.

And working smoke detectors?  None found.

According to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesperson Larry Langford, the deaths and injuries could have been avoided if working smoke detectors had been in use:
"It was not hard to get out. The fire started in the rear, and the entryway to the front was wide open," Langford said. "Had they been awake or if someone had woken them, they would have gotten out."
The people would be alive or otherwise uninjured today had there been working smoke detectors in the apartment.

During a fire, a person can become unconscious and die from smoke inhalation in as little as 2 minutes.  2 minutes!  This is one life saving issue I counsel clients on when I review residential and business fire insurance.  Make sure your home and business has working smoke detectors.  If battery powered, change the batteries every 6 months.  Replace smoke detector units every 10 years, or sooner if they malfunction.

I'll post (again) about fire extinguishers in a future post.

Smoke detectors.  Inexpensive and life saving. 

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

August 23, 2018

Happy National Sandwich Month!

I eat a lot of sandwiches, and what a better month to celebrate doing so.  August is National Sandwich Month!

I don't have a favorite sandwich, as I have very broad tastes and enjoy many different sandwich fixings.  Lately I've been making homemade refrigerator bread and butter pickles to have with my lunch sandwiches.  That's been a treat!  Also, I bake all of our bread, all sourdough with my own sourdough starter made with only bread flour and bottled spring water.

And what about this yummy sounding sandwich?!  A dynamite looking chicken sandwich that incorporates one of my favorite fruits:  pears.  Here is a link to the Casablanca Pear and Chicken Sandwich recipe, courtesy of USA Pears.   Doesn't this sandwich look delicious?!

Photo credit:  usapears.org
Happy National Sandwich Month, everyone!

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

August 21, 2018

Nancy Pelosi: A Poster Child for Excessive Cosmetic Surgery Procedures

Normally I don't publicly discuss the appearance of other people.  After all, we all have our own look, body figure, and style.  But I occasionally make an exception to this rule (uh, guideline) with one issue:  People who have ruined their appearance with excessive, or botched, cosmetic surgery procedures.

And on the subject of excessive cosmetic surgery procedures, I now present a poster child for this topic:

California's own Congressional Representative Nancy Pelosi.

You know, the 78-year old politician who claims she hasn't had any cosmetic surgery done.  But pictures taken over the years show a markedly different, and obvious answer:

Pelosi clearly has had a lot ... A LOT ... of cosmetic surgery work done through the years.  She's starting to remind me of Michael Jackson.


Here is a picture of Pelosi taken last month in July.  (You can look online to find additional historic photos of Pelosi from years ago that present the same excessive-cosmetic-procedures evidence.)  Does she look absolutely horrid, or what?!

I mean, it's almost painful to simply look at her.

Face Lifts:  Nancy Pelosi has had so many face lifts that her hairline is now pulled back to halfway up her head.

Eyebrow Lifts and Other Cosmetic Eye Surgery:  Pelosi has had so many eyelid lifts done that her eyelids don't even fit correctly over her eyes anymore.  And as for Pelosi's actual eyes?  Well, she's had so much work on them (probably some type of fat removal around the lid area), that her eyes are so sunken, they look as if they have been excavated with a melon ball scoop.

What happened to the old fashioned concept of aging with grace and dignity?  Guess Nancy Pelosi finds that simple concept to difficult to adhere to.  But the end result has turned her into a woman that looks like a freak show.

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

August 18, 2018

Flowers: A simple flower arrangement can bring so much joy to a room.

A very simple flower arrangement, in a drinking glass, from my summer gardens.  My gardens are suffering with the poor air quality.  Air is smokey from the inferno of Northern California wildfires.



Struggle my gardens may do, but not without glory.  A simple flower arrangement brings so much joy to a room.  A reminder that tomorrow is, indeed, another day.

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

August 16, 2018

Avocados: My Favorite Reed Avocados are In Season!

If you are an avocado fan, take note:  California Reed Avocados are in season!

