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~Important News from Yoss & Allen~
Created on Thursday, 18 February 2016 22:05
Every year, the IRS releases a list of what it calls the worst tax scams of the year. Beginning Feb. 1 and ending on Feb. 17, the IRS issued a news release each day highlighting a scam. These "dirty dozen" scams can be encountered at any time of year, but the IRS reports that they peak during tax season.
1. Identity theft
According to the IRS, the No. 1 scam this year is tax-related identity theft, which the IRS defines as when someone uses a taxpayer's stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund (IR-2016-12). Although the IRS has introduced more effective screening and detection systems that are designed to detect identity theft before it issues a refund, the Service admitted that it is still a major problem. To fight the problem more effectively, over the past year, the IRS has participated in a Security Summit initiative in partnership with states and the tax-preparation industry to try to improve security for taxpayers. The participants share information of fraudulent schemes that have been detected this filing season to provide increased protection. More than 20 data elements are used, unknown to taxpayers, to verify tax return information.
In addition, the IRS urged taxpayers to protect their own information so it is harder for thieves to breach the IRS's security systems. These efforts at taxpayer education include the Taxes. Security. Together. campaign to help taxpayers avoid the data breaches that make it easier for them to become victims.
2. Phone scams
The second scam this year is phone scams, in which criminals call, impersonating the IRS (IR-2016-14). Many times, they disguise the number they are calling from so it appears to be the IRS or another agency calling, and they may threaten arrest, deportation, or license revocation. The scammers sometimes use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate and use the victim's name, address, and other personal information, which makes the call sound official.
To protect themselves, the IRS says, taxpayers should be aware the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, call about taxes owed without first having mailed a bill, call to demand payment without the opportunity to question or appeal, require use of a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, or threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to arrest a taxpayer for not paying.
4. Return preparer fraud
Return preparer fraud involves "dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers" (IR-2016-16). The IRS warned taxpayers to be wary of "unscrupulous preparers who prey on unsuspecting taxpayers with outlandish promises of overly large refunds," which is why the IRS says this scam makes it onto the list every year.
"Choose your tax return preparer carefully because you entrust them with your private financial information that needs to be protected," Koskinen said. The IRS provides a number of tips for taxpayers to choose competent preparers, including checking what the preparer's credentials are, making sure the preparer will be available after filing season, and ensuring that the taxpayer's refund is deposited into the taxpayer's account, not the preparer's. The IRS recommends avoiding preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund or promise larger refunds than other preparers.
5. Hiding money or income offshore
Hiding money or income offshore, which is a major focus of IRS enforcement efforts, is the next tax scam the IRS addressed (IR-2016-17). "Our continued enforcement actions should discourage anyone from trying to illegally hide money and income offshore," Koskinen said. As the IRS explained, there are legitimate reasons that taxpayers have foreign accounts, but these accounts trigger reporting requirements. The IRS offers a number of programs, including the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, for taxpayers to come into compliance with these requirements. The IRS noted that the heightened reporting required under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which went into effect in 2015, makes it even harder for taxpayers to conceal assets overseas.
6. Inflated refund claims
Another scam that is closely related to return preparer fraud is inflated refund claims, in which unscrupulous preparers set up shop to lure unsuspecting taxpayers (IR-2016-18). "Be wary of tax preparers that tout outlandish refunds based on federal benefits or tax credits you've never heard of or weren't eligible to claim in the past," Koskinen said.
Inflated refund claims often involve claims for tax credits that taxpayers are not entitled to, such as education credits, the earned income tax credit (EITC), or the American opportunity tax credit. The IRS reminds taxpayers that they are responsible for what is on their return, even if someone else prepares it, and they can be assessed penalties and interest as well as additional tax.
7. Fake charities
Next on the list is fake charities. Taxpayers are cautioned to check the Exempt Organizations Select Check on the IRS's website to determine whether a charity is bona fide and qualifies for deductible contributions (IR-2016-20). Legitimate charities should be willing to give donors their employer identification numbers, which can then be used to check whether the charities are qualified on the IRS website. Fake charities often use names similar to well-known organizations and may set up fake websites. They also can be used for identity theft purposes. When large-scale natural disasters occur, these fraudulent organizations tend to increase, the IRS reports, and it warns that taxpayers should not make any contributions without checking first.
