PROFESSIONAL FREEDOM TAX SERVICE
Tax Service Blog
Tax Service Blog
|Posted on February 19, 2019 at 3:37 PM||comments (74)|
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|Posted on December 6, 2014 at 12:31 PM||comments (52)|
Nobody wants to be audited. But about 1 in 150 of us will experience some type of audit in our lifetime. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you avoid these six potential red flags, you may be able reduce your chances of getting the dreaded audit notice in the future.
1. You don’t disclose all of your income.
This one sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised. The IRS gets copies of your W-2’s, 1099’s that report your interest, dividends, capital gains and losses from investments (sales of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc), compensation paid to you as a self-employed independent contractor, and other income items. Make sure you collect all of your statements from work, investments, etc., because they sure will. Also, when it comes to taxes, it’s smart to measure twice, cut once. Make sure that someone (whether it’s you or your accountant) double checks your return.
2. You have a big mouth.
Never, never brag (especially on social media) that you pulled a fast one on the IRS. In today’s economic climate, the IRS does more trolling than ever before — especially on social websites like Facebook and Twitter. Not to mention the fact that whistleblowers can earn some significant rewards (15% to 30% by filing form 211) for turning in cheats.
3. The dreaded home office tax deduction.
The home office tax deduction has been a long-standing audit red flag item. The IRS recently created a limited safe harbor that allows taxpayers to take a deduction of $5 per square foot up to 300 square feet. Remember to ask yourself whether an office is being provided for you by your employer even if you work a good amount out of the home — better safe than sorry.
4. You have an unincorporated business (Schedule C Sole Proprietor).
If your tax return includes Schedule C, which is used by sole proprietors and self-employed independent contractors to report their business income and deductions, you have a higher likelihood of being audited by the IRS. Schedule C filers are more likely to file an incorrect tax return, as many are self-prepared, and they tend to under-report income and over-report deductions. Also, as a Schedule C filer reporting operating losses over a period of years, the IRS could consider your business a hobby if you haven’t turned a profit over three of the last five years. If this happens, you could have your deductions disallowed by the IRS.
5. You make too much money.
Sounds like a high class problem, right? But the statistics back it up. As you make more money, you have a higher percentage chance of facing an audit- especially business owners that have an LLC or an S Corporation. Here are the odds:
6. You were too charitable.
Donating is great, but you run a higher risk when you claim above $500 in non-cash charitable donations. To mitigate this risk, be sure you file form 8283 and have very clear documentation. A good website to use for basic item valuations is www.satruck.com (see the Donation Value Guide).
Part of the auditing process is highly randomized, so you may not be able to avoid an audit regardless of how careful you are. But using these tips can help shrink your risk!
|Posted on April 5, 2014 at 2:52 PM||comments (34)|
Money can be a tough subject. In some families it is taboo. Other times it is just too abstract. Here, Kate Ashford outlines a few fun and concrete ways to talk about finances with your children.
As parents, we pass a lot of wisdom on to our children, but we seem to be leaving money know-how up to chance.
I recently realized that my oldest daughter, who just turned five, doesn’t know a penny from a quarter. That may not seem significant, but part of the problem with financial literacy today is that money isn’t tangible anymore. Americans are using plastic for about three-quarters of all point-of-sale purchases, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research. That means kids aren’t seeing money exchanged, and they aren’t handling it or seeing their parents handle it very often.
Here are a few strategies for upping your kids’ financial games:
If you are primarily a credit card user—and most of us are—your children see you use a piece of plastic to magically buy things. They have no idea that you must then pay for the charges on that piece of plastic with the money you have earned. The more you can show your children that you must pay cash for the things that you buy, the more concretely they will understand how money works.
Try this: Consider a piggy bank with compartments, such as the Money Savvy Pig, which allows your child to watch change pile up for saving, spending, donating and investing
Give them hands-on practice.
