Good news for parents and their high-achieving kids: Top colleges have NOT gotten tougher to get into

So, time for a bit of good news for anyone who has worried about how they, or a child or grandchild of theirs, will ever get into a decent college: It turns out that the super-low acceptance rates you’ve heard about are partly a matter of what I would call Irrational Overapplication Syndrome.

In short, as Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation explains, an explosion in the number of colleges that students apply to–it’s not uncommon for 17-year-olds to send applications to more that a dozen schools–means that acceptance rates may drop even though schools are NOT more selective than they used to be. “The growth in applications per student creates a vicious cycle, causing admission rates at the best schools to artificially decline, students to become more anxious, and the number of applications per student to grow even more,” writes Carey in The New York Times. Once you eliminate the kids who have no hope of entry to the top schools, the acceptance rates for qualified candidates are not much different than they were in the past.

So, getting into a good school isn’t especially more difficult now than it’s been in the past. Paying for it, on the other hand…

Joe’s op-ed in The Oregonian opposes Portland “street tax”

Here in Portland, the City Council is proposing a street fee in the form of a local income tax. I started adding up some of the fundamental problems I saw with the proposal, and wrote an op-ed for The Oregonian, “Eight Problems With Portland’s Proposed Street Tax.”

The phrase, “the wheels have been greased on this train,” has been used to describe the politics surrounding the proposed tax. We’ll see what happens when the City Council votes on its proposal later in December. A fierce petition campaign to refer this outrageous tax to the electorate may be in the offing.

Sharpton’s financial dealings exposed in NY Times

The Reverend Al Sharpton is in the news again, but not in a way he would like: The New York Times has a long piece rounding up many of his financial adventures, including more than $4.5 million in current state and federal tax liens against Sharpton and his businesses, both for-profit and non-profit.

Some of the financial details go back more than a decade. There may be agreements in place with the federal and state agencies on payments of back taxes, and explanations for how various debts were accumulated. But if you’re running an organization, you never want to see a sentence like the one in the Times that quotes the accountant for one of Sharpton’s non-profits stating that the group’s existence was as least partially dependent upon “the nonpayment of payroll tax obligations.”


Is that friendly tax pro really an undercover federal agent?

Today’s nominee for Stuff You Just Cannot Make Up: The New York Times reports that officers from more than three dozen agencies have posed as business people, welfare recipients, political protesters and–yes–even tax professionals, as part of undercover investigations.

“At the Internal Revenue Service, dozens of undercover agents chase suspected tax evaders worldwide, by posing as tax preparers or accountants or drug dealers or yacht buyers, court records show,” The Times reports.

I’d like to think that IRS officials are going undercover to help ferret out identity theft, which is becoming a huge issue for taxpayers who find out their Social Security Numbers have been stolen (usually when they try to file their returns), money laundering and other illegal operations. But as with all secret government programs, part of the problem here is that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Will Congress — new or old — do anything about expiring tax breaks?

The election is over, the people in their infinite wisdom have spoken…but here we are in mid-November and we still don’t know for sure what the tax laws are going to be for this year.

The problem is that a bunch of tax breaks and benefits have not been extended to 2014. These include:
–The $4,000 deduction for higher education tuition & fees.
–Deductions for state and local sales taxes.
–The ability to donate up to $100,000 from your IRA to a charity instead of taking a taxable required minimum distribution.
–The $250 deduction for classroom expenses for teachers in grades K-12.
–Credits of up to $500 for energy-efficient home improvements.
–The ability of businesses to write off more than $25,000 in new asset purchases.

The Wall Street Journal summarized
tax breaks it thought Congress should address. A lame-duck session might do something about all of this. Or it might do nothing. But either way, until we know for sure what the tax laws are for 2014, the IRS can’t finish programming its computers, which means that this is likely to be another tax season in which taxpayers will be unable to file their returns in early or even late January.

Watch this space for an update.