When it comes to taxes, one thing you can’t say about 2013: it definitely wasn’t boring.
Here are the top ten most popular tax stories on Taxgirl this year, by reader views:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
It’s worth pointing out that I purposefully omitted tax rate posts, as those don’t qualify as news or stories.
And now that my readers have had their say, here are the top ten most important tax stories on Taxgirl this year, as I see it (not in any particular order):
So, first, the easy ones. These stories were among the most popular with readers and also make my top ten:
- With Shutdown, Taxes Still Due But You Can’t Ask IRS For Help.
- Supreme Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional (And It Was A Tax Case!)
- IRS Explains Delays In Processing Some Returns Claiming Education Credits.
And these six stories round out those that I think made a huge impact in 2013:
- In Apparent Defiance Of Court Order, Fourth Largest Tax Biz In Country Preps For Sale. When this story came across my desk, I could hardly believe it. After a flurry of phone calls and emails, I had confirmed that it was true: ITS was considering a sale just days after Judge Black put the owner and his companies “permanently out of business.” I thought the Judge’s Order was a big story (Fourth Largest Tax Prep Business In The Country Shut Down By Feds) but the follow-up was mind-blowing.
- Judge Hands Down Very Nearly The Longest Sentence Ever To Public Official For Corruption And Tax Fraud. After what seems like months and months of hearing how public figures made crime pay – and got away with it – the news that Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor of Detroit, was sentenced to 28 years in prison was difficult to believe. But it happened. And it sent a terrific message to others about how serious the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury are about stopping public corruption.
- Vatican Suspends ‘Bishop Of Bling’ Over $40 Million Home Renovation. There’s no question why Pope Francis was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year: he is shaking up the Catholic Church. It couldn’t have been more clear that things were different when the Pope suspended Bishop Tebartz-van Elst of the diocese of Limburg, home to about 650,000 Catholics in Germany, for grossly overstepping his renovations budget. The renovations, which were paid for, in part, by the “church tax” in Germany, is a stark contrast to the example set by Pope Francis, who has eschewed much of the luxuries enjoyed by previous popes.
- Lesson Lerner-ed? Disgraced IRS Official Tenders Resignation. In a story that got surprisingly little press, Lois Lerner, the former Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations and the center of the storm that was the tax exempt organization scandal, finally stepped down.
- IRS Rules All Legal Same Sex Marriages Will Be Recognized For Federal Tax Purposes. Okay, this one is cheating a little bit… It’s a follow-up to the DOMA story but I happen to think it’s even bigger: the IRS announced that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. The ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.
- Obama Nominates Former Head Of Freddie Mac To Head Up IRS. After the IRS scandal, it was clear that heads were going to roll. And they did. But whoever would take over at the helm would be a big deal. President Obama finally announced his intent to nominate John Koskinen as Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. Koskinen’s background is heavily institutional, including a stint as the former chairman of Freddie Mac. Despite a generally favorable reputation on the Hill, it would take four months before Koskinen would be confirmed.
- Football Phenom Lionel Messi Draws Tax Evasion Charges. Normally, I don’t think celebrity stories make an impact. But this one is different. Messi is the World Player of the Year for football (soccer for my American readers) and one of the world’s highest paid athletes which makes it a big deal. But more than that, Spain was in a position where it needed the world to believe that it was serious about economic reform. This may have been Spain’s shot across the bow to signal that it is getting serious about taxes and revenue.
And just for fun, here are a handful of my favorites:
- This Man’s Nuts: Plan To Sell Testicle For New Car Is Taxable.
- Judge Orders Man To Stay Dead Despite His Insistence He’s Alive: Could You Be Next?
- Football Players Prove What’s Right With Kids, Wrong With Sales Tax.
- Parents Sue School For Art Auction Gone Bad.
- What I’ve Learned In 1,000 Tax Posts.
We’re just a few hours into 2014 and already making news? Tax extenders and higher tax bills this season. Hang on, it’s going to be a wild ride!
Want more taxgirl goodness? Pick your poison: You can receive posts by email, follow me on twitter (@taxgirl) hang out with me on Facebook and check out my YouTube channel. You can also subscribe to the podcast on the site or via iTunes (it’s free).