Monday, April 14, 2014

The Certainty of Taxes Beats...death.

There are two phenomenal quotes regarding a topic that is guaranteed to squelch my enthusiasm for every April's arrival...taxes.
 "The only things certain in life are death and taxes." - Benjamin Franklin
"The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax." -- attributed to Albert Einstein

So as to the first quote, while death is certain in this life, the how & when are fortunately a bit sketchy for most people. You have some control as to your risk seeking behavior, i.e. how much pork belly you consume, if you limit your smoking habit to one pack a day as opposed to two, if you enjoy base jumping in your spare time (if you are not familiar with base jumping, do your life expectancy a favor and pass on Googling this one). Regardless of how or when it comes, it will certainly come eventually.

The how and when of tax day, on the other hand, are certain and stand at April 15th (alright, alright, alright, you are correct, occasionally this is a Saturday or Sunday so it technically could fall on the 16th, 17th, or 18th, but you get what I am saying here). Now one could say that filing an extension is an option to try and finagle your way around the infamous April 15th deadline, but regardless of whether you file for the extension, if you owe, the money is due on April 15th. That is of course unless interest and penalties are your cup of tea.

The second quote, however is the one that boggles my mind.  While technically this quote is only attributed to Albert Einstein, let's apply some suspension of disbelief, for my sake, and say that he indeed did say this.  Assuming this is the case, what chance in hell do I have of trying to understand the income tax code in 2014 when Einstein couldn't understand it in the 1950s?!  Here's the kicker, it is likely that not a single human being on the planet understands the ENTIRE United States tax code.  Is it just me, or does this bother anyone else?  

Fortunately, I have Turbo Tax.  The complexity of the computer code that drives this software miracle is most certainly one of the world's less appreciated wonders. Of course Turbo Tax is a suspected victim of the recent Heartbleed encryption computer code virus (Have no fear, I have changed my password!).  This means that ostensibly there could be a computer hacker attempting to file a return in my name but I am pretty sure any refund filing submitted would result in an automatically rejected transmission to the IRS system with a display something like this "Error 404: Lucy Waterbury does not receive refunds from the IRS.  Please try resubmitting your return, this time with some cash behind it.  That is all".  They may not have a single person in the place who understands their own code they are enforcing, but they do understand that Lucy Waterbury never gets refunds.  

This brings me to my next point.  Evidently the IRS is in a bit of a bind this year when it comes to answering their own phone.  According to an AP article "Risk of audit by IRS lowest in years" written by Stephen Ohlemacher, as published on the front page of today's Lexington Herald-Leader, "Last year, only 61 percent of taxpayers calling the IRS for help got it."  Okay this blows my mind, who calls the IRS to ask them for tax guidance?! How does that phone conversation (assuming they answer!) go exactly?  Maybe something like this....
(phone ringing heard in the background....)

(call answered with recorded message "Your call may be recorded for training purposes", but not "quality assurance" because really, the government doesn't care about that!)

-"Hi, is this the IRS?"

-"Yes, this is Cheryl, an IRS tax adviser, how may I assist you?"

-"Here's the thing, I am a self-employed business man & I bought myself a houseboat to use on Lake Cumberland last year so I could entertain clients and write it off as a deduction even though I will be the one really using it with not a client setting foot on that beauty.  So anyway, how do I calculate the mileage on Lake Cumberland to take the mileage deduction for this bad boy or do I have to depreciate the damn thing?"

-"(silence briefly ensues) Well sir, it is a difficult question for me to answer, as you basically just asked me how to take an illegal tax deduction, but since you called from your personal cell and we have a souped-up, NSA programmed, caller ID program that links directly to your tax filing records, I'm going to wonder why you called your government to ask that question."  (for the record, I have no idea if this is true but given what the NSA is monitoring these days, it seems logical to me that this could be the case)

-"Okay, I will just tell the missus we need to leave the boat in the slip this year and party like it's 1999 with the other Ohio Navy sailors who never take their house barges out.  Oh and miss, you should really come down to Cumberland this year, they are putting all the water back in and it's going to be good times down there in the Bluegrass!"

-"Thank you for the tip sir, have a lovely evening."


Please note: If your taxes are so complicated that neither you nor Turbo Tax can figure them out, you need a CPA folks. Don't call the IRS.

