Tag Archives: tax advice

Credit breach

Howdy! I’ve compiled this post in hopes it helps our clients who may be impacted by the recent Equifax security breach… I’m not a financial advisor nor an expert in all things credit. But I’ve been doing a lot of research and wanted to share with you what I’ve learned! 

— Denise

By now you probably have heard about the big security breach of Equifax, where some 143 million credit records were potentially stolen. And by “credit records” I mean Social Security, driver’s license and credit card numbers.

Do you know if you’re one of those “lucky” 143 million people? If not, I highly recommend you visit https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out. Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose, “Potential Impact” which will take you to this screen:

Click “Potential Impact” one more time. It’ll take you to this screen, where you need to fill out two simple things: your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. Note: if you’ve recently gotten married and are going by your spouses’ last name, but you’ve not filed a name change with anyone yet, you’ll want to put your maiden name.

Now, hope you DON’T get this message:

But if you do, congratulations! Your credit is at risk. Oh wait, that’s not something to be happy about. Sorry…

So… now what?

Well, you have a lot of options, including do nothing – but that’s not the option I’d recommend.

First off, Equifax is offering free enrollment in their “Trusted ID Premier.” Now, granted, a part of me is leery of trusting the guys who put me at risk to now keep me safe, but it’s SOMETHING. TransUnion and Experian offer similar programs.

By the way, as if this couldn’t get any better, scammers are also sending phishing emails trying to get information by posing as the credit bureaus wanting to help you. So make sure you double and triple check anything you get in email for its legitimacy.

Speaking of the other two bureaus, though, this is an excellent reminder to check your credit reports! Did you know you get to check them for free once a year? I knew that, but I just never actually do it. Shame, shame, right? Especially since its FREE, and it could save me a lot of heartache down the road when I want to apply for a mortgage or buy a new vehicle.

Head on over to annualcreditreport.com and request your credit reports. Now, keep in mind, I did this yesterday, and due to the volume of traffic to Equifax’s site, I could not pull that one. But I did get to review my other two credit reports.

IF YOU FIND SOMETHING… you need to take the steps to get any incorrect information removed. If you suspect Identity Theft, head over to IdentityTheft.gov. Otherwise, you’ll need to start the process of contacting the credit bureaus and having things removed. All the information how to do this is on all three credit bureau’s websites. (Equifax, Experian, Transunion) I’ve had to do this once, and it was a simple letter submitted to the credit bureau that took care of everything. I think you can do it online now, though. It’s not hard, its just time consuming. You’ll need to have patience as you go through this.

Many people I know are choosing to put a freeze on their credit.

What does this mean? Well, I’m glad you asked because I asked the SAME THING.

Directly from the FTC website:

“Also known as a security freeze, this tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your file, they may not extend the credit.” https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs

Important things to note: a credit freeze does not stop you from using your current lines of credit, nor does it stop thieves from stealing current credit information. So you’ll still need to monitor your current credit card statements and bank statements for fraudulent charges. Like that person who decided to try to buy $500 worth of clothes in a boutique in Florida, but luckily your card is maxed out already so they were declined but you still need to destroy your current card and get a new one. Oh wait, that was me. But you get the idea.

SO how do you freeze your credit? Well, you’ll have to contact ALL THREE credit bureaus to do so. Also from the FTC:

Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
Experian — 1 888 397 3742
TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872

You’ll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5 to $10.

After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze.

Keep in mind, freezing credit won’t be the answer for everyone. If you know you’re about the buy a house, need to set up utilities at a new home or apartment, or perhaps your job requires checking your credit (yeah, that happens), you may want to think twice about it. While you can thaw your credit when you need it, you could be looking at expense and time lost doing so…

If you do not freeze your credit, what else can you do?

Keep a close watch in your credit.

Many credit cards offer credit score updates and credit monitoring as part of their services. For example, Capital One offers CreditWise, Discover offers a FICO Credit Scorecard (and recently started offering credit monitoring), Bank of America and Chase also offer FICO monitoring. Many include it in their apps, so you can check your credit from your phone regularly. While this may not be as pro-active as a credit freeze, it’ll allow a faster response and resolution to any identity theft issues.

FILE YOUR TAX RETURN EARLY.

You knew we’d get to this eventually, right?