You wouldn’t send your child out the door with the keys to your car without a few test drives, would you? (If you would, there are different things you should be reading right now.) The only way your children will ever learn to manage money is by doing just that—managing it. An allowance is a great learning tool, and you can start when children are very young. Many experts recommend one dollar per week per year of age (so, $5 a week for a 5-year-old) but you can play that by ear. As they get older, you can make them responsible for an increasing amount of their own expenses. If they have to shell out their own cash for those expensive shoes, they might reconsider it.
Try this: Offer younger children the ability to make extra cash by doing odd jobs around the house, such as weeding the garden, watering plants or washing the car.
If you give your children money, they will spend it. Promote savings—and teach the power of compound interest—by matching your kids’ long-term savings with your own money. That might include saving for a car or college. Just be prepared—if you make the offer, they may save more than you anticipated.
Try this: Steer your children toward the Compound Interest Calculator on Investor.gov so they can see how much money they can amass over time. Real numbers can be more persuasive than a parent nattering on about interest and savings rates.
Teach them the ways of plastic.
For the love of Mastercard, please do not send your kids to college without understanding how credit cards work. You don’t have to get them one; you can start with a debit card linked to a savings account—preferably theirs—at a local bank. Show them how to track their balance and consider letting them bounce a transaction or two so they realize that going over budget has consequences.
Try this: If you use a credit card, have your children sit next to you while you pay the bill each month. Show them the interest rate and explain what would happen if you didn’t pay the balance in full each month. The goal: That your child won’t be a college student who graduates with $3,000 in credit card debt, which was the average for the Class of 2013.
|Posted on March 26, 2014 at 2:05 PM||comments (36)|
During the current tax season, the Police Department has seen a drastic increase in fraudulent IRS related incidents and would like to caution residents who may be purchasing a Green Dot, or other prepaid debit card, under threat of prosecution for tax issues.
Several cases have been reported in which victims received phone calls from individuals claiming to be local law enforcement officers and/or agents with the IRS. In each case, the caller claimed the victim was delinquent in his/her tax payment and instructed the victim to purchase pre-paid debit cards in order to repay the taxes, threatening that the victim would be arrested if he/she failed to comply. During each of the incidents, the caller(s) have been concealing their phone numbers in order to give the appearance that the phone calls are originating from law enforcement or the IRS.
Neither the IRS, nor any law enforcement agency, will ever request payment over the telephone. If you receive any suspicious calls instructing you to provide money or personal information over the telephone, ask for a call back number and contact the local police department in order to verify the legitimacy of the caller. If you believe that you have been a victim of a similar scam, call the police or the IRS to report the incident.
|Posted on March 26, 2014 at 1:06 PM||comments (77)|
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|Posted on March 13, 2014 at 3:05 PM||comments (146)|
Ed Note:When you lose a job, you lose more than just a paycheck. You also lose any employer-paid health insurance benefits. Fortunately, you have lots of options for keeping or replacing your current health insurance policy.
Getting laid off will make you feel bad enough, but realizing that you now have to figure out what to do about your health insurance can fill you with absolute dread. While we can’t get you a new job, we can help you sort out the options you have when you lose employer-paid health insurance.
As long as your employer has 20 or more workers, you can keep the health insurance coverage you got from your job for up to 18 months thanks to COBRA. The catch? You have to pay for it — and the average employer-paid family health insurance policy costs about $1,400 a month.
Fortunately, you get 60 days to decide whether you want to continue the policy and then another 45 days to pay your first premium.
Since you have two months to decide, don’t say yes or no to COBRA right away. Instead, work the system to your advantage. If you have significant medical bills during the 60-day window, you can sign up at any point during those 60 days and get retroactive coverage.
Meanwhile, ask Human Resources for a list of all the health insurance plans your company offers. If your former employer offers a lower-cost policy, you may be able to switch into it if you end up unemployed for more than 60 days.
Also ask if your employer-provided coverage will go through the end of the month. If it does, get your prescriptions refilled and doctor visits in before you lose coverage.
