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

May 15, 2018

Disasters: Are you prepared in the event of a disaster?

Disaster Planning.


I've posted before about the importance of planning for disasters:  earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes, you name it.  And don't forget the important of including your pets in disaster planning, too.

The IRS recently published a new Tax Tip Bulletin about Disaster Planning, including the importance of having emergency plans, documenting valuables, and creating electronic versions (stored in a secure location) of important  paper documents.

The  bulletin also includes a downloadable Disaster Loss Workbook to help you compile a room-by-room list of belongings.   And I agree with the IRS:  take photographs or video of belongings.  This visual evidence can help authenticate the fair market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims.  And, of course, don't forget to keep the photos and videos in a secure location.

Click here to read this helpful Disaster Planning Bulletin and download the Disaster Loss Workbook.

Stay safe and be prepared, 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

May 11, 2018

Quiz: Can you name this food item?

Quiz Time! 

Can you identify this packed-full-of-goodness food item?  It is something I always have at home.  No cheatin' now ! 😊

Name the food item that, for one average-sized serving, contains:

*  95 Calories
*  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

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

May 9, 2018

Amending a tax return? Here are some tips from the IRS.

Need to correct a previously filed tax return?

Amending previously filed tax returns (in order to correct errors on the original returns) is a frequent task I provide for new tax clients.   If you have a previously-filed tax return that requires amending, here are some tips in this recent IRS Tax Tip Bulletin.

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

May 7, 2018

The Swedish Meatball: Turns out it's not Swedish after all!

Swedish Meatballs.

The national dish of Sweden.

But oops!

Turns out these tasty balls-o-flavored-meat served with a sour cream enhanced gravy really didn't originate in Sweden after all.

The original Swedish Meatball recipe came from .... Turkey!  In the 18th century.  Read the cute story of the Swedish government's official announcement of this life-changing matter 😉in this New York Times article.  And by the way, the article contains a delicious sounding Turkish Meatballs recipe from the reporter's Grandmother nonetheless!

For for Swedish Meatballs, check out this delicious sounding recipe at SwedishFood.com.  I plan to make either the Turkish or the Swedish Meatballs soon.  Heck, maybe both!

Oh and what's the difference now days between Swedish Meatballs and Turkish Meatballs?  Well, first thing to consider is that every cook makes meatballs a bit differently, so there is truly no "official" recipe for either meatball.   According to reporter Ceylan Yeginsu in today's New York Times article:
Turkish Meatballs "are made with a combination of ground beef, ground lamb, onions, eggs, bread crumbs and parsley. The current version of Swedish meatballs can sometimes contain pork and is usually served with gravy."
And there you have it!  Meatball 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.  And boy oh boy, she loves to cook and bake, including meatballs.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 5, 2018

Annoyed with distractions while working? Microsoft Windows 10 just may help with that.

Email, Text, and Social Media Distractions.


Do you get annoyed with distractions caused by emails, texts, and social media notifications?  Ya know, the sometimes constant interrupts from the exact technology applications that were supposed to make us more efficient and productive?

Earlier this year, I published this blog post about America's productivity problem.  Now it seems that Microsoft is making some changes to its Windows 10 operating system to help with the issue.

As reported in last week's San Francisco Chronicle weekly In Case You Missed It column, Microsoft is updating its Windows 10 operating system to include a feature that lets users temporarily switch off email and social media notifications.  This new feature will allow messages and notifications from select people  to come through, so you don't need to worry about missing the important notification from your spouse that the guest bathroom toilet is plugged up again, and can you please pick up beer, toilet paper, and turkey bologna on the way home from work.  😊

Microsoft was apparently prompted to include this new feature based on research showing these sobering statistics:
Office workers are typically interrupted every 3 minutes.  After the interruption, it takes on average 23 minutes to regain full focus  on the original task.
Ouch.

You can read last week's ICYMI SF Chronicle column here.

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.  As far as technology is concerned, she sometimes misses the days of the good old rotary dialed phone, when there was a real life human operator to speak with by simply dialing 0.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 3, 2018

Want to run for a statewide office in California? Getting on the ballot is easy!

California Politics.

Always crazy.

Just consider the upcoming June 5 Primary Election in California.  In addition to an untold number of ballot propositions and political office elections, my ballot will contain a mind numbing 31 challengers running for U.S. Senate against current Senator Dianne Feinstein (who turns 85 years old in June, by the way), in addition to a bloated ballot of  27 candidates running or Governor, hoping to succeed current Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown.  (Gov. Moonbeam can't run again, as he is termed out of office.)

Just how did all these candidates come about, you might ask?  Well, one issue is that it is simple to get your name on the ballot for a statewide political office in California.  Here's the process, as outlined in this San Francisco Chronicle article:  It takes as few as 65 signatures plus a filing fee of 2 percent of the first year’s salary for your desired office.  The filing fee for the California Governor's race is $3822 (Current yearly salary is $191,100; don't ask me where the $100 comes from.), while the filing fee for the Senate race is $3868 (Current yearly salary for a U.S. Senator is $193,400.)

But hey, don't want to shell out the filing fee?  No worries.  Just grab a few of your buddies and collect 7,000 California signatures on a petition.  Filing fee waived.

Oh, and if you want to publish a statement in the California Voter Information Guide, that'll cost you an additional $500.
So for less than $5000, you can have your name on the ballot for the California statewide office of your choice, and a spiffy personal statement next to your name in the Voter Information Guide.
Oh, and an official ballot sporting your name to frame and proudly display on your living room wall.
Heck of a deal, huh?!

California Politics ... It's always something zany!


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 voted in every election, with the exception of couple or so during her college days.  For more information visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

May 1, 2018

Sid: Nodding off to sleep in true Sid Style!

Sid.  My goofy lovable Faithful Canine Companion.

My husband Jim snapped this photo a few days ago.  Here is Sid, nodding off to sleep in the great room.  And doing so in true Sid Style, as only Sid can do!

What a Lovable Goofball, huh?!


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 lives in beautiful Pleasant Hill, California with her wonderful husband Jim and Faithful Canine Companions Husky-Malamute mix Sid and Chow-Chow Pomeranian mix Lexi.  For more information about Mary's professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts