Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Do You Think Taxes Are Funny? Then You Are Either Weird or Eligible for This $10,000 Contest

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

While scouring the internet for somewhere to buy TurboTax’s Home and Business edition for a lot less money than I really want to pay, I came across this little contest running over at the place where lame wanna-be film artists go to die: YouTube.

Apparently all you have to do is make a video of a funny stand-up routine, as long as it’s about taxes, and then the least suckiest person wins $10,000 and gets to open for Jay Mohr who you may remember from his hot wife, Nikki Cox. To get you started, here are some jokes about taxes that you can use for your video that I just made up:

I’m out of work, my wife left me, I owe the IRS $50,000, I’m being audited for the sixth straight year, and I just found out my dog has rabies. On top of that, I apparently really suck at joke-writing because I thought “my dog has rabies” was an awesome punchline to “I owe the IRS $50,000.”

I went to my tax accountant the other day when he said he was done with my tax return. He’s at his desk clicking away at his computer when I come in—you know, doing tax accountant stuff—so I go up to him and I ask him, “Am I getting any money back this year.” He jumps out of his chair and shouts, “Yes! $523!” I look up at him, throw my hands in the air, and say “Hallelujah!” He looks at me funny and he says “Oh, I didn’t realize you got excited when someone else won at computer Solitaire. By the way, you owe $4,000 this year.”

I decided to try out some of that “tax preparation software” this year rather than going with my old way of doing taxes—being unemployed and not making any money to pay taxes on in the first place. But when I started up the program it started asking me all of these personal questions that made me feel uncomfortable. “What’s your Social Security Number?” “How much money do you make each year?” “How many children do you have?” Well, I know from Dateline NBC that I shouldn’t give out by Social Security Number to a computer. I wouldn’t even tell my wife how much money I made each year, assuming I had a wife, or that I made money each year. And if computers aren’t advanced enough to be able to scan the entire world for my DNA and tell me if I have any children I don’t know about, then I sure as hell don’t want a computer doing my taxes for me.

As you can see, you’ll get no competition from me in this contest.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Punny Poll #29: When Will You File Your Taxes?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

paying someone to do your taxes is like paying someone to bulldoze all those annoying pennies that flooded your front yard

Last Punny Poll put your English skills to the test as you were asked to pronounce the word “Punny.” I’m certainly glad only 1% of you pronounce it the French way (POO-nay), and I’m happier still that only 4% say it PYOO-nee when there’s nothing small about the awesomeness of this website. But only 42% of you managed to correctly pronounce Punny as a word that rhymes with money, bunny, and chunny. What’s a “chunny?” you ask. You’re in no position to be questioning my word selection when you are statistically likely to be one of the 53% of people who said that Punny sounds like “SUI-SEI-SEKI.” Hopefully your math skills are better than your language abilities, because you’re going to need them for the subject of the next Punny Poll.

Now that we’re three weeks into 2008, you should be receiving most of the documentation from your employers, banks, and other sources needed to complete your Federal and state tax returns. But if you’re like most Americans, just because you can do your taxes now doesn’t mean you will. In fact, it definitely means you won’t.

Hopefully your procrastination is worth the price you’re paying. If you’re expecting a refund of $1,000 this year, you are giving away somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 cents in interest each day you wait to file. Of course, plenty of you will likely owe money this year, so your reasons for delaying your tax trauma may make slightly more sense.

This year, I plan to have my taxes filed by February 15th, so they should actually be filed by March 9th based on an analysis of my previous years of tax return attempts. What say you? Will you join me on the boat of procrastination this year, or will you sail off into the sunset of… uh, taxes being done?

When will you file your Federal tax return this year?

View Results

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Help Me Fight Maryland’s Horrendous Sales Tax Increase, Even If You Live In Utah!