8. Falsely padding deductions
No. 8 on the list is falsely padding deductions (IR-2016-21), which consists of deceitfully inflating deductions or expenses on the return to pay less tax or receive a bigger refund. This item is new to the dirty dozen list this year. The IRS warns taxpayers that they should "think twice" before overstating their charitable contribution expenses or padding their business expenses, as well as avoid claiming credits they are not entitled to, such as the EITC and the child tax credit. Taxpayers who do this may be subject to substantial penalties and may, in some cases, face criminal prosecution.
9. Excessive claims for business credits
The next item on the list, excessive claims for business credits, expands on last year's "excessive claims for fuel credits" (IR-2016-22). This scam involves two specific false claims for credits: fraudulent claims for refunds of fuel excise tax and bogus claims for the research tax credit. The IRS says that its refund fraud filters are stopping a number of fraudulent fuel excise tax refunds this year.
10. Falsifying income to claim tax credits
Tenth on the list is falsifying income to claim tax credits (IR-2016-23). This usually involves falsely claiming higher earned income to qualify for the EITC, which is a refundable credit. Unscrupulous preparers often do this to get taxpayers larger refunds than they are entitled to. Even when taxpayers are unaware of these false claims, they are, as the IRS reminds again, responsible for what is on their tax return. They can be subject to significant penalties, interest, and possibly prosecution.
11. Abusive tax shelters
No. 11 is participating in abusive tax shelters (IR-2016-25). Abusive tax shelters are defined as schemes using multiple flowthrough entities to evade taxes. They often use limited liability companies, limited liability partnerships, international business companies, foreign financial accounts, offshore credit or debit cards, and multilayer transactions to conceal who owns the income or assets.
The IRS also mentions the misuse of trusts and captive insurance companies among the types of transactions taxpayers should avoid. As in some of the other scams, the IRS warns that participating in these transactions can result in significant penalties and interest and "possible criminal prosecution." According to Koskinen, "These schemes can end up costing taxpayers more in back taxes, penalties, and interest than they saved in the first place."
12. Frivolous tax arguments
The final "scam" is frivolous tax arguments, which the IRS warns taxpayers not to be talked into (IR-2016-27). Announcing the release today of the 2016 version of its webpage, "The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments," the IRS explained how the courts and the IRS have treated these arguments, which involve claims such as that the only employees subject to income tax are employees of the federal government or that only foreign income is taxable. "Taxpayers should avoid unscrupulous promoters of false tax-avoidance arguments because taxpayers end up paying what they owe plus potential penalties and interest mandated by law," Koskinen said. The IRS reminded taxpayers that they would automatically be subject to the $5,000 penalty for frivolous tax positions.
Created on Friday, 12 February 2016 18:43
Running out of money has got to be one of the worst fears of retirees. And with people living into their 10th and 11th decades, it’s going to get worse.
Now more than ever, you need to plan ahead to ensure that you won’t outlive your funds. That means saving as much as you can and not making mistakes that could scramble your nest egg.
Jane Bryant Quinn, who is a legend in my business, just published a book entitled How to Make Your Money Last. In keeping with her great writing on retirement over the past several decades, it goes right to the point on what you need to do.
Here are five simple steps you can take to avoid retirement problems, according to Quinn:
1) Ignoring Your Life Expectancy and Retiring Early.
Years ago, I wrote a book entitled Retire Early and I look back on it like it was a relic from another century (it was during the 1990s). Today, unless you’ve saved warehouses of money and live a spartan lifestyle, neither I nor Quinn recommend retiring early.
On the front end of retirement, health care is incredibly expensive before you qualify for Medicare at 65. If your employer doesn’t cover you up until that point — most don’t today — you’ll have to buy a private policy and either carry a huge deductible or pay a monster premium.
Besides, the earlier you retire, the more you’ll eat up your nest egg. If you can work later, Quinn has found, you can sock more away in your retirement plan and make your money last longer. You’ll be in retirement a long time.
2) Tapping Your Benefits Too Soon.
Sure, it’s really tempting to take Social Security starting at 62. If you’re in poor health — and can’t work anymore — it’s not such a bad idea. Yet what if your health is fairly solid?
Taking Social Security at 62 cuts your benefit by 25% compared to the normal retirement age for most people, which is 66. Even worse, when you take payments at 62, you lock in those lowered benefits for life. Why take a haircut if you don’t have to?
3) Avoiding Stocks.
Shares in companies are not going to be guaranteed to do anything. Not even dividends are guaranteed. But if you don’t own a basket of global stocks through mutual funds, it will be nearly impossible to beat inflation, which should be your main goal in a retirement portfolio.
