Would a Mid-Year Tax Checkup Benefit You?

Article Highlights:

  • Procrastination Can Lead to Unnecessary Taxes & Penalties
  • Events That Create Tax Problems & Opportunities
  • Mid-Year Tax Checkup

If you are inclined to procrastinate until the end of the year or, even worse, until tax-filing season to worry about your taxes, you may be missing out on opportunities to reduce your taxes and avoid certain penalties. The following are some events that can affect your tax return; you may need to take steps to mitigate their impact and avoid unpleasant surprises before it is too late to address them.

  • Did you get married, get divorced, or become widowed?
  • Did you change jobs or has your spouse started working?
  • Did you have a substantial increase or decrease in income?
  • Did you have a substantial gain from the sale of stocks or bonds?
  • Are you considering an investment in a Qualified Opportunity Fund to defer tax on capital gains?
  • Did you buy or sell a rental?
  • Did you start, acquire, or sell a business?
  • Did you buy or sell a home?
  • Did you retire this year?
  • Are you on track to withdraw the required amount from your IRA (age 70.5 or older)?
  • Are you taking advantage of the IRA-to-charity transfers (age 70.5 or older)?
  • Did you refinance your home or take out a second home mortgage this year?
  • Were you the beneficiary of an inheritance this year?
  • Did you welcome a new child into your family? Time to consider a tax-advantaged educational savings plan!
  • Are you taking full advantage of retirement savings plans?
  • Have you made any significant equipment purchases for your business?
  • Are you planning to purchase a new business vehicle and dispose of the old one?
  • Are your cash and non-cash charitable contributions adequately documented?
  • If your expenses that are eligible for itemizing are less than the standard deduction, have you considered grouping your charitable contributions? The benefit is that you can itemize this year and then use the standard deduction next year.
  • Did you, or are you planning to, make energy-efficiency improvements to your main home or install a solar system for your main or second home this year?
  • Are you paying college tuition for yourself, your spouse or dependent(s)?
  • Are you keeping up with your estimated tax payments or do they need adjusting?
  • Did you purchase your health insurance through a government insurance marketplace and qualify for an insurance premium subsidy? If your income subsequently increased, you may need to be prepared to repay some portion of the subsidy.
  • Do you have substantial investment income or gains from the sale of investment assets? If so, you may incur the 3.8% surtax on net investment income and need to adjust your advance tax payments.
  • Did you make any unplanned withdrawals from an IRA or pension plan?
  • If you are a business owner, do you need to change how the business is organized to take full advantage of the 20% of qualified business income deduction?
  • If you are an employee that incurs job-related expenses that aren’t deductible for years 2018 through 2025, have you arranged with your employer to participate in an accountable reimbursement plan for these expenses?
  • Have you stayed abreast of every new tax law change?

If you anticipate or have already encountered any of the above events or conditions, it may be beneficial to schedule a mid-year tax checkup and consult with your Tarlow tax advisor before the end of the year.

The Life of an Estimate in QuickBooks Online

Estimates-or quotes, or bids-are useful tools when you’re pitching a sale of products or services. Here’s how QuickBooks Online handles them.

Sales estimates are standard procedure in many professions. You wouldn’t authorize a car repair without one. Nor would you OK a remodeling job on your kitchen or a summer’s worth of yard landscaping without knowing what the costs will be upfront. Estimates don’t have to be formal documents. You could scribble a proposal for products or services and their prices on a paper napkin and have your customer sign it. But as we’ve said before, the quality of your sales documents reflects on your company’s professionalism as well as its image.

QuickBooks Online offers specialized tools to manage this step in the selling process. You can create detailed estimates that the site can easily convert to invoices when you get an approval. And QuickBooks Online reports help you monitor the progress of your quotes. Here’s how it works.

A Dedicated Form

You probably already know how to create an invoice. If so, you shouldn’t have any trouble generating estimates because the forms are very similar. To get started, click the + (plus) sign in the upper right corner of the screen. In the Customers column, click Estimates. A form like this will open:

QuickBooks Online provides a form template for your estimates.

Open the drop-down list in the Customer field and select the correct one (or +Add new).