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

also, the capital of maryland is now suckytown

In 1999, I was but a student in a Baltimore-area high school when Martin O’Malley, a former assistant state’s attorney and city councilmember, became the Mayor of Baltimore. Living in a suburb of Baltimore, I knew right then and there that he would eventually become Governor of Maryland and I’d have to deal with his financially retarded policies. You see, while he was Mayor of Baltimore, O’Malley did interesting things with taxes. He would first drop some taxes to make people happy, but then he would increase other ones—a lot. In the end, O’Malley left Baltimore more heavily taxed than when he first took office.

Fast forward to 2008. Sure enough, O’Malley is Governor of Maryland. Today, for the first time since 1977—before I was even born—the Maryland state sales tax is going up under legislation enacted by O’Malley. Indeed, he hasn’t been governor for a full year and he’s already screwing with decades-old tax rates. (While he was at it, he also raised several other tax rates but attempted to hide them behind tiny property tax rate cuts. O’Malley says that over 80% of Maryland families will pay fewer taxes overall, but he’s assuming that Maryland’s highest-in-the-nation housing prices are going to keep rising. In the end, it’s likely that even the poor of Baltimore City will pay more taxes than before.)

Starting today, our state’s sale tax is going up 20%: from 5 cents per dollar to 6 cents per dollar.

You might think I’m being a little silly getting so upset over a tax hike that only amounts to an extra $100 for every $10,000 of purchases. You might even think it’s a good thing because it will help discourage stupid people with credit cards from buying giant TVs and overpriced cars they can’t afford. Maybe you’re right. But my reasons for raging against the sales tax increase are different:

  • Our 5% sales tax is sacred. Maryland is as proud of its 5% sales tax as it is of its historical significance, Chesapeake Bay crabs, and high STD rate. Touching our sales tax is like molesting a baby seal on its birthday—you just don’t do it.
  • It’s the one affordable thing about Maryland. Everything costs so damn much in Maryland, especially in my county. Gas? $3.10 a gallon. Housing? $300,000 for a shack. Eggs? We only get 7 per dozen. At 5%, Maryland goes from being second-lowest among its neighbors to tied for highest.
  • 5% sales tax is easy. Especially in this age of rampant illiteracy and people who can’t do math, we need an easy-to-compute sales tax. You can do 5% in your head in five seconds; 5% of $2.09: drop the nine and take half of what’s left, or half of 20 = 10 cents. What’s 6% of $2.09? Nobody freaking knows!
  • It’s from O’Malley. For many reasons beyond the scope of this discussion, I don’t like O’Malley. I might have tolerated a sales tax increase from any other governor a little more, but having it come from O’Malley makes me think about moving. Unfortunately all of our neighboring states suck worse than we do. No offense, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Lucky for all of Maryland, this personal finance writer is not taking this assault on our freedom lying down. Indeed, I am sitting on my couch when I say that I will fight this unjust tax increase in the highest court of the land: the Court of My Wallet. And if you’d like to join me, here’s how you can help me fight the Maryland sales tax increase from anywhere in the country:

  1. Never visit Maryland. If you’re debating a family vacation in either Florida or Maryland this year, let me save you the trouble and point you straight to Disney World. Why anyone would want to travel to Maryland is beyond me since the only thing we have that you can’t find in a closer, cheaper state is lots more traffic. Now that our sales tax is 6%, please keep your tax dollars in states with much sexier governors.
  2. Never live in Maryland. We make it easy for you by keeping our housing prices and rent at the highest levels in the country. If you really want to pay high housing prices on the East Coast, go live in New Jersey.
  3. Never drive through Maryland. Not even to get to Pennsylvania from West Virginia. Go the long way. Otherwise you risk contributing financially to Maryland via its ridiculous highway tolls or taxes on rest stop vending machines. Also, don’t fly through Maryland because our air is 30% slower than the national average.
  4. Don’t buy from Maryland online retailers. Some Maryland retailers, mostly of candied asparagus, will charge Maryland sales tax from their websites. Send those retailers an e-mail letting them know you’re not buying from them because they didn’t complain loudly enough to block this sales tax increase.
  5. If you live in Maryland, go shop somewhere else. Yes, you’re probably supposed to pay Maryland use tax anyway on items you order out-of-state or online, but we all know you don’t. That said, if anyone asks, I do.
  6. Tell O’Malley what you think. You can use this convenient online form to let Governor O’Malley know that you won’t stand for his sales tax increase, even if you live in France and don’t speak a lick of English. Zut, O’Malley! C’est merde!