Sure, stocks will definitely be volatile in coming years. But hold onto them for the long term. If they make you nervous, balance them with bonds, real estate and cash.
4) Retiring with Debt.
While it’s desirable to not have a mortgage in retirement, it’s not the worse kind of debt you can have. It’s partially tax deductible for now and you can write off a portion of property taxes.
But credit card and installment debt are different beasts. You can’t deduct this borrowing and monthly payments prevent you from saving and having access to funds for things you want to do.
5) Failing to Protect Your Spouse.
Unless your spouse has their own retirement kitty, make sure you protect them with your pension or annuities. You can also name them as beneficiaries for any retirement account.
Author: John Wasik, Contributor
Source: Forbes.com, February 10, 2016
Created on Monday, 08 February 2016 18:35
IRS has issued a Fact Sheet highlighting major tax changes for 2015, including the renewal of key taxpayer-favorable benefits, a new way to save for retirement through MyRA accounts, ABLE accounts for people with disabilities, and updates on health care provisions.
Changes for 2015. The Fact Sheet covers a gamut of 2015 changes, some the result of recently enacted (or previously enacted) tax legislation, some based on IRS administrative rulings, and others based on inflation adjustments or how the days in the calendar fall.
Most taxpayers will have until Monday, April 18, to file their 2015 returns and pay any taxes due because of the affect of Emancipation Day, a holiday observed in the District of Columbia. However, residents in Maine and Massachusetts will have until Tuesday, April 19, to file because of the Patriots' Day holiday.
The standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck are: 57.5¢ per mile for business miles driven in 2015 (up from 56¢ in 2014), 23¢ per mile driven for medical or moving purposes (down from 23.5¢ in 2014); and 14¢ per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.
Taxpayers, along with any of their qualifying children, must have a taxpayer identification number (TIN) — generally a Social Security number (SSN) — to claim the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Further, to get these benefits on a 2015 return, the taxpayer must receive the number before the due date for filing a 2015 return (either April 18 or April 19, or for those who get an extension, Oct. 17).
Beginning in 2015, an IRA owner can make only one rollover from an IRA to another (or the same) IRA in any 12-month period, regardless of the number of IRAs he owns. The limit applies by aggregating all of an individual's IRAs, including SEP and SIMPLE IRAs as well as traditional and Roth IRAs, effectively treating them as one IRA for purposes of the limit. But the IRA owner can continue to make unlimited trustee-to-trustee transfers between IRAs. Before 2015, the one-per-year limit applied on an IRA-by-IRA basis, that is, only to rollovers involving the same IRAs. There is a 2015 transition rule that ignores some 2014 distributions. An IRA distribution rolled over to another (or the same) IRA in 2014 does not prevent a 2015 distribution (within the one-year period) from being rolled over, provided the 2015 distribution is from an IRA that is different from any IRA involved in the 2014 rollover.
PATH Act extends key benefits. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, enacted in December 2015, extended or made permanent a number of tax benefits that had expired at the end of 2014 (i.e., so-called extender provisions), including:
ABLE accounts. States can now offer specially designed, tax-favored ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) accounts to people with disabilities who became disabled before age 26. These accounts were authorized by the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (ABLE Act), which was part of the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 (TIPA, PL 113-295, 12/19/2014). Recognizing the special financial burdens faced by families raising children with disabilities, ABLE accounts are designed to enable people with disabilities and their families to save and pay for disability-related expenses. Contributions totaling up to the annual gift tax exclusion amount ($14,000 in 2015) can generally be made to an ABLE account each year. Though contributions are not deductible, distributions are tax-free if used to pay qualified disability expenses.
New retirement account available. Eligible taxpayers can now take advantage of a new starter retirement account available free from the Treasury Department through the MyRA program. Taxpayers can choose to fund a retirement account through payroll deductions, electronic transfers from a savings or checking account, or by choosing direct deposit for their federal income tax refund.
Health care provisions. Many taxpayers will receive new year-end forms (including Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C) providing them with information about health coverage they had or were offered. While the information on these forms may assist in preparing a return, they are not required. Like last year, taxpayers can prepare and file their returns using other information about their health insurance.
The individual shared responsibility payment has increased from last year and will apply to taxpayers who did not have qualifying coverage or an exemption for each month during 2015. To determine whether an exemption is available or the payment applies, check out the special interactive tool available on IRS.gov. Like last year, most taxpayers will simply need to check a box on their tax return to indicate they had health coverage for all of 2015.