In many of these blogs, I can be straightforward. They often speak of definite numbers that you can look at and what steps can be taken to make them look how you want. For this week, though, I want to know, how do you feel?
Last week was Thanksgiving, and hopefully you got to spend some quality time with people that make you feel good. Last week also marked the big kickoff to the holiday shopping season, though, and for many that may not feel as good. If you did not plan well, making all the purchases you want before the holidays can seem like a daunting task. If you are in a place where you are confident and comfortable that you can navigate the season financially, however, that can feel great.
So how do you feel?
And no matter what the answer, is it possible to feel even better?
For this is also the time of year when you may start to think about your taxes as you prepare to start receiving end-of-year documents next month. Do you know what your return is going to look like once you get all that information? How does that make you feel?
My point with this is that the answer to what people should do in their financial situation is not the same for everyone. We are in different stages of life, we have different obligations, we make different amounts of money. No matter where we stand, though, there are things we can do better to take away some stresses and make us feel better about where we stand.
If you are struggling to see how you are going to meet your obligations from month to month, or even week to week, figuring out how to remove that stress is probably where to start.
If you are meeting your obligations, but don’t feel comfortable with your savings or your future, addressing that is probably where to start.
If you feel secure in your future, figuring out how to leverage the money you have to your best advantage may still be something you want to do.
No matter where we stand, we can always be better.
There is the urge to wait until the calendar turns to 2020 before deciding what new trails you will blaze in life. Nothing is going to actually work better by waiting, though. And the longer you wait to do anything, the further away is the finish line. A new year may feel like a big marker, but that’s just a psychological trick and there is nothing mystical about the date of January 1.
So why not start asking now, how do you feel?
Better yet, why not start asking now, how can I feel even better?
That second question may be trickier because you may not know the answers that will make your stress go away. So remember as always we are here to help you along the way and point you in an ever positive direction, no matter what time of year it is.
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No matter how many times we see it, we can’t help but smile at the failings of individuals when it comes to paying their taxes.
Last month, we’ve learned that what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, as a Las Vegas man, King Isaac Umoren, the owner and operator of Universal Tax Services, was indicted on charges he not only fraudulently prepared tax returns for clients, he used his employees’ preparer tax identification numbers without their consent. He is facing up to two decades in prison if guilty and hefty fines.
Shakespeare mentions, in King Lear, “the first thing let’s do, is kill all the lawyers.” Now, no matter what you think about this, a Houston, Texas attorney thought he would make a killing by illegally transferring in 18 million dollars in untaxed incomes, despite knowing it had never been taxed. The U. S. government successfully proved in court the man had conspired to move the money into the United States for a 25% ownership stake and nearly 4.8 million dollars in payments.
We think it would have been easier to just pay the taxes!
It doesn’t take a lot to wonder about some of the news we see coming out of Florida any given day, and our next case is no different. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida has permanently barred defendant Gladys Quiles from preparing federal tax returns for others.
The interesting thing about this case was that Quiles acted as a “ghost preparer” for individuals, helping them to overstate deductions and maximize their returns. Even stranger? She was not present to defend herself in the proceedings leading us to believe she might really be a ghost.
This case is intriguing because the IRS considers “ghost preparers” to be one of the top challenges to proper filing and this type of fraud is actually on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list for top tax problems. If you work with a tax preparer, make sure their name is on the preparer line or you will be the ONLY ONE on the hook if something goes south! If you paid for it, it is NOT "self prepared" and you should be aware that the person you paid is not working legally or in your best interest.
That is what I have for this today! Stay warm, friends,
When I write this time of year, it tends to be short. Let’s face it, no one is currently in the mindset of wanting to invest a lot of time and energy in anything other than cooking and/or eating.
Well, I promise this will also be short.
When I write this time of year, though, it tends to be a note of thanks and appreciation to our clients and those we work with. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t be here without them.
Well, I promise that feeling still exists.
I want to put more focus this time, though, on a wish that everyone reading this enjoys their holiday and embraces the connection shared with those around you.
We are living in a period when the divisions between us seem stronger than those which unite us – even though in total those similarities outnumber the differences. Even if you will sit around the table with those whom you have differences, what has brought you to that table should outweigh that divide.
Differences can be possessed with respect, similarities should be embraced with love.