To make matters worse, the self-reporting nature of our tax code, makes those of us that are self-employed dig deep to find the center of their moral compass at tax time. Elizabeth Maresca, who is a former IRS lawyer turned academician, is also quoted in the article.  According to Maresca, "Anybody who's an employee, who gets paid by an employer, has a limited ability to take risks on their returns...I think people who own their own business or are self-employed have a much greater opportunity (to cheat), and I think the IRS knows that too."  Ya think?! 

The article also states, "the IRS could scrutinize more returns -- and collect billions more in revenue -- with more resources....the IRS would collect $6 for every $1 increase in the agency's enforcement budget."  Evidently Congress has no appetite for fully funding the IRS to get a return of six times their investment.  And this my friends, along with an inordinately complex tax code, is what is wrong with the government today; passing new and complex laws that no one truly understands and while not enforcing the ones we have on the books already. I don't care what your politics are, I think we can agree on this point. 

My husband and I are both self-employed.  I do not cheat on my taxes, as lying isn't in my repertoire, and I am in favor of liking the person who stares back in that mirror every morning.  According to the Turbo Tax algorithm, my chances of getting audited are low. But on this eve of the 2014 tax filing deadline, just hours after emptying my bank account to fulfill my complex tax burden, I will gladly accept this uncertainty of a potential audit over the other certain thing in this life. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Won. Not Done. Shocking & Tweaking Our Way to the Top. #BBN

Dear 2014 NCAA Selection Committee, You're fired. Why you ask? Well, Monday evening the entire City of Lexington, Kentucky, and approximately 1/4 of the world's population (including 9 UK fans that will be gathered in one home in Beijing, China) will watch #7 seed UCONN play #8 seed Kentucky in a basketball game.  Now by the seeding numbers, if you know much about bracketology you would infer that this game would most likely be a Sweet Sixteen game (hint: it is impossible for a #7 seed to play a #8 seed before then!) played by a couple of scrappy teams that were just thankful to be playing in the tournament and trying on some Cinderella slippers for size.  Well, you would be wrong, as on Monday, these teams are playing for THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. 

I know people hate math, but hang in here with me, and let's do some.  That's right, according to the NCAA Selection Committee, at best the 28th best team is playing the 32nd best team to win it all; at worst it would be the 32nd best team playing the 36th best team. (I would show my work, as math teachers love that, but most people reading this blog are Kentucky fans who started filling out brackets when they were filling out diapers, so I will move on).  The statistical significance of this gross misappropriation and ranking of talent this year is MIND BOGGLING at best, but potentially EPIC.Now it doesn't take a PhD in math (which in an ironic twist, my brilliant brother lacked only his dissertation to attain a PhD in MATH from WISCONSIN) to see what I am saying here.  My point, both Kentucky and UCONN came into this tournament misunderstood, underestimated, and forced into more than their fare share of March Madness to get here.

So anyway, there is a silver lining in all of this.  While unfair, UK's 8 seed created a road to the Final Four that is a bit like a Roman Gladiator being forced to run a gauntlet of vipers, then lions, then tigers, then bears, then hippos (oh, make no mistake these animals are "stone cold killers", I know, I learned that at the Louisville Zoo this week with my kids! Okay in reality, we faced another species of Wildcats, some grain tops, some Cardinals, some Wolverines & then some Badgers but those mascots don't illicit the imagery for this analogy, although meeting a Wolverine in a dark alley is not on my bucket list)  Since we played the Shockers of Wichita State (did I mention they were undefeated until meeting my C-A-T-S in the tournament?), every game has been the making of a cardiac event.  Baptist Health (oh, whose kidding, you will always be Central Baptist Hospital to me) and St. Joseph Cardiac units have been doing a brisk business the last few weeks, of this, I am sure. I hope the Big Blue Nation has some aspirin for these types of events.

Additionally, because the Big Blue Nation follows their CATS in like lemmings to a cliff, all CATS fans are also suffering from sleep disorders as they keep scheduling our games as the last prime time game on the schedule EVERY.SINGLE.TIME(perpetually in the Central Time Zone). For parents of small children this is like cruel and unusual punishment, I swear. Although I am supposed to be preparing a Sunday School lesson instead of writing this blog, it was I who was in bed at 1:30AM listening to Matt Jones and KSR (Kentucky Sports Radio), 2 hours after the game is over, because it is just craziness to win another late prime time game at the buzzer and then just go to sleep. I need my couch, so burning it to pass the time was not an option. 

