Protecting Yourself from Scams, ID Theft and Cyber Criminals

Protecting Yourself from Scams, ID Theft and Cyber Criminals

Article Highlights:

  • ID Theft 
  • What’s in Your Wallet or Purse 
  • Phony E-mail 
  • Pop-up Ads 
  • Only Access Secure Websites 
  • Avoid Phishing Scams 
  • Security Software 
  • Educate Children 
  • Passwords 
  • Phony Charities 
  • Impersonating the IRS 
  • Back Up Files 
  • If It Is Too Good to Be True

As much as the Internet has changed our lives for the good, it has also opened us up to threats from crooks from all over the world. They are smart and always coming up with a new trick to separate you from your hard-earned dollars or with an illegal way to use your stolen ID. They apply for loans and credit cards with stolen IDs, file fraudulent tax returns, make purchases with stolen credit card info, and tap into your bank account with stolen account information, and the list goes on. As a result, everyone needs to be very careful and mindful of the tricks used by these scammers to not end up becoming a victim.

This office is committed to using safeguards that protect your information from data theft. To further protect your identity, you can also take steps to stop thieves. This article looks at a variety of tricks and schemes crooks use to dupe individuals, along with actions you can take to avoid being scammed, keep your computer secure, avoid phishing and malware, and protect your personal information.

ID Theft

The primary information ID thieves are looking for is your name, Social Security number, and birth date. So, constantly be aware of where you use that information, and always question anyone’s need for it when they ask. The fewer institutions that have your ID information, the lower the chances your data will be hacked. Treat personal information like cash — don’t hand it out to just anyone. Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and bank and even utility account numbers can be used to help steal a person’s money or open new accounts. Every time you receive a request for personal information, you should think about whether the request is truly necessary. Scammers will do everything they can to appear trustworthy and legitimate.

Stolen IDs are also frequently used by cyber thieves to file fraudulent tax returns in your name, to take advantage of refundable tax credits such as the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and the American Opportunity Education Credit, leaving you to deal with the IRS’s identity theft protocol.

What’s in Your Wallet or Purse

What is in your wallet or purse can make a big difference if it is stolen. Besides the credit cards and whatever cash or valuables you might be carrying, you also need to be concerned about your identity being stolen, which is a far more serious problem. Think about it: your driver’s license has 2 of the 3 keys to your identity. And if you also carry your Social Security card, bingo! An identity thief then has all the information needed.

Phony E-mail

Be aware that an unsolicited e-mail with a request to download an attachment or click on a URL could appear to be from someone you know, such as a friend, work colleague or tax professional. It could be that their e-mail has been hacked and someone else is sending the e-mail, hoping to trick you into some scam. Be alert for suspicious wording or content, and don’t click on any embedded links or attachments if there is any doubt.

Pop-up Ads

Don’t assume Internet advertisements, pop-up ads, or e-mails are from reputable companies. If an ad or offer looks too good to be true, it most likely is not true. Take a moment to check out the company behind it. Type the company or product’s name into a search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”

Only Access Secure Websites

Only provide personal information over reputable, encrypted websites. Shopping or banking online should be done only on sites that use encryption. People should look for “https” at the beginning of a Web address (the “s” stands for “secure”) and be sure “https” is on every page of the site.

Avoid Phishing Scams

The easiest way for criminals to steal sensitive data is simply to ask for it. Learn to recognize phishing e-mails, calls or texts from crooks that pose as familiar organizations such as banks, credit card companies or even the IRS. These ruses generally urge taxpayers to give up sensitive data such as passwords, Social Security numbers and bank account or credit card numbers. They are called phishing scams because they attempt to lure the receiver into taking the bait.

For example, you might get an e-mail disguised as being from your credit card company asking you to verify your password. Companies will never do that because only you have that information, which is why you have to change it if you forget it.

Security Software

It is good practice to use security software. An anti-malware program should provide protection from viruses, Trojans, spyware and adware.

Set security software to update automatically so it can be upgraded as threats emerge. Also, make sure the security software is on at all times. Invest in encryption software to ensure data at rest is protected from unauthorized access by hackers or identity thieves.

You should never download “security” software from a pop-up ad. A pervasive ploy is a pop-up ad that indicates it has detected a virus on your computer. Don’t fall for it. The download most likely will install some type of malware. Reputable security software companies do not advertise in this manner.

Educate Children

Today’s children are probably more adept at using the Internet than their parents but are not mindful of the hazards. Educate your children about not giving out or posting online their Social Security numbers or birth dates. It may also be appropriate not to allow them to use a device that contains sensitive information such as tax returns, financial links, etc. It is not uncommon for crooks to use children’s IDs to file fraudulent tax returns. Also, block your children from freely downloading apps to their mobile devices without parental supervision.

Taxpayers have reported an increase in e-file problems because their children’s SSNs have already been used in a previously e-filed return, which results in the e-filed return being rejected.

Passwords

Use strong passwords. The longer the password, the tougher it will be to crack. Most sites require a minimum of eight characters, with at least one number and one character. Many sources suggest using at least 10 characters; 12 is ideal for most home users. Mix letters, numbers and special characters. Try to be unpredictable — don’t use names, birthdates or common words. Don’t use the same password for many accounts, and don’t share them on the phone, in texts or by e-mail. Consider using a passphrase versus a password. And remember, legitimate companies will not send messages asking for passwords.

Phony Charities

The fraudsters pop up whenever there are natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods, trying to coax you into making donations that will go into the scammer’s pockets and not to helping the victims of the disaster. They use the phone, mail, e-mail, websites and social networking sites to perpetrate their crimes. The following are some tips to avoid fraudulent fundraisers:

  • Donate to known and trusted charities. Be on the alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events. 
  • Ask if a caller is a paid fundraiser, who he/she works for and what percentages of the donation go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If any clear answers are not provided, consider donating to a different organization. 
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information—including a credit card or bank account number—unless the charity is known and reputable. You might end up donating more than you had planned on. 
  • Never send cash. The organization may never receive the donation, and there won’t be a record for tax purposes. 
  • Never wire money to a charity. It’s like sending cash. 
  • If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help a local community agency (such as local police or firefighters), ask the people at the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support. 
  • Verify the charity — Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch or IRS.gov.

Impersonating the IRS

Thieves will try to impersonate the IRS in an attempt to frighten you into making a quick payment, without checking on the validity of you owing any taxes.

The very first thing you should be aware of is that the IRS never initiates contact in any other way than by U.S. mail. So, if you receive an e-mail or a phone call out of the blue with no prior contact, then it is a scam. DO NOT RESPOND to the e-mail or open any links included in the e-mail. If it is a phone call, simply HANG UP.

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone. 
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations. 
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone. 
  • Will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior written notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies. Some scammers even threaten immediate arrest if the payment is not made immediately — don’t be bullied by these criminals.

When in question, never make tax payments or provide any information without calling this office first.

Back Up Files

No system is completely secure. Back up important files, including federal and state tax returns, business books and records, financials and other sensitive data onto remote storage, a removable disc or a back-up drive.

If It Is Too Good to Be True, It Probably Isn’t True

Many e-mail scams are based around supposed foreign lotto winnings, foreign inheritances and foreign quick-buck investment schemes. Don’t let the lure of the dollar signs cloud your better judgement. The only one that makes out in these instances is the cyber crook.

Please call this office if you have any questions.

So, You’ve Made a Mistake on Your Tax Return. What Happens Now?

Made a mistake on your tax return?

Generally speaking, tax return mistakes are a lot more common than you probably realize. Taxes are naturally complicated, and the paperwork required to file them properly is often convoluted. This is especially true if you’re filing your taxes yourself — and all of this is in reference to a fairly normal year as far as the IRS is concerned.

The 2018 tax year, however, certainly does not qualify as a “normal year.”

With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, even seasoned financial professionals are having a hard time digesting all of the changes that they and their clients are now dealing with. All of this is to say that if you’ve just discovered that you’ve made a BIG mistake on your tax return this year, the first thing you should do is stop and take a deep breath. It happens. It’s understandable. There ARE steps that you can take to correct the situation quickly — you just have to keep a few key things in mind.

Fixing Tax Return Mistakes: Here’s What You Need to Do

All told, you have three years from the date that you originally filed your tax return (or two years from the date you paid the tax bill in question) to make any corrections necessary to fix your mistakes. If nothing about your return ultimately changes, you probably don’t have anything to worry about — in fact, there’s a good chance that the IRS will catch the mistake and fix it themselves. This is especially true in terms of math errors, or if you’ve left out an important document. The IRS will probably send you a letter letting you know what happened and what you need to do to correct it.

If fixing the mistake ultimately results in you owing more taxes, you should pay that difference as quickly as possible. Penalties and interest will keep accruing on that unpaid portion of your bill for as long as it takes for you to pay it, so it’s in your best interest to take care of this as soon as you can afford to do so.

If you’ve made a much larger mistake (like if you understated or overstated your income, for example), you’ll need to file what is called an amended tax return. This is essentially your “second chance” at getting things right, and the timetable above still applies. Understand, however, that ALL errors must be corrected in the amended return. This means that if you find three errors that will reduce your tax liability and two that actually increase it, you are legally required to correct all five. You can’t correct only the mistakes that benefit you.

An amended return can be used to correct a variety of issues, including but not limited to ones like:

  • Overstating or understating your income
  • Changing an incorrect filing status
  • Accounting for dependents
  • Taking care of discrepancies in terms of deductions or tax credits

If any of the above apply to the error you’ve just discovered, you can — and absolutely should — file an amended return.

A sudden increase in your tax liability notwithstanding, it’s again important to understand that even “major” errors on your income taxes aren’t really worth stressing out about. The IRS understands that sometimes mistakes happen, and they have a variety of processes in place designed to help make things right.

This does, however, underline how valuable it can be to partner with the right financial professional to do your taxes next year. You’ve got a career and a life to lead — you’re probably not going to be up to date on every small change that rolls out in the tax code. A financial professional will, as it is literally their job to do so.

If nothing else, this will help generate some much-needed peace-of-mind regarding the accuracy of your return. You won’t have to worry about whether or not the IRS is going to find some big mistake down the road because you’ve dramatically reduced the chances of those mistakes happening in the first place.

Is Your Small Business as Profitable as It Can Be? It’s Time to Find Out.

Is your small business as profitable as it can be?

There is an excellent chance that even if you’re an expert in your particular industry, you’re probably not an expert in small business finances. This may not seem like that big of an issue on the surface. However, in order to make the best decisions possible for your company, you need to havecomplete and accurate information to work from. It’s easy to see how failing to grasp the financial side of the equation can quickly cause problems everywhere else.

For example, just because your company looks profitable on the surface doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the case. In fact, there are a number of clear ways in which your SMB might not be as profitable as it could be that are certainly worth exploring.

Not Everything Is About Sales

Maybe the most important thing for you to understand is that just because sales are high does NOT mean that your company is experiencing profitable growth in the way you think it is. This is actually just one small part of a much larger (and more complicated) story.

Sales could be going up AND profits could be going down in a number of ways. Maybe you’re selling a higher volume of low-margin items while also not selling as many high-margin goods. Perhaps the cost to actually make your product has increased higher (and faster) than your revenue. It’s possible that your operating expenses are so high that even though you’re increasing sales, your business is still not as profitable as it could be.

The lesson here is that you need to look beyond sales growth to find out what is really happening with your company. If you do discover a problem like those outlined above, come up with a specific solution designed to address those particular issues in the most effective way possible.

Dive Deep Into Your Line-Item Profits

Likewise, you need to recognize the difference between bottom-line profits and line-item profits — particularly in terms of the health of your business year-over-year. Instead of just looking at the bottom line, look at the tangible contribution that each product or service makes to that bottom line.

Break down all of your sales by product lines, individual products and services. Is Product A losing so much money that it is eating into the profits generated by the hugely successful Product B? If that’s the case, Product B probably isn’t as “successful” as you thought it was.

Don’t Forget About Margins

Finally, paying attention to your profit margin percentages can tell you a number of critical things about the financial health of your company, essentially all at the same time. You’ll be able to determine whether:

  • You’re correctly pricing and promoting your products in a way that drives profitable growth.
  • All of the products and services you’re offering are profitable to begin with
  • The true value of the relationships you’re forging with your customers, and how long they last on average
  • If you’re allocating resources in the most efficient way possible, thus maximizing profitability whenever possible.

Again — figuring out whether or not your small business is as profitable as it can be involves a lot more than just looking at any one particular line item on a balance sheet. Often, it is a combination of many things — each representing their own individual piece of the puzzle that is your company. Only by understanding the bigger picture will you have the information you need to see where you truly stand…and what you need to do about it moving forward.

In the end, the most important thing for you to understand is that while you may be an expert in running your small business, you’re probably not (nor are you expected to be) an expert in small business finances. Those are two entirely separate concepts and should always be treated as such.