Note: If you click on +Add new, you’re only required to enter your prospective customer’s name to create an estimate; contact detail, of course, will not appear on the form. You can go back later and complete a customer record, but it’s best to at least enter a physical and email address. Click +Details to open the complete record, then save what you provide there.

The word “Pending” should appear below the Customer field. This refers to the status of your estimate. Click the down arrow to the right of it, then on the down arrow in the small window that opens to see what options you’ll have later. If you want to copy someone else on the estimate, click the small Cc/Bcc link to the right and provide the email address(es).

Enter (or select by clicking on the calendar graphic) the Estimate date. If your offer is only good for a limited period of time, enter an Expiration date; otherwise, leave that field blank. Then go down to the Product/Service grid and select the items for which you’re providing an estimate, one on each line. Fill in the Qty field and check the labeled box if the item is taxable.

If you had created a product record for it already, the other fields should be completed automatically. If not, click +Add new. The Product/Service information pane should slide out from the right side of the screen. Here again, you’re only required to enter a Name, but you should really create the whole record and save it to return to the estimate. If you’ve not been through this process before, we can walk you through it.

You can add a discount to the estimate as either a percentage or a dollar amount in the lower right corner of the screen. You can also edit the customer message that appears in the lower left and attach any files necessary. When you’re done, save the estimate.

Estimate Options

You can work with your estimate from the Sales Transactions screen.

If you’re not already there, click the Sales link in the left vertical toolbar, and then the All Sales tab and the Estimates bar. Find your estimate and look at the end of the row, in the Action column. If you want to convert your estimate to an invoice, click Create invoice. In the window that opens, indicate whether you want to invoice:

  • A percentage of each line item,
  • A custom amount for each line, or,
  • The total of all lines.

Review your invoice when it opens, complete any other fields necessary, and save it. Your estimate’s status has now been changed to Closed, and the new invoice created from it will appear on the Sales Transactions screen. It will also be included in the Estimates by Customer report.

If you can create an invoice, you can create an estimate. The tricky part comes in when you must amend an estimate before you bill it – or even alter it and resubmit it. If you’re going to work with estimates extensively, contact your Tarlow tax advisor to ensure you’re getting it right from the start.

Gift Tax Treatment of Tuition Plans

Article Highlights:

  • Purpose of Qualified Tuition Plans
  • Gift Tax Implications
  • Special Five-Year Election
  • Change of Beneficiary
  • Eligible Expenses
  • Direct Payment of Tuition

Qualified tuition plans (QTPs) provide a means for family members and others to save for the future educational needs of children. Investment earnings within a QTP account are tax deferred and not taxable when withdrawn if used to pay qualified tuition and certain other expenses.

Everyone’s contribution to a QTP (also sometimes referred to as a “Section 529 plan”) on behalf of a designated beneficiary is treated as a gift subject to the normal gift tax rules. Thus, no gift tax return is required for any contributor if the contribution is equal to or less than the amount of the gift tax annual exclusion for the year of the gift, which for 2019 is $15,000.

Special Election – When a donor’s total contribution to a QTP for the year exceeds the annual exclusion amount, the donor may make a special election treating the contributed funds as if they had been contributed ratably over a five-year period starting with the year of the contribution.

Example: Grandpa Lee contributes $75,000 to granddaughter Whitney’s QTP in 2019. By using the election, Grandpa’s contribution is treated as if the contribution was made equally over a five-year period – that is, as if he’d contributed $15,000 in each of 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. If Grandpa makes any more QTP contributions during those years, those contributions would then exceed the annul gift limit and require a gift tax return to be filed. The same would be true if Grandpa contributes other gifts to Whitney.

To make the five-year election, Grandpa must file a Form 709, Federal Gift Tax Return, for the calendar year in which the contribution is made.

The election is available only with respect to contributions not in excess of five times the annual exclusion amount for the calendar year of the contribution. Any excess is treated as a taxable gift in the calendar year of the contribution. However, that does not necessarily mean any gift tax will be owed since there is also a unified gift and estate tax lifetime exclusion (currently in excess of $11 million) that will shield most taxpayers like Grandpa from any gift tax.

