We’ve moved!

Nolo’s Disability Blog has moved and now resides on our partner site, disabilitysecrets.com. I will still be answering readers’ disability questions, occasionally joined by guest blogging disability attorneys from around the country. Please visit us on the “Ask Your Disability Question” page on disability secrets.com, where you can find our entire archive of past questions and answers.

Don’t Forget Form 1095-A

Take the IRS’s advice and don’t file your 2014 return before you receive Form 1095-A.

For folks who enrolled in a health plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace (the “exchange”) in 2014 wait until the exchange sends you this form, which should be any time now.  It will contain information needed to compute your premium tax credit and reconcile advance payments of the credit made on your behalf to your insurance provider with the actual amount of premium tax credit claimed on your return.

Arizona Students to Find Out How Bizarre the U.S. Citizenship Exam Is

TJWas anyone surprised last year when over 1,000 American survey respondents put in a pathetic performance answering questions from the U.S. citizenship exam, such as what the three branches of the U.S. government are and which party controls the House and the Senate?

Asking people questions from the citizenship exam has long been every immigration lawyer’s favorite party game. Some of the questions are guaranteed to stump a crowd, especially back in the days when applicants had to name all 13 original colonies.

(After a test revision a few years back, this was reduced to three.)

The state of Arizona’s reported response to this “crisis,” however — passing a law mandating that wannabe high school graduates pass the U.S. citizenship test before they can receive their diplomas — seems misguided. And we can probably add it to the list of instances when teachers are forced to spend time on exam prep that could have gone to a far more meaningful activity.

Here’s the thing: The U.S. citizenship exam is weird. It was created for a limited and unusual purpose. The U.S. government can’t, or at least will never devote the resources to, give every green card holder who wants to become a citizen a complete course in U.S. history, government, and society. Instead, it asks applicants to study a set list of 100 questions, and to regurgitate the answers. (Or, at least, successfully answer six out of ten of them, with the questions chosen by the examiner during the citizenship interview. That’s different than what Arizona students will face — they have to get 60 out of the whole 100 right.)

Take a look at the list: It contains disjointed questions like, “When is the last day you can send in federal income tax forms?,” “What is one responsibility that is only for U.S. citizens?,” “What did Susan B. Anthony do?,” and “Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?”

You could have a Ph.D. in U.S. history and having trouble answering some of them, because you actually have to get the wording right. For example, there’s a question, “What did Martin Luther King, Jr., do?” Last I looked, he did a number of important things — whole college courses are devoted to him alone. But there are only two possible answers that will be recognized as correct: He either “fought for civil rights” or “worked for equality for all Americans.”

I’d much rather know that Arizona students (and those in any other states that might be tempted to follow Arizona’s lead) had participated in some in-depth discussion of the topics so briefly touched on in the citizenship exam, such as the civil rights movement, the structure of the U.S. political system, and so on, than that they can pass the exam itself. Let’s leave the latter for party games, and for the immigrants in the unusual situation of having to prove their knowledge of the U.S. all in one sitting.

Beware the ‘Dirty Dozen’

IRS has become known for annually itemizing its “Dirty Dozen” tax scams expected to be seen somewhere throughout the upcoming filing season.   This year’s list is out, and “abusive tax shelters” are again prominently included.

Such “schemes,” as IRS describes them, have evolved from foreign trust arrangements into sophisticated strategies which take advantage of the financial secrecy laws of some foreign jurisdictions.

If you’re into any of these (including some trust structures put forth by unscrupulous promoters) get ready for a call from the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, and get some legal advice right away.

Will You Sell Your Home in 2015?

house w_cherry treeIf you’ve been thinking about selling your house, the magic 8-ball may give you the go-ahead in 2015. At the very least, Kiplinger’s thinks this will be a good year in which to sell. Income and employment are on the rise, naturally driving up demand for housing. (See “Kiplinger’s Economic Outlooks.”) Interest rates shouldn’t rise too much, either, making mortgage loans accessible to a wide pool of buyers.

But you’ll want to act quickly. The spring season is usually the most advantageous for selling — flowers are blooming, families with children want to move in summertime so as not to disrupt the school year, and one “For Sale” sign just seems to lead to another.

So, it’s February already. How soon can you get a home on the market? Here’s how Carol Neil, a Berkeley-based broker with over 30 years of experience, explains it within Nolo’s latest book (fresh out in its first edition!), Selling Your House:

Two months is an ideal amount of prep time once you get an agent involved. Some houses don’t need that much time, and a good agent can whip things into gear in a matter of days — but I’ve also worked with sellers for over a year to get the place ready. The houses that tend to need the most prep are the ones that the seller has lived in for the longest time. They’ve lived with the problems and don’t see them.

Of course, there’s lots you can do even before getting an agent involved, as the book also discusses. There’s no time for decluttering like the present!