These nearly larger than life avocados are one of my favorite seasonal produce items.  They are in season for just a few months, typically from early August to October-ish.


Reed Avocados are sublime.  Very creamy, with a smooth, nutty flavor that reminds me of Swiss Cheese.  The skin is sturdier than other avocado types, such that you can actually use the skin as its own bowl!  They are delicious by them selves, in salads, sandwiches, Mexican dishes, eggs, and much more. 

And another bonus:  Reed Avocados do not turn brown when sliced.   That alone is reason to buy them!

Do try Reed Avocados if you can find them.  Generally sold by the pound, rather than by the piece.  The Reed Avocado in the photo was $3.99 a pound.

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

August 13, 2018

Transportation: San Francisco Bay Area's Broken Public Transportation System

This is the first of occasional posts I'll be making discussion Transportation Issues.  And anyone who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area knows there are a lot ... A LOT ... of transportation issues to rant about!

Take public transportation for instance.  Or the lack thereof.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, the public transportation system is downright broken.

It's true that huge amounts of money are thrown at public transportation, including gas tax money, ballot proposition money, and money from the 5 Bay Area bridge tolls .  However, but a person often can't get where the person needs to go using public transportation.  Or if the person can get the the location, she can't get to the location in a reasonable amount of time, or at the time she needs to be there.

And then there's the public transportation crime and safety issue, but that's a whole other discussion.

Take this example.

I volunteer at the Bray Courthouse in the county seat of Martinez, California.  If I left my house this morning at 11:10 and drove to the Courthouse, the 11.1 mile trip via Interstate 680 would take me about 18 minutes.

No complaints there.  But heck, what if I wanted to use public transportation.  A person should be able to get to the main Courthouse in the county seat using public transportation, and do so  with little hassle in a reasonable amount of time ... Right?

Nope.  If I were to use public transportation, here is the Odyssey From Hell trip I would have.

First off, I'd have to walk 0.8 miles from my house to the bus stop.  I get on a bus at 11:51 AM, and ride the bus for 16 minutes to downtown Pleasant Hill.  During that 16 minutes, the bus makes 11 stops.  (Oh, and by the way, downtown Pleasant Hill is a mere 1.3 mile drive by car from the bus stop.)

I than wait get off bus #1 and wait 23 minutes for bus #2.  I get on bus #2 at  12:23 PM.  I ride bus #2 to Martinez for 29 minutes, during which the bus makes 31 stops.  I finally get to Martinez, and get off at the bus stop on Marina Vista and Court streets.  I then walk 0.2 miles to the Bray Courthouse, eventually arriving at the Courthouse at 1:18 PM.

And this assumes the buses are running on time.

So here are my options for a Monday trip from my Pleasant Hill home to the Bray Courthouse in Martinez, CA at  11:10 AM:

(1)  Drive my car to the Bray Courthouse  via Interstate 680.  Route is 11.1 miles.  Trip would take about 18 minutes; I would arrive at  11:28 AM.

(2)  Take public transportation to the Bray Courthouse.  Trip would require that I walk 1.0 miles, and take 2 different bus connections that travel God knows how many miles.  Cost for each bus connection is $1.  Oh, and during the time I'm wondering the Pleasant Hill/Martinez area on the buses, the buses would make 41 stops during the combined 39 minutes I'm on the buses.  Total time for the trip (assuming the 2 buses are running on time), from leaving my home to arriving at the Bray Courthouse?  1 hour and 27 minutes, arriving at 1:18 PM.

Why would anyone use this grossly inefficient public transportation?  A 11.1 mile car trip that would take 18 minutes is turned into a 1 hour and 27 minute odyssey with public transportation, including a mile of walking and 2 buses?  That's 1 hour and 9 minutes longer.  And 1 mile of walking to boot.  Crazy!

Just one example of public transportation that can't get you where you need to go, when you need to get there.  And do so in a timely and efficient manner.  I hate to drive, and would love to use public transportation.  Sad to see so much money wasted on the broken and inefficient San Francisco Bay Area public transportation system. 

