When I recently hosted an online discussion, I wondered if I would get bombarded with questions about the automatic federal spending cuts that have dominated the news out of Washington.
What I heard came from people trying to deal with the everyday personal financial issues that dominate their lives. Here are some examples, and my answers.
Q: How do my husband and I know when or if it's time to hire someone to help with our taxes? We bought our first house this past year, have made significant donations to charity and yet we still owe money. That has me wondering if we've missed something.
A: There really isn't a rule of thumb about when to bring in a professional. But the federal tax code has become so complicated and ever changing that the vast majority of Americans need the help of a professional tax preparer or tax preparation software. Close to 60 percent of taxpayers hire someone to prepare their returns and another 30 percent use software that can cost $50 or more.
"To inspire confidence and trust, the tax laws should be comprehensible and the computations of tax should be transparent and relatively simple, yet few taxpayers today can confidently say they understand the tax code or even that they have correctly computed their tax liabilities," wrote Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate, in her annual report to Congress.
And the complexity of the code allows sophisticated taxpayers or the people they hire to "find loopholes that enable them to reduce or eliminate their tax liabilities," Olson said.
It's this last point that fuels the tax preparation business. We are all afraid we will miss a deduction. "No one wants to feel like a 'tax chump' -- paying more while suspecting that others are taking advantage of loopholes to pay less," Olson wrote in an earlier report.