Tax Planning

The Rock Star, The Nude Estates and the Lithuanian Shopping Mall

We've all got an image in our minds of who uses "offshore tax havens" to host their business. Let's say you're a junior-varsity Russian oligarch. You've spent a lifetime looting your country's resources like an all-you-can-steal buffet, and now it's time to take some of your chipskis off the table. You buy a flat in London's posh Mayfair, or maybe a condo overlooking New York's Central Park. Then you stash the rest of your rubles in some sunny flyspeck of an island like Bermuda or the Caymans, where Putin's goons can't steal them back.

But most people who do business offshore aren't crooked billionaires. They're perfectly legitimate multinational corporations, business owners, and investors just like us. If you've worn shoes from Nike, made calls on an iPhone, or downloaded music from Sheryl Crow, you've even done business with them!

Star Power

On January 23, the IRS began accepting 2016 tax returns, and that means refund season is officially here. For 2017, the IRS expects 70% of Americans will get refunds, and those refunds will average around $2,840. Yes, if you're among that 70%, it means you paid in too much over the course of the year and gave the IRS an interest-free loan. (And no, they won't return the favor.) But millions of Americans still very consciously use their tax withholding as a savings account, and look forward all winter to receiving that sweet check.

That leaves just one nice problem to have — deciding where to spend it all.

It's Freezing Where?

Taxpayers across much of the Midwest and east coast have enjoyed a relatively light winter this year, with mild temperatures and little snow. But Old Man Winter made up for it last week. Temperatures dropped well below zero and wind chills broke records across the country. Friday morning saw thermometers dip below freezing in the Florida Everglades, and parts of North Carolina were colder than in Barrow, Alaska!

Care to guess where else temperatures have been falling? If you said "in Hell," you're right. That's because the House of Representatives, where gridlock appears to have found a permanent home, actually passed a bipartisan tax bill last week. The America Gives More Act would take three of those maddeningly "temporary" tax breaks that Congress barely manages to extend every year, and make them permanent. As the name implies, all three are intended to reward charitable giving:

State of the Union 2015

Hopefully you were not waiting until President Obama’s State of the Union address on January 20 to hear about his plans to shake up the tax laws. After all, the details of his tax plan had been leaked days earlier and the entire text of his speech was posted online before the event.

Apparently we have a new State of the Union address tradition. In each of his six previous State of the Union addresses he also proposed tax hikes.

Here are the more significant tax provisions that were proposed.

Master This Green!

The calendar may say that spring officially begins on March 21. But for millions of golfers across the country, the season didn't really start until this weekend — specifically, when Bubba Watson outplayed 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth to claim his second green jacket at the 2014 Masters.

Augusta National Country Club, home of the Masters, is America's temple of golf. Augusta's "perennial ryegrass" fairways are manicured to a smoother finish than your living room carpet, and its greens are so hard and fast you could play billiards on them. So, with all that lush green stretching as far as the eye can see, would it surprise you to learn that the residents of Augusta have "mastered" a lucrative tax break? It's become so identified with the legendary golf tournament that it's known as "the Augusta rule." But if you own your own business, you may be able to take advantage of it yourself.

Now We Know Why She's Dancing

The Swedish pop band ABBA rocketed to global superstardom in the 1970s, with hits like Waterloo,Fernando, and, of course, Dancing Queen. Named for members Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Anderson, and Anni-frid Lyngstad, ABBA is the one of the best-selling music groups of all time. They haven't performed together since 1982. But that didn't stop Ulvaeus and Anderson from turning their songs into a hit musical, Mamma Mia!, in 1999. Just one year later, they turned down an offer to reunite for 100 concerts and a billion dollars.

Lots of us are still embarrassed by the fashion choices we made in the 1970s. ABBA, whose members gained attention for glittering hot pants, sequined jumpsuits, and platform heels, is no exception. According to ABBA: The Official Photo Book, coming next month to celebrate 40 years since they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, singer and guitarist Björn Ulvaeus confesses "in my honest opinion