If Grandpa were married, he and Grandma could make an election under the gift-splitting rules for the QTP contribution to be made one-half by each of them, thus allowing them to double up on the annual and the special 5-year amounts.

If in any year after the first year of the five-year period, the amount of the gift tax annual exclusion is increased for inflation, the donor may make an additional contribution in any one or more of the four remaining years up to the difference between the exclusion amount as increased and the original exclusion amount for the year or years in which the original contribution was made.

Example: In 2017 when the annual gift tax exemption was $14,000, Grandpa made a $70,000 contribution to his granddaughter’s QTP and made the 5-year election. For 2018, the annual gift tax exemption was increased to $15,000. Thus, Grandpa can make an additional $1,000 contribution for each of the remaining 4 years of the 5-year election period.

Change of Beneficiary – A change in the designated beneficiary, or a rollover to the account of a new beneficiary, is treated as a taxable gift if the new beneficiary is assigned to a generation below the generation of the old beneficiary. Such a transfer isn’t a taxable gift if the new beneficiary is a member of the family of the old beneficiary, and is assigned to the same generation, as the old beneficiary.

If the new beneficiary is assigned to a lower generation than the old beneficiary, the transfer is a taxable gift from the old beneficiary to the new beneficiary, regardless of whether the new beneficiary is a member of the family of the old beneficiary.

Additionally, the transfer would be subject to the generation skipping transfer tax (GST) if the new beneficiary is assigned to a generation which is two or more levels lower than the generation assignment of the old beneficiary. The five-year averaging election may be applied to a transfer.

Example: Suppose Whitney had not used the funds from the QTP, or has finished her higher education and had some funds left over in the plan, and Grandpa (or the trustee of the account if Grandpa is not the trustee) decides to change the account beneficiary to his great-granddaughter Annabelle. Since Annabelle is in a generation lower than Whitney, the change of beneficiary represents a gift from Whitney to Annabelle. However, the five-year averaging election may be applied to the gift.

Eligible Expenses – Distributions from QTPs, including earnings on the amounts contributed to a QTP, aren’t taxed for income tax purposes if they are used to pay qualified higher-education expenses of the account beneficiary. In addition to tuition, eligible expenses include the following:

  • Fees;
  • Books;
  • Supplies;
  • Equipment;
  • The purchase of computers or peripheral equipment, computer software, or internet access and related services that will be used primarily by the beneficiary while the beneficiary is enrolled at an eligible educational institution;
  • Room and board if the beneficiary is attending a qualified school at least half time; and
  • A special needs student’s expenses that are necessary to enable the student to enroll or attend an eligible educational institution.

When distributions exceed eligible expenses, the beneficiary of the QTP is the one who would include the nonqualified distributions in his or her income. The calculation of the taxable amount of the distribution can be complicated if the beneficiary received a tax-free scholarship. In some cases, a 10% penalty also applies on the taxable distribution that is included in income.

While QTPs are generally intended to be used for higher education expenses, for years after 2017, up to $10,000 distributed from a QTP for tuition expense (but not for related other expenses) paid so the beneficiary can attend an elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through grade 12) is considered a qualified education expense that would be tax-free. However, some states have not recognized this provision, and so such distributions would be at least partially taxable for state purposes.

Direct Payment of Tuition – Some potential contributors to a QTP for family members may wish to pay for the tuition when it is actually incurred rather than saving for it in advance. If that individual makes the tuition payment directly to a qualified school, college or university the gift tax does not apply.

If you have questions related to QTPs in general or changing beneficiaries, please contact us.

Electric Vehicle Credit on the Decline

Article Highlights:

  • Tax Credit
  • Credit Phase-Out
  • Tesla
  • General Motors
  • Determining the Credit
  • Off-Road Vehicles and Golf Carts
  • Allocation Between Business and Personal Use
  • Credit Reduces Basis
  • Business Standard Mileage

In 2009, Congress created a tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles as a stimulus for car companies to manufacture “green” vehicles, and as an incentive for consumers to purchase electric vehicles. Although there is no specific date in the future when this credit will expire, there is a limit to the number of vehicles each manufacturer can sell that can qualify for the credit.