Partnering with the right financial professional isn’t something that you do after your organization is already up and running. It should be a natural part of the process of launching a business in the first place. There are so many decisions that will ultimately affect your cashflow and taxes moving forward — from the financial structure that you set up to the entity you choose during formation. One wrong move at any of these points can artificially limit your ability to make money, and that is a difficult position for any entrepreneur to be in.

Instead, partner with a seasoned financial professional immediately and look to this person for insight and guidance as often as possible. If nothing else, they will make sure that the foundation upon which your company is built is as strong as possible — thus eliminating many and even all of the potential issues that could hold you back in the future.

Read This before Tossing Old Tax Records!

  • Reasons to Keep Records
  • Statute of Limitations
  • Maintaining Record of Asset Basis

If you are a neat-nick and your tax return for last year has been completed and filed, you are probably thinking about getting rid of the tax records related to that return. On the other hand, if you are afraid to dump old records, you are probably looking for a box to put them in so you can store them away. Well, you do have to keep them for a period of time but not forever.

Generally, tax records are retained for two reasons: (1) in case the IRS or a state agency decides to question the information on your tax returns or (2) to keep track of the tax basis of your capital assets, so that you can minimize your tax liability when you dispose of those assets.

With certain exceptions, the statute of limitations for assessing additional taxes is three years from the return’s due date or its filling date, whichever is later. However, the statute in many states is one year longer than that of federal law. In addition, the federal assessment period is extended to six years if more than 25% of a taxpayer’s gross income is omitted from a tax return. In addition, of course, the three-year period doesn’t begin elapsing until a return has been filed. There is no statute of limitations for the filing of false or fraudulent returns to evade tax payments.

If none of the above exceptions applies to you, then for federal purposes, you can probably discard most of your tax records that are more than three years old; you will want to add a year to that time period if you live in a state with a longer statute.

Examples — Sue filed her 2015 tax return before the due date of April 15, 2016. She will be able to safely dispose of most of her 2015 records after April 15, 2019. On the other hand, Don filed his 2015 return on June 2, 2016. He needs to keep his records until at least June 2, 2019. In both cases, the taxpayers should keep their records for a year or two longer if their states have statutes of limitations longer than three years. Note: If a due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, the actual due date is the next business day.

The problem with discarding all of the records for a particular year once the statute of limitations has expired is that many taxpayers combine their normal tax records with the records that substantiate the basis of their capital assets. The basis records need to be separated and should not be discarded until after the statute has expired for when a given asset was disposed of. Thus, it makes more sense to keep separate records for each asset. The following are examples of records that fall into the basis category:

  • Stock-acquisition data — If you own stock in a corporation, keep the purchase records until at least four years after the year when you sell the stock. This data is necessary for proving the amount of profit (or loss) from the sale. If your sales for a given year result in a net loss of more than $3,000, you may need to keep your purchase and sale records for even longer. This is because $3,000 is the maximum capital loss that can be deducted in any one year, so the excess loss must be carried over to the following year(s) until it is used up. If the IRS audits a return that includes a carryover loss, it will ask to see the records from the original purchase, even if it happened more than three years in the past. Thus, don’t dispose of such records until the statute of limitations has passed for the last year when you claimed a carryover loss.
  • Stock and mutual fund statements (if you reinvest dividends) — Many taxpayers use the dividends that they receive from stocks or mutual funds to buy more shares of the same stock or fund. These reinvested amounts add to the basis of the property and reduce the gain when They are eventually sold. Keep all such dividend statements for at least four years after the final sale.
  • Tangible property purchase and improvement records — Keep records of home, investment, rental-property, or business-property acquisitions; the related capital improvements; and the final settlement statements from the sale for at least four years after the underlying property is sold.

For example, when Congress instituted the large $250,000 home-sale-gain exclusion (which is $500,000 for married couples filing jointly) many years ago, homeowners began to be laxer in maintaining their home-improvement records, thinking that the large exclusions would cover any potential appreciation in their home’s value. Now, that exclusion may not always be enough to cover the gains from a sale, particularly for markets where property values have steadily risen; thus, keeping records of all such home improvements is vital.

What about the Tax Returns Themselves? Although the backup documents that you use to prepare your returns can usually be disposed of after the statutory period has expired, you may want to consider indefinitely keeping a copy of the tax returns themselves (the 1040, the attached schedules/statements, and the state return). If you just don’t have room to keep copies of your paper returns, digitizing them is an option.

If you have questions about whether to retain certain records, give our office a call. Before discarding any records, it is a good idea to make sure that they will not be needed down the road.

April 2019 Newsletter

Dear Valued Client,

The April 15th individual tax deadline is fast approaching. With added tax law complexity, many taxpayers are struggling to complete their returns on time. In this edition of our newsletter, we talk about the coming deadline, extensions and much more. If you own a business, take a look at our small business and accounting tips. And of course, if you are waiting for your tax refund use our refund tracking tools to see when your funds will arrive.

Our goal is to provide you with an unparalleled level of client service. If you see something that you want to talk about, please contact us to explore the possibilities. We rely on satisfied clients as the primary source of new business, and your reviews and referrals are both welcomed and most sincerely appreciated!

Tricia McCullough, President

The Tax Filing Deadline Is Around the Corner

Article Highlights:

  • Extensions
  • Balance-Due Payments
  • Contributions to Roth or Traditional IRAs
  • Estimated Tax Payments for the First Quarter of 2019
  • Individual Refund Claims for the 2015 Tax Year

As a reminder to those who have not yet filed their 2018 tax returns, April 15, is the due date to either file a return (and pay the taxes owed) or file for an automatic six-month extension (and pay the an estimate of the taxes owed). Caution should be exercised when preparing the extension application, which is IRS Form 4868. Even though this form is described as “automatic,” the extension is automatically granted only if it includes a reasonable estimate of the 2018 tax liability and only if that anticipated liability is paid along with the extension voucher. It is not uncommon for taxpayers to enter zero as the estimated tax liability without figuring the actual estimated amount. These taxpayers risk the IRS classifying their forms as having been improperly completed, which in turn makes the extensions invalid. If you need an extension, please contact this office so that we can prepare a valid extension for you.

The extension must be filed in a timely manner; at this office, we can file your extension electronically before the due date. If you are mailing an extension, be advised that the envelope with the extension form must only be postmarked on or before the April 15 due date. However, there are inherent risks associated with dropping an extension form in a mailbox; for instance, the envelope might not be postmarked in a timely fashion. Thus, those who have estimated tax due should mail their extension forms using registered or certified mail so as not to risk late-filing penalties.

In addition, the April 15 deadline also applies to the following:

  • Balance-Due Payments for the 2018 Tax Year — Be aware that Form 4868 is an extension to file, NOT an extension to pay. The IRS will assess late-payment penalties (with interest) on any balance due, even when the extension has been granted. Taxpayers who anticipate having a balance due need to estimate this amount and include payment for that balance, either along with the extension request (as indicated above) or electronically (through the IRS website).

  • Contributions to a Roth or Traditional IRA for the 2018 Tax Year — April 15 is the last day for 2018 contributions to either a Roth or a traditional IRA. Form 4868 does not provide an extension for making IRA contributions.

  • Individual Estimated Tax Payments for the First Quarter of 2019 — Taxpayers — especially those who have filed for extension — should be aware that the first installment of estimated taxes for the 2019 tax year is due on April 15. Taxpayers who fail to prepay the minimum (“safe-harbor”) amount can be subject to a penalty for the underpayment of the estimated tax. This penalty is based on the interest on the underpayment, which is calculated using the short-term federal rate plus 3 percentage points. The penalty is computed on a quarter-by-quarter basis, so even people who have prepaid the correct overall amount for the year may be subject to the penalty if the amounts are not paid proportionally or in a timely way. Federal tax law does provide ways to avoid the underpayment penalty. For instance, if the underpayment is less than $1,000 (referred to as the de minimis amount), no penalty is assessed. In addition, there are two safe-harbor prepayments:

  • 1. The first safe-harbor prepayment is based on the tax owed on the current year’s return. There is no penalty when the prepayments (including both withholding and estimated payments) equal or exceed 90% the owed amount.

    2. The second safe-harbor prepayment is based on the total tax amount (not including credits for prepayments) on the return for the immediately preceding tax year. This is generally set at 100% of the prior year’s tax liability. However, taxpayers with adjusted gross income exceeding $150,000 (or $75,000 for married taxpayers filing separately) must pay 110% of the prior year’s tax liability.

  • Individual Refund Claims for the 2015 Tax Year — The regular three-year statute of limitations expires for the 2015 tax return on April 15 of this year. Thus, no refund will be granted for a 2015 return (original or amended) that is filed after April 15. Taxpayers could risk missing out on the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, the refundable American Opportunity Tax Credit for college tuition, and the refundable child credit for the 2015 tax year if they do not file before the statute of limitations ends. Caution: The statute does not apply to balances due for unfiled 2015 returns.

  • If your return is still pending because of missing information, please forward that information to this office as quickly as possible so that we can ensure that your return meets the April 15 deadline. Keep in mind that the last week of tax season is very hectic, and your returns may not be completed in time if you wait until the last minute. If you know that the missing information will not be available before the April 15 deadline, then please let us know right away so that we can prepare an extension request (and 2019 estimated-tax vouchers, if needed).

    If you have not yet completed your returns, please call this office right away so that we can schedule an appointment and/or file an extension.

Start Off on the Right Foot for the 2019 Tax Year

Article Highlights:

  • W-4 Updates
  • W-9 Collection
  • Estimated Tax Payments
  • Charitable Contributions
  • Required Minimum Distributions
  • Gifting
  • Retirement-Plan Contributions
  • Beneficiaries
  • Reasonable Compensation
  • Business-Vehicle Mileage
  • College-Tuition Plans

Individuals and small businesses should consider various ways of starting off on the right foot for the 2019 tax year.

W-4 Updates– If you are employed, then your employer takes the information from your Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form W-4 and applies it to the IRS’s withholding tables to determine the amount of income tax to withhold from your wages in each payroll period. This process did not work all that well in 2018 because, in the wake of the tax reform, the IRS did not have time to properly redesign Form W-4 and adjust its withholding tables. In fact, the IRS has announced that this task will not be completed until it issues the 2020 versions of Form W-4 and the withholding tables.

Thus, the problem from 2018 continues into 2019; if your 2018 refund or balance due was not the desired amount, then please consider adjusting your withholding based on your projected tax for 2019. If you need assistance, please call this office.

W-9 Collection– If you are operating a business, then you are required to issue a Form 1099-MISC to each service provider to which you have paid at least $600 during a given year. It is a good practice to collect a completed W-9 form from every service provider (even if you are paying less than $600), as you may use that provider again later in the year and may have difficulty getting a W-9 after the fact—especially from providers that do not plan to report all of their income for the year.

Estimated Tax Payments– If you are self-employed, then you prepay each year’s taxes in quarterly estimated payments by sending 1040-ES payment vouchers or making electronic payments. For the 2019 tax year, the first three payments are due on April 15, June 17, and September 16, 2019, and the final payment is due on January 15, 2020. Generally, these payments are based on the prior year’s taxable income; if you expect any significant changes in either income or deductions relative to the previous year, please contact this office for help in adjusting your payments accordingly.

Charitable Contributions – If you marginally itemize your deductions, then you can employ the bunching strategy, which involves taking the standard deduction one year but itemizing your deductions in the next. However, you must make this decision early in the year so that you can make two years’ worth of charitable contributions in the bunching year.

Required Minimum Distributions– Each year, if you are 70.5 or older, you must take a required minimum distribution from each of your retirement accounts or face a substantial penalty. By taking this distribution early in the year, you can ensure that you do not forget and accidentally subject yourself to penalties.

Gifting – If you are looking to reduce your estate-tax exposure or if you just want to give some money to family members, know that, each year, you can gift up to $15,000 to each of an unlimited number of beneficiaries without affecting the lifetime estate-tax exclusion amount or paying a gift tax.

Retirement-Plan Contributions – Review your retirement-plan contributions to determine whether you can afford to increase your contribution amounts and to make sure that you are taking full advantage of your employer’s contributions to the plan.

Beneficiaries – Marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and even family clashes all affect whom you include as a beneficiary. It is good practice to periodically review not just your will or trust but also your retirement plans, insurance policies, property holdings, and other investments to be sure that your beneficiary designations are up to date.

Reasonable Compensation – With the advent of the 20% pass-through deduction, which is available to most businesses other than C-corporations, the issue of reasonable compensation takes on a whole new meaning, particularly for S-corporations’ shareholders. This has been a contentious issue in the past, as it has allowed shareholders who are not just investors but who are actually working in the business to take a minimum salary (or no salary at all) so that all their income passes through the K-1 as investment income. This strategy allows such shareholders to avoid payroll taxes on income that should be treated as W-2 compensation. A number of issues factor into a discussion of reasonable compensation, including comparisons to others in similar businesses and to employees within the same business, as well as the cost of living in the business’s locale. This is a subjective amount, and it generally must be determined by a firm that specializes in making such determinations.