The Health Insurance Marketplace
During the 60-day COBRA window, check out your other options, starting with the Health Insurance Marketplace which is an online source of information about state and federal health care exchanges and coverage options.
Filling out the online Marketplace forms can be tedious.
Nevertheless, at this website you'll find out:
Avoid the temptation of going with the lowest monthly premium. Check out all the costs of the plans, including co-pays, deductibles and the total amount you’d have to pay if you rack up high medical bills.
In the current economy, about one-third of jobless workers remain unemployed for more than six months. If you know you can’t afford COBRA coverage that long, you may need to move to a lower-cost marketplace insurance policy within 60 days of losing your job.
There are enrollment windows for the marketplace policies. In 2014, the open-enrollment period ends March 31. The 2015 enrollment window is Nov. 15, 2014 to Jan. 15, 2015. If you lose your job or your income changes, you can enroll even if you’re outside the enrollment window. However, your ability to enroll outside the enrollment period lasts only for 60 days — starting on the date you lost your job or your income changed.
As Income Drops, Health Insurance Choices Grow
Medicaid covers low-income Americans and people with disabilities. Some states have expanded Medicare coverage to individuals with income above the federal poverty line so you should check if your state is among them. The Children’s Health Insurance Program covers children and sometimes pregnant women.
Options When You Can’t Afford Coverage
Don’t like the options you’re seeing? Here are some other sources to try:
Tax Penalties for the Uninsured
Being without health insurance could cost you at tax time. The Affordable Care Act penalizes Americans who have no health coverage. For 2014, the penalty is 1 percent of your annual income or $95, whichever is more. You’ll also pay a $47.50 penalty for each uninsured child, up to a family maximum of $285. The penalties can be a bit complicated to decipher, so read up on the specifics and check out the exact equation.
|Posted on March 10, 2014 at 1:15 PM||comments (33)|
While the vast majority of Americans say cheating on taxes is unacceptable, a good amount think it's perfectly fine to under-report income, claim bogus deductions and inflate credits.
When asked how acceptable it is to cheat on taxes, if at all, 12% of respondents answered "a little here and there" or "as much as possible," according to a survey from the IRS Oversight Board that polled 1,000 people.
That's up slightly from 11% in 2012 and up from a low of 9% in 2008.
Corresponding with that increase, the survey found that opinions about the IRS have grown more negative, with an increasing number of people saying the agency devotes too many resources to enforcement instead of consumer services.
A record-low 39% of taxpayers feel the IRS "maintains a proper balance between its enforcement and service programs." And while most respondents said they support extra funding for the IRS, that percentage slipped from 67% in 2012 to 59% in 2013.
Bad financial situations may also drive some people to cheat, as they feel less able to afford an extra check to the government. Instead, they're putting their money toward financial necessities like medical bills, said Valrie Chambers, a professor of accounting at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi.
"They justify not paying because they are paying all they can for something more important," said Chambers. "These are sad cases to see, and are probably more prevalent since the recession of 2008."
Others feel they have been cheated by the U.S. government and therefore want to "even the score" by cheating on their taxes, while still others oppose how the government would spend their money, said Chambers.
No matter how you justify cheating on your taxes, be ready to cough up a big fine if you're caught.
If you underpaid, you'll need to first pay the IRS what you owe. You'll also incur significant extra penalties and, depending on the case, you could even face prison time.
On the other hand, you could collect a hefty ransom if you're willing to rat someone else out for cheating on their taxes. The IRS will pay 15% to 30% of any amount exceeding $2 million that it collects from the tax cheat you turn in. For less than $2 million, you get a maximum award of 15%.