So share that love with those you are with, enjoy the time you are spending together, and forgive yourself for the extra piece of pie.
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You are bound to hear news stories over the coming week about Black Friday sales and some of those are going to include how to keep yourself safe when shopping online. Now I can’t necessarily say that things are going to be more dangerous on that day – as I doubt that’s really the case – but it’s a big enough day to make stories hit a little bit closer to home and sound scarier. Heck, even the IRS has planned its annual Security Summit to start on December 2, right on the heels of the big day.
Now sure, some of this is scare tactics, but that doesn’t mean there are not common-sense measures you should be using to protect your personal information any time of year. So here a few highlights from the IRS’s longer spiel on the subject to keep in mind.
If you are on a website and going to make a purchase, take a half-second and make sure it’s a secure website. This can be done by noting if the site’s address starts with https instead of http, and many browsers will also give you an indicator with a symbol, such as a lock. This is especially important if you are on a website that you accessed by an email link. It is not difficult for scammers to make emails and websites look official and that extra check can help make you safe.
Along those lines, trust your email’s spam filter. Sure, things that you actually wanted to see occasionally end up in a junk folder, and we often have no idea why. Most of the things that are there, though, are things you did not want, which means it tends to do a pretty good job. So be extra wary of communication that lands there.
Standard security software works pretty well, too, and most people put it on their electronic devices at some point. It only keeps working pretty well, however, if you keep it updated. If you installed it on your computer three years ago, it’s only keeping you safe against attacks that existed three years ago. Those out to get information via nefarious means haven’t thrown up their hands in defeat because programs figured them out years ago, so you need to keep up with them.
And they do win sometimes, which can be scary. That’s why news stories about them exist at all, and it’s why stories of large data breaches get larger stories. If scammers do gain some information from you, things get even scarier. You can at least mitigate some of the damage by not using the same password for everything you sign into.
This can be extra important for there are some passwords you do occasionally share. I mean it can be fine for your kids to know the Netflix password, but you might not also want them to then have the knowledge necessary to access your bank accounts.
Security is important, so talking and thinking about it should happen. Actions to stay secure should also happen. Simple steps can help you feel safer and stop you from giving in to fear.
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Since the passage of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, talk of charitable donations and how it affects your tax situation has changed for many. If you’re one of the many who went from itemizing deductions to no longer doing so, you may now be donating money and not worrying about how it’s recorded.
That situation is not necessarily bad, for you SHOULD still be giving that money. There is great value in donating money to worthy causes even if it doesn’t affect your tax picture.
For those who are still in a position where your charitable giving affects your tax picture, however, there’s nothing wrong with being sure that you put it to its best use in all areas. So this week I wanted to write a little bit about how you can do that.
In this space, I can only hit on some of the big issues that you may not have realized you should think about. If you want to get deeper into it, click here for the IRS’s information on the subject, or always feel free to contact us and set up a personal discussion for your own situation.
The big thing here is to be sure you can substantiate the money that you give. Essentially, you want a record of everything you contribute. An easy way to do this is making donations by check so that the cancelled check serves as that record. Many charities will also give written communication (either with each donation or at the end of the year with a total for that year) detailing what you donated and this will also serve for substantiation purposes.
Things gets a little trickier when it comes to cash giving. There is some wiggle room with what you can claim you gave via cash, but if it is anything over $250, you will need a receipt to officially have it allowed.
These things get even trickier when you donate to an organization and get something in return. For example, if you give $100 and get a ticket to an event valued at $50, only the $50 difference is considered a charitable contribution.
(Trigger warning, the IRS discussion of this involves the term quid pro quo, a term that used to seem so innocent, but now you may be tired of hearing it.)
Then there are the situations where you donate property to a charitable organization. If this is something smaller, like donating clothes to Goodwill for example, getting written acknowledgment of the donation is enough. Once these donations go over $500, though, you move into the area where additional tax forms will be needed. And if you get over $5,000 you start to get into an area where qualified appraisals could become necessary.
And if you do a lot of work yourself for a charitable organization, did you know that the mileage you drive for the group can also become deductible?
Overall, this is a deduction that seems very simple on its surface and is in fact simple for a wide variety of transactions. It doesn’t take THAT much, however, to get into the more complicated areas, and you will want to be sure that you are aware of the rules so that you get the full benefit of your gift.
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