Business-Vehicle Mileage – Generally, vehicles with business use also have some amount of nondeductible personal use in a given year. It is always a good practice to record a vehicle’s mileage at the beginning and at the end of each year so as to determine its total mileage for that year. The total mileage figure is then used when prorating the personal- and business-use expenses related to that vehicle.

College-Tuition Plans – Contribute to your child’s Section 529 plan as soon as possible; the funds begin accumulating earnings as soon as they are in the account, which is important because the student will likely begin using that money at age 18 or 19.

Only a few of the tax-related actions that you take during a year will benefit yourself or others. The most important of these actions is keeping timely and accurate tax records; for businesses in particular, this is of the utmost importance. Those who have well-documented income and expense records generally come out on top when the IRS challenges them.

If you have any questions related to your taxes or if would like an appointment for tax projections or tax planning, please call this office.

The Major Reasons a Virtual CFO Can Help Your Business Thrive

Article Highlights:

On a basic level, a virtual CFO (or vCFO for short) is exactly what it sounds like. This is someone who performs all of the services normally associated with a chief financial officer, only in a third-party capacity. Instead of going to the trouble (and expense) of hiring, training and bringing someone with these qualifications into your organization, you’re getting access to someone who can handle all of this remotely on a schedule that works best for all involved.

This is a job that didn’t even exist as recently as a decade ago, but technology has advanced to the point where not only is it possible, but more businesses than ever are using on demand or part time CFOs to help their organizations soar in increasingly competitive marketplaces. This is true for a huge variety of different reasons, all of which are certainly worth exploring.

The Power of a Virtual CFO

The major reason why smaller organizations in particular are finding vCFOs so helpful is that they’re a viable way to control costs almost immediately. Rather than paying the salary to hire your own CFO in a full-time capacity (which can easily balloon into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year once experience and benefits are accounted for), you get the services you need, in an on-demand way, for a fraction of the cost. To that end, a vCFO is really no different than managed services or similar options you may already be using.

This bleeds directly into the next major reason why vCFOs can be so beneficial: They can customize their own skills and services to better meet the needs of your unique organization. Rather than paying someone for a lifetime’s worth of education, you’re only paying for the skills needed to perform the tasks at hand. But even better, the services being offered can also be adjusted on a regular basis as your business continues to grow and evolve. All of this provides you with almost unprecedented access to a wealth of knowledge that used to be out of your budget.

Leveraging Someone Else’s Experience to Your Advantage

That expertise also creates a ripple effect across your enterprise in the best possible way. You’re bringing in someone who naturally has involvement in many different companies similar to your own. This means that you’re in a unique position to avoid making the same mistakes that they’ve previously made.

But maybe the biggest advantage that a virtual or gig-based CFO brings to a company has to do with the quality of the advice being offered. This is more than just an accounting setup. The focus goes beyond simply setting up a financial structure and putting a framework in place for you to effectively manage your books.

Consider the types of challenges that you’re likely to experience over the course of just five years. Your business will naturally get more complex as you add not only more employees but also suppliers, vendors and all the contracts that come with them. If you go through a period of rapid growth, it can quickly cause your financials to grow out of control … unless you’re prepared for it.

A straightforward accounting setup isn’t necessarily enough to offer that much-needed level of preparation, but a vCFO is. This is a professional who has arrived with the express purpose of putting the systems in place to not only better support the current phase of your business, but the next one as well.

Being Better Prepared for What Comes Next

In the end, a vCFO won’t just explain the finer details of your business’ financial situation. They’ll work with you to make sure you’re better informed about not only your current status, but the pros and cons of the options that are available to you in the future. That level of strategic advice — and the advanced decision-making made possible because of it — would be difficult to replicate through nearly any other means.

Armed with more actionable knowledge than ever, you’ll quickly find yourself in a better position to always make the right choice at exactly the right time moving forward. This, in turn, ensures that your business can maximize profitability as much as possible over the next few years, thus allowing you to run the type of organization you always dreamed you’d one day be a part of.

If you’re a large, national organization that can afford to bring on a full-time CFO, there really isn’t any reason NOT to do so. But for most other companies, using a vCFO isn’t just an effective way to fill the types of gaps that naturally exist in your skill set — it’s a way to help your business thrive for the next five, 10 or even 20 years in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

Checking the Status of Your Federal Tax Refund Is Easy

Article Highlights:

  • Your federal tax refund status can be checked online.
  • E-file refunds are generally issued within 21 days of filing.
  • Direct deposit provides the quickest refunds.

If your 2018 federal return has already been filed and you are due a refund, you can check the status of your refund online.

“Where’s My Refund?” is an interactive tool on the IRS website at IRS.gov. Whether you have opted for direct deposit into one account, split your refund among several accounts, or asked the IRS to mail you a check, “Where’s My Refund?” will give you online access to your refund information nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you e-file, you can get refund information within 24 hours after the IRS has acknowledged receipt of your return. Generally, refunds for e-filed returns are issued within 21 days. If you file a paper return, your refund information will be available within four weeks. When checking the status of your refund, have your federal tax return handy. To access your personalized refund information, you must enter:

  • Your Social Security number (or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number);
  • Your filing status (single, married filing joint return, married filing separate return, head of household, or qualifying widow(er)); and
  • The exact refund amount shown on your tax return.

Once you have entered your personal information, one of several responses may come up, including the following:

  • Acknowledgement that your return has been received and is in processing.
  • The mailing date or direct-deposit date of your refund.
  • Notice that the IRS has been unable to deliver your refund because of an incorrect address. You can update your address online using the feature on “Where’s My Refund?”

The quickest refunds are via direct deposit. Allow additional time for checks to be processed through the mail.

When should you call the IRS if you don’t receive your refund? You should only call if it has been:

  • 21 days or more since your return was e-filed,
  • 6 weeks or more since you mailed your return, or
  • When “Where’s My Refund” tells you to contact the IRS

“Where’s My Refund?” also includes links to customized information based on your specific situation. The links will guide you through the steps to resolve any issues affecting your refund. If you have questions related to your refund, please give this office a call.

How to Pay Your Federal Taxes

Article Highlights:

  • Electronic Funds Withdrawal
  • Direct Pay
  • Electronic Federal Tax Payment System
  • Send a Check
  • Pay by Cash
  • Credit Card
  • Installment Agreement
  • Tap a Retirement Account

If you aren’t one of those lucky Americans who gets a tax refund from the IRS, you might be wondering how you go about paying your balance due. Here are some electronic and manual payment options that you can use to pay your federal income tax:

  • Electronic Funds Withdrawal— You can pay using funds from your bank account when your tax return is e-filed. There is no charge by the IRS for using this payment method, and payment can be arranged by your tax return preparer, allowing for e-filing of your return and submitting an electronic funds withdrawal request at the same time.
  • Direct Pay— You can schedule and make a payment directly from your checking or savings account using IRS Direct Pay. There is no fee for this service, and you will receive an e-mail notification when the funds have been withdrawn. Payments, including estimated tax payments, can be scheduled up to 30 days in advance. You can change or cancel the payment up to two business days before the scheduled payment date.
  • Electronic Federal Tax Payment System — This is a more sophisticated version of the IRS’s Direct Pay that allows not only federal income tax but also employment, estimated and excise tax payments to be made over the Internet or by phone from your bank account, with a robust authentication process to ensure the security of the site and your private information. This is a free service. Payments, which can be scheduled up to 365 days in advance, can be changed or cancelled up to two days prior to the scheduled payment date. You can use IRS Form 9783 to enroll in the system or enroll at EFTPS.gov — but do so well in advance of the date when a payment is due because the government will use U.S. mail to send you a personal identification number (PIN), which you will need to access your EFTPS account.
  • Send a Check— You can also pay the old-fashioned way by sending in a check along with a payment voucher. The payment voucher — IRS Form 1040-V — includes the information needed to associate your payment with your IRS account. IRS addresses for where to send the payment and your check are included with Form 1040-V.
  • Pay by Cash— Taxpayers without bank accounts or those who would just prefer to pay in cash can do so by making a cash payment at a participating 7-Eleven store. Taxpayers can do this at more than 7,000 locations nationwide. Taxpayers can visit IRS.gov/paywithcash for instructions on how to pay with cash. There is a very small charge for making a cash payment, and the maximum amount is $1,000 per payment. But don’t wait until the last minute, as it will take up to a week for the IRS to receive the cash payment.

The IRS also has a mobile app that allows taxpayers to pay with their mobile device. Anyone wishing to use a mobile device can access the IRS2Go app to pay with either Direct Pay or by debit or credit card. IRS2Go is the official mobile app of the IRS and is available for download from Google Play, the Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store.

If you are unable to pay the taxes that you owe, it is generally in your best interest to make other arrangements to obtain the funds needed to fully pay your taxes, so that you are not subjected to the government’s penalties and interest. Here are a few options to consider when you don’t have the funds to pay all of your tax liability.

  • Credit Card— Another option is to pay by credit card by using one of the service providers that works with the IRS. However, as the IRS will not pay the credit card discount fee, you will have to pay that fee. You will also have to pay the credit card interest on the payment.
  • Installment Agreement— If you owe the IRS $50,000 or less, you may qualify for a streamlined installment agreement that will allow you to make monthly payments for up to six years. You will still be subject to the late payment penalty, but it will be reduced by half. In addition, interest will also be charged at the current rate, and you will have to pay a user fee to set up the payment plan. By signing up for this arrangement, you agree to keep all future years’ tax obligations current. If you do not make payments on time or if you have an outstanding past-due amount in a future year, you will be in default of the agreement, and the IRS will then have the option of taking enforcement actions to collect the entire amount you owe. If you are seeking an installment agreement exceeding $50,000, the IRS will need to validate your financial condition and your need for an installment agreement through the information you provide in the Collection Information Statement (in which you list your financial information). You may also pay down your balance to $50,000 or less to take advantage of the streamlined option.
  • Tap a Retirement Account— This is possibly the worst option for obtaining funds to pay your taxes because it jeopardizes your retirement and the distributions are generally taxable at the highest bracket, which adds more taxes to the existing problem. In addition, if you are under age 59.5, such a withdrawal is also subject to a 10% early-withdrawal penalty, which will compound the problem even further.
  • Family Loan— Although it may be uncomfortable to ask, obtaining a loan from a relative or friend is an option because this type of loan is generally the least costly, in terms of interest.

Whatever you decide, don’t just ignore your tax liability, as that is the worst thing you can do, and it can only make matters worse.

Defer Gains with Qualified Opportunity Funds

Article Highlights:

If you have a large capital gain from the sale of a stock, asset, or business and would like to defer that gain with the possibility of excluding some of it from taxation, you may want to check out the new investment vehicle created by tax reform, called a qualified opportunity fund (QOF).

Congress, as a means of helping communities that have not recovered from the past decade’s economic downturn, included a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act intended to promote investments in certain economically distressed communities through QOFs. Investments in QOFs provide unique tax incentives that lawmakers designed to encourage taxpayers to participate in these funds.

Reinvesting Gains– Taxpayers who have a capital gain from selling or exchanging any non-QOF property to an unrelated party may elect to defer that gain if it is reinvested in a QOF within 180 days of the sale or exchange. Only one election may be made with respect to a given sale or exchange. If the taxpayer reinvests less than the full amount of the gain in the QOF, the remainder is taxable in the sale year, as usual. Only the gain need be reinvested in a QOF, not the entire proceeds from the sale. This is in sharp contrast to a 1031 exchange where the entire proceeds must be reinvested to defer the gain.

The gain income is deferred until the date when the QOF investment is sold or December 31, 2026, whichever is earlier. At that time, the taxpayer includes the lesser of the following amounts as taxable income:

a. The deferred gain or

b. The fair market value of the investment, as determined at the end of the deferral period, reduced by the taxpayer’s basis in the property. (Basis is explained below.)

A taxpayer who holds a QOF investment for 10 years or more before selling it can elect to permanently exclude the gain from the sale that is in excess of the originally deferred gain (i.e., the appreciation).

Qualified Opportunity Fund Basis – The basis of a QOF that is purchased with a deferred gain is $0 unless either of the following increases applies:

(a) If the investment is held for 5 years, the QOF’s basis increases from $0 to 10% of the deferred gain.

(b) If the investment is held for 7 years, the QOF’s basis increases from $0 to 15% of the deferred gain.

If, on December 31, 2026, a taxpayer holds a QOF that was purchased with deferred gains, the original deferred gain, or if less, the difference between the fair market value of the QOF reduced by the basis, must be included as gross income on that taxpayer’s 2026 return; the basis of the investment will then be increased by the amount of this included gain.

