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A.C.A. Last Quarter Check-Up

It’s September already.  Four short months and it will be time to file 2014 taxes.  With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the upcoming tax season is going to be challenging for both tax payers and tax preparers.   Make sure you’re prepared.

Under the A.C.A. mandate every individual is required to have Minimum Essential Coverage (MEC) or make a Shared Responsibility payment when taxes are filed.  So what qualifies as MEC?  Insurance purchased through the Federal or one of the State Market Exchanges, most Employer Sponsored Insurances, Medicare Part A,  most Medicaid, and CHIPS are all examples of coverage that meet MEC.

If you purchased coverage through one of the Market Exchanges now is the time to make certain you’ve updated your information.  This is even more important if you are one of the millions receiving advanced payments of the Premium Tax Credit. Changes in residence, marital status, dependents and income all have an effect on the amount of the credit you may qualify for.  Failure to update information in a timely manner could result in re-payment of advanced payments when taxes are filed.

If you did not purchase coverage through one of the Market Exchanges and did not have MEC for the entire year you will be required to pay a Shared Responsibility payment when you file your taxes, unless you qualify for an exemption.  There are many exemptions available.  To see if any apply to your specific situation visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov/aca .  Some exemptions can be claimed when you file your tax return, but most need to be approved through the Healthcare.gov website.  If you believe you qualify for an exemption that must be approved through the healthcare.gov website, it is important to apply as early as possible so you will know if you do qualify, and have the exemption information prior to filing your taxes.

As year end quickly approaches it is important to make sure you have everything in order prior to the 2014 filing season.

Back-to-School Tax Credits

Back to school

Going back to school isn’t just for kids.  In today’s world it’s more important than ever to continually upgrade our skills, and sometimes acquire new skills or change career direction.

Going back to school is not cheap, but did you know there are some tax credits available to help ease the pain?  Some of the costs you pay for higher education for yourself, spouse, or a dependent heading off to college can save you money at tax time.

There are two types of higher education tax credits:

American Opportunity Tax Credit.  This credit can be up to $2,500 annually for an eligible student.  This credit applies for the first four years of higher education.  Forty percent of the credit is refundable, which means you may be able to get up to $1,000 of the credit as a refund, even if you don’t owe any taxes.

Lifetime Learning Credit.  With this credit you may be able to claim a tax credit of up to $2,000 on your federal tax return.  There is no limit on the number of years you can claim this credit for an eligible student.

Only one type of education credit can be taken each year, but if there is more than one person on the return that is eligible you can claim a different credit for each student.  Example:  Spouse who qualifies can take the Lifetime Learning Credit and a qualifying dependent can take the American Opportunity Tax Credit, or vise versa.

Qualifying expenses include tuition, fees and other related expenses such as books.  Most colleges and universities qualify as eligible educational institutions.  Vocational schools or other postsecondary schools may also qualify.

For more information on school tax credits visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov and type in Education Credits in the search box.

Not My Mom’s Meatloaf

I  rarely make anything with hamburger meat.  Growing up in a large family, it was the least expensive meat for Mom to buy so we ate it often.  Recently I have been craving meatloaf though.   So off to the store I go.

I’m not sure why I so seldom make meatloaf.  It’s easy to make, it’s economical, and you can put pretty much anything in it, which is a good thing.  Just as I was getting ready to start dinner I was informed that we would have 2 additional people for dinner.  I had less than a pound of ground beef, less than a pound of ground pork, and no desire or time to go back to the store.   So how do you stretch the ground meats?  Add garbanzo beans!  Oh my goodness, this was the best meatloaf I have ever made.  I wish there had been leftovers.

As with most things I make, my meatloaf is different from how Mom made it.  Hers was hamburger, onions, bell pepper, egg, oats and topped with tomato paste.   As good a cook as I think my Mom is, I personally think my meatloaf has way more flavor.


So here is my Not My Mom’s Meatloaf

Ground Beef – roughly 1 lb
Ground Pork – roughly 1 lb
1 can Garbanzo beans – drained, rinsed and mashed
½ Onion – finely chopped
1 Bell Pepper – finely chopped
1 Carrot – shredded and finely chopped
1/2 can Stewed Tomatoes – drained and crushed
½ sleeve Club Crackers – crushed
If you’re a salt-aholic you can add some.  I find there is enough salt from the crackers and the beans.

