Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Can I claim so-and-so as a dependent?" - A Handy Flowchart

The IRS rules for claiming a dependent can be complicated. If you just want a quick answer about whether or not you can claim an individual as a dependent (or if you yourself can be claimed as a dependent), check out this flowchart I made:

Tax Dependent Flow Chart

Another more thorough tool is the IRS' own "quiz " where you actual answer questions about yourself and your potential dependent to determine eligibility. This tool covers more special cases than my flow chart does.

If you'd like to see a video walkthrough of this flow chart, click here.

This Flowchart gives a general overview only. Many special cases apply and are covered in more detail in IRS publication 501.

Examples of special cases:
Foster children, Kidnapped children, death of person, shared custody, divorce mid-year, relationships that violate local law, temporary absences, child files joint return but only to claim refund of withheld tax, permanently and totally disabled persons, qualifying child of more than one person, etc.

Flowchart built using information for tax year 2014.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"All truth is relative." Or is it?

Growing up in a Christian school, I frequently heard about how atheists and secular humanists and "post-modernists" don't believe in anything or think that all truth is relative. What is it like now being on the other side? Is that how I would characterize "truth" 10 years later, and a secular humanist myself? No, simply because the word "truth" can refer to at least three types of claims:

1) Claims about the state of the natural universe
2) Claims about the supernatural / spiritual
3) Claims about morality

The idea of "relative" truth is very different for each.

Only a very small minority of people in the secular world could be considered relativists regarding truth claims of type #1. We all rely on scientific observation and logic to determine things about the universe. "The moon exists, and is primarily responsible for the tides". "I am taller than you". "The light will not turn on unless the circuit is closed." All scientific progress would be impossible without a general consensus that such claims are "objective". Their truth exists independently of any observer.

Even most claims of type 2 are not "relative."I propose that claims such as "Prayer has the power to heal," "demon possession is a real phenomenon that can be observed and cured," and "The constellation that the sun passes through in the month of your birth effects your personality and destiny" are NOT relativistic. They are absolutely objective claims about reality, and in some cases can be tested.

The 3rd bucket is only a subset of of truth claims. It includes things like "Homosexuality is wrong" "It is never OK to kill a human being" "Torture is sometimes permissible" "Testing shampoo on animals is for the greater good." This is the ONLY type of truth claim that is potentially "relative."

I once read an article by the "Christian Research Institute" that said some of the following things about what is apparently a "post-modernist" culture taking over the secular world, for whom all truth is relative:
  • "At the heart of the issue is whether or not objective truth exists."
  • "Postmodernists deny this shared reality. "
  • "Postmodernists claim we are really creating truth as we interpret."
  • "[About post-modernists] Truth claims are created by “belief communities,” not discovered by reason, observation, or revelation."
  • "In postmodern culture, it’s impossible to separate what people believe from who they are, because the act of believing something makes it true (for those who believe)"
All of these statements are really laughable misrepresentations of the actual beliefs of most of the secular world. The quotes imply the scope of those statements is all types of truth claims, instead of a very small subset: truth claims about morality. The article goes on to teach Christians how to evangelize to the post-modernist thinker, these strange beings that believe all truth is relative which apparently make up the majority of the secular world.

The fundamental mistake of lumping all types of truth claims together results in really poor advice for evangelism since it shows a complete lack of understanding of the worldview of those being witnessed to.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Why I am voting for Bernie Sanders

As we move into the 2016 election season, I'm planning to support Bernie Sanders for the Democratic party nomination, and hopefully voting for him in the general election. Bernie Sanders is an old guy who has served Vermont in both houses of Congress for many years. He seems like a true "for-the-people" selfless politician. As far as I can tell, he is not in the pocket of the big corporations: his net worth is lower than nearly every other senator, and he gets his own laundry, and says he won't launch a Super PAC and doesn't want billionaires to bankroll his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Why do I support him? Well, I'll start by explaining my position on a bunch of the hot-topic issues. The ones highlighted in blue are ones where Bernie Sanders aligns with my stance, and ones highlighted in red are where I disagree with him. Non-highlighted issues are ones that I'm not sure of Bernie's stance on.