Look, we’ve dealt with many clients who have had identity theft happen. We’ve dealt with clients whose CHILDREN have had identity theft happen. This is not fun for anyone! Suddenly your tax return is being rejected. You can’t claim your dependents because someone else already did. And now you have to file a paper return, and you need special PIN numbers and… oh my goodness it’s a headache for all involved.

So that’s why we urge anyone potentially impacted by this breach to plan on filing their tax return as early as possible in 2018. The sooner you file, the less likely it is that a thief can file a fraudulent return under your name and SSN to claim a refund. It’s not a guarantee, but its worth trying.

There are countless articles coming out daily with advice on how to handle this Equifax breach. Keep on top of those articles through Google News here: https://news.google.com/news/search/section/q/equifax/equifax?hl=en&ned=us

In this modern technology-driven age we’re facing these sort of security breaches and invasions of privacy all the time. I’m certainly not an expert on all of this, but I’ve been trying to keep up with the latest and hope this post helps our clients at least have a place to start in dealing with this issue.

Tax Effects of Divorce or Separation

If you are divorcing or recently divorced, taxes may be the last thing on your mind. However, these events can have a big impact on your wallet. Alimony and a name or address change are just a few items you may need to consider. Here are some key tax tips to keep in mind:

  • Child Support. Child support payments are not deductible and if you received child support, it is not taxable.
  • Alimony Paid. You can deduct alimony paid to or for a spouse or former spouse under a divorce or separation decree, regardless of whether you itemize deductions. Voluntary payments made outside a divorce or separation decree are not deductible. You must enter your spouse’s Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number on your Form 1040 when you file.
  • Alimony Received. If you get alimony from your spouse or former spouse, it is taxable in the year you get it. Alimony is not subject to tax withholding so you may need to increase the tax you pay during the year to avoid a penalty. To do this, you can make estimated tax payments or increase the amount of tax withheld from your wages.
  • Spousal IRA. If you get a final decree of divorce or separate maintenance by the end of your tax year, you can’t deduct contributions you make to your former spouse’s traditional IRA. You may be able to deduct contributions you make to your own traditional IRA.
  • Name Changes. If you change your name after your divorce, be sure to notify the Social Security Administration. File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. You can get the form on SSA.gov or call 800-772-1213 to order it. The name on your tax return must match SSA records. A name mismatch can cause problems in the processing of your return and may delay your refund. Health Care Law Considerations.
  • Special Marketplace Enrollment Period. If you lose health insurance coverage due to divorce, you are still required to have coverage for every month of the year for yourself and the dependents you can claim on your tax return. You may enroll in health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace during a Special Enrollment Period, if you lose coverage due to a divorce.
  • Changes in Circumstances. If you purchase health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you may get advance payments of the premium tax credit. If you do, you should report changes in circumstances to your Marketplace throughout the year. These changes include a change in marital status, a name change, a change of address, and a change in your income or family size. Reporting these changes will help make sure that you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance. This will also help you avoid getting too much or too little credit in advance.
  • Shared Policy Allocation. If you divorced or are legally separated during the tax year and are enrolled in the same qualified health plan, you and your former spouse must allocate policy amounts on your separate tax returns to figure your premium tax credit and reconcile any advance payments made on your behalf. Publication 974, Premium Tax Credit, has more information about the Shared Policy Allocation. For more on this topic, see Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals.

SOURCE:  IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2016-23

How Selling Your Home Can Impact Your Taxes

Usually, profits you earn are taxable. However, if you sell your home, you may not have to pay taxes on the money you gain. Here are ten tips to keep in mind if you sell your home this year.

1. Exclusion of Gain. You may be able to exclude part or all of the gain from the sale of your home. This rule may apply if you meet the eligibility test. Parts of the test involve your ownership and use of the home. You must have owned and used it as your main home for at least two out of the five years before the date of sale.

2. Exceptions May Apply. There are exceptions to the ownership, use and other rules. One exception applies to persons with a disability. Another applies to certain members of the military. That rule includes certain government and Peace Corps workers. For more on this topic, see Publication523 , Selling Your Home.

3. Exclusion Limit. The most gain you can exclude from tax is $250,000. This limit is $500,000 for joint returns. The Net Investment Income Tax will not apply to the excluded gain.

4. May Not Need to Report Sale. If the gain is not taxable, you may not need to report the sale to the IRS on your tax return.

5. When You Must Report the Sale. You must report the sale on your tax return if you can’t exclude all or part of the gain. You must report the sale if you choose not to claim the exclusion. That’s also true if you get Form 1099-S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions.