Combine all ingredients.  Use  your hands to mix, they are the best tools for meatloaf.  Place in a loaf pan and cover with ketchup.  Bake at 425 for 45 minutes to an hour.

As with most of my recipes I use what I have. In the past when I’ve needed to stretch a meatloaf I have used black beans. It’s good, but the garbanzo beans are much better. Oats can also be used as the binder instead of crackers, and any cracker works. Club is just what I had on hand. If you like a bit of spice, Rotel tomatoes in place of the Stewed tomatoes works great.

Mid-Year Tax Checkup

It’s hard to believe it is already the end of July.  When I was young I remember my grandmother saying time goes by faster the older you get.  That seemed so funny to me back then, but she certainly was correct.   Time does seem to go by faster.  Before you know it, it will be ‘that’ time of year again.  Time to file those dreaded taxes.

When it comes time to file your annual taxes, no one likes having to pay.  Many people even look forward to anticipated refunds and plan major purchases and investments based on those refunds.  Mid-year is the perfect time to perform a tax checkup to help ensure you do not have to pay in more than expected, or that you get back the refund you are hoping for.

Doing a mid-year tax checkup is always wise, this year more so than ever for many people.  Aside from ensuring you are having enough taxes withheld, if you are receiving a tax subsidy under the Affordable Care Act it is important to make sure your earnings and household situation are still in line with what was reported when you applied for coverage through the exchange.   A change in income, a residence change, or an increase or decrease in dependents are just a few of the life changes that can affect the amount of the subsidy you receive.

Here are a couple of links to help with your mid-year checkup.

To ensure you are having enough taxes withheld check out the IRS Withholding Calculator by clicking HERE .

To report life changes or an increase/decrease in income that will affect any tax subsidy visit the Healthcare.gov website by clicking HERE .

Bulgur and Red Quinoa Salad

Wheat Berry & Quinoa Salad

I love summer time. Not because of the warmer temps, although I must admit this summer has been very mild here in my little corner of Texas though. I love summer time because of the wonderful, fresh garden vegies. I love cold summer soups and all the different summer salads. They are so refreshing, quick and easy to make, and do not heat up the kitchen.

Recently while shopping in a neighboring town, one that actually has a grocery store with a wide variety of items, I bought a bag of bulgur and red quinoa. Bulgur is something I buy quite often. I love tabouli, but I have never eaten quinoa. I cooked the bulgur/quinoa according to package directions and after tasting it I thought …….. hmmmm ……. this would make a great salad, and I had garden cucumbers, tomatoes and green onions to boot. I do believe this salad will replace tabouli in my home.

Bulgur and Red Quinoa Salad

Cook the bulgur and red quinoa according to package directions. Mine was 1 cup to 2 cups water. Let cool.

1 tomato – chopped
5 green onions (both white and green parts) – chopped
English cucumber – I used about a 4 inch piece – chopped
Finely chopped flat leaf Italian Parsley – about 2 Tbs or so

Combine the vegies and the bulgur/quinoa. Drizzle in some olive oil and squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon. Combine well. Depending on the size and how juicy the lemon is, you may need to squeeze in the juice of one more. I used two lemons in mine. Salt and pepper to taste. Let sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.

This salad is so fresh tasting and just makes you think of summer. It is even better the 2nd day. I did add more lemon juice and olive oil to it the 2nd day as the bulgur and quinoa absorbed it.

Homemade Mayonnaise


My husbands favorite condiment is mayonnaise.  He puts it on everything ….  sandwiches, hamburgers, French fries, artichokes …… you get the idea.  I had never really used mayo much until we met.  Now, I must admit, it is also one of my favorite condiments as well.  There are just so many ways to kick it up a notch.

I always thought that making mayonnaise was difficult and time consuming so it’s something I’ve never tried to do.  Was I ever wrong!  I do believe making homemade mayonnaise is one of the easiest things I’ve ever made.  It only takes a few minutes in the food processor and you can spice it up or season it up any way you like.

Here’s the basic recipe:
2 egg yolks
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (canola oil or vegetable oil will work as well)
Salt and Pepper

Put the egg yolks, lemon juice, Dijon, salt and pepper in the food processor and turn it on. Once all ingredients are well combined drizzle in a few drops of oil and continue to process for a few seconds then drizzle in a few more drops. Continue drizzling in and letting it combine until you’ve added about 1/4 cup of oil. Now you can slowly stream in the oil, let process for a few seconds, then stream in more oil. Continue in this manner until all oil has been incorporated and you have the beautiful white, silky yum known as mayonnaise.