If the QOF investment is held for at least 10 years before being sold, the taxpayer can elect to increase the basis to the property’s fair market value. This adjustment means that the QOF’s appreciation is not taxable when it is sold.

  • Example 1: On June 30, 2018, Phil sold a rental apartment building for $3 million, resulting in a gain of $1 million. Within the statutory 180-day window, he invested that $1 million into a QOF and elected to defer the gain from the building’s sale. On July 1, 2026, he then sold the QOF for $1.5 million. Because Phil held the investment for over 7 years, its basis is enhanced by $150,000 (15% of $1 million). Because the investment’s fair market value is greater than the original deferred gain, he must include a taxable gain of $1.35 million ($1.5 million – $150,000) in his 2026 gross income.
  • Example 2: The facts here are the same as in Example 1, except Phil waited to sell the QOF until 2030, meaning that he held it for nearly 12 years. On December 31, 2026, the fair market value of the QOF was $1 million. Because he had the investment on December 31, 2026, he was required to include $850,000 ($1 million – $150,000) of deferred gain on his 2026 return, the lesser of the $1 million gain he’d deferred or the FMV less his basis. He then increases his basis in the QOF from $0 to $850,000. After selling the QOF for $1.5 million in 2030, Phil elected to permanently exclude the gain by increasing his basis to $1.5 million (the fair market value on the date of the sale). Thus, he has no gain ($1.5 million – $1.5 million) in 2030.

Mixed Investments – If a taxpayer’s investment in a QOF consists of both deferred gains and additional investment funds, it is treated as two investments; this provides the tax benefits of both types: the temporary gain deferral and the permanent gain exclusion (which applies only to the deferred gain).

Qualified Opportunity Funds– To defer capital gains-related taxes through the recently enacted opportunity-zone program, taxpayers must invest in a QOF – an investment vehicle that is organized as a corporation or a partnership for the purpose of investing in properties within qualified opportunity zones. These investments cannot be in another QOF, and the properties must have been acquired after December 31, 2017. The fund must hold at least 90% of its assets in the qualified-opportunity-zone property, as determined by averaging the percentage held in the fund on the last days of the two 6-month periods of the fund’s tax year. Taxpayers may not invest directly in qualified opportunity zone property.

Partnerships – Because a QOF that is purchased with deferred capital gains has a basis of zero, taxpayers who invest in QOFs that are organized as partnerships may be limited to deducting the losses that these partnerships generate.

Qualified Opportunity Zones – A low-income census tract can be specifically designated as a qualified opportunity zone after a nomination from the governor of that community’s state or territory. Once the qualified opportunity zone nomination is received in writing, the U.S. Treasury Secretary can certify the community as a qualified opportunity zone. Once certified, zones retain this designation for 10 years.

If you have a capital gain or potential gain and would like to explore the tax ramifications for your particular situation of deferring the gain into a QOF, please give this office a call.

Tax Tips for IRA Owners

Article Highlights:

  • Early Withdrawals
  • Excess Contributions
  • Multiple Rollovers
  • No Traditional IRA Contributions in the Year Reaching age 70½
  • Failing to Take a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD)
  • Late Contributions
  • Switch the Type of IRA
  • Backdoor Roth IRA
  • Alimony as Compensation
  • Spousal IRA
  • Saver’s Credit
  • IRA-to-Charity Direct Transfers

There are both opportunities and pitfalls for IRA owners, and while you definitely don’t want to get caught up in a pitfall, you may want to take advantage of the opportunities. IRAs come in two varieties: the traditional and the Roth. The traditional generally provides a tax deduction for a contribution and tax-deferred accumulation, with distributions being taxable. On the other hand, there is no tax deduction for making a Roth contribution, but the distributions are tax-free.

So, it leaves taxpayers with a significant decision, with long-term consequences of whether to contribute to traditional or Roth IRA. If you can afford to make the contributions without a tax deduction, then the Roth IRA is probably the better choice in most circumstances. However, some high-income restrictions limit the deductibility of a traditional IRA and the ability to contribute to a Roth IRA.

Pitfalls — Here are some of the pitfalls that can be encountered with IRAs:

  • Early withdrawals— IRAs were designed by the government to be retirement resources, and to deter individuals from tapping these accounts before retirement they added what is called an early withdrawal penalty of 10% of the taxable amount of the IRA distribution. The penalty generally applies for distributions made before reaching age 59-½, but there are some exceptions to the penalty.
  • Excess contributions — The tax code sets the maximum amount that can be contributed to an IRA annually. Contributions in excess of those limits are subject to a nondeductible 6% excise tax penalty, and this penalty continues to apply each year until the over-contribution is corrected.
  • Multiple rollovers — A rollover is where you take possession of the IRA funds for a period of time (up to 60 days) and then redeposit the funds into the same or another IRA. Only one IRA rollover is allowed in a 12-month period and all IRAs are treated as one for purposes of this rule. If more than one rollover is made in a 12-month period, the additional distributions are treated as taxable distributions and the rollover is treated as an excess contribution, with both causing significant tax and penalties. Rollovers can be avoided by directly transferring assets between IRA trustees.
  • No Traditional IRA contributions in year reaching age 70.5 – Individuals cannot make a Traditional IRA contribution in the year they reach the age 70½ or any year thereafter. This rule doesn’t apply to Roth IRAs. Contributions to a traditional IRA made in the year you turn 70½ (and for subsequent years) are treated as excess contributions and are subject to the nondeductible 6% excise tax penalty until corrected.
  • Failing to take a required minimum distribution (RMD) — Individuals who have traditional IRA accounts must begin taking RMDs in the year they turn 70½ and in each year thereafter. However, the distribution for the year when an individual reaches age 70½ can be delayed to the next year without penalty if the distribution is made by April 1 of the next year. Failing to take a distribution is subject to a penalty equal to 50% of the RMD. The IRS will generally waive the penalty for non-willful failures to take the RMD, provided the individual has a valid excuse and the under-distribution is corrected. The RMD rules don’t apply to Roth IRAs while the owner is alive.
  • Opportunities

    Late Contributions — If you forgot to make an IRA contribution or just decided to do so for the prior year, the tax law allows you to make a retroactive contribution in the subsequent year, provided you do so before the unextended April filing due date. As an example, you can make an IRA contribution for 2018 through April 15, 2019. This is also a benefit for taxpayers who were not previously sure they could afford to make a contribution.

    Switch the type of IRA — If you make an IRA contribution for a year, tax law allows you to switch the designation of that contribution from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, or vice versa, provided you do so before the unextended April filing due date.

    Backdoor Roth IRA — Contributing to a Roth IRA is not allowed if the individual’s modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds a specified amount based on filing status. For example, the limits for 2019 are $203,000 if filing a joint return, $10,000 if filing married separate, or $137,000 for all others. If a high-income taxpayer would like to contribute to a Roth IRA but cannot because of the income limitation, there is a work-around that will allow the high-income individual to fund a Roth IRA. Here is how that backdoor Roth IRA works:

    1. First, a contribution is made to a traditional IRA. For higher-income taxpayers who participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, a traditional IRA is allowed but is not deductible. Even if all or some portion is deductible, the contribution can be designated as not deductible.

    2. Then, since the law allows an individual to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA without any income limitations, the non-deductible traditional IRA can be converted to a Roth IRA. Since the traditional IRA was non-deductible, the only tax related to the conversion would be on any appreciation in value of the traditional IRA before the conversion is completed.

    One potential pitfall to the backdoor Roth IRA is often overlooked by investment counselors and taxpayers alike that could result in an unexpected taxable event upon conversion. For distribution or conversion purposes, all of your IRAs (except Roth IRAs) are considered one account, and any distribution or converted amounts are deemed taken ratably from the deductible and non-deductible portions of the traditional IRA, and the portion that comes from the deductible contributions would be taxable. So, the conversion tax implications should be considered before employing the backdoor Roth strategy.

    Alimony as compensation — In order to contribute to an IRA, an individual must receive “compensation.” For IRA purposes, compensation includes taxable alimony received. Thus, for purposes of determining IRA contribution and deduction limits, individuals who receive taxable alimony and separate maintenance payments may treat the alimony as compensation, for purposes of making either a traditional or a Roth contribution, allowing alimony recipients to save for their retirement.

    Spousal IRA — One frequently overlooked tax benefit is the “spousal IRA.” Generally, IRA contributions are only allowed for taxpayers who have compensation (the term “compensation” includes wages, tips, bonuses, professional fees, commissions, taxable alimony received, and net income from self-employment). Spousal IRAs are the exception to that rule and allow a non-working or low-earning spouse to contribute to his or her own IRA, otherwise known as a spousal IRA, based upon his or her spouse’s compensation (as long as it is enough to support the contribution).

    Saver’s credit — The saver’s credit, for low- to moderate-income taxpayers, helps offset part of the first $2,000 an individual voluntarily contributes to an IRA or other retirement plans. The saver’s credit is available in addition to any other tax savings resulting from contributing to an IRA or retirement plans. Like other tax credits, the saver’s credit can increase a taxpayer’s refund or reduce the tax owed. The maximum saver’s credit is $1,000 ($2,000 for married couples if both spouses contribute to a plan). The application of this credit is very limited. Please call for additional details.

    IRA-to-charity direct transfers — Individuals age 70½ or over must withdraw annual RMDs from their IRAs. These folks can take advantage of a tax provision allowing taxpayers to transfer up to $100,000 annually from their IRAs to qualified charities. This provision may provide significant tax benefits, especially if you would be making a large donation (although it also works for small amounts) to a charity anyway.

    Here is how this provision, if utilized, plays out on a tax return:

    (1) The IRA distribution is excluded from income;
    (2) The distribution counts toward the taxpayer’s RMD for the year; and
    (3) The distribution does NOT count as a charitable contribution.

    At first glance, this may not appear to provide a tax benefit. However, by excluding the distribution, a taxpayer with itemized deductions will lower his or her AGI, which will help with other tax breaks (or punishments) that are pegged at AGI levels, such as medical expenses, passive losses, and taxable Social Security income. In addition, non-itemizers essentially receive the benefit of a charitable contribution to offset the IRA distribution.

    Please call this office for further details or to schedule an appointment for some IRA planning unique to your circumstances.

What Are the Differences Between an IRS Tax Lien and a Tax Levy?

Article Highlights:

If you’re reading this, the chances are high that you’re one of the many, many people who have received a notice from the Internal Revenue Service. Some level of correspondence with the IRS is natural ‒ particularly leading up to and in the immediate aftermath of tax season. But if you’ve received notification that the government is about to file a tax lien or tax levy against you, suddenly you’re talking about an entirely different ballgame.

But the most important thing you can do at this point is stay calm. Yes, both of these notices mean that your financial situation has just gotten significantly more complicated. But you do have rights in each scenario that you would do well to protect at all costs.

What Is an IRS Tax Lien?

An IRS tax lien is a very specific type of claim that the government (in this case, the Internal Revenue Service) makes on your property. That property can include but is not limited to real estate and other types of assets. Typically, this is something that occurs when you’re past due on your income taxes and you’ve failed to make proper arrangements to get yourself back up to date again.

A tax lien can affect you in a number of different ways, all of which are less than ideal. Even though tax liens no longer appear on your credit report, your credit rating will still suffer ‒ thus harming your ability to get a loan or secure new credit for your business. Tax liens also usually appear during title searches, which can impact your ability to sell your house or refinance the mortgage you already have.

What Is an IRS Tax Levy?

A tax lien is essentially the first part in a two-step process. That second step takes the form of a tax levy, which involves the actual seizure of the property in question in an effort to pay the tax money you owe. Via a tax levy, the IRS can do everything from garnish your wages, seize assets like real estate or even take control of your bank accounts to get their money.

At the very least, you’re likely to go through wage garnishment ‒ meaning that you’ll be taking home far less money at the end of the week in your paycheck. A 21-day hold might be placed on your bank account in an effort to encourage you to “work things out,” and if you don’t, they may even try to seize your home as a last resort.

Luckily, there are a few things that the IRS CAN’T seize even by way of a tax levy. These include things like unemployment benefits, certain pension benefits, disability payments, workers’ compensation and others.

What Can I Do About Them?

Thankfully, even in the unfortunate event of a lien or levy, you do still have some options available to you.

More than anything, if you CAN pay your tax bill, you SHOULD pay your tax bill. If necessary, get on an IRS payment plan to help you get back up to date. Yes, your past due balance will continue to accrue both interest and penalties until you’ve paid it off. But the choice between paying interest and losing your house isn’t really a choice at all.

It’s also important for you to actively work to protect your rights if you feel it necessary to do so. After receiving either a lien or a levy notice, you can always file an appeal with the IRS Office of Appeals if you feel you’re being treated unfairly. It is within your right to ask for a conference with the IRS agent’s manager so that your case can be reviewed by a fresh set of eyes. If nothing else, this is a great way to make sure that your side of the story is known.

