Federal Law Changes that Will Affect Your Tax Return – Part 1

Was Obamacare really declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court? Were the required minimum distributions (RMDs) at age 70 ½ from your retirement plan really eliminated? And how about the threshold for writing off medical expenses–was that also tossed away?

These are some of the questions people are asking in light of recent federal legislation. I’m going to answer these questions and clear up the misunderstandings most people have about the subjects in a 3-part series of blog posts.

Today, let’s talk about the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–what many people call “Obamacare.” The ACA contains a provision referred to as the individual mandate; this provision requires most Americans to purchase and keep in place a particular form of health insurance to avoid paying a tax (the individual shared responsibility payment) when they file their federal income tax returns.

In 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced that tax to $0. Immediately after the TCJA went into effect, opponents of the ACA filed litigation, claiming the individual mandate was no longer constitutional. Their basis was the Supreme Court’s original ruling that the individual was constitutional because it contained a tax that met four requirements. Well, after the court case wended its way through the judicial system, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with those filing suit.

Specifically, the court ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional because it no longer contained a tax provision. Why? Because the individual shared responsibility payment no longer produced income to the federal government, was no longer paid by taxpayers, could no longer be determined by a taxpayer’s tax return, and was no longer enforced or collected by the IRS.

As of this writing, you will not be charged a tax if you didn’t have health insurance last year. And it’s looking like that is how it will be moving forward–at least with respect to the tax.

With respect to the rest of the ACA’s provisions, that’s anyone’s guess. Part of the case heard by the court of appeals related to whether the individual mandate could be severed from the ACA. Some want to strike the entire ACA unconstitutional because that was the fate of the individual mandate. However, the federal court has sent that portion of the case back to the district court for review. The Supreme Court just recently rejected a recent request for the process to be accelerated, so many believe the issue won’t be resolved until the fall of this year.

Check back tomorrow for the second part of this series: required minimum distributions (RMDs) and the age 70 1/2 threshold.


Good Advice for Setting up Your New Computer

I bought my first computer in1986 and, since then, I’ve learned a lot. Mostly what NOT to do, but still…

I recently had a desktop built to do exactly what I want it to do. When I received it, I had to set it up so it would replicate my current system–and not only use the same software, but also be able to play music through my stereo speakers when I present a live webinar, automatically backup certain files to the cloud, and sync my Outlook calendar and tasks with my iCloud account–to name just a few things.

At the end of this piece, I’ll share some of the online resources I used. Basically, here are the steps I compiled from my online resources and then confirmed with my son-in-law (who is the head of the IT department for a public utility in a nearby state). My resources all agreed about the steps, and the order in which they should be carried out. I followed their advice precisely. After the fact, the only thing I did out of order was install my password manager earlier in the process–it made my life a whole lot easier when I had to download software and/or login to it.

Disclaimer: This process does not include the stuff you absolutely MUST do before you get to this point:

  • Backup the data and important files from your old computer to an external hard drive
  • Make sure your network adapter/modem is attached to your computer before powering it up
  • All the other things they say in the resource articles I referred to (and that are listed below)

Here are the steps for setting up your computer out of the box (or after you begin working with one that’s been reformatted and hasn’t been personalized). Note: My desktop has a Windows 10 operating system.