With any luck, O’Malley will see that a 6% sales tax isn’t any better at fixing his budget problems than a 5% one.

By the way, if you think you’re safe from O’Malley’s rampage from one of your 49 other states, beware: I’d put money on an O’Malley U.S. presidential bid by 2020. If you like the 15% income tax bracket, then you’ll love 25%!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Search and Ye Shall Receive: Payday Loan Jail, Property Tax Liens, and Teenage Daughters

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , , ,

Search and Ye Shall Receive returns with more answers to questions people have recently asked search engines that brought them to Punny Money.

Jail for Unpaid Payday Loans?

payday lenders leave you out to dry but not in jail

Can I be sent to jail for not having money for payday loan? (via Google)

This person might want to consult with a real lawyer and check his or her state and local laws, but I’ll still share my view on this. I previously stated that you could go to jail for lying on a credit card application (e.g. stating you make $250,000 a year when you really make $6.50 an hour). In theory, the same could be true for payday loan applications. That said, payday lenders typically don’t collect the sort of information you would normally lie about, so the chances of incriminating yourself over a payday loan are very slim. If you’re worried about payday lenders getting you arrested for not paying your loan, you can relax. It’s illegal for payday lenders to threaten you with jail over unpaid loans. Just be sure not to write any bad checks when paying back the loan; they can still land you in legal trouble.

Do Delinquent Property Taxes Mean No Income Tax Refund?

your tax return is likely safer than your property

If you owe back property taxes, will you not get a tax refund? (via Ask)

Your Federal income tax refund is likely safe because property taxes are collected by state governments. Your state income tax refund is also probably safe, but that’s because the state has a much easier way to collect property taxes in arrears: tax lien sales. Normally once a year, counties or states will “sell” the rights to collect unpaid property taxes on a property to whomever wants to buy them. The buyer then jumps to the head of the line on most liens placed on the property (like mortgages and judgments, but not other state tax liens). When you go to sell the property, you’ll have to cough up the money to pay off those liens.

There are also tax deed sales in which your property is sold out from under you to pay off your delinquent taxes. Obviously this is far worse than just having a lien placed on your property.

So the answer to this question is no, your tax refunds will likely not be affected; but you might want to hold on to those refunds to pay for an apartment if your property goes to a tax deed sale.

How to Talk to Your Teenage Daughter?

aaaah, floating lips, nooooooooooo

How do you talk to a teenage daughter? (via Google)

Good question. When I’m talking to your teenage daughter, I usually ask these questions first:

  1. Are your parents home?
  2. You are 18, right?

Oh, you probably wanted advice on talking to your own teenage daughter. Uh, good luck with that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

How to Contribute to Your Family Financially Without Earning a Dime: 7 Tips For Stay-at-Home Moms (and Dads)

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , , , , ,

saving money is all in the family

By Robin Shreeves

Before I was a mom, I had a job. You know, the kind of job most people actually consider a job. One that contributes financially. Then I became a mom and my financial contributions stopped while our expenses increased because of diapers, formula, baby food, etc. Our family income went down; our family expenses went up. Sound familiar?

I saw my husband working so hard to bring in money, and I decided that I could show him how much I appreciated his hard work by spending the money he brought in as wisely as possible. I made it a project to figure out how I could contribute to my family financially.

I knew that buying things on sale, using coupons, eating most of our meals in, shopping around for the best long distance plan, and trading babysitting services with a friend would save my family some money. They were all no-brainers. But I looked for ways I could further save some money. Here are a few things I did–and you can do, too.

  1. Donate to charity (and keep track of it!). It’s easy to keep track of donations to organizations that send you an end-of-the-year statement, but there are other donations that you need to keep track of yourself. Sure, it’s a pain in the neck to tally up donations of clothing, keep receipts where you can find them at the end of the year, and be on top of it all. Go ahead and whine about it and then get over it. If you are diligent, when tax time comes, you will have helped your family earn a nice tax deduction. You won’t be whining then.