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

August 9, 2018

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

Photo credit:  nationaldaycalendar.com
I love to read, both books and print newspapers.  Always have.  When my husband Jim and I built the addition onto our home, adding a library area was an absolute must!  Also love to do crossword puzzles, which I count as part of my reading.

I enjoy reading many genres, including nonfiction, books about human events and experiences, historic fiction, and crime dramas/mysteries - as long as the crime dramas are not gory.  Oh, and don't forget recipe books and reading the dictionary to improve your vocabulary!  And we get daily delivery of the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle newspapers.  (Yes there are still print newspaper readers out there!  )

Along that line of thought ... Today is National Book Lovers DayWhat do you enjoy reading or puzzling?

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.  And yep, she loves to read!  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

August 5, 2018

San Francisco: The once great city has become a cesspool of filth.

San Francisco.  Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but today many other less desirable things are being left on San Francisco's streets, sidewalks, and alleys.
  • Human feces.
  • Human urine.
  • Used syringes with needles attached.
  • Oh, and don't forget about people openly shooting up heroin and other drugs in public.
The above issues are the result of San Francisco's ballooning homeless population.  A population of people driven by San Francisco's weather and very generous public handouts, plus the enablement of City leaders who ... well ... often just let the homeless people do whatever they want to do.

Oh, and don't forget about San Francisco's Needle and Syringe Exchange Program.  The problem with this program is that it, well, it actually isn't a needle and syringe EXCHANGE program. It's a needle and syringe GIVE OUT program, as the City of San Francisco does not require used needles and syringes to be exchanged for the new, clean needles and syringes.

Today's San Francisco.  A disgrace.
Photo credit: sfchronicle.com

And just how many new needles and syringes are given out every year in this program?  At last count, between 4.45 to 4.80 MILLION needles and syringes each year, to an estimated 22,000 intravenous drug users that live in the city.  These 22,000 drug users represent about 2.6% of San Francisco's population, estimated at 846,816 people.  So yep, 2.6% of the population making it miserable for other San Francisco's residents, workers, and visitors.

To hell with the rest of San Francisco's residents, workers, and visitors, right?

And I haven't even mention other safety issues in San Francisco, including the estimated 30,000 auto break-ins in 2017.  Yep, 30,000.

And as far as coming off the streets?  In the last significant attempt by the City of San Francisco to get homeless off the streets, nearly all homeless people contacted refused the shelter and related supportive services offered by the city outreach workers.

I don't go to San Francisco anymore unless I absolutely have to for business purposes.  And I know I'm not alone in that decision.

San Francisco.  Sad how derelict, miserable, and broken a once beautiful city has become.

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

August 2, 2018

Natural Disasters: Do you have an Emergency Evacuation Plan?

Photo credit:  sacbee.com
Wildfires are raging once again in California, including threatening urban areas.  Given the early start to the wildfire season this year - generally the worst fires are in September and October - this year may end up being the worst in history for California.

 While California's current concern is wildfires, different disasters can strike around the United States, including floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.  If you had to evacuate on short notice to save your life, could you do it?

The Sacramento Bee newspaper has published a very helpful article providing 5 key steps to implement in your evacuation plan.  They are:

  1. Know your risks where you live and work.
  2. Pack and store a Go Bag, containing at least 3 days of food and water, clothing, medicine, and other necessary provision such as a portable phone charger and a flashlight.  And don't forget provisions for any pets you have.
  3. Organize important documents for quick retrieval.
  4. Identify possible escape routes.
  5. Come up with a family communication plan.

The article also contains additional information and links to emergency-related websites.  Read the entire article here.

Stay safe, everyone. 
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 30, 2018

President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, the most significant tax legislation in the past 30 years.   I've been posting about some of the changes ... and how they many impact you ... and will continue to do so.

If you want investigate how the new tax laws may impact your taxes, the IRS has launched a section on their website about how individuals, businesses, and other entities are impacted.  Visit the IRS Tax Reform Website Section to learn how you may be affected by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

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 28, 2018

Getting Divorced? New Tax Laws May Negatively Impact You.