If you haven't been following along, Aaron "Stone Cold Killer" Harrison nailed a 3 point shot (from a spot damn near in downtown Dallas) with 5.7 seconds left in the game to put the CATS in a winning position. Now 1 of these clutch shots in the last 2 minutes of a game during this tournament is the making of legends but to make 3 of these in 3 back-to-back buzzer beating, cardiac challenging games is EPIC I tell you.  Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio is a big fan of the Harrison twins and he coined the phrase "Stone Cold Killers" to describe their basketball prowess.  As they mentioned on the IMG Wrap up show last night, the boy must have ice water running in his veins because that shot took balls folks. According to the media, the "tweak" that Cal put into place before the tournament involved getting his brother Andrew to pass the ball more.  I say the tweak has been using the bench that has allowed us to win with our Willie out, but in any case, it is just insanely fun.

Folks what I am telling you is this...this tournament has not been an easy road but it has been something AMAZING to watch.  Lock up your couches people, these CATS have 9 lives.

I gotta go teach Sunday School.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Tornadoes, Basements, & Bears, Oh My!

My son Wyatt is showing signs of becoming a future meteorologist.  Since he was old enough to figure out how to use the television/cable box remote combo, (a skill set that is elusive to many Americans on a good day and most real estate agents stuck in homes hosting Open Houses on days when their University of Kentucky Wildcats are playing in a SEC Championship!) he has often chosen the Weather Channel to fill time until Mom decides to join the land of the living.  Although only in 1st grade, he will leave the Cartoon Network and Disney Channel in the dust to consume Locals on the 8s, at 8 minute intervals for hours. (Oh, and, he could probably provide an up-to-the-minute count of babies born to the female meteorologists as I swear for a couple of years there, there MUST have been something in the water down there in Atlanta.) Anyway, he watches it with an intensity that is mind boggling, not missing a single report by any one of their weather desks, like the hurricane desk or the severe weather desk.  Now that he is older, he will provide up to the minute projections of when severe weather is imminent.  Having said that, he has a more than healthy respect for tornadoes.  Honestly, since the 40 year old maple came down in our backyard, in 70 mile per hour winds last fall, he has an intense fear of them.

Fortunately for Kentuckians, until enough glaciers melt to make my husband's family in Ashland, Kentucky proud owners of oceanfront property, hurricanes are something we just monitor from afar on the news or on Wyatt's beloved Weather Channel.  But tornadoes in Kentucky, my friend, are what I call, kamikaze hurricanes.  Unlike in Kansas, because of our hilly topography, it is difficult for Kentucky tornadoes to sustain themselves & cause several miles of damage.  So here is what they do, they drop out of the sky in an instant, rendering surgically precise devastation, on those that are in its path, albeit for a brief few seconds, and then return back into the sky.  Just like that. 

I am a native of Madison County, Kentucky which recognized a grim anniversary yesterday, the death of 7 people as a result of a tornado outbreak that struck 30 years ago.  Not unlike when JFK was shot, or when 9/11 happened, most Madison County folks can tell you where they were for those terrifying minutes in 1974.  In the last few years, mother nature has unleashed a few deadly tornadoes that wrecked havoc in both the Kirksville area of my native county, the Masterson Station area of Fayette County, and one in 2012 that damn near wiped West Liberty, Kentucky off the map.  

Having grown up in Kentucky, tornado drills in schools were a part of life, and we were taught the skills necessary to determine where to seek shelter in ANY building, should the sirens go off indicating that a kamikaze hurricane was imminent.  In fact, I have no memory of NOT knowing what to do in the event of a tornado, much like I have no memory of NOT knowing how to swim.  In Kentucky, these are survival skills, both hunkering down for tornadoes and swimming, as Kentucky features 49,100 miles of rivers, creeks, streams and tributaries (we are second only to Alaska in the miles of navigable water but whose counting?!)

