Black Coffee: Crooks, Pariahs, Slimeballs & Tax Collectors (but I’m Being Redundant)

It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe

Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance. Here’s what caught my attention over the past week…

I’m sick, tired and just a wee bit surly today.

No, not because the US deadline to turn our taxes in to the IRS is this Monday.

I’ve got a sinus infection that has really got me under the weather.

Then again, you don’t think I’m going to let that stop me from putting out yet another worthless edition of Black Coffee, do you? No, siree.

So let’s get right to it …

Blogs I’ve Been Following This Week

Don’t Mess with TaxesDid a Crook File Your Taxes? I wish … considering I got stuck writing a four-figure check to Uncle Sam this tax season. And I know what you’re thinking, but all the numbers were to the left of the decimal point.

Barbara Friedberg Personal FinanceWhy I Usually Do My Own Taxes. The operative word here is “usually.” This year, though, due to the complexity of her taxes, Barb had to come up with a very clever money-saving compromise. And that she did.

JoeTaxpayerThe IRS’ Bad Rap. Yeah, boyyy! I clicked on this article because I was hoping to see a couple of Internal Revenue Service agents performing Public Enemy’s hip hop classic “Fight the Power.” No such luck.

Financially Poor How Far Do You Go to Be Frugal? As Kevin notes in this article, the lengths some people go now to save a few bucks can be really embarrassing. I see even the IRS is now warning frugal tax filers that it’s not okay to calculate your “adjusted gross income” by simply shaving several zeroes off your annual pay. (Why do you think I had to write a check this year?)

Afford AnythingTax Refund: Heck Yeah! or No Way, Jose? Says Paula:  You don’t want to give the government an interest-free loan – IF – you can earn interest on that money elsewhere (or reduce your debt interest). Then again, as Paula points out, there are a few caveats to consider before blindly accepting that premise.

Couple MoneyFinancial Choices and Their Impacts 5 Years Later. So what does this article have to do with taxes? Nothing. I just enjoyed reading Elle’s reflections on her key financial decisions over the past five years.

Forbes – What’s The Most Common Tax Question of 2012? Funny, I figured it was going to be something like, “How big is my tax refund going to be this year?” or “How much do I owe?” Not according to the Tax Girl, it isn’t.

The Way-Back Machine: Past Posts Of Mine You May Have Missed

From September 2010:

What a $168 Cheese Sandwich Can Teach Us About Hype & Value – And you thought the IRS were crooks. Celebrity chef Martin Blunos created a very unique cheese sandwich with a menu price of $168, which begs the question: Who in the world would ever buy one?

Podcast News

For some odd reason, Average Joe continues to ask me back each week to participate in The Worst of the Free Financial Advisor‘s irreverent roundtable segment. Episode 4: The Top 5 Ways to Blow Your Income Tax Refund.

Credits and Debits

Debit: Well, that was fun while it lasted: The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1.6 percent of its value this week, falling back below the 13,000 benchmark. That’s its worst weekly decline this year.

Debit: The markets were spooked in part by increasing bond yields in Spain resulting from investors wariness regarding Spain’s ability to pay back their massive debt. It’s just another step toward the eventual implosion of the Euro.

Debit: In fact, thanks to the debt-laden PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) it’s looking more and more likely that the European Union will disintegrate sooner rather than later.

Debit: You don’t have to tell the Greeks and Italians that. Many of them are so worried about bank runs on the fatally-flawed Euro that they’ve been literally burying their money for some time now.

Debit: Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, consumer prices continue to rise, led by gasoline which rose 1.7 percent this month.

Credit: How about some good news? On average, seniors are now living three years longer than originally expected.

Debit: Ironically, that’s got the International Monetary Fund in a huff because governments and pension funds are ill-prepared to handle the added cost burden — as much as 50 percent.

Credit: Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue if we returned to the days before Social Security when the responsibility for funding one’s retirement belonged to the individual — as opposed to the federal government, unions, or corporations. I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’.

Credit: Before some of you tar-and-feather me for advocating the end of Social Security, I do realize it would have to be gradually phased out in order to provide for those who were forced into relying on the bankrupt Ponzi scheme in the first place.