You can also apply for a Withdrawal of the Notice of Federal Tax Lien, which will remove the public notice of a tax lien filing. If the IRS has notified you that any of your property is about to be seized, you can file something called a Certificate of Discharge. This will remove the property in question from the effects of the tax lien, allowing you to sell something like your home (or another asset) without worrying.

All of this can be confusing and stressful. Working with a seasoned tax professional can take negotiating with the IRS off your hands.

Receive Payments the Right Way in QuickBooks: Your Options

Article Highlights:

One of the reasons we like QuickBooks is because it uses language and processes that are familiar to small businesspeople. Instead of using the term “accounts receivable,” it has a menu label that says Customers and menu items that use phrases like Create Invoices and Receive Payments. You would have to go into the Chart of Accounts to find standard accounting terminology — and we never recommend that you do that without consulting with us first.

Yet when you’re doing customer-related tasks, you’re following a traditional accounts receivable workflow, a series of steps that completes a sales cycle, like Estimate | Invoice | Payment | Deposit. QuickBooks keeps it simple for you and doesn’t often force you into unfamiliar territory.

One of the more pleasant elements of accounts receivable is the process of receiving customer payments. There’s more than one way to do this, and it’s very important that you use the correct way in each situation.

Payment Methods

Before you record your first payment, you’ll need to make sure that QuickBooks is set up to accommodate its Payment Method. QuickBooks comes with some standard types, but you can add, edit, and delete your own options (though not those that are built in to the software). Open the Lists menu and click Customer & Vendor Profile Lists, then Payment Method List. This window will open

You can work with Payment Method options in this window.

To use any of the commands in the Payment Method drop-down list, you’d highlight the method by clicking on it and opening the options list by clicking the down arrow in that field.

Note:When you add or change an existing entry, the window that opens contains fields for both Payment Method and Payment Type. They should be identical or at least very similar.

Setting an Invoice

If your company sends invoices, you’ll need to record their matching payments in the Customer Payment window. Click Customer | Receive Payments or the Receive Payments icon on the home page. There’s also a button for this in the toolbar in an open invoice. However you get there, here’s what it looks like:

You’ll record payments that customers send in response to invoices in this window.

Select a customer in the RECEIVED FROM field, and any outstanding invoices will appear in the table below. The CUSTOMER BALANCE appears in the upper right corner. Enter the PAYMENT AMOUNT and verify the date.

Click in the box for the correct payment method to the right. If it’s a check, enter the number in the CHECK # field. If you choose CREDIT DEBIT , you can enter the card details in the small window that opens. If you provided this information in the customer’s record and chose that as the PREFERRED PAYMENT METHOD , it should fill it in automatically.

Note: To set a PREFERRED PAYMENT METHOD , which will save time, open the customer record and click the small pencil icon in the upper right. Click Payment Settings and complete the fields in that window.

If the customer has paid less than the balance due, you can either LEAVE THIS AS AN UNDERPAYMENT or WRITE OFF THE EXTRA AMOUNT. Select one of those two options in the lower left and save your work when you’re done.

Instant Payments

You’ll use a different form when a customer gives you a payment in exchange for the goods or services you provided, without receiving an invoice. Click Customers | Enter Sales Receipts to open a window like this:

If a customer gives you a payment without receiving an invoice, you’ll provide them with a Sales Receipt.

You’ll complete this form much like you did the CUSTOMER PAYMENT window, except you won’t be applying the payment to an existing invoice.

Tip: If you have a merchant account or are willing to get one, you can record payments and email sales receipts at remote locations on your mobile device. We can walk you through the setup.

Receiving payments from customers is one of the easier tasks you’ll do as a QuickBooks user, but if you don’t use the software’s tools correctly, your books will be difficult to untangle. We can help ensure that you’re doing this element of your work right from the start; just contact us to schedule a consultation.

April 2019 Individual Due Dates

April 1 – Last Day to Withdraw Required Minimum Distribution

Last day to withdraw 2018’s required minimum distribution from Traditional or SEP IRAs for taxpayers who turned 70½ in 2018. Failing to make a timely withdrawal may result in a penalty equal to 50% of the amount that should have been withdrawn. Taxpayers who became 70½ before 2018 were required to make their 2018 IRA withdrawal by December 31, 2018.

April 10 – Report Tips to Employer

If you are an employee who works for tips and received more than $20 in tips during March, you are required to report them to your employer on IRS Form 4070 no later than April 10. Your employer is required to withhold FICA taxes and income tax withholding for these tips from your regular wages. If your regular wages are insufficient to cover the FICA and tax withholding, the employer will report the amount of the uncollected withholding in box 12 of your W-2 for the year. You will be required to pay the uncollected withholding when your return for the year is filed.

April 15 – Taxpayers with Foreign Financial Interests

A U.S. citizen or resident, or a person doing business in the United States, who has a financial interest in or signature or other authority over any foreign financial accounts (bank, securities or other types of financial accounts), in a foreign country, is required to file Form FinCEN 114. The form must be filed electronically; paper forms are not allowed. The form must be filed with the Treasury Department (not the IRS) no later than April 15, 2019 for 2018. An extension of time to file of up to 6 months is automatically allowed. This filing requirement applies only if the aggregate value of these financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during 2018. Contact our office for additional information and assistance filing the form.

April 15 – Individual Tax Returns Due

File a 2018 income tax return (Form 1040) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic six-month extension of time to file the return, please call this office. NOTE: The due date for individuals living in Maine or Massachusetts is April 17.

Caution The extension gives you until October 15, 2019 to file your 2018 1040 return without being liable for the late filing penalty. However, it does not avoid the late payment penalty; thus, if you owe money, the late payment penalty can be severe, so you are encouraged to file as soon as possible to minimize that penalty. Also, you will owe interest, figured from the original due date until the tax is paid. If you have a refund, there is no penalty; however, you are giving the government a free loan, since they will only pay interest starting 45 days after the return is filed. Please call this office to discuss your individual situation if you are unable to file by the April 15 due date.

April 15 – Estimated Tax Payment Due (Individuals) It’s time to make your first quarter estimated tax installment payment for the 2019 tax year. Our tax system is a “pay-as-you-earn” system. To facilitate that concept, the government has provided several means of assisting taxpayers in meeting the “pay-as-you-earn” requirement. These include:

  • Payroll withholding for employees;
  • Pension withholding for retirees; and
  • Estimated tax payments for self-employed individuals and those with other sources of income not covered by withholding.

When a taxpayer fails to prepay a safe harbor (minimum) amount, they can be subject to the underpayment penalty. This penalty is equal to the federal short-term rate plus 3 percentage points, and the penalty is computed on a quarter-by-quarter basis.

Federal tax law does provide ways to avoid the underpayment penalty. If the underpayment is less than $1,000 (the “de minimis amount”), no penalty is assessed. In addition, the law provides “safe harbor” prepayments. There are two safe harbors:

  • The first safe harbor is based on the tax owed in the current year. If your payments equal or exceed 90% of what is owed in the current year, you can escape a penalty.
  • The second safe harbor is based on the tax owed in the immediately preceding tax year. This safe harbor is generally 100% of the prior year’s tax liability. However, for taxpayers whose AGI exceeds $150,000 ($75,000 for married taxpayers filing separately), the prior year’s safe harbor is 110%.

Example: Suppose your tax for the year is $10,000 and your prepayments total $5,600. The result is that you owe an additional $4,400 on your tax return. To find out if you owe a penalty, see if you meet the first safe harbor exception. Since 90% of $10,000 is $9,000, your prepayments fell short of the mark. You can’t avoid the penalty under this exception.

However, in the above example, the safe harbor may still apply. Assume your prior year’s tax was $5,000. Since you prepaid $5,600, which is greater than 110% of the prior year’s tax (110% = $5,500), you qualify for this safe harbor and can escape the penalty.

This example underscores the importance of making sure your prepayments are adequate, especially if you have a large increase in income. This is common when there is a large gain from the sale of stocks, sale of property, when large bonuses are paid, when a taxpayer retires, etc. Timely payment of each required estimated tax installment is also a requirement to meet the safe harbor exception to the penalty. If you have questions regarding your safe harbor estimates, please call this office as soon as possible.

CautionSome state de minimis amounts and safe harbor estimate rules are different than those for the Federal estimates. Please call this office for particular state safe harbor rules.

April 15 – Last Day to Make Contributions

Last day to make contributions to Traditional and Roth IRAs for tax year 2018.

April 2019 Business Due Dates

April 1 – Electronic Filing of Forms 1098, 1099 and W-2G

If you file Forms 1098, 1099 (other than 1099-MISC withan amount in box 7), or W-2G electronically with the IRS, this is the final due date. This due date applies only if you file electronically (not paper forms). Otherwise, January 31 or February 28 was the due date, depending on the form filed. The due date for giving the recipient these forms was January 31.

April 1 -Applicable Large Employers (ALE) — Form 1095-C

If filing electronically, file Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage, with the IRS. If filing on paper the due date was February 28, 2019.

April 1 – Large Food and Beverage Establishment Employers

If you file Forms 8027 for 2018 electronically with the IRS, this is the final due date. This due date applies only if you file electronically. Otherwise, February 28 was the due date.

April 15 – Household Employer Return Due

If you paid cash wages of $2,100 or more in 2018 to a household employee, you must file Schedule H. If you are required to file a federal income tax return (Form 1040), file Schedule H with the return and report any household employment taxes. Report any federal unemployment (FUTA) tax on Schedule H if you paid total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter of 2017 or 2018 to household employees. Also, report any income tax that was withheld for your household employees. For more information, please call this office.

April 15 – C-Corporations

File a 2018 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax due. If you need an automatic 6 -month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File Certain Business Income Tax, Information and Other Returns, and deposit what you estimate you owe. Filing this extension protects you from late filing penalties but not late payment penalties, so it is important that you estimate your liability and deposit it using the instructions on Form 7004.

April 15 – Social Security, Medicare and Withheld Income Tax

March 2019 Newsletter

Dear Valued Client,

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has brought with it numerous questions from taxpayers and business owners. Careful planning is critical as we guide clients through the best decisions. In this edition of our newsletter, we share a reminder on retirement contribution deadlines, the latest information for landlords and 1099s, a payroll withholding reminder, business advice and much more.

Our goal is to provide you with an unparalleled level of client service. If you see something that you want to talk about, please contact us to explore the possibilities. We rely on satisfied clients as the primary source of new business, and your reviews and referrals are both welcomed and most sincerely appreciated!

Tricia McCullough, President

It’s Not Too Late to Make a 2018 Retirement-Plan Contribution

Article Highlights:

  • Traditional IRAs
  • Roth IRAs
  • Spousal IRA Contributions
  • Simplified Employee Pension Plans
  • Solo 401(k) Plans
  • Health Savings Accountants
  • Saver’s Credit
  • Children with Earned Income

Have you been ignoring your future retirement needs? This tends to happen when people are young; because retirement is far in the future, they believe that they have plenty of time to save for it. Some people even ignore the issue until late in life, which causes them to scramble to fund their retirement. Others even ignore the issue altogether, assuming that they will qualify for Social Security and that the resulting income will take care of their retirement needs.

Did you know that you can make retirement savings contributions after the close of the tax year and that these contributions may be deductible? With the April tax deadline in the near future, the window of opportunity is closing to maximize contributions to retirement and special-purpose plans for 2018. Many of these retirement contributions will also deliver tax deductions or tax credits for the 2018 tax year.

Contribution Opportunities – Some 2018 retirement contributions are available after the close of the year.

  • Traditional IRAs – For 2018, the maximum traditional IRA contribution is $5,500 (or $6,500 if the taxpayer is at least 50 years old on December 31, 2018). A 2018 traditional IRA contribution can be made until April 15, 2019. However, for taxpayers who have other retirement plans, some or all of their IRA contributions may not be deductible. To be eligible to contribute to IRAs (of any type), taxpayers—or spouses if married and filing jointly—must have earned income such as wages or self-employment income.

  • Roth IRAs – A Roth IRA is a nondeductible retirement account, but its earnings are tax-free upon withdrawal—provided that the requirements for the holding period and age are met. Roth IRAs are a good option for many taxpayers who aren’t eligible for deductible contributions to a traditional IRA. For 2018, the contribution limits for a Roth IRA are the same as for a traditional IRA: $5,500 (or $6,500 if the taxpayer is at least 50 years old). A 2018 Roth IRA contribution can also be made until April 15, 2019.

    Caution: For those who have both traditional and Roth IRA contributions, the combined limit for 2018 is also $5,500 (or $6,500 if the taxpayer is at least 50 years old).

  • Spousal IRA Contributions – A nonworking spouse can open and contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA based on the working spouse’s earned income. The spouses are subject to the same contribution limits, and their combined contributions cannot exceed the working spouse’s earned income. Spousal IRA contributions for 2018 must also be made by April 15, 2019.