6. Exclusion Frequency Limit. Generally, you may exclude the gain from the sale of your main home only once every two years. Some exceptions may apply to this rule.

7. Only a Main Home Qualifies. If you own more than one home, you may only exclude the gain on the sale of your main home. Your main home usually is the home that you live in most of the time.

8. First-time Homebuyer Credit. If you claimed the first-time homebuyer credit when you bought the home, special rules apply to the sale. For more on those rules, see Publication 523.

9. Home Sold at a Loss. If you sell your main home at a loss, you can’t deduct the loss on your tax return.

10. Report Your Address Change. After you sell your home and move, update your address with the IRS.

Social Security Benefits May Be Taxable

What do you mean my Social Security Benefits are taxable??

We hear this question often, and much to many’s dismay — yes, Social Security Benefits can indeed be taxable. A recent tax tip from the IRS broke down this phenomenon.

  • Form SSA-1099.  If you received Social Security benefits in 2015, you should receive a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, showing the amount of your benefits.
  • Only Social Security.  If Social Security was your only income in 2015, your benefits may not be taxable. You also may not need to file a federal income tax return. If you get income from other sources you may have to pay taxes on some of your benefits.
  • Tax Formula.  Here’s a quick way to find out if you must pay taxes on your Social Security benefits: Add one-half of your Social Security to all your other income, including tax-exempt interest. Then compare the total to the base amount for your filing status. If your total is more than the base amount, some of your benefits may be taxable.
  • Base Amounts.  The three base amounts are:
    • $25,000 – if you are single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child or married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse for all of 2015
    • $32,000 – if you are married filing jointly
    • $0 – if you are married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time during the year

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

Additional IRS Resources:

Name changes and your tax return

What You Should Know if You Changed Your Name

Did you change your name last year? If you did, it can affect your taxes. All the names on your tax return must match Social Security Administration records. A name mismatch can delay your refund.

Here’s what you should know if you changed your name:

  • Report Name Changes.  Did you get married and are now using your new spouse’s last name or hyphenated your last name? Did you divorce and go back to using your former last name? In either case, you should notify the SSA of your name change. That way, your new name on your IRS records will match up with your SSA records.
  • Dependent Name Change.  Notify the SSA if your dependent had a name change. For example, this could apply if you adopted a child and the child’s last name changed.

If you adopted a child who does not have a SSN, you may use an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number on your tax return. An ATIN is a temporary number. You can apply for an ATIN by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions, with the IRS.

You can visit IRS.gov to view, download, print or order the form at any time.

Get a New Card.  File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, to notify SSA of your name change. You can get the form on SSA.gov or call 800-772-1213 to order it. Your new card will show your new name with the same SSN you had before.

Report Changes in Circumstances in 2015.  If you purchase health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace you may get advance payments of the premium tax credit in 2015. If you do, be sure to report changes in circumstances, such as a name change, a new address and a change in your income or family size to your Marketplace throughout the year. Reporting changes will help make sure that you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance and will help you avoid getting too much or too little in advance.

Phone scams are a serious threat to taxpayers

The IRS has seen a surge of phone scams in recent months as scam artists call unsuspecting taxpayers impersonating an IRS agent and proceed to threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things if the taxpayer does not pay a tax amount.

The IRS reminds taxpayers to guard against all sorts of con games that arise during any filing season.

“If someone calls unexpectedly claiming to be from the IRS with aggressive threats if you don’t pay immediately, it’s a scam artist calling,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The first IRS contact with taxpayers is usually through the mail. Taxpayers have rights, and this is not how we do business.”

Scammers are able to alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. They often leave “urgent” callback requests. They prey on the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English. Scammers have been known to impersonate agents from IRS Criminal Investigation as well.

“These criminals try to scare and shock you into providing personal financial information on the spot while you are off guard,” Koskinen said. “Don’t be taken in and don’t engage these people over the phone.”

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received reports of roughly 290,000 contacts since October 2013 and has become aware of nearly 3,000 victims who have collectively paid over $14 million as a result of the scam, in which individuals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding that they send them cash via prepaid debit cards.

Protect Yourself

As telephone scams continue across the country, the IRS recently put out a new YouTube video with a renewed warning to taxpayers not to be fooled by imposters posing as tax agency representatives. The new Tax Scams video describes some basic tips to help protect taxpayers from tax scams.