That limit is not a set number of vehicles, but rather a credit phaseout by the manufacturer that is triggered when the manufacturer sells the 200,000th electric vehicle. Here is how the credit phase-out works:

Credit Phase-Out – The credit phases out beginning in the second calendar quarter following that in which a manufacturer sells its 200,000th plug-in electric drive motor vehicle for use in the U.S. The applicable percentage phase-out is:

  • 50% for the first two calendar quarters of the phaseout period,
  • 25% for the third and fourth calendar quarters of the phaseout period, and
  • 0% for each later calendar quarter.

Example: Tesla, Inc., sold more than 200,000 vehicles eligible for the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit, reaching this sales level during the third quarter of 2018. Thus, a phase out of the tax credit available for purchasers of new Tesla plug-in electric vehicles was triggered beginning Jan. 1, 2019. This means the maximum credit available for the purchase of a Tesla, which was $7,500 before 2019, has begun to phase out and the maximum credits for vehicles purchased in 2019 are as follows:

  • Jan 1, 2019 through June 30, 2019: $3,750 (50% of $7,500).
  • July 1, 2019 through Dec 31, 2019: $1,875 (25% of $7,500).
  • After 2019, Tesla vehicles will no longer qualify for the credit.

During the fourth quarter of 2018, General Motors (GM) also reached a total of more than 200,000 sales of vehicles eligible for the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit. Accordingly, the credit for all new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles sold by GM have begun to phase out beginning April 1, 2019. Thus, the maximum credit for a GM plug-in electric drive motor vehicle is $3,750 for purchases in April through September of 2019, then dropping to $1,875 for purchases in October 2019 through March 2020, after which GM vehicles will not qualify for the credit.

If you are considering purchasing an electric vehicle, you may need to make that decision sooner than later since the credit for many popular models is beginning to phase out. Here are some things you should be aware of before making your decision to purchase an electric vehicle.

Not All Electric Vehicles Qualify for the Full Credit – The credit is not a flat $7,500; it is actually made up of two elements, a $2,500 per vehicle credit plus an additional $417 for each kilowatt hour of capacity in excess of 5 kilowatt hours, but not in excess of $5,000, resulting in an overall credit of up to $7,500.

The amount of credit available for any qualifying vehicle, listed by manufacturer is available on the IRS website. Although most salespeople will know the amount of credit that is available for the vehicle you are interested in purchasing, you sometimes run into an overzealous one that could mislead you a bit. So, it is good practice to double check for yourself and that is quite easy to do on the IRS Website.

The following requirements must be met to qualify for the credit.

  • You are the owner of the vehicle. If the vehicle is leased, only the lessor and not the lessee, is entitled to the credit. 
  • You placed the vehicle in service during your tax year.
  • The vehicle is manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways.
  • The original use of the vehicle began with you.
  • You acquired the vehicle for use or to lease to others, and not for resale.
  • You use the vehicle primarily in the United States.

Credit for Multiple Vehicles – The credit is a per vehicle credit, thus if a taxpayer purchases multiple plug-in electric drive motor vehicles the taxpayer can claim the credit for each one.

Off-Road Vehicles & Golf Carts – Vehicles manufactured primarily for off-road use, such as for use on a golf course, do not qualify for the credit.

Allocation Between Business and Personal Use – When a taxpayer uses a qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle both personally and in the taxpayer’s business, the credit is divided (allocated) between personal use and business use and creates two separate credits, with the tax treatment of the two being quite different.

  • Personal Credit – The personal portion of the credit is non-refundable, meaning the personal portion of the credit can only offset a taxpayer’s tax liability and any excess not used in the year of purchase is lost. Thus, taxpayers need to be mindful of just how many benefits the credit provides and not necessarily expect to benefit from the full amount of credit for the vehicle.
  • Business Credit – The business use portion of the credit, on the other hand, becomes a business credit and any unused portion for the current year can be carried back to the prior tax year where it can offset tax liability in that year and result in a refund. If there is still unused credit, it can carry forward for up to 20 years to offset future tax liabilities.