  1. Once you connect the monitor(s)/keyboard/mouse and fire that baby up, go right to Windows Update in your PC Settings and do all the updates that are required. The advice I was given said this could take some time, and boy, was that advice right. My PC was built on January 3rd, I received it on January 9, and I set it up on January 10. The process took nearly 30 minutes. If you buy a PC that was manufactured 7 months ago instead of 7 days ago, it’s going to take a while.
  2. Install your favorite browsers. I prefer Firefox because it is supposed to be the most secure, but I have to use Chrome and Internet Explorer for certain apps and websites. In addition, with Windows 10, Microsoft Edge is recommended. So, yeah, install as many browsers as you think you might need. (Remember: if you can’t get something done on a website, switching the browser might accomplish what you need to do.) DON’T login to or use them yet, just install them.
  3. Check your computer’s Device Manager in PC Settings for any flags/warnings about your drivers. For example, my new PC did not have a driver installed for my VGA monitors–it was built with a Display port. (Translation: my monitors are old, my new PC is not.) Therefore, when I fired up my PC, neither of my monitors worked. I had to purchase a DVI to HDMI cable to connect one monitor to the PC (it translated my monitor’s analog signal to a digital one–the only type my new PC understands). Once that worked, I was able to connect the other monitor with the VGA to USB connector and the driver for that downloaded automatically. (FYI, I didn’t know this when I started. After 30 minutes of chatting with computer support–which was frustrating, I called my son-in-law–which I should have done first thing. His solution worked; theirs didn’t.)
  4. If you use one, install your Password Manager. (I inserted this step here, to make it easier to do all the following steps.)
  5. INSTALL YOUR SECURITY SOFTWARE. I can’t stress how important this is. I spend $69.99 per year for unlimited devices and download software to all my devices and those of people in my family. Yes, that subscription price protects multiple PCs, laptops, iPads, and smartphones–9 of them. Some software limits the number of devices, other software is more costly. Here’s a link to an article that compares multiple types of software. PICK ONE OF THEM, whichever works best for you. Now! (Yes, the software I use is on the list.)
  6. If you use cloud storage, install/download the software and set it up. I have four different cloud storage accounts and use them for different kinds of files: iCloud, OneDrive personal, OneDrive for business, and Dropbox. Each of the software vendors provides good online tutorials about how to set them up and use them. If you’ve never done this before, be sure to read several tutorials first (you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration, take it from me).
  7. Install/download your software and apps, and adjust your computer’s personalization settings. Of course, you’re going to forget some of these and, once you’re up and running, will have to stop in the middle of a project to attend to it. These are the things I forgot to add to my list (the one I prepared before I started setup):
    • Enable the speakers on my PC so I could play music through my computer’s speakers when I teach live webinars
    • The iCloud AddIn for Outlook (duh)
    • My time tracking software (double duh)

Here are those online resources I promised for verifying the steps I listed above:

Let me know if there’s something I forgot or should have included. Happy computing!


My Take on the BEST Writing Tool

I attended the New England Crime Bake last month for the second year in a row. Once again, I came home with the BEST advice and innumerable insights that have helped me immeasurably with my writing.

This year, one of the panelists at a workshop I attended, a multi-published author, mentioned that she uses Scrivener to write her books and wouldn’t consider writing a book using any other tools/software. I checked the software out, was impressed, and downloaded the free trial.

What appealed to me about the software was its claims that I could not only write my book in the software, I could also keep all my research notes, photos, resources, resource URLs, etc. in the same program AND refer to them while I was writing. Here’s why this appealed to me, and why I didn’t hesitate to spend the very reasonable $49 fee for a license to the product (which I can download on multiple devices):

  • I’d been writing my books (and all my works in progress) in Microsoft Word
  • I’d been keeping all my story notes, research, resources, images, URLs, etc. in Microsoft OneNote
  • I had to keep 2 programs open all the time when I was writing (or plotting, or researching), and switch back and forth between them (when traveling, or working on my laptop, this proved to be a difficult task–especially with respect to way saved my files in the cloud and had my syncing between devices set up)

There was a little learning curve once I started using Scrivener, but that was shortened immensely by the fact that I read the entire manual while I had the program open before I began doing anything with it. (I didn’t bother reading the fourth section of the manual Final Phases, until after I’d been using the software for a while.)

I absolutely ADORE Scrivener. One of my favorite things about it is I can write each scene separately. Sure, if I want to write each chapter with all its scenes intact, I can do that, too. But if something comes to me and I just want to write, I have that flexibility. All the scenes, chapters, folders, etc. are kept in a Binder that shows in a navigation pane. I can move anything around by simply clicking and dragging.

For those of you who HAVE to outline and write in order, Scrivener lets you do that. For those of you who write organically, you can just write scenes and then stitch them together later. And for those of you like me, who outline AND write organically depending upon the moment … and the characters it’s wonderful.

You can use Scrivener with Microsoft and Mac, and you can easily export the files of your choice into any of the following formats: DOC, DOCX, PDF, RTF, TXT, ODT, HTML, XHTML, PS, EPUB, MOBI, MMD, FODT, OPML, and TEX.

Do any of you use it? If so, tell me what you do and don’t like about it? If you don’t use it, check it out!

Here’s the link for Scriveners for Windows, and here’s the link for Scrivener for Mac OS, and here’s the link for Scrivener for iOS.