The good news, however, is that the majority of Americans aren't cheaters -- at least that's what they say. About 86% of respondents said it's "not at all" acceptable to cheat on taxes. Most said that honestly reporting their taxes is a matter of integrity, followed by fears of being audited or because they know the IRS receives information from third parties. Others say they are honest because they believe their friends and neighbors are.
|Posted on March 8, 2014 at 5:06 PM||comments (47)|
Ed note: There’s a lot to understand about the new Affordable Care Act, but the issue that has many people very confused is the penalty. The Tax Institute’s lead tax research analyst Lindsey Buchholz explains when and how the penalty could affect you.
If you are required to have minimum essential health care insurance in 2014, you need to act quickly if you have not enrolled. The deadline for open enrollment in a Marketplace health insurance plan will close on March 31, 2014.
If you don’t enroll before March 31, and are not eligible for an exemption, you will likely be charged the penalty on your 2014 tax return you file in 2015. After open enrollment closes, you cannot enroll in a Marketplace plan unless you have a qualifying life event that allows you to enroll in coverage outside of open enrollment. A qualifying life event includes moving to a new area with different coverage, loss of other health coverage, marriage, divorce and having a baby.
What’s the penalty?
For 2014, the penalty is 1% of your yearly household income less your filing threshold or $95 per person without coverage ($47.50 for each child under 18), up to a maximum of $285. Whichever number is greater will be used.
Remember: if you decide to pay the penalty instead of purchasing health insurance, you will have to pay for any medical expenses fully out-of-pocket.
The penalty is figured monthly and there are exemptions for a short gap in coverage. If you’re uninsured for just part of the year, 1/12 of the yearly penalty applies to each month you’re uninsured. However, if you’re uninsured for a continuous period of less than 3 months, you are exempt from the penalty for those months.
There are several other types of exemptions from the penalty, visit healthcare.gov for more information.
|Posted on March 6, 2014 at 4:52 PM||comments (38)|
Apple is said to have been on a hiring spree in China and Taiwan in an attempt to speed up the development of a pair of bigger, phablet-style iPhones, according to a recent report.
The news comes from The Wall Street Journal, which explains that Apple has been hiring staff away from companies including HTC, and argues that the Cupertino, Calif. company is planning on “faster and more frequent product launches.” In particular, The Wall Street Journal continues to claim that two larger-sized iPhones are incoming and should launch before the year's end.
The article explains:
Apple is also looking to increase “its number of supply-chain managers in the wake of criticism over factory conditions at some of its suppliers,” the publication adds.
Despite its recent efforts to bring a degree of product and component production to the United States (with the Mac Pro and its recent sapphire plant in Arizona), Apple's presence in Asia is only continuing to grow. Jobs are markedly varied, The Wall Street Journal notes, and range “from working with suppliers on hardware development for touchscreens and cameras, to electrical engineering and software quality assurance.”
***As a reminder, we've heard from a number of different sources that at least one bigger iPhone is set to launch in 2014.
|Posted on March 3, 2014 at 2:57 PM||comments (92)|
The ranks of the world’s billionaires continue to scale new heights–and stretch to new corners of the world. Our global wealth team found 1,645 billionaires with an aggregate net worth of $6.4 trillion, up from $5.4 trillion a year ago. We unearthed 268 new ten-figure fortunes, including a record 42 new women billionaires. In total, there are 172 women on the list, more than ever before and up from 138 last year.
Bill Gates is back on top after a four-year hiatus, reclaiming the title of world’s richest person from telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu of Mexico, who ranked No. 1 for the past four years. Gates, whose fortune rose by $9 billion in the past year, has held the top spot for 15 of the past 20 years. Spanish clothing retailer Amancio Ortega (best known for the Zara fashion chain) retains the No. 3 spot for the second year in a row, extending his lead over Warren Buffett, who is again No. 4. American gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who added $11.5 billion to his pile, makes it back into the top ten for the first time since 2007. Another first: A record net worth of $31 billion was needed to make the top 20, up from $23 billion last year.
For bios on all 1,645 billionaires, go to www.forbes.com/billionaires.
1. Bill Gates
$76 billion (UP)
Source: Microsoft, investments
Residence: Medina, Wash.