These callers may demand money or may say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They may know a lot about you.

The IRS reminds people that they can know pretty easily when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Remember, too, the IRS does not use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue involving bills or refunds. For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

Additional information about tax scams is available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube http://www.youtube.com/irsvideos and Tumblr http://internalrevenueservice.tumblr.com, where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

From: IRS Newswire — January 22, 2015 — Issue Number: IR-2015-5

IRS Six Tips on Who Should File a 2014 Tax Return

Most people file their tax return because they have to, but even if you don’t, there are times when you should. You may be eligible for a tax refund and not know it. This year, there are a few new rules for some who must file. Here are six tax tips to help you find out if you should file a tax return:

  1. General Filing Rules. Whether you need to file a tax return depends on a few factors. In most cases, the amount of your income, your filing status and your age determine if you must file a tax return. For example, if you’re single and 28 years old you must file if your income was at least $10,150. Other rules may apply if you’re self-employed or if you’re a dependent of another person. There are also other cases when you must file. Go to IRS.gov/filing to find out if you need to file.
  2. New for 2014: Premium Tax Credit. If you bought health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2014, you may be eligible for the new Premium Tax Credit. You will need to file a return to claim the credit. If you purchased coverage from the Marketplace in 2014 and chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit sent directly to your insurer during the year you must file a federal tax return. You will reconcile any advance payments with the allowable Premium Tax Credit. You should receive Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, by early February. The new form will have information that will help you file your tax return.
  3. Tax Withheld or Paid. Did your employer withhold federal income tax from your pay? Did you make estimated tax payments? Did you overpay last year and have it applied to this year’s tax? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you could be due a refund. But you have to file a tax return to get it.
  4. Earned Income Tax Credit. Did you work and earn less than $52,427 last year? You could receive EITC as a tax refund if you qualify with or without a qualifying child. You may be eligible for up to $6,143. Use the 2014 EITC Assistant tool on IRS.gov to find out if you qualify. If you do, file a tax return to claim it.
  5. Additional Child Tax Credit. Do you have at least one child that qualifies for the Child Tax Credit? If you don’t get the full credit amount, you may qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit.
  6. American Opportunity Credit.  The AOTC is available for four years of post secondary education and can be up to $2,500 per eligible student.  You or your dependent must have been a student enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify. However, you must complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file a return to claim the credit. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you can claim the credit. Learn more by visiting the IRS’ Education Credits Web page.

The instructions for Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ list income tax filing requirements. You can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you need to file. The tool is available 24/7 to answer many tax questions.

 

* IRS Tax Tips — January 22, 2015 — Issue Number: Revised IRS Tax Tip 2015-03

Top Four Year-End IRA Reminders

Individual Retirement Accounts are an important way to save for retirement. If you have an IRA or may open one soon, there are some key year-end rules that you should know. Here are the top four reminders on IRAs from the IRS:

1. Know the limits. You can contribute up to a maximum of $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older) to a traditional or Roth IRA. If you file a joint return, you and your spouse can each contribute to an IRA even if only one of you has taxable compensation. In some cases, you may need to reduce your deduction for traditional IRA contributions. This rule applies if you or your spouse has a retirement plan at work and your income is above a certain level. You have until April 15, 2015, to make an IRA contribution for 2014.

2. Avoid excess contributions. If you contribute more than the IRA limits for 2014, you are subject to a six percent tax on the excess amount. The tax applies each year that the excess amounts remain in your account. You can avoid the tax if you withdraw the excess amounts from your account by the due date of your 2014 tax return (including extensions).

3. Take required distributions. If you’re at least age 70½, you must take a required minimum distribution, or RMD, from your traditional IRA. You are not required to take a RMD from your Roth IRA. You normally must take your RMD by Dec. 31, 2014. That deadline is April 1, 2015, if you turned 70½ in 2014. If you have more than one traditional IRA, you figure the RMD separately for each IRA. However, you can withdraw the total amount from one or more of them. If you don’t take your RMD on time you face a 50 percent excise tax on the RMD amount you failed to take out.

4. Claim the saver’s credit. The formal name of the saver’s credit is the retirement savings contributions credit. You may qualify for this credit if you contribute to an IRA or retirement plan. The saver’s credit can increase your refund or reduce the tax you owe. The maximum credit is $1,000, or $2,000 for married couples. The credit you receive is often much less, due in part because of the deductions and other credits you may claim.