Credit Reduces Basis – For both the personal and business credit, the basis of the vehicle is reduced dollar for dollar by the amount of the credit. For a taxpayer claiming only the personal credit, this only becomes an issue when the vehicle is subsequently sold, since when determining the gain or loss on the sale the cost of the vehicle is reduced by the amount of any credit claimed. This is rarely an issue since vehicles are seldom subsequently sold for a profit. However, for a vehicle used for business, the credit reduces the depreciable basis of the vehicle. Also, no credit is allowed for any portion of a business vehicle expensed under Sec 179.

Business Standard Mileage – If a taxpayer uses a vehicle for business, they can choose between deducting actual expenses such as fuel, repairs, insurance, etc., or deducting a standard amount for each business mile driven. The standard mileage rate is determined periodically by the IRS using average costs of operating a vehicle. The IRS does not distinguish between fuel powered cars and electric cars, and both can use the same standard amount, even though the rate includes fuel costs. The business mileage rate for 2019 is 58 cents per mile, up from 54.5 cents per mile for 2018.

Please contact us to determine the benefits you may derive from the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit based upon your specific use of the vehicle; whether it is personal, business or a combination of the two.

What is an IRS Penalty Abatement and Am I Eligible for One?

There are different types of IRS penalties that can be assessed against you. The most common penalties include those for failing to file a tax return, filing your return late, or accuracy-related penalties if you didn’t correctly state items on your tax return. But were you aware that sometimes, the IRS can issue penalty abatements if you believe you’ve been penalized unfairly?

Civil penalties for underpayment, late filing, or erroneous inaccuracy may be eligible for abatement, but criminal penalties for tax protest and willful violations of the law are not. There is also the first-time penalty administrative waiver program (FTA) that applies in certain cases. Here’s what you need to know about successfully fighting IRS penalties and determining eligibility for the waiver program.

What a Penalty Abatement Does NOT Include

Regardless of whether you are trying to secure an ordinary penalty abatement or relief under the FTA program, penalty abatement procedures are only for the penalties themselves. They do not include interest on unpaid taxes, the amount of the taxes themselves, or any related processing fees such as installment agreement setup charges.

If your abatement request is successful, only the interest charged on the penalty would be abated, opposed to interest on unpaid taxes.

Proving Hardship for Failure to File or Failure to Pay Penalties

The failure to file penalty kicks in if you file your tax return late, or not at all, and is based on 5% of your unpaid taxes every month (up to 25% of your total balance due). The best way to avoid this penalty is to file for a six-month extension prior to the tax filing deadline if you don’t think you’ll get your return filed on time. The extension won’t waive interest, taxes, or penalties for failure to pay or deposit, but it will eliminate the failure to file penalty, which is much higher.

The IRS will consider penalty abatement requests if you have reasonable cause for not being able to file or pay your taxes in a timely manner. Valid hardships, such as hospitalization, natural disasters, or fleeing domestic violence, are factored into reasonable cause to get certain civil penalties waived.

Failure to pay penalties result from having an unpaid balance due, with 0.5% being charged every month. Simply lacking funds to pay your taxes doesn’t necessarily equate to hardship to file your tax return on time or pay your tax bill. However, if you have a continuous lack of funds due to disability or chronic illness, a death in the family, or similar hardships, you may be eligible for relief from the failure to pay penalty.

First-Time Penalty Administrative Waiver (FTA Program)

Under the FTA program, you can have failure to file, failure to pay, and failure to deposit penalties waived if you were never assessed penalties in the past three tax years or had them relieved because of reasonable cause. Estimated tax penalty (deposit penalty), as is common with self-employed taxpayers, is the only allowable penalty to bear.

You must also be current on all your current tax returns or extensions and paid any taxes due (or arrangements like payment plans). If your charges include failure to pay penalties, it’s a good idea to wait until you’ve paid the entire balance before requesting FTA waivers since you don’t need to prove hardship and can get more waived.

FTA waivers are the best option if you meet the above requirements as this request takes less time to process than ordinary penalty abatement, because you don’t need to establish reasonable cause or hardship. If you have any questions, or to discuss your unique situation, please contact us.

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 all over the world. They’re smart, and are always coming up with new tricks 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.

Tarlow & Co 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, contact your Tarlow tax advisor before making tax payments or providing information.

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 – 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.

If you have any questions, please contact us.