Question: Working couples get a tax break when they pay someone to take care of their children so they can both work. Isn't it about time that a woman who stays home should get a tax credit too? After all, her work at home has some value -- and the family is losing the money she could earn at a paying job.
Answer: Certainly a woman who works full-time at managing a household is contributing her fair share -- and sometimes more -- to the procurement of the family income. And it's a difficult and demanding job requiring a wide range of skills.
It would seem logical, therefore, to ask that a one-income family be granted a child-care credit as a percentage of the income that the homemaker has given up in favor of working at home.
But tax regulations are not produced in a vacuum; they are products of their times. Until recent years the traditional family -- husband working outside the home, wife inside -- was the rule rather than the exception. The child-care credit was an attempt to provide tax help for a minority with a special problem.
In addition, the development of changes in tax laws is an exercise in pragmatism -- often a quite different thing from logic.
When a wife works outside the home, her salary is definable income that can be taxed. The child-care credit -- although it also serves a social purpose -- derives from a presumption that the cost of child care is a necessary expense incurred in the production of that taxable income.
The tax credit is not really much of a reward for working outside the home. Remember that the credit itself is only 20 percent of the cost of the care, and cannot exceed $400, ($800 for more than one child).
The child-care credit is only one of several apparent inequities stemming from differences in marital and family status. These problems will certainly be addressed by the Congress from time to time, but don't look for any fast action.
In any case, if history is any guide, good faith attempts to correct a particular inequity usually result in another unforeseen inequity affecting other people. I guess how a particular tax rule hits you personally determines whether you think the rule is a tax loophole or a fair-shake tax break.
Q. My father died in 1961 and left me 50 shares of Packard-Bell stock, worth then around $10 a share. Subsequently the company was absorbed by Teledyne, and I received three shares of Teledyne in exchange for the Packard-Bell shares. Since then I have received stock dividends, and I now own 13 shares of Teledyne. My question: If I sell these shares, now, how do I figure my cost basis for tax purposes?
A. Your cost basis is the value of the shares of Packard-Bell as it was entered on your father's estate tax return. (At the discretion of the executor, this could have been either the value of the date of death or an alternative valuation date.)
If the estate was so small that no estate or inheritance return was filed, then use the value of the shares on the date of death. The cost basis is not affected by the stock dividends.
Most brokerage houses either have no hand or have access to a historical record of share values. So if you don't know the share price on the date of death, ask your regular broker -- if you have one -- or go to any broker's office and ask for help. They generally will provide this research service at no charge.
By the way: yields on money market funds have dropped rapidly with the recent decline in interest rates.
If you have a substantial amount of cash in a money market fund, this is a good time to review your investment objectives. Take a good look at what the fund is now paying, and measure the return against what is available in other investment media.
A money market fund makes a great "parking place" for short-term savings. But it is not necessarily the best place for your long-term investment money. This may be a good time for a shift.