    Donations of clothing and items to non-profit organizations are deductible if you have a receipt. Make a list of all the items donated (clothing can just be a tallied list of number of pants, shirts, coats, etc.). Estimate the value of the donation, and staple the list onto the receipt.

    Other things that I personally keep track of are food items bought to donate to my church pantry, the items bought for our town’s Christmas Wish Tree, Thanksgiving basket donations, etc. I simply keep my register receipts and circle the items that were donated on them.

    Oh, and this is important–put all your receipts in a designated spot immediately.

  2. Use coupon codes when shopping online. I hate, hate, hate paying shipping and handling charges. I know it’s the price I’m supposed to have to pay for the convenience of shopping in my PJs, but I still hate it. I’ve found a way of getting around those charges at some online retailers. Here’s my secret.

    Online stores including J.C. Penney, Chadwicks, One Hanes Place, LL Bean and many, many others often send their preferred customers coupon codes for percent-off discounts or free shipping. There are websites that keep track of these coupon codes and anyone can use them when checking out.

    Sometimes the coupons are for free shipping (yippee!) and sometimes they are for a percentage off one item or your entire order. Now, if I can get a percentage off that equals or exceeds the shipping and handling charges, I’m a happy camper.

    Two good sites are and If neither of these websites have what you are looking for, Google the name of the store and the words “coupon code” and you may come up with something.

  3. Join Upromise ( Upromise works with hundreds of merchants and when you spend money at those merchants a small percentage of what you spend gets donated back to you to use for college savings. You can even earn money back on your weekly groceries by registering your supermarket savings cards with the site.

    The savings add up slowly, but let me tell you, when you’re forking out the money for baby food week after week, it takes the sting out of it just a little to know that 3% off all you spend will go into a college savings account for the kid.

  4. Take your couponing up a notch. Hate clipping coupons? Let someone else do it for you!

    Use a clipping service such as Coupon Clippers. The Coupon Clippers has thousands of coupons from the weekly circulars and other sources that you can get for a small handling fee. Instead of just getting one coupon in your Sunday circular for those granola bars that your kids go through like crazy, you can order five or more coupons for them, taking real advantage when they go on sale.

  5. Sign up for your local Freecycle. You’ve got lots of stuff lying around that is no longer useful to you. So do lots of other people. Freecycle allows people to post items they want to give away to other people who live in the same county. It’s a great way to find things you need for free and find new homes for things you don’t need. And it keeps those things out of landfills which is a really great thing for the future of those kids you’re staying home for in the first place.
  6. Make your own birthday cards for kids, recycle gift bags, and use the Sunday comics to wrap presents. Once your kids get past the age of, say, two months, they will suddenly be invited to at least one birthday party a month. Once they get in preschool that number goes up exponentially.

    I have set a general limit for $10 a gift for friend’s birthdays. But when you add in a card (about $3.00), and gift wrap or bag (another $1.50-$2.00) you’re suddenly increasing the price by 50% and that 50% will end up in the trash within a day or two of the party. It’s ridiculous and wasteful.

    Think about it. A minimum of 12 birthday gifts a year–that’s $60 you’ll save. If you’ve got two kids–that $120. When I see a savings of $120, I see a potential massage.

    There are several places online to print out birthday cards that your kids can color. They don’t even need an envelope. Just tape the card right onto the package. And that package–use the Sunday comics to wrap it or a gift bag that you saved from your kid’s birthday.

  7. Give older kids an allowance. “How can giving money to your kids save me money?” you ask. By giving them their own spending money, you have the perfect retort when they want to have something they see in the store–“Sure, you can have it if you can pay for it.” They may not like it, and you may get accused of being the meanest parent in the universe in front of the Target check-out line, but it will save you money.
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Robin Shreeves is a work-at-home mom who has been published extensively online. Visit her website at