Credit: Did you see this? The president finally admitted the Buffett Tax is just a gimmick that will do nothing to solve the government’s debt troubles. Well … duh!

Debit: So if the Buffett Tax doesn’t make economic sense, why push for it? According to the president: it’ll promote “tax fairness.” In other words, decrease income inequality. In other words, redistribute wealth.

Debit: Everyone should be against the Buffett rule if only because it makes our byzantine tax law even more complicated. With 3.8 million words, US tax code is already four times longer than Shakespeare’s entire library of works. I know.

Debit: While you’re writing out your check to the IRS this week, think about this: San Francisco officials recently received $205,075 in federal stimulus funds to move an “endangered” shrub that can be bought at nurseries for $15.98. Whaaaaat?

Credit: I guarantee you my gardener would have done that job for $250.

Debit: By the way, does anybody out there still wonder why the $831 billion stimulus didn’t fix the economy?

By the Numbers

If you live in the US, your last day in 2011 to file taxes is April 17th. More on US taxes:

12 Average number of hours people will spend doing their taxes this year.

189 The number of pages in the instruction booklet for the 1040 tax form.

$5800 The 2011 tax year standard deduction for a single person. (It rises to $5950 for the 2012 tax year.)

5 The number of times tax revenues were sufficient to cover the national budget over the last 50 years.

4 The number of times the great Calvin Coolidge presided over a balanced budget. (He’s the last president to do so four times.)

$110 million Annual income needed to become one of the top 400 earners in the US.

18 Average tax rate of the top 400 earners.

46 Percentage of Americans who paid no federal income taxes last year.

Source: Smart Money; the IRS; Huffington Post

The Question of the Week

How long have you been with your current employer?

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Other Useless News

Here are the top — and bottom — 5 states in terms of the average number of pages viewed per visit here at Len Penzo dot Com over the past 30 days:

1. North Dakota (2.48 pages/visit)
2. Vermont (2.32)
3. Utah (2.02)
4. Michigan (2.00)
5. South Carolina (1.98)

46. Iowa (1.69)
47. New Hampshire (1.63)
48. Massachusetts (1.62)
49. Nevada (1.60)
50. West Virginia (1.57)

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Letters, I Get Letters

Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not!

Brenda dropped me a note to say hi — and ask this question:

Love your blog, Len! Why didn’t you give it a fancy name like all the other (personal finance) blogs out there? …

Because “John Smith dot Com” was already taken.

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.


  1. 1


    What are your thoughts on a consumption tax for individuals? It seems like a good idea. I just don’t know what impact it would have “in the real world.”

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      I do think some version of the proposed “fair tax” that is being bandied about (essentially a 23% national sales tax on all goods and services — save for food and medicine, if I had my druthers) as a replacement for the income and payroll taxes would be a much better alternative.

      With the fair tax, those who consume the least, pay the least taxes. It makes a lot of sense to me anyway.

      I am not, however, in favor of a value-added tax (VAT).

  2. 3


    the deadline to turn in federal taxes this year is April 17th. The 15th is on a day, which would move it to Monday, but Monday is a Holiday in Washington, DC called Emancipation Day, which moves the due date to April 17th. And, luckily, my state is honoring this as well and moving their due date to April 17th.

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      Thank you, Squeezer. I said Monday in the intro, but I meant Tuesday.

      I’m blaming it on the sinus infection. 😉

  3. 5

    JD says

    I certainly feel your pain. I don’t have a sinus infection. I am totally miserable with allergies that I believe were exacerbated by writing out both Federal and State tax checks! Ugh. Hopefully we both recover soon.

    • 6

      Len Penzo says

      I hope so, JD. I’m really miserable — although, to be honest, I tend to be a big baby when I get sick and over-exaggerate my “suffering.” (Hey … At least I admit it, folks!)

  4. 9


    As I’m nearing 30 years of age, my interest in how Social Security will look by the time I’m 65 is at it’s peak. I pretty much try to dump as much as I can into my 401k but I have the sneaking suspicion that it won’t be able to save me from working when I’m 70. Len, will you run for senator and push forward legislation to disband Social Security?
    You’ve got my vote!

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