If you are getting divorced and will be paying spousal support - more commonly called alimony -  payments to your current spouse, better get the divorced finalized by December 31, 2018.

Why?  Because for divorce agreements finalized (or modified) after December 31, 2018, a person who pays alimony payments to an ex-spouse will no longer be able to deduct the payments from his or her gross income.

Currently, a person who pays alimony is able to deduct the payments from his or her gross income for tax purposes.  The ex-spouse who receives the alimony payments is require to include the payments in his or her gross income for tax purposes.  As of January 1, 2019, alimony payments for all new or modified divorce agreements will be treated the same as child support payments:  no exclusion from gross income for the payor, and no inclusion in gross income for the recipient.   For high income individuals who make significant alimony payments to an ex-spouse, the loss of the alimony payment exclusion from income could have a significant negative tax impact.

An estimated 600,000 taxpayers currently deduct alimony payments from gross income.  This new tax law does not affect divorces finalized on or before December 31, 2018; those alimony payments will still be able to be deducted by the payor, and included in income by the recipient.  But if a pre-January 1, 2019  divorce agreement's alimony provision is modified after December 31, 2018, the new tax rules will apply to the modified alimony payments.

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 26, 2018

Amazing: Yosemite Visitors Complain About Being Evacuated from Raging Wildfire Inferno

One constant is certain in my life:  People never cease to amaze me.

Mr. Danny Hernandez's recent quibble is the most recent example.

You see, there is a wildfire - the Ferguson Fire - burning very near Yosemite National Park.  As of this morning (Thursday, July 26), the raging inferno was over 43,000 acres in size, having grown by 5,000 acres overnight.   Here is a this morning's view of the smoke in Yosemite, from one of the park's webcams near El Capitan, a 3,000 foot tall rock formation in the park.  You almost can't see El Capitan, the smoke is so thick!


Here is what El Capitan would normally look like:


Given the danger (duh!) imposed by the raging wildfire, Yosemite National Park was closed and all visitors were evacuated yesterday morning.  The park will remain closed at least through Sunday.

But you see, for some visitors, they didn't appreciate having their lives potentially saved by the evacuation.  Nope, they complained.  Take what park visitor Mr. Hernandez had to say to the San Francisco Chronicle in this article about the evacuation:
“We had planned this trip six months in advance and now they’re making us leave,” said Danny Hernandez, 53, from Hesperia (San Bernardino County) as he reluctantly rolled up his tent tarp and began toting a cooler to his car while his son-in-law and other family members grabbed cooking pots and an inflatable raft.

“I wish they would have let us know sooner,” Hernandez said.
So I guess Mr. Hernandez would have preferred to remain in Yosemite National Park, while very possibly losing his life ... and the lives of his other family members ... in the raging wildfire. 

Amazing ... and sad ... what people will find to complain about.  Simply amazing.

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 24, 2018

Insurance: When is the last time you reviewed your insurance policies?

Yes, I know ... insurance is not the most exciting topic to discuss.

But nevertheless, it's a critical one.

Many people who lost homes and business buildings in last year's deadly wildfires near Santa Rosa, California found themselves underinsured.  Sometimes drastically so.  Don't place yourself in that danger.

Avoiding becoming underinsured ... whether it be for homeowners, business property, liability, of an other type of insurance is easy to avoid with annual reviews of your insurance coverage.  Also, your insurance coverage should be immediately reviewed and, if necessary, adjusted if you incur significant changes in your life, including home remodeling and additions.

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides annual insurance policy reviews and other insurance consulting services for clients with a broad range of insurance concerns.  For more information, visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Insurance Concerns?  About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides insurance policy reviews and other insurance consulting services for clients with a broad range of insurance concerns.  She has 30 years of experience in the insurance industry, and is one of the select few Life and Disability Insurance Analysts licensed by the California Department of Insurance.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

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