  • Simplified Employee Pensions IRAs – Simplified Employee Pension IRAs are tax-deferred plans for sole proprietorships and small businesses. This is probably the easiest way to build retirement dollars, as it requires virtually no paperwork. The maximum contribution depends on a business’s net earnings. For 2018, the maximum contribution is the lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $55,000. A 2018 contribution to such a plan can be made up to the return’s due date (including extensions). Thus, unlike a traditional or Roth IRA, a Simplified Employee Pension IRA can be established and funded for 2018 as late as October 15, 2019 (if an extension to file a 2018 Form 1040 has been granted).

  • Solo 401(k) Plans – A growing number of self-employed individuals are forsaking the Simplified Employee Pension IRA for a newer type of retirement plan called a Solo 401(k) or Self-Employed 401(k). This plan is available to self-employed individuals who do not have employees, and it is notable mostly for its high contribution levels.

    For 2018, Solo 401(k) contributions can equal 25% of compensation, plus a salary deferral of up to $18,500. The total contributions, however, can’t exceed $55,000 or 100% of compensation. Note that an individual must have established the Solo 401(k) account by December 31, 2018, to make 2018 contributions. However, contributions to an established account can then be made up to the return’s due date (which can be extended to October 15, 2019, for most taxpayers). Taxpayers who did not establish a Solo 401(k) account by the end of 2018 can still open one now for 2019 contributions.

  • Health Savings Accountants – Health savings accounts are only available for individuals who have high-deductible health plans. For 2018, this refers to plans with a deductible of at least $1,350 for individual coverage or $2,700 for family coverage. These accounts allow individuals to save money to pay for their medical expenses.

    Money that an individual does not spend on medical expenses stays in that person’s account and gains (tax-free) interest, just like in an IRA. Because unused amounts remain available for later years, health savings accounts can be used as additional retirement funds. The maximum contributions for 2018 are $3,450 for individual coverage and $6,900 for family coverage. The annual contribution limits are increased by $1,000 for individuals who are at least 55 years old. Contributions to a health savings account for 2018 can be made through April 15, 2019.

Please note that the information provided above is abbreviated. Contact this office for specific details on how each option applies to your situation.

Saver’s Credit – Low- and moderate-income workers are eligible for a saver’s credit that helps them offset part of the first $2,000 that they contribute to an IRA or a qualified employer-based retirement plan. This credit helps individuals who don’t normally have the resources to set money aside for retirement, and it is available in addition to the other tax benefits that are associated with retirement-plan contributions.

This credit is provided to encourage taxpayers to save for retirement. To prevent taxpayers from taking distributions from existing retirement savings and then re-depositing them to claim this credit, the qualifying retirement contributions used to figure the credit are reduced by any retirement-plan distributions taken during a “testing period”: the prior two tax years, the current year, and the portion of the subsequent tax year up to the return’s due date (including extensions).

Children with Earned Income – Many children hold part-time jobs, and after the recent tax reform, the standard deduction allows these children to earn $12,000 tax-free. This earned income also qualifies children for IRA contributions. Although children may balk at contributing their hard-earned income to an IRA, their parents or grandparents can gift Roth IRA contributions to children. That Roth IRA will significantly increase in value by the time the child reaches retirement age, 45 or 50 years later.

Individuals’ financial resources, family obligations, health, life expectancy, and retirement expectations vary greatly, and there is no one-size-fits-all retirement strategy. Events such as purchasing a home or putting children through college can limit retirement contributions; these events must be accounted for in any retirement plan.

If you have questions about any of the retirement vehicles discussed above or if you would like to discuss how retirement contributions will affect your 2018 tax return, please give this office a call.

Your Small Business Survival Guide for If (and When) the Economy Slows Down

According to one recent study conducted by the Small Business Administration, there are approximately 28.8 million small businesses in the United States that are collectively responsible for about 99.7 percent of all economic activity in this country. In many ways, they represent the “canary in the coal mine” for a nation. When small businesses are doing well, this is a sign that the economy is strong and that the future is a bright one

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true as NSBA revealed that the greatest challenge to both small business growth and survival is economic uncertainty. That idea in and of itself may be nothing new, but a number of recent studies and surveys have revealed that a slowdown in the economy is an issue that may be significantly more timely than many realize.

A Recession and Your Business: A Primer

According to the latest CNBC/SurveyMonkey survey, 53 percent of respondents say that they expect an economic recession sooner rather than later. In fact, many of them think that it could arrive as soon as 2020. This comes despite the fact that 52 percent of respondents described business conditions as “good” for the first quarter of 2019; 57 percent expect increased revenue; and 28 percent actually plan to increase their own full-time staff in the short term.

One of the major factors that contributed to the devastation wreaked by the last recession was that it was so sudden. Things got very bad very quickly, and a lot of small business owners suffered as a result.

Always Be Prepared

Experts agree that one of the best ways to make sure that your small business comes out of the next economic slowdown in one piece has to do with being as proactive and as prepared as possible.

Your business might not need a working capital injection today, for example, but it may once the next recession begins. At that point, it might be difficult to gain access to that capital thanks to poor or uncertain economic conditions.

To combat this, consider taking out a new line of credit to help make sure those funds are available if and when the time comes. Getting a credit line for $20,000 doesn’t mean that you have to borrow that money today or even in full. But the peace of mind that comes with knowing you do have access to these funds will go a long way toward making sure that you can stay afloat during those slow periods.

It All Comes Back to Cash Flow

Likewise, if you know with some certainty that an economic slowdown is inevitable, there are steps that you can take in the short term to avoid traps and other pitfalls that would cause additional damage during a recession

When the economy does slow down, you’ll need to make sure that your cash flow is in order. If that is currently a problem for you, it’s only going to get worse as time goes on. Make an effort today to collect on accounts receivable at a faster pace. Improve and optimize your own processes and workflows to make sure that you’re getting the money for services rendered as quickly as possible. If you take meaningful steps to improve your cash flow situation now, it will be one less thing you have to worry about if the economy does slow down dramatically next year.

The Art of Inventory Managment

Finally, one of the best steps you can take to protect your business during slow economic periods has to do with performing an overhaul of your inventory management practices.

Inventory costs are always a major pain point for most small businesses, but this is especially true during a recession. Again, take a look at some of the problems you may have today that could cause major damage down the road.

Do you currently order far too many of one specific item? Is there an item that you have that can be sourced somewhere else for a better price? Are you capitalizing on every opportunity to reduce shipping and warehousing costs?

These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself prior to the next economic slow period. If you wait until things start to get tough before taking a look at your inventory management practices, you’ll have waited far too long. You may be able to make progress at that time, but the lion’s share of the serious damage will have already been done.

However, by following tips like these to strengthen the foundation of your business right now, it will still be as solid as you need it to be moving forward – regardless of what happens with the economy during that time. If nothing else, these steps will all help to make sure that your business comes out of the next recession stronger than ever, which is definitely the position you want to be in.

Filing a 1099-MISC May Now Apply to Landlords. Are You Collecting the Needed W-9s?

Article Highlights:

  • $600 Threshold
  • Exceptions
  • Form W-9
  • Impact of Tax Reform
  • 1099-MISC Filing

If you use independent contractors to perform services for your business or your rental that is a trade or business, for each individual whom you pay $600 or more for the year, you are required to issue the service provider and the IRS a Form 1099-MISC after the end of the year, to avoid losing the deduction for their labor and expenses. (This requirement generally does not apply to payments made to a corporation. However, the exception does not extend to payments made for attorney fees and for certain payments for medical or health care services.)

It is not uncommon to have a repairman out early in the year, pay him less than $600, then use his services again later and have the total for the year exceed the $600 limit. As a result, you might overlook getting the information needed to file the 1099s for the year. Therefore, it is good practice to always have individuals who are not incorporated complete and sign the IRS Form W-9 the first time you use their services. Having a properly completed and signed Form W-9 for all independent contractors and service providers will eliminate any oversights and protect you against IRS penalties and conflicts.

The government provides IRS Form W-9, “Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification,” as a means for you to obtain the data required from your vendors in order to file the 1099s. It also provides you with verification that you complied with the law, should the individual provide you with incorrect information. We highly recommend that you have a potential vendor or independent contractor complete a Form W-9 prior to engaging in business with him or her.

Many small business owners and landlords overlook this requirement during the year, and when the end of the year arrives and it is time to issue 1099-MISCs to service providers, they realize they have not collected the required documentation. Often, it is difficult to acquire the contractor’s, handyperson’s, gardener’s, etc., information after the fact, especially from individuals with no intention of reporting and paying taxes on the income.

This has become even more important in light of the tax reform’s 20% pass-through deduction (Sec. 199A deduction), since the regulations for this new tax code section caution landlords that to be treated as a trade or business, and therefore to be generally eligible for the 199A deduction, they should consider reporting payments to independent contractor service providers on IRS Form 1099-MISC, which wasn’t generally required for rental activities in the past and still isn’t required when the rental is classified as an investment rather than as a trade or business. This caution was included in IRS regulations issued after the close of 2018, which caught everyone by surprise and left most rental property owners to deal with obtaining W-9s after the fact from service providers and issuing the 1099-MISCs after the due date of January 31, 2019. For each 1099-MISC form filed after the January 31, 2019 due date but within 30 days there is a penalty of $50. After 30 days and by August 1, 2019 the penalty increases to $100 per 1099-MISC and those filed after August 1, 2019 the penalty jumps to $270 per 1099-MISC. These penalties do have maximum amounts.

1099-MISC forms must be filed electronically or on special optically scannable forms. If you need assistance with filing 1099-MISCs or have questions related to this issue, please give this office a call. Also, make sure you have all of your independent contractors or service providers complete a Form W-9 for 2019.

Relief from the Affordable Care Act Penalty for Not Being Insured

Article Highlights:

  • Tax Reform
  • Penalty for Not Being Insured
  • Premium Tax Credit
  • Employer Penalty
  • Coverage Exemptions
  • Hardship Exemptions

Thanks to the tax reform, beginning in 2019, the penalty for not having adequate health insurance, which the government refers to as the “individual shared responsibility payment,” will no longer apply.

The elimination of this penalty as of 2019 does not impact the health care subsidy for low-income families, which is known as the premium tax credit and which is available for policies acquired through a government insurance marketplace. This elimination also does not affect the penalties assessed on employers that do not offer affordable insurance to employees and that have 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees.

However, the penalty still applies for individual taxpayers who did not have minimum essential health coverage for 2018 and is the greater of the sum of the family’s flat dollar amounts or 2.5% of the amount by which the household’s income exceeds the income-tax-filing threshold.

For 2018, the flat dollar amounts are $695 per year ($57.92 per month) for each adult and half that amount ($347.50; $28.96 per month) for each child under the age of 18; the maximum family penalty using this method is $2,085 per year ($173.75 per month).

As an example, say that a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) has a household income that exceeds the income-tax-filing threshold by $100,000. This family would have a maximum penalty equal to the greater of the flat dollar amount ($695 + $695 + $347.50 + $347.50 = $2,085) or 2.5% of the income amount (2.5% × $100,000 = $2,500). Thus, the maximum penalty would be $2,500. However, the penalties are applied separately per month, and they do not apply in a given month if certain exceptions are met.

There are a number of exceptions to the penalty, as listed below. For details related to qualifying for any of these exceptions, please give this office a call. Some of the penalty exceptions apply to the entire year, and some only apply to a specific month in the year. If penalty relief applies to a specific month, it also applies to the months just preceding and following that month. The table below lists the various exceptions and the code number the government assigned to that exception.

In addition to the general exceptions included in the table above, hardship exemptions are also available. The most common of these exemptions are:

  • Being homeless.
  • Evicted or facing eviction because of foreclosure.
  • Received a shut-off notice from a utility company.
  • Experienced domestic violence.
  • Death of a family member.
  • Fire, flood or other disaster that caused substantial damage.
  • Filed for bankruptcy.
  • Medical expenses could not cannot be paid, resulting in substantial debt.
  • Increased necessary expenses to care for an ill, disabled or aging family member.
  • Claiming a child who was denied Medicaid or CHIP coverage
  • Ineligible for coverage because state didn’t expand Medicaid.
  • Financial or domestic circumstances, including an unexpected natural or human-caused event, causing an unexpected increase in essential expenses, which prevented obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan.
  • The expense of purchasing a qualified health plan would have caused the taxpayer to experience serious deprivation of food, shelter, clothing or other necessities.

To claim a hardship exemption, an individual must obtain an ECN through the normal application process, or for 2018, they may self-certify the hardship. However, an individual who is self-certifying is cautioned to retain documentation that demonstrates qualification for the hardship exemption, in case it is later challenged by the IRS.

A person is eligible for a hardship exemption for at least the month before, the month(s) during and the month after the specific event or circumstance that created the hardship.

