The amount of money that moves around come tax time means the emergence of scams is inevitable. So even though many people are expecting tax refunds to hit their bank account over the next couple of months, be wary of unexpected ones. These unexpected returns are not a surprise windfall, and instead the start of a potentially large issue.
There are many different versions of this scam, but it starts with a fraudulent tax return being submitted, and scammers then using the victim’s real bank account for the refund deposit. The criminals then contact the taxpayer with one a variety of ways to reclaim this erroneous refund.
I don’t feel the need to really get into the ways the scammers try to get this money, for the way to halt any issues instead comes as soon as the mistaken money is deposited. As soon as it is noticed, contact the bank and have them return the refund to the IRS. Then contact the IRS and tell them why the money is being returned.
This also seems to be a time to mention that some taxpayers won’t know that someone filed a fraudulent return in their name until they try to electronically file the legitimate return. When a return bearing the same social security is on file, the IRS will reject the second one. This then requires filing a paper return along with an identity theft affidavit.
Now these aren’t the most fun things to talk about, for even if you follow all the rules as you should following any identity theft issue, it can have long-ranging consequences and take lots of time to try to set right. Just thinking about it is scary. Talking about it is good, though, for the more vigilant we remain, the more we stand a better chance of not becoming a victim.
And thankfully, this increasing awareness seems to be working.
Last week, the IRS reported that tax-related identity theft declined for the second straight year. This is good enough news, but it is amazing that they saw a 40 percent decline since 2016, a rather significant mark. Furthermore, the agency reported that since 2015, tax-related identity theft has fallen by more than two-thirds.
The overall numbers are still not negligible – 242,000 identity theft reports reached the IRS in 2016 – but the drops are huge. That number was 677,000 in 2015, after all.
There is no reason to think, though, that it will ever stop. After all, the IRS reported it recovered $204 million in fraudulent refunds last year, and it is impossible to keep out criminal acts when that much money is involved. But again, that number was $852 million in 2015, so things are improving.
Personally, this is also a moment when I can step back and be thankful that my clients trust me with their personal information and finances. That is a pact that I do not take lightly, and we take pride in doing everything we can to ensure your privacy.
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Over the past month or so, I often have written about getting your documents together in preparation for filing your taxes. I thought that this week I should take the time to actually expand upon that, and talk about what documents this could include. Please recognize, however, that this is really only the large-picture view, that everyone’s situation is different, and this is far from comprehensive, but hopefully will keep you thinking in the right directions anyway.
First off, since we are paying taxes because we earned some money, you’re going to need the documents that show just how much you earned. So get W-2 forms for any job you had in 2017 (and for the purposes of this article, “you” means you and your spouse if you are filing as married). This also means any side-work you did, however, and you should receive a 1099 form for any of that that earned you more than $600. Then there is income from any business you own (so you will need those accounting records), any interest earned from investments, any money received from unemployment, social security, jury duty, or gambling winnings.
Overall, remember that if you receive a tax form saying you got some money, that information was also sent to the IRS. So even if it was only a few dollars, you want to be sure it is included on your return. Yes, it won’t affect your tax return that much, but you want your numbers to look like the IRS expects them to look.
After income, we have to start looking at ways to reduce how much you owe, and some of these deductions and credits will have also come with tax forms, such as mortgage interest paid and student loan interest. You also want to track contributions made to retirement accounts and medical savings accounts.
There are some general purchases you made that could become deductions. These are especially important if you have any qualified business expenses. And realize that getting tax numbers together is much easier if you provide receipts instead of saying, “Well, I had lunch with a client once around March and it cost about $50.” Even if you don’t have a business, though, there could be some expenses that were necessary to complete your job, and if you were not reimbursed for those, they could also qualify as deductions.
Beyond those, however, any costs that you had for education and child care can lower your tax liability. And if you added a child through adoption, some of those costs will also benefit your tax picture. If you had a number of medical expenses, you will also want to document those, as well as any moving expenses and charitable contributions.
Finally, there is also more basic information needed that some people can overlook. If you’re filing taxes with someone who doesn’t already have the information, you’ll need social security numbers for you, your spouse, and any dependents. And if you are expecting a refund, having your bank’s routing number and account number handy will help you get that money as quickly as possible.
Again, this is only the bare skeleton of what can be needed for a full tax return. I wanted to put out the biggest ideas, though, that one needs to think about when it comes to tax preparation. Thankfully, if you are already thinking about these things, then you have time to find everything you may need and get all that is owed to you. Also, at this time of tax season, we still have plenty of appointments available and are eager to help you in this endeavor.
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I hope you began the official celebration this week. What, you didn’t know? As of Monday, the IRS has officially started tax season. Granted, this is something I write about a lot, and with Congress passing tax reform at the end of the last year, it may seem like we have been in tax season for months, but the actual acceptance of returns only began this week.
Of course, this involves lots of numbers, and one big one is that the IRS is expecting to get 155 million returns, with 70 percent of those expected to result in refunds. And last year, the average refund was $2,895. That’s a lot of money moving around, and as always, we are eager to help you get as big a piece of that as possible.
And as I always preach, getting started early is one of the best ways to make this happen. By this point, you have probably received some tax forms in the mail, and most of what you have not yet seen will arrive in the next week or so. Open those envelopes, give a quick look to make sure that everything looks as it should, then keep them all together.