If you want a bit of a kick try adding a bit of chipotle pepper and adobo sauce (my husbands favorite) or a bit of curry powder and crushed cashews (my favorite for wraps)

This recipe is so easy and yummy I may never buy store bought again.

Best Brownies EVER

It’s not a secret …. I do not bake.  I used to occasionally when my kids were growing up, but it was not often.  It’s just not my thing.  But ………..  I just made the best brownies ever.  They were so easy, and so much fun to make.

One of my daughters, and the mother of my only granddaughter lives in Georgia. I had not seen them in over a year until they showed up last weekend to surprise me for Mothers Day.  I hate them being so far away, but after my son-in-law having a deployment to Iraq and a deployment to Afghanistan I am just happy that they are together anywhere in the US.   So what does this have to do with brownies?  Well, my granddaughter wanted to bake.  To be more specific, my granddaughter wanted to bake with Meemee.   If you’ve ever had grandkids you know that means you’re going to bake rather you want to or not.  So how do you make the best brownies ever?

You take one 3 yr old granddaughter
1 box Betty Crocker brownie mix
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup water
1 egg
1 large bowl
2 wire whisks (make sure one of them is small)

Set your granddaughter on the counter and let her pour the contents of the box of brownie mix into a large mixing bowl. Let her pour in the oil, water and egg. Use the larger whisk to begin mixing the batter until it’s all moist, then let the 3 yr old continue mixing with the smaller whisk. When she’s through mixing (which only takes long enough to coat the whisk well with batter) let her lick the whisk while you pour the batter into a baking pan. Set the bowl back in front of the little one and let her (and her mommy) finish licking it. Bake at 325 for 35 minutes.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and tons of hugs and kisses.

Word of Mouth is Not Just From the Customer

For a small, locally owned business, no amount of advertising will generate the business that word of mouth will.  Building a good reputation is crucial to building a customer base and every wise business owner knows the importance of treating their customers with respect.  But what about your vendors?

Recently during a conversation with a local vendor they commented on how rudely another local business treats them.  The comment got me thinking. I have seen this same behavior many times in both large and small businesses.  They treat their vendors, delivery people and suppliers as though they are unimportant and an annoyance.  There are two things that these businesses are forgetting.  First – Very few businesses can survive without their vendors.   Second – These vendors shop and they talk.

A businesses reputation is not just built on satisfied customers.  How you treat your vendors and employees contribute greatly to that reputation.  Especially if you’re doing business in a small town.  Remember …… People talk, and everyone is either a potential customer, or knows someone that may be.



tax scam alertThe Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is warning taxpayers of a major scam that has hit people in just about every state. TIGTA Inspector General J Russell George said this is the largest scam of its kind that they have ever seen. More than 20,000 people have been contacted with thousands of victims that have collectively paid over $1 million as a result of the scam.

According to reports the caller claims to be from the IRS and states that you owe taxes. They threaten arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver’s license if you do not pay. They demand payment via a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.

Don’t be taken! The IRS rarely makes initial contact on a tax debt via the phone. They send a letter. They also DO NOT ask that you pay with a wire transfer or a pre-paid debit card.

If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS asking for payment here’s what you do:
If you owe, or think you may owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. An IRS worker will assist you.
If you do not owe taxes call and report the incident to TIGTA at 800-366-4484. You can also file a complaint with the FTC at www.FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in your complaint.

For more information on tax scams visit www.irs.gov.

Understanding Your W2 – Code DD


One of the questions I am often asked when preparing taxes ……. What is code DD?

You may have noticed Section 12 of your W2 contains alphabetic codes and amounts.  The two most commonly seen codes are D and DD.  Code D is the amount you have contributed to a retirement plan, such as a 401K.  Code DD is a more recently established and utilized code.  I began seeing it last year.  So what is it?

Code DD is the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan.  It shows the amount paid by both you and your employer and is shown for informational purposes only.

According to the IRS here is what you need to know about the value shown on your W-2.

  • The health care law requires certain employers to report the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan.
  • The amount of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage appears in Box 12 of the W-2, and has the code letters “DD” next to it.
  • Reporting the cost of health care coverage on the Form W-2 does not mean that the coverage is taxable or that it needs to be reported on your tax return.
  • The amount is only for information, and shows the payments made by you and your employer and is not included in the amount shown in Box 1, which is the amount of taxable earnings.

Visit the IRS website’s W-2 page for more information.



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