A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with a Mainer when I worked for a photogrammetry firm (if you are unfamiliar with what a photogrammetry firm does, I would explain it but this blog post is long enough, so go Google it)  For those of you who may not know what a Mainer is, it is one who is a native of the great state of Maine.  So on one of his trips to our Lexington office (he worked in our Bangor, Maine office) my friend Mike, the Mainer, asked me how I dealt with the fear of tornadoes.  To be quite honest, it struck me as an odd question at the time but it was a great question coming from someone who lives where tornadoes are far less common.  My answer was, "Well Mike, to be honest, I have never really thought that much about it, it is just part of living in Kentucky"

To me, the threat of kamikaze hurricanes is a lot like the risk of a massive heart attack. Most likely I will see the signs coming and I will have made choices along the way that either will increase or decrease my chances of survival.  When I bought my "forever" house, I made sure it had a basement where my family could seek shelter when those sirens start wailing and the voice of the siren "God" starts telling me what to do. Which reminds me...I need to ask my friend Shelley, who works for the Fayette County Dept. of Emergency Mgt., if we have a siren setting for an alien invasion, because if we do, I would love to hear the script for that warning! Instead of advising me to seek shelter it probably says something like "Fellow citizenry, I wish this was a siren for a kamikaze hurricane, but nope the aliens are here and we are TOAST!"  Similarly, my home is located within a 3 minute ambulance ride to a major cardiac care unit.  I can't say that I keep a set of defibrillators in the house (as most likely my 3 year old would find a way to get to them and try and use them on her brother!) but I do keep aspirin in the house.  I also keep a weather radio in the house (but in reality I rely on my severe weather IPhone app for that).

But having said all that, here is what I have noticed about Kentuckians, they have a love/hate relationship with basements.  They either love them, or they hate them (mainly because of leaking concerns), but then again those that hate them have probably never really needed one when the sh*t gets real around here. Isn't it astounding how accurate these Doppler Weather monitoring systems have become?!  When Bill Meck, our local meteorologist, starts shouting your street name through the television, you are going to wish you had a basement. I'm afraid these complex detection systems, that can be precise as to the street addresses where the tornadoes are heading, have also given us a false sense of security. Soon you will see parents with 80 inch flat panel televisions mounted in their basements, sending their children outside to play because Bill said the tornado was two streets over so they could come out of their basements.

In my years of showing houses, I feel like it is my fiduciary duty to remind my buyers, especially those from out-of-state, that kamikaze hurricanes are a reality here and that running around your house trying to drag a mattress into your interior, windowless bathroom is not an Olympic sport in which most people hold a medal. After I share my thoughts about that, then I shut up (well, for a few seconds anyway).

To me basements are like guns, it is easy to be against them and all of the potential problems that owning one can cause (and in both cases these problems are very real), until your life is at risk and you realize the choices you made along the way, may cost you your life. 

The saying goes that March comes in like a lion but goes out like a lamb.  In my experience in the springtime in Kentucky, April can be a bear, period. But fear not, Wyatt's addiction the the local on the 8s should give me at least an 8 minute window to head to my basement. Grab the aspirin too folks, because when you hear the train a comin' (tornadoes sound like trains...I know this from school tornado drills), you just might need it in your basement as well.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Congratulations to me, it's a blog!

Why would I be congratulating myself on the birth of my blog?  Well, it has been gestating in my head of a few years now but until recently, I did not have the emotional energy or unstructured time to dedicate to bringing it to life on the computer screen. Now that I am self employed in real estate, I will have more flexibility to tend to the feeding and pruning of this thing. When I named this blog, I chose a play on words that I hoped would make it meaningful in regards to my life in general and relate it to what I do for a living as experiences in my work often fill my head. As a real estate agent, real estate investor, former mortgage banker, & the wife of a certified KY Real Estate Appraiser (yes, I sleep with an appraiser!) we pretty much live, sleep, eat and breathe real estate around here.  But when I am not working (which when you are a real estate agent is a bit hard to determine), I am a parent of two small children who appropriately dominate every other minute of my life.

So, here it is, a permanent record (seems a bit scary, right?) of my observations on such topics as living, parenting, real estate, finance, politics, religion, grief, etc. as I spew them out into the world. As those closest to me can attest, you never know what I might say next, so sometimes it will be serious, sometimes silly, just like my life.

If I create nothing more than a journal of sorts (maybe for my kids to read someday), I will consider it a win. In any case, if I can keep the proverbial wheels on this cart, it should be an adventure. I hope you will stick around for the ride.