This may all seem complicated; however, this office can assist you with avoiding the lack-of-health-insurance penalty. Please call with any questions you might have.

Increased Business-Vehicle Deductions Due to Tax Reform

Article Highlights:

  • Annual Mileage
  • Optional (Standard) Mileage Method
  • Actual-Expense Method
  • Vehicle Depreciation
  • Luxury-Vehicle Limits
  • SUVs
  • Interest Expenses
  • Business-Vehicle Sales or Trade-ins
  • Employees
  • Plug-in Electric Vehicle Credits

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2018 and other tax reforms have brought about significant changes in the way that vehicle use is deducted for business purposes. Before getting into these changes, it is appropriate to first provide a review of the two methods for deducting the use of a business vehicle.

It is important to understand that both methods require keeping track of (1) the vehicle’s total annual mileage and (2) the vehicle’s annual mileage for business purposes. When using the optional mileage rate (also referred to as the standard mileage rate), only business miles are counted. When using the actual-expense method, the operating expenses and depreciation must be prorated based on the proportion of the total mileage that was for business purposes. To document the total mileage, deduct the odometer reading on the first day of the year from that on the last day of the year. For the business mileage, keep a daily record in an appropriate ledger. Keep in mind that the IRS states that all vehicles are used personally to some extent; it will look for a proration between business and (nondeductible) personal use.

Optional Mileage Rates– The standard mileage rates for the business use of a car, van, or pickup or panel truck are shown below:

However, a business cannot use the standard mileage rates if it has previously used the actual-expense method (via Sec. 179, bonus depreciation, or depreciation). This rule is applied on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis. In addition, the standard mileage rate for business use cannot be applied to any vehicle that is used for hire, such as taxi, or to more than four vehicles simultaneously.

Actual-Expense Method – Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of a vehicle’s business use rather than using the standard mileage rates. Using the actual-expense method in the year when a vehicle is placed into business service may be worthwhile due to the potential for higher fuel prices, the extension and expansion of the bonus depreciation, or increased depreciation limitations for passenger vehicles as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Actual expenses include the costs of the following:

  • Gasoline
  • Oil and Other Fluids
  • Lubrication
  • Repairs
  • Registration
  • Insurance
  • Depreciation (or lease payments)
  • Interest

Vehicle Depreciation– The so-called luxury-vehicle rules limit the annual depreciation deduction for vehicles that weigh 6,000 pounds or less.

The recent tax reform substantially increased these limits by providing much larger first- and second-year deductions for more expensive vehicles. The table below displays the limits for vehicles that were placed into service in 2018. These rates will be adjusted based on inflation in future years.

The recent tax reform also included the option for the taxpayer to add a 100% bonus depreciation to the first-year luxury-vehicle rates (see the amount for “First Year with Bonus” in the table below). However, if a vehicle was purchased before September 28, 2017 (but was not put into service until 2018), the first-year depreciation cap with the bonus is reduced from $18,000 to $16,400.

Prior to 2018, the depreciation values for vans and light trucks were different from those for cars. In 2018, the depreciation limits are the same for both categories, but in future years, the limits may diverge because separate inflation adjustments will apply to the two categories.

SUVs – Because vehicles that weigh more than 6,000 pounds are not subject to the luxury-vehicle limits, the first-year deductions for such vehicles can be larger than those for smaller vehicles. The bonus depreciation for SUVs is 100% (through 2022), so the portion of the use that is for business can be fully expensed in the year when the SUV is placed in service. SUVs with gross vehicle weight of more than 6,000 pounds but less than 14,000 pounds are qualified for Sec. 179, which allows a business to expense up to $25,000 if the vehicle is placed in service during 2018 or $25,500 if it is put into service in 2019.

Interest Expenses – Self-employed taxpayers may also deduct the business-use portion of the interest paid on vehicle loans on Schedule C. regardless of whether they use the standard mileage rate or the actual-expense method.

Business-Vehice Sales or Trade-ins – Under prior law, a good tax strategy was to trade in a vehicle instead of selling it if the sale would result in a gain, as this would defer the gain into the replacement vehicle and thus avoid tax on the gain. Conversely, it was good practice to sell a vehicle for a loss so as to take advantage of the tax loss. Unfortunately, since the recent tax reform, tax-deferred exchanges are no longer allowed, except for real estate. The aforementioned strategies are thus no longer valid, and all vehicle trade-ins are treated as sales: Any gain is taxable, and any loss is deductible. However, if a vehicle is used solely for personal purposes, a loss from a sale is not deductible; if a vehicle is used for both business and personal reasons, then only the business portion of a loss on a sale is deductible.

Employees – The recent tax reform also eliminated the itemized deductions for employees’ business expenses. Before 2018, employees could deduct the business use of their vehicles, but, starting with the 2018 returns, employees can no longer deduct business-vehicle expenses.

Plug-in Electric Vehicles – Purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle may qualify a taxpayer for a tax credit of up to $7,500 (depending on the manufacturer) in the year of the purchase. The credit for a given car is based on the kilowatt capacity of its battery; the full credit applies to the first 200,000 vehicles that each manufacturer sells, after which there is a phase-out regime. Tesla is the first manufacturer to enter the phase-out period, as it reached the 200,000-vehicle cap in 2018. Thus, the credit for 2019 is limited to $3,750 for Tesla vehicles acquired in January through June and $1,875 for those acquired in July through December. After 2019, there will be no credit for Tesla purchases. The amount of credit for each vehicle is available on the IRS’s website. Note that this credit is per vehicle, not per taxpayer, so a taxpayer who purchases multiple vehicles during a given year can claim the credit for each (subject to certain limitations).

When a plug-in electric vehicle is used for both business and personal purposes, its credit is prorated based on the mileage for each usage. The personal portion of the credit is a nonrefundable personal credit that cannot be carried over. The business portion of the credit is also nonrefundable, but it is added to the general business credit and can be carried backward for one year and forward for 20 years or until the credit is used up, whichever occurs first.

The tax rules for business vehicles can be quite complicated. To maximize your benefits, please contact this office for assistance.

Disappointed in Your Tax Refund?

Article Highlights:

  • Average Refund Down
  • Tax Filings Down
  • Effects of Lower Refunds
  • Actual Tax Generally Lower
  • How This Happened

If your tax refund is less than you anticipated, you are not alone. In a report issued by the Treasury Department on February 14, the average refund it is paying in 2019 has dropped to $1,949 from $2,135 in the prior year. In addition, the number of returns filed so far has dropped from 13.5 million last year to 11.4 million this year for the same period.

With all the hype about how tax reform would reduce taxes, taxpayers were anticipating larger refunds this year but instead are receiving less, on average. This has left the Republican lawmakers who passed the tax reform scrambling to explain why the refunds are lower .

Lower refunds can be especially harmful to taxpayers who count on their refunds to pay their annual property taxes, holiday spending and other debts. Many count on the refunds to pay for summer vacations and other discretionary spending. Some who normally receive refunds may even find themselves owing money this year

Although most taxpayers will actually pay less in taxes this year, this does not necessarily translate into increased refunds. For most, the tax cut provided more take-home pay during 2018, instead of adding to their refunds at the end of the year. This decrease in withholding spread over 52, 26 or 24 paychecks is far less noticeable than a lump sum added to the refund.

How did this happen? The culprit is generally the amount of tax you had withheld from your paycheck each payday. The tax reform was passed at the very end of 2017, not allowing the IRS sufficient time to adjust the employer withholding tables or the W-4 — Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate — for the new law. When they did a couple of months later, the revised withholding tables and W-4 produced lower withholding, leading to the lower refunds.

The IRS was aware of this and issued notices almost weekly cautioning taxpayers that the lower withholding would lead to lower refunds or perhaps even them owing instead of receiving a refund. The General Accounting Office estimates that the number of taxpayers who will owe taxes this year will increase from 18 to 21 percent.

If you are affected and want to avoid the same thing from happening next year, you may want this office to compare your current withholding to your projected tax liability so that you can adjust your withholding to produce the result you desire on your 2019 return.

Vacation Home Rentals: How the Income is Taxed

Article Highlights:

  • Home never rented
  • Home rented for fewer than 15 days
  • Home rented for at least 15 days with minor personal use
  • Home rented for at least 15 days with major personal use
  • Vacation home sales

If you have a second home in a resort area, or if you have been considering acquiring a second home or vacation home, you may have questions about how rental income is taxed for a part-time vacation-home rental. The applicable rental rules include some interesting twists that you should know about before you begin renting. Although some individuals prefer to never rent out their homes, others find such rentals to be a helpful way of covering the cost of the home. For a home that is rented out part time, one of three rules must be considered, based on the length of the rental:

1. Home Rented for Fewer Than 15 Days — If a property is rented out for fewer than 15 days in a year, the property is treated as if it were not rented out at all: The rental income is tax-free, and the interest and taxes paid on the home are still deductible. In this situation, however, any directly related rental expenses (such as agent fees, utilities, and cleaning charges) are not deductible. This rule can allow for significant tax-free income, particularly when a home is rented as a filming location.

2. Home Rented For At Least 15 Days With Minor Personal Use — In this scenario, the home is rented for at least 15 days, and the owners’ personal use of the home does not exceed the greater of 15 days or 10% of the rental time. The home’s use is then allocated as both a rental home and a second home. For example, if a home is used 5% of the time for personal use, then 5% of the interest and taxes on that home are treated as home interest and taxes; these costs can be deducted as itemized deductions. The other 95% of the interest and taxes, as well as 95% of the insurance, utilities, and allowable depreciation, count as rental expenses (in addition to 100% of the direct rental expenses). The combined expenses for all rental activities are deductible as a tax loss. However, this amount is limited to $25,000 per year for a taxpayer with adjusted gross income of $100,000 or less and is ratably phased out between $100,000 and $150,000. Thus, if a taxpayer’s income exceeds $150,000, the rental-expense tax loss cannot be deducted; it is carried forward until the home is sold or until gains from other passive activities can be used to offset the loss.

3. Home Rented For At Least 15 Days With Major Personal Use — In this scenario, a home is rented for at least 15 days, but the owner’s personal use exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of the rental time. With such major personal use, no rental-related tax loss is allowed. For example, consider a home that has personal use 20% of the time and is a rental for the remaining 80%. The rental income is first reduced by 80% of the combined taxes and interest. If the owner still makes a profit after deducting the interest and taxes, then direct rental expenses and certain other expenses (such as the rental-prorated portion of the utilities, insurance, and repairs) are deducted, up to the amount of the remaining income. If there is still a profit, the owner can take a deduction for depreciation, but this is also limited to the remaining profit. As a result, no loss is allowed, and any remaining profit is taxable. The interest and taxes from the personal use (20% in this example) are deducted as itemized deductions, which are subject to the normal interest and tax limitations.

4. Vacation Home Sales — A vacation-home rental is considered a personal-use property. Gains from the sales of such properties are taxable, and losses are generally not deductible.

Unlike primary homes, second homes do not qualify for the home-gain exclusion. Any gain from a second home is taxable unless it served as the taxpayer’s primary residence for two of the five years immediately preceding the sale and was not rented during that two-year period. In the latter scenario, the taxpayer does qualify for the home-gain exclusion, provided that he or she has not used that exclusion for another property in the prior two years. As a result, by the home-gain exclusion can offset an amount of gain that exceeds the depreciation previously claimed on the home; this amount is limited to $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a married couple filing jointly (if the spouse also qualifies).

There are complicated tax rules related to the home-gain exclusion for homes that are acquired in a tax-deferred exchange or converted from rentals to primary residences. Homeowners may require careful planning to utilize the home-gain exclusion in such cases.

As an additional note, when a property is rented for short-term stays or when significant personal services (such as maid services) are provided to guests, the taxpayer likely will be considered a business operator rather than just an individual who is renting a home. If so, the reporting requirements will differ from those outlined above.

As with all tax rules, there are certain exceptions to be aware of. Please call this office to discuss your situation in detail.

Tax Reform Has Substantially Altered the Tax Benefits of Home Ownership

Article Highlights:

  • Pre-Tax Reform Home Mortgage Interest Deduction
  • Home Acquisition Debt
  • Home Equity Debt
  • Tax Reform Mortgage Interest Deduction Changes
  • Home Acquisition Debt
  • Home Equity Debt
  • Tracing Equity Debt
  • Refinancing
  • Property Taxes

As part of the recent tax reform, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the deduction for home mortgage interest and property taxes has undergone substantial alterations. These changes will impact most homeowners who itemize their deductions each year.

Mortgage Interest– Prior to the tax reform, a taxpayer could deduct the interest he or she paid on up to $1 million of acquisition debt and $100,000 of equity debt secured by the taxpayer’s primary home and/or designated second home. This interest was claimed as an itemized deduction on Schedule A of the homeowner’s tax return. This tax deduction was often cited as one of the reasons to purchase a home, rather than renting a place to live.