I lean left on these policies

  • Government subsidization of alternative energy
  • Drug decriminalization / legalization
  • Moving towards public / universal healthcare
  • Reduce military spending and in most cases, reduce foreign military presence
  • Generally support higher taxes to pay for social programs
  • Environmental protection, government action in mitigating climate change
  • Eliminate / reduce capital punishment
  • "Voter ID laws" are mostly voter suppression. I'd support making election day a national holiday or vote on weekends. 
  • Net Neutrality
  • I think I'm a supporter of moving towards some sort of "basic income". I think it's just absolutely required as we move more towards an automated workforce.
  • Regulation of financial industry

I lean right on these policies

  • Affirmative action in hiring and college entrance requirements is inappropriate and may do more harm than good
  • Gun owner rights
  • Against government "bailouts" of failing private corporations (like banks) for the sake of economic stability (I'd say avoid these failures altogether with stronger regulations)

I lean libertarian or "other" on  these policies

  • I hate gerrymandering, Super PACS, and Citizens United
  • I am very much against government surveillance of citizens activity on the internet, support civil liberties
  • Expand nuclear power generation (unsure if this lines up more with the left or the right?)
  • I think marriages should be removed entirely from the public sphere, and be left to religious institutions if desired. This is a long shot, so in the meantime I will whole-heartedly support legalization of same-sex marriage (leans left)

No Opinion on / Unsure of my opinion on...

  • Immigration issues (should children of illegal immigrants get citizenship? Should illegal immigrants be denied healthcare?)
  • Abortion
  • Free Trade, globalization, US participation in UN,
  • Education: vouchers for private schools, charter schools
  • Labor / Unions
  • Should a business be able to deny service to a customer for any reason?
  • How to solve the problem of college education cost in the US

Online political surveys

I took 3 online surveys where I note my opinion on the issues, and the software displays results showing which candidate most closely matches my stances

Bernie Sanders is the top result, but notice that he still only "43%" aligns with me, and there were other candidates ("less socialist") that I aligned with more on economic issues.

My results from : (Didn't pair me with a candidate, just a party)

Why not Hillary Clinton?

  • I get the vibe from her that she is a complete demagogue and in the pockets of the big corporations
  • She didn't support gay marriage until it was convenient a couple years ago
  • Voted for the Iraq War
  • Questionable or non-existent opposition to Citizens United
  • Voted for the Patriot Act
  • She epitomizes the idea the democracy in the US is broken, and that you can't get elected without billions of dollars and being part of the "establishment" or the elite
  • Clinton Foundation shenanigans (accepting what is effectively bribe money)
  • She or doesn't support relaxation of drug laws (or didn't until it became popular)

Background reading: In the 2012 general presidential election, I explained why I chose to vote for Gary Johnson in this post. Some of my opinions on the issues have changed since then, but the logic of voting for a "long-shot" candidate in the general election still stands. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Get paid $100 an hour with credit card churning

I've recently discovered the world of credit card "churning". The term officially refers to people that apply to a credit card, reap a sign-up bonus, cancel the card, and repeat (in another year or so).

However, "churning" commonly refers to any use of credit cards primarily for sign-up bonuses and rewards. You'll find that most of these offers come with bonuses in the form of airline miles. I don't travel much, so I don't find these worth my time. However I've already opened two credit cards in the past 6 months that give flat cash bonuses ($100-$200) for simply opening the account and meeting some minimum spending requirements. In both cases the requirement was simply to spend $500 on the card in the first 90 days. This was pretty easy to meet with just my normal spending on groceries, restaurants, and gas. It took me less than an hour of time to apply for the card, activate it, and stick it in the front of my wallet for three months (to remind myself that I should use it on my normal daily spending)

The first one I did was the Chase Freedom Card. They still have the offer: a free $100 bonus when you open the account and meet the $500 spending requirement. Click the link below to apply (and I get $50 for referring you!)

Easy Peasy. A nice present from Chase Bank. If you are looking for a good daily use card, this one isn't bad anyways (no annual fee, rotating 5% cash back categories)