He's back. Helped by a bounce in shares of Microsoft, Bill Gates returns to the top of our annual Billionaires List this year after a four year hiatus. He is worth $9 billion more than a year ago, and has now been the world’s richest person for 15 out of the past 20 years. The Microsoft cofounder, who stepped down as chairman in February, has agreed to spend more time helping the software company’s product managers work on innovations. Meanwhile, Gates, who has given away more than $28 billion in his lifetime, remains focused on his foundation's efforts to eradicate polio (he secured $335 million in pledges to the cause from billionaire comrades, including $100 million each from Mexico's Carlos Slim and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) and getting fellow billionaires more involved with philanthropy. ]
2. Carlos Slim & Family
$72 billion (DOWN)
His four-year run as world’s richest person has come to an end, primarily because shares of Minera Frisco, his mining company, have fallen more than 50% in the past year as the price of gold and copper plummeted. That plus a dip in the value of his largest asset, pan-Latin American telecom firm America Movil, combined to knock $1 billion off his net worth, making him the only billionaire among the world’s 10 richest to get poorer in the past year. America Movil has come under pressure in Mexico after the passage of a new anti-monopoly telecom and media law. America Movil has 70% or more market share of both the landline and mobile markets in Mexico. Slim also holds a controlling interest in industrial conglomerate Grupo Carso, financial venture Grupo Financiero Inbursa, real estate enterprise Inmuebles Carso and infrastructure development and operating company Impulsora del Desarrollo y el Empleo en América Latina, or Ideal. He continues to hold minority stakes in U.S. companies Saks Fifth Avenue and The New York Times Co.
3. Amancio Ortega
$64 billion (UP)
Residence: La Coruna, Spain
World’s richest retailer Ortega added $7 billion to his fortune this past year, expanding the gap between him and number four, Warren Buffett. He is up a total of $26.5 billion in the past two years. Though he stepped down as chairman of Inditex (best known for its Zara brand) in 2011, he still owns nearly 60% of its shares. He also has a growing real estate portfolio, estimated to be worth nearly $4 billion, much of it acquired at bargain prices during the financial downturn. Among his properties: the iconic Torre Picasso, a 43-story skyscraper in Madrid (Google is a tenant). In the past year, he’s bought four new buildings in Madrid, New York and London for around $830 million, taking the number of buildings he owns to 26. A railway worker's son, he started as a gofer in a shirt store. With then-wife Rosalia Mera, now deceased, he started making dressing gowns and lingerie in their living room. They had a daughter Sandra, and a son, Marcos. Ortega is now married to Flora Perez Marcote, with whom he had another daughter, Marta.
4. Warren Buffett
Dave Weaver/AP Images for Dairy Queen
$58.2 billion (UP)
Source: Berkshire Hathaway
Residence: Omaha, Neb.
Now in his ninth decade, Buffett is still doing huge deals. Last year he teamed up with 3G Capital to pick up iconic ketchup maker H.J. Heinz for $23.2 billion, invested nearly $4 billion in ExxonMobil and a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary bought Nevada's NV Energy for $5.6 billion. All of this helped boost his fortune by $4.7 billion despite his gift of $2 billion in Berkshire stock to the Gates Foundation in July, bringing his lifetime giving to $20 billion. Secret to his success? In his investment letter in 2014, he told Berkshire Hathaway shareholders his best investment wasn't a stock or business, it was buying Benjamin Graham's book "The Intelligent Investor" in 1949. The book’s simple, logically sound approach changed his financial life, he said. As for his advice to investors today, the Oracle of Omaha said in February, as the S&P 500 again touched record levels, to steer clear of market euphoria and focus on the potential for profits over time.
5. Larry Ellison
$48 billion (UP)
Residence: Woodside, Calif.