At the same time, though, think of the other things that you need to help maximize any refund. Do you claim a home office deduction and need utility bills? Do you have some receipts for business meals that can be deducted? Overall, it is a good strategy to remember that whatever documents you used last year are worth gathering this year again. For most of us, after all, our financial situations don’t change THAT much from year to year.
If your situation has changed significantly, though, you may want to schedule an early appointment for your taxes. For sure, you will know many of the forms and documents that you will need for a full return, but we can discuss your new situation and find out if there are others that will help your return look even better.
But even if things are going to almost exactly like they were for you last year, wouldn’t you enjoy just getting it over with? As the IRS said, most people are expecting refunds, after all, so why not let being a little proactive get some extra money in your bank account sooner.
And those refunds can come pretty quickly, too. Around 90 percent of taxpayers now file electronically, which allows most people who receive a refund to get it in less than three weeks. Though be warned that those who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit and/or the Additional Child Tax Credit are not expected to start receiving theirs until February 27. And yes, that can be a bit of a bummer for those who file early with those credits, but it’s a measure the IRS has taken to try to prevent fraud, and I suppose we have to be forgiving when it takes such actions for such reasons.
But yes, we have arrived. So for those who are ready, stay on top of it. I mean, we will remain eager to help you even as we approach the April 17 deadline, but our calendar gets fuller by then, and your chances to take advantage of every deduction for which you could be eligible could decrease. Time is currently on our side, let’s use it.
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The beginning of tax season almost got off to a strange start with the brief government shutdown that began over the weekend. A temporary measure passed Monday kept this from becoming an extended issue, but the story is far from over.
Ahead of the shutdown, the IRS issued its “FY2018 Lapsed Appropriations Contingency Plan.” Interestingly, this did not say that tax returns would not be processed, but that they would happen, “to the extent necessary to protect Government property, which includes tax revenue, and maintain the integrity of the federal tax collection process.” What this pretty much sounds like is that the government would accept tax returns and payments, but there was nothing about refunds, and taxpayer services would be, at best, extremely limited. .
The plan estimated that only about 43 percent of the IRS’s staff would be retained in the event of having no funding. That comes on the heels of the IRS stating that it would need increased funding just for the implementation of the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Of course, this also happens in the shadow of almost a decade of financial cuts for the agency that have resulted in fewer audits and longer wait times for those who need to contact the IRS.
Congress’s actions Monday kept all this from becoming an immediate issue, but it only covered funding for the government for a few weeks. Granted, things may work themselves out over that time, but that is clearly no sure thing. So what does this mean for tax filing?
First, if you are ready to go forward, there seem to be good reasons to not procrastinate filing your taxes The IRS is slated to begin accepting returns on Monday, January 29, and in a time of uncertainty, there could be some comfort in knowing that your obligations have already been taken care of.
Second, though, this also becomes a good time to pass along a reminder that if your return claims the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit, any refund could be delayed. In an effort to combat fraud, the IRS expects to hold such refunds until the week of February 27th at the earliest. This includes the entire refund, and not just the portion associated with the credits, and this will be the case no matter how any potential government shutdowns play out.
Finally, do not overlook what the IRS said that it for sure would still do, and that is protecting the government’s tax revenue. No matter where things go, the federal government is still going to expect your tax return and any payment it is due by the April 17th deadline. Even if we enter a scenario where there is a huge backlog of tax returns that need to be processed, the IRS is going to note when you filed the return, not when it was processed, when it comes to any potential penalties.
Also, rest assured that we remain ready to ramp up our efforts throughout tax season. We will not be shutting down and instead will be standing by you no matter where the path leads.
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The fallout from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts continues. Hopefully it will ease enough that I can write about something else next week. But for this week …
First, came the release of the 2017 Annual Report to Congress from National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson. The most interesting part of this may have been concerns expressed about how the IRS would be able to implement all the new rules.
That struggle is connected to the reductions in IRS funding that have been coming throughout the past decade or so. I have written about this in the past, and how it has resulted in a decrease in the number of audits. Granted, this sounds like good news, but just ask anyone who has had business with the IRS (or had to face one of those audits) that required talking to an actual person with the organization and how difficult it was to reach one.
With the partisan bickering and then wondering what the fallout would mean for one’s individual taxes, it is not a real surprise that no one really worried too much about how the new rules would affect the IRS itself. It is not as if anyone holds too much sympathy for the organization anyway. If they are already having issues carrying out the agency’s business, though, it is easy to understand how a set of new rules would further hurt its efficiency.
This feels much like how things were in the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. We all knew that tax credits were going to be involved, and reporting on if one had health insurance would become part of a tax return, but it all felt a little too much up in the air before it came time to actually file. We got through that time, though, and we will get through this one. It just appears that it really will take more than a year to fully appreciate how this will all shake out.
The second thing to report, though, is that some of these things are starting to shake themselves out already, as the IRS has updated its income withholding rates to reflect the new standards. This means that many people could see a little more money in their paycheck over the next few weeks.
Without getting into deep numbers, what this means is what is being withheld in your paycheck is being adjusted so that your tax return will look similar when it comes time to file for the 2018 year. If you have set your withholding to come out even at the end of the year, it still will. If you set it to receive a refund, chances are good you will still receive one.
While all this stuff is at the front of our minds, though, it might be time to think about adjusting your withholding. Granted everyone loves that refund, but everyone also loves a little more money in every paycheck. With the new rules already possibly putting a little extra in there, altering your withholding could add a little more. Combined, maybe you could make some moves that you did not have the chance to a couple of months ago that you will feel better about in the long run rather than waiting for a refund in 14 months or so.