Qualified home acquisition debt is debt incurred to purchase, construct, or substantially improve a taxpayer’s primary home or second home and is secured by the home.

Home equity debt is debt that is not acquisition debt and that is secured by the taxpayer’s primary home or second home, but only the interest paid on up to $100,000 of equity debt had been deductible as home mortgage interest. In the past, homeowners have used home equity as a piggy bank to purchase a new car, finance a vacation, or pay off credit card debt or other personal loans – all situations in which the interest on a consumer loan obtained for these purposes wouldn’t have been deductible.

The old law continues to apply to home acquisition debt by grandfathering the home acquisition debt incurred before December 16, 2017, to the limits that applied prior to the changes made by the tax reform. As explained later in this article, equity debt interest didn’t survive the tax reform’s legal changes.

New Acquisition Debt Limits: Under the new law, for home acquisition loans obtained after December 15, 2017, the acquisition debt limit has been reduced to $750,000. Thus, if a taxpayer is buying a home for the first time, the deductible amount of the acquisition debt interest will now be limited to the interest paid on up to $750,000 of the debt. If the home acquisition debt exceeds the $750,000 limit, then a prorated amount of the interest will still be deductible. If a taxpayer already has a home with grandfathered acquisition debt and wishes to finance a substantial improvement on the home or acquire a second home, the total of the prior acquisition debt and the new debt, for which the interest would be deductible, would be limited to $750,000 less the grandfathered acquisition debt existing at the time of the new loan.

This may be a tough pill to swallow for many future homebuyers, since the cost of housing is on the rise, while Congress has seen fit to reduce the cap on acquisition debt, on which interest is deductible.

Equity Debit: Under the new law, equity debt interest is no longer deductible after 2017, and this even applies to interest on existing equity debt, essentially pulling the rug out from underneath taxpayers who had previously taken equity out of their homes for other purposes and who were benefiting from the itemized deduction. Note: Equity debt used to purchase, construct or substantially improve one’s home or second home is not treated as equity debt for tax purposes, it is instead treated as acquisition debt (See acquisition debt limits above).

Tracing Equity Debt Interest: Because home mortgage interest rates are generally lower than business or investment loan rates and easier to qualify for, many taxpayers have used the equity in their home to start businesses, acquire rental property, or make investments, or for other uses for which the interest would be deductible. With the demise of the Schedule A home equity debt interest deduction, taxpayers can now trace interest on equity debt to other deductible uses. However, if the debt cannot be traced to a deductible purpose, unfortunately, the equity interest will no longer be deductible.

Refinancing: Under prior law, a taxpayer could refinance existing acquisition debt, and the allowable interest would be deductible for the full term of the new loan. Under tax reform, the allowable interest will only be deductible for the remaining term of the debt that was refinanced. For example, under the old rules, if you refinanced a 30-year term loan after 15 years into a new 25-year loan, the interest would have been deductible for the entire 25-year term of the new loan. However, under tax reform, the interest on the refinanced loan would only be deductible for 15 years – the remaining term of the refinanced debt.

Property Taxes: – Prior to the tax reform, homeowners could deduct all of the state and local taxes they paid as an itemized deduction on their federal return. These taxes were primarily real property taxes and state income tax (taxpayers had and still have the option to replace state income tax with sales tax). Beginning in 2018 and through 2025, the deduction for taxes is still allowed but will be limited to a total of $10,000. Thus, if the total property tax and state income tax exceeds $10,000, homeowners may not get the benefit of deducting the full amount of the property taxes they paid. In addition, this requires an analysis when the return is being prepared of whether to claim sales tax instead of state income tax, since when state income tax is deducted, if there’s a state tax refund, it may be taxable on the federal return for the year when the refund is received.

Determining when and how much home mortgage interest was deductible was frequently complicated under the prior tax law, and the new rules have added a whole new level of complexity, including issues related to property taxes. Please call this office if you have questions about your particular home loan interest, refinancing, equity debt interest tracing circumstances, and tax deductions.

A Government Shutdown Isn’t Going to Save You from an IRS Audit

Article Highlights:

Yes, it’s true that we’re just coming out of the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States. It will take many government agencies – including the Internal Revenue Service – a significant period of time to get back up to speed. But if you think that all this means that the chances of your getting audited are lower than ever, you’re going to want to think again.

According to one recent study, the IRS audited about 0.6 percent of individual tax returns in 2016, which means that your chances of getting that unfortunate letter in the mail were about one in 160. When you expand the definition of a traditional audit to include all of the other types of notices that you may receive to re-examine your taxes or provide backup documentation, for example, that number jumps to about 6.2 percent— or roughly one in 16.

So not only were your chances of getting audited always higher than you thought, but a government shutdown isn’t going to prevent this particular train from running on time. There are a few common IRS audit red flags in particular that you’ll want to know more about as April approaches once again.

The Dreaded Math Errors

A lot of people don’t realize just how much of the IRS’s own processes are automated. When you file your income tax return, that information gets entered into a computer, and a lot of the processing is done before a human ever looks at it — if one ever comes into contact with your return at all.

Therefore, one of the major red flags that will certainly trigger an audit are math errors, because a computer doesn’t care whether the government was shut down or not. A math error is a math error, and if you make one (or multiple), it’ll send up a red flag within the IRS’s system, and an automated notice will likely be issued as a result.

How You Make Your Money

The people who work for the IRS aren’t amateurs; they know that certain types of industries feature more instances of unreported cash earnings than others. This is why another one of the major red flags that could see you on the receiving end of an IRS audit has to do with the industry you’re operating in to begin with.

If you work in the restaurant industry where cash tips are common, for example, you are probably always going to garner more attention from IRS professionals than someone who may have a more rigid salary. Simply being a part of these types of industries automatically raises your odds of being audited, and no government shutdown is going to change that.

Earned Income Tax Credit Audits

In 2018, the IRS actually came right out and admitted that people who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit are twice as likely to be audited than those who don’t. A large part of this comes down to the fact that people sometimes take this credit who shouldn’t, and it costs the United States government about $10 billion per year. .

At this point, it’s important to note that taking this credit intentionally when you shouldn’t is fraud, and that is not a situation you want to find yourself in. If you can prove that you took the credit by accident, you don’t necessarily have anything to worry about. But you’ll likely still be audited, and you’re certainly going to have some explaining to do.

Large Charitable Contributions

Finally, one of the biggest red flags that the IRS always looks for when determining whom to audit ultimately comes down, not to charitable contributions as a concept, but to significantly large contributions under peculiar circumstances.

When viewing charitable contributions, the IRS always looks at the amount you gave relative to the overall amount you made during a year. The IRS definitely knows, on average, how much people in certain income brackets are likely to donate. Sure, there are always special circumstances – but if you give two years’ worth of donations in a single year in an effort to maximize the deduction you can take, you’re almost always going to attract the type of attention you don’t necessarily want.

Provided that you’ve got the documentation to back up your donations, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. But a lot of people try to game the system by saying that they gave X amount of dollars in one year when they really gave that money over the last few years, and that is something the IRS will try to put a stop to.

An audit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you have the documentation to support every move you made and why it was the right one for you at the moment. But again, don’t assume that the government shutdown means that your chances of an IRS audit are practically zero. They never were, but they certainly aren’t now, which is why you’ll always want to make sure that you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s before you submit your tax return information this year.

Could Your Sales Invoices Be Better? How QuickBooks Online Can Help.

Every interaction with your customers can enhance your image. Here’s how QuickBooks Online contributes to that.

Getting paid by your customers—on time, and in full—can take some effort on your part. You set smart due dates and enforce them. Price your products and services so they’re both reasonable and profitable. Accept online payments. But are your invoices working for you here? QuickBooks Online provides sales form templates that you can usually use without modifying.

But it also offers tools that support multiple kinds of customization. It helps you shape the content and appearance of your invoices and their accompanying messages to be consistent with your company’s brand.

These may be cosmetic changes, but they can affect the way customers react to communications from you. You have few chances to make an impression, so anything you can do to enhance and personalize every interaction will have impact on their impression of you. Neat, well-designed sales forms convey professionalism and attention to details.

Here’s a look at what you can do.

Editing Fields

Unless you use every single field in QuickBooks Online’s default sales form template, your invoices will look sloppier than they might otherwise. The site gives you control over much of the content that your customers will see. To make changes, click the gear icon in the upper right of the screen and select Account and Settings, then Sales. You’ll see Sales form contentin the left column. Click on any of the fields to the right to open a more thorough list of options.

QuickBooks Online lets you turn fields on and off in your sales forms and specify other preferences.

Click on the status (On, Off) in the right column to change it. When you’re satisfied with your selections, click Save. Then close that window by clicking the Xin the upper right corner.

You have more options than these. Click the gear icon again, and then Your Company | Custom Form Styles. You’ll see that there is already a “master” form. You can either edit it or create a new one.We recommend leaving the master form alone so you always have a clean copy to consult if you get tangled up while you’re working.

Click the down arrow in the New style box in the upper right and select Invoice. In the screen that opens, enter a descriptive name for your template in the field at the top and then click Content. A graphical representation of your invoice will appear in the right pane, grayed out. It’s divided into three sections: header, footer, and table (the middle of the invoice where you describe what you sold). Each displays a small pencil icon on the right side of the screen. Click the one in the middle to make that area more visible.

It’s easy to specify which fields should appear on your invoices, what the labels should say, and how wide the space should be.

As you check and uncheck boxes to indicate what content should be included, your invoice on the right will change to reflect your actions. You can Preview PDF by clicking that button in the lower right. When you’re satisfied with the changes you’ve made to all three sections, click on the Design tab.

Changing the Look

You don’t have to be a graphic artist to have QuickBooks Online forms that look attractive and consistent, which highlight your brand. The site provides tools that give you control over the appearance of your invoices, not just their content. Click each link below the Design tab to:

    Choose a template.
    Add your company’s logo.
    Select a color scheme and fonts.
    Change the printer settings to accommodate letterhead, for example

Choosing Your Words

You have control over the messages that go out with your invoices.

Finally, click the Emails tab. Options here let you customize the emails that are sent to customers along with their invoices. Again, changes you make in the left pane will be reflected in the graphical version on the right side.

When you’ve completed all of your modifications, click Done.

We gave you this whirlwind tour of QuickBooks Online’s invoice customization options so you’d know what was possible. We expect you might need some assistance when you sit down to apply the concepts you’ve learned about to your own company’s sales forms. We’re available to help you present a polished, carefully-crafted image representing your brand to your customers.

March 2019 Individual Due Dates

March 11 – Report Tips to Employer

If you are an employee who works for tips and received more than $20 in tips during February, you are required to report them to your employer on IRS Form 4070 no later than March 11.

Your employer is required to withhold FICA taxes and income tax withholding for these tips from your regular wages. If your regular wages are insufficient to cover the FICA and tax withholding, the employer will report the amount of the uncollected withholding in box 12 of your W-2 for the year. You will be required to pay the uncollected withholding when your return for the year is filed.

March 15 – Time to Call for Your Tax Appointment

It is only one month until the April due date for your individual income tax returns. If you have not made an appointment to have your taxes prepared, we encourage you to do so before it becomes too late.

Do not be concerned about having all your information available before making the appointment. If you do not have all your information, we will simply make a list of the missing items. When you receive those items, just forward them to us.

Even if you think you might need to go on extension, it is best to prepare a preliminary return and estimate the result so you can pay the tax and minimize interest and penalties. We can then file the extension for you.

We look forward to hearing from you.

March 2019 Individual Due Dates

March 1 – Farmers and Fisherman

File your 2018 income tax return (Form 1040) and pay any tax due. However, you have until April 15 (April 17 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts) to file if you paid your 2018 estimated tax by January 15, 2019.

March 4 – Applicable Larger Employer (ALE) – Form 1095-C

If you’re an Applicable Large Employer, provide the 2018 Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage, to full-time employees. The normal due date for giving employees their copy of the 1095-C is January 31, 2019, but the IRS gave a blanket extension of 30 days to ALEs for 2019 filings.

March 15 – Partnerships

File a 2018 calendar year return (Form 1065). Provide each partner with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065), Partner’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, etc., or a substitute Schedule K-1. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return and provide Schedules K-1 or substitute Schedules K-1 to the partners, file Form 7004. Then, file Form 1065 and provide the K-1s to the partners by September 16.

March 15 – S-Corporations

File a 2018 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120S) and pay any tax due. Provide each shareholder with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S), Shareholder’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, etc., or a substitute Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S). To request an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004 and pay the tax estimated to be owed. Then file the return; pay any tax, interest, and penalties due; and provide each shareholder with a copy of their Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S) by September 16.

March 15 – Social Security, Medicare and Withheld Income Tax

If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in February.

March 15 – Non-Payroll Withholding

If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in February.