Do Taxes Really Need to Be So Complicated?

The way we file taxes has got to be the least-efficient way possible. Every year, millions of Americans dig through a year’s worth of receipts, year-end statements, and their memories to assemble millions of stacks of paperwork that are processed by hand by an army of IRS employees and contractors.

This is ridiculous, and I’m not even talking about how complicated the tax code is.

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The Difference Between Assets and Liabilities

We all assume that having things is the same thing as having wealth. You see someone driving a Mercedes, and assume he or she is wealthy. More often than not, it just means that person has a huge loan payment to make each month. Cash flow is not the same thing as wealth. Wealth means having assets — money in the bank, valuable investments, and things unencumbered by loans. If you owe money on all your things, you just have liabilities.

You can have a lot of things and still own nothing. Like the founder of Michigan Brewing Co., who just filed bankruptcy and listed $3,236 in assets and more than $8,200,000 in liabilities.

Very few people are truly wealthy. You cannot judge a book by its cover, and you cannot judge wealth by the number of things someone has. (via Daniel Gershburg)

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danmoyle/5634567317/)

Should You Trust Your Lawyer with Your Data?

When you work with a lawyer (or a financial advisor or accountant, for that matter), you almost certainly hand over a lot of confidential information. It may include things like account numbers, birth dates, your social security number, family members’ names — in short, everything necessary to steal your identity.

This could be a problem.

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Famous Last … Tweet?

Last words are automatically interesting, but not automatically significant. This goes double or triple for last tweets, since tweeting is rarely the last thing anyone would think to do before expiring. All the same, The Tweet Hereafter archives last tweets of famous people, just in case they are significant, like the last tweet of Oscar Pistorius’s girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, the day before he killed her:

What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow??? #getexcited #ValentinesDay

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How Monitoring Your Kids on Instagram Could Land You in Jail

Instagram is apparently the teen and tween social network of choice. That means parents who want to do the responsible thing and monitor their children’s Instagram accounts may be tempted to demand that their children “hand over the keys” to their accounts. But accessing your child’s Instagram account is — technically, at least — a violation of federal law.

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Midland Funding Robo-Signing Class Action Settlement Struck Down

Under the terms of the settlement reached in several class actions against Midland Funding for its (apparently past) practice of employing robo-signers to execute affidavits for debt buyer lawsuits, each class member would receive under $20 — and that’s it. The Sixth Circuit rightly decided this was unfair (pdf).

Unfortunately, the Sixth Circuit seemed to think the settlement was unfair primarily because the named plaintiffs (i.e., those whose names actually appeared on the complaints) would receive $8,000 plus the elimination of their debts. The class members who opted into the settlement just got $17.38 each, and still owed their debts:

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FTC: 26% of Credit Reports Have Errors, but 95% of Consumers Are Unaffected by Them

It turns out that a comically-large number (26%) of consumer credit reports may have errors. However, 95% of those with errors do not need to worry about them, because those errors do not affect their “credit risk tier.” Or, conversely, only 5% of the consumers with errors on their credit reports were “significant enough” that the consumers affected (about 10 million) might have been denied credit or paid more for it.

Which means there is a good chance that you have errors on at least one of your credit reports (which you should obviously fix), although they probably do not affect your credit.

Of course, being denied for credit or paying more for it are only two consequences of credit reporting errors. Many more people experience other consequences, like incessant calls from debt collectors looking for someone else.

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Elizabeth Warren Comes Out Swinging at Banking Regulators

While there are a lot of people you can blame for the state of the US economy, government regulators are at the top of the list. So it’s satisfying that someone has finally taken them to task. Elizabeth Warren, finally on the Senate Banking Committee where she belongs, had some hard questions for banking regulators yesterday, specifically on why they are happy to accept pennies on the dollar to settle claims against banks.

What she got in response was a lot of hemming and hawing by the spineless regulators in question, none of whom seemed to know the last time anyone took a bank to trial.

I’m a little concerned that too big to fail has become too big for trial.

At Senate Hearing, Warren Comes Out Swinging” (NYT) (via Reddit)

Put Free Credit Scores on Congress’s Agenda

Right now, you have a right to a free credit report, but not a free credit score. That’s annoying, because the score is what really matters whenever you apply for credit. Consumer Union wants to make it easier for consumers to get their score, and is putting in motion a grass-roots campaign to put free credit scores on Congress’s agenda.

So contact your representatives, and let them know you want a free credit score. Here’s where you can find out how to contact them:

(via cleveland.com)

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/a_ninjamonkey/3448476109/)

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act May Cost Americans Billions of Dollars a Year

Americans spend nearly $6 billion on digital music every year, and that number is growing fast. That is an already-huge and fast-growing pile of digital things. But there is a problem with all those digital assets. Even though you can take your digital music, movies, and books with you everywhere you go, they are much harder than the physical version to give to someone else.

That is because digital things and physical things are treated differently. When you buy a digital thing, it’s more like you are paying for the right to use it in ways specified by the creator of that thing. When you buy a physical thing, on the other hand, you own that thing. You can sell it, loan it, or give it away. Eventually, we all die and give everything away. Maybe our kids aren’t thrilled to get a complete set of Fleetwood Mac records, but someone else might want them — and be willing to pay money for them.

But you cannot pass on most of your digital assets. Not legally, anyway.

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