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Top 10 Tax Stories of 2013

January 2, 2014

2013 was a year of entertaining tax stories including a pastor, Wesley Snipes and the IRS, among other highlights and shutdowns. The following is a list of the top ten most popular tax stories from 2013:

  1. 11 Reasons Why I Never Want To Own A House Again. Who knew when I wrote this that there would be such a reaction – on both sides of the issue. My most popular post of the year – even though it was written close to the end of the year – not only by views but by comments, social media and email. While mostly there was a positive dialogue, I couldn’t escape the wrath of some irate folks who felt that I got it wrong (fair enough), especially on twitter where one particularly lovely agent from the midwest called me an “idiot” and insulted my kids. But hey, it got people talking about tax and economic policy which was the point.
  2. Pastor Who Refused To Pay Applebee’s Service Charge Becomes Unwitting Poster Child For Server Pay And Tax Issues. When Pastor Alois Bell of Word Deliverance Ministries went out to a St. Louis Applebee’s last January, she set off a firestorm when she refused to pay the automatic service charge of 18% (known commonly as an “autograt”) and instead wrote, “I give God 10% why do you get 18[?].” Her actions outraged the public but also raised awareness about Revenue Ruling 2012-18, which clarified the Internal Revenue Service’s stance on tips versus service charges.
  3. IRS Explains Delays In Processing Some Returns Claiming Education Credits. Tax season 2013 didn’t go as planned for many taxpayers, including those who filed a federal form 8863, Education Credits (American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits). When the IRS revised form 8863, it included check boxes at lines 23-26 which were added to confirm basic qualifications for taxpayers claiming the credit. Some tax prep companies apparently didn’t get the memo. Complaints started streaming in, especially from taxpayers who filed using H&R Block. Taxpayers were left wondering where their refunds were and if it would ever get sorted out…
  4. IRS Announces Delayed Tax Filing Season. In what would be an indication of things to come, tax season 2013 didn’t start out on time. Tax season was supposed to start on January 22, 2013, but got pushed out just eight days to January 30, 2013.
  5. Wesley Snipes Walks Out Of Prison Just Before Tax Day. Putting a period to a story that started in 2006, Wesley Snipes was released from federal prison. Snipes served 845 days of his three year sentence, the result of failing to file tax returns from 1999 to 2004.
  6. Out Of Ideas And In Debt, Spain Sets Sights On Taxing The Sun. Spain has gone solar, generating so much solar power, according to its government, that production capacity exceeds demand. The result? Spain claimed to be in debt to producers by nearly 26 billion euros ($34.73 billion U.S.). So how did they propose to fix it? By taxing the sun, of course.
  7. From Treasure To Trash: Man Tosses Out Bitcoin Wallet On Hard Drive Worth $9 Million. I think my readers uttered a collective, “Oh my gosh” after reading that James Howells threw out a computer hard drive containing more than $9 million in Bitcoin. It’s now buried under tons of garbage. And Howells can’t do a thing about it.
  8. With Shutdown, Taxes Still Due But You Can’t Ask IRS For Help. When Congress failed to pass an appropriations bill this year, the government turned off the lights. From October 1 through 16, 2013, the federal government shut down, sending home most federal employees – including those at IRS. And even though tax deadlines still applied, IRS employees weren’t on hand to answer the phone or open the mail.
  9. IRS Announces Delayed Start To 2014 Tax Season. It was deja vu all over again when IRS announced that the 2014 tax season wouldn’t start on time. New tax forms, systems software updates and the shutdown pushed out the start of tax season. And while some feared for the worst with a February start date, that didn’t happen: tax season will open on January 31, 2014.
  10. Supreme Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional (And It Was A Tax Case!). I don’t know that anybody saw this coming. The Supreme Court issued opinions on cases involving Proposition 8 and DOMA, ruling not only that “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment” but also reinstating same-sex marriage in California. With the bang of a gavel (okay, the click of a keyboard), it became clear that the federal government does not have the right to overturn a state’s decision when it comes to defining marriage.

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