CEO of Oracle, Ellison is worth $5 billion more in 2014, thanks to rising value of his software company’s shares. In September his Oracle Team USA pulled off a stunning comeback from a seven-race deficit to win its second consecutive America’s Cup sailing race. Ever the competitor, the Oracle cofounder said in an August interview that Apple's best days are behind it since the death of close friend Steve Jobs and that Google's alleged infringement on Oracle's patents in its Android software was "absolutely evil." Ellison collects houses on Malibu's Carbon Beach and also owns of 98% of Hawaii's Lana’i Island. A recently launched website for the island reveals his larger plans, including a 2015 film festival on the island. His daughter Megan is a growing Hollywood powerhouse and has financed a string of critical successes including "American Hustle" and "Zero Dark Thirty."
6. Charles Koch — tied
$40 billion (UP)
Residence: Wichita, Kans.
Inherited & Growing
Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, the country’s second largest private company with sales of $115 billion, a post he’s held since 1967. He is worth $6 billion more than a year ago as Koch Industries steadily expands, buying electronics-components maker Molex for $7.2 billion and cellulose fibers producer Buckeye Technologies for $1.5 billion. He and his brother David, with whom he owns 84% of Koch, are funneling a chunk of their money to try and win the Senate for Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections, prompting Sen. Harry Reid to accuse them in January of "actually trying to buy the country." A Koch spokesman said Reid's comment was "disrespectful and beneath the office he holds."
6. David Koch — tied
$40 billion (UP)
Residence: New York City
Inherited & growing
New York City’s richest resident is $6 billion richer than a year ago. He and his brother Charles, with whom he shares the fortune, own 84% of $115 billion (sales) Koch Industries, America’s second largest private company with interests in oil pipelines, refineries, building materials, paper towels and even Dixie cups. David was a top donor to the Republican Governors Association in 2013, giving $1.25 million to the cause.
8. Sheldon Adelson
$38 billion (UP)
Residence: Las Vegas
Adelson made an average of $45 million a day in 2013, vaulting him into the top 10 richest for the first time since 2007. Shares of his Las Vegas Sands, worth more than all other U.S. casino companies combined, continued climbing thanks to booming business in Asia, where he plans to keep expanding. After several months of talks and negotiations, in December Adelson dropped plans to develop a $30 billion megaproject in Madrid's suburbs. Investors didn't blink -- the stock rose more than 3% the next month. He spent $100 million trying to get a Republican in the White House in 2012. He’s now using his vast fortune to fight Internet gambling in America, pitting himself against some of the biggest names in finance, private equity and gambling. He told FORBES he is willing to "spend whatever it takes" to win.
9. Christy Walton & Family
$36.7 billion (UP)
Residence: Jackson, Wyoming
Walton is the richest woman in the world once again, taking back the spot from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. Walton has now held that title for 4 out of the last 5 years. She inherited her wealth when husband John Walton - a former Green Beret, Vietnam war medic and son of Wal-Mart’s founder - died in an airplane crash in 2005. John's side investment in First Solar had boosted Christy's net worth well above the rest of her family, but the stock sank in 2011, narrowing her lead. First Solar stock has since revived, up 47% in past year, boosting her net worth by $466 million. The bulk of her holdings are in Wal-Mart, the massive retailer founded by her father-in-law Sam Walton and his brother James in 1962. The shares of the retailer are up 6% in past year. Christy received $460 million in Wal-Mart dividends after taxes in 2013.
10. Jim Walton
Jim Walton (left), Alice Walton and Robson Walton (AP Photo/April L. Brown)
$34.7 billion (UP)
Residence: Bentonville, Arkansas
The youngest son of retail visionary Sam Walton saw a nice bump in his wealth last year thanks to a 6% rise in Wal-Mart’s share price. Mr. Sam's store remains a powerhouse worldwide, with 2013 sales of nearly $470 billion and 2.2 million employees in 11,000 stores. Jim took in more than $475 million in dividends after taxes in 2013. He is also the CEO of the Walton family's Arvest Bank, which has branches in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. The bank is worth about $1.8 billion, with net profits of nearly $100 million in 2012.