Monthly Archives: February 2015

Four Financially Responsible Suggestions For Your Tax Refund

13368794943_809d50b420_zFew people find the tax season pleasant or enjoyable. However, getting a return on your taxes can go a long way towards improving it.

There are many things on which to spend a tax return and most people have no trouble coming up with ideas for it.

However, it’s rarely wise to run out and spend that money immediately. That windfall needn’t be an opportunity to splurge.

Instead, why not turn it into a buffer between you and the world?

There are many fiscally responsible ways to use that tax return. Money isn’t easy to come by, so here are a few ways to use the extra cash to help you through the tough times to come.

Put it in your savings account

Put your tax return into a savings account and leave it there. Many experts recommend having a cash reservoir to tap into when you’re in trouble.

The specifics vary, but most agree that a thousand dollars should be your minimum for this emergency fund.

Putting your tax return into an emergency fund is the financial equivalent of buckling your seat-belt.

Invest it

If you want to use it now, consider investing it.

Remember, investing doesn’t just mean buying stocks. It can also mean investing in yourself by taking classes at the local college.

It can mean buying that new piece of equipment that will take your side-business to the next level.

It can mean repairing your house, your car, or otherwise improving your property. Investing that tax return in something that will create yet another return is just good business savvy.

Spend it on your family or your friends

Yes, that money is yours, but you never expected to see it again. Why not share your good fortune with others?

Even loaning it to someone who is hard up, free of interest, is a good use of that money.

Friendship and good will are always more valuable than any amount of cash.

Invest in precious metals.

Investing extra money in silver or gold is a good way to ensure that your money will keep its value. Buy when the costs are low and don’t sell it until you have to.

Precious metal prices have risen drastically in the last thirty years and all those investors who bought when silver was a few dollars an ounce have had the last laugh.

Even if you’re not planning three decades ahead, investments like this can help keep your money from losing its value to inflation.

Photo: eFile989 / CC 2.0

Five Myths About Tax Audits That You Should Forget Immediately

2592570286_b213acd1de_zGetting a letter in the mail from the Internal Revenue Service is never a good day for anybody. After all, this is an organization that is set up specifically to take money from you.

However, there are many myths about tax audits that are created out of thin air, most of which encourage more fear than is truly necessary.

Myth: All tax audits are a matter of life and death

The truth about most tax audits is that they are a discrepancy of records. In many cases, the IRS is simply stating that its records do not show the same thing that you reported on your tax forms.

If it is a case of a mistake on their side, you send in the information, and you never even have to come in to see an agent.

Myth: 10% or more of people are audited in any given year

The truth is that less than 1% of people in any given year are audited. The IRS does not keep a tally on the percentage of people that it audits in any given year.

If there are more people who do not keep appropriate records, the more people will be audited that year. If there are less people that do this, then less people will be audited.

There is no such thing as an “audit quota.”

Myth: Having a professional file your taxes for you makes you completely audit proof

The truth of the matter is that you are responsible for all records that have your name on them no matter who files them.

Your professional filer may offer some sort of insurance for help with your representation if you get audited, but the final responsibility falls on you to correct any discrepancies in the records between you and the IRS.

Myth: If you keep your income below at certain threshold, you will not get audited

The IRS has been hiring more people to conduct more audits because of the discrepancy that it is found with records in the past.

However, many people believe that most of these agents are looking for people above a certain income threshold. This is not the case.

Additional audits are being conducted across the board, and just because you do not burn above a certain arbitrary threshold does not mean that you cannot be audited by the IRS.

Myth: If you file for certain deductions, you stand a better chance of being audited

Many people do not take deductions to which they are absolutely entitled because they believe that taking them will raise some sort of “red flag” with the IRS.

The truth is that any deduction that is in conjunction with the law is a deduction that you should take. IRS agents do not determine an audit simply based on the name of a certain deduction.

If you understand the true nature of what IRS audits are meant to do, you will realize that they are nothing to be scared of. Make sure that you keep all of your records as thorough as possible and report according to the law as closely as you can.

If this is your method of filing taxes with the IRS, then you will certainly be able to handle any queries that they may have about your records even if you do get audited at some point in the future.

Photo: James Morris / CC 2.0

Five Tax Myths That No One Should Ever Believe

5856708903_294549a95a_zFebruary is here. And with tax season in full swing, you have probably started to hear those annual rumors about what’s acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to filing your taxes.

Around this time of the year, you can run into a lot of bad advice, so here’s a list of some of the most common tax myths that you should avoid:

Myth #1: Filing Taxes is Voluntary

Although this myth may seem counterintuitive, it’s surprising how many people are actually under the impression that filing taxes is completely voluntary because Form 1040 in the instruction book describes the tax system as “voluntary”.

However, Uncle Sam requires everyone to file taxes, even if you haven’t had any income all year.

Myth #2: Animals can Be Claimed as Dependents

Many people are under the impression that anything that’s alive and in your care can be claimed as a dependent, but that’s not the case.

No matter how you love your pet, you aren’t allowed to claim them as dependents.

And while it may be true that pets receive more than half of their financial support from their owners, they’re still not human, and you still can’t file taxes on an animal.

Myth #3: Illegal Activity is Not Taxable

Although it may not make much sense, criminal activity is taxable.

Regardless of whether you are a bank robber, drug dealer or con artist, the government still wants their cut of your income.

No matter how good you are at hiding your illicit activities, the government will eventually find out about it, and tax you on it. Al Capone is a prime example.

Myth #4: Money Made On the Internet is Tax Free

Since many people doing business online don’t report taxes for their income made online, it’s not hard to see how this rumor got started.

However, regardless of whether you generate money online or at a traditional job, the IRS still requires you to declare that income if it’s over 400 dollars per year.

Myth #5: I Don’t Make Enough Money to be Audited

The amount of money you make doesn’t have as much to do with being audited than you may think. There are many more factors that could possibly send up red flags when it comes to a tax audit.

And while it’s true that individuals who make more than 100,000 dollars per year get audited about twice as much as those who make less than that, those who make under 100,000 dollars per year still have a one percent chance of being audited, which is the national average.

To stay safe, it’s best to save any relevant receipts of anything that could be considered questionable income for three years.

Finding A Tax Professional To Get You Through Tax Season

5524891107_e6420408a7_zIt’s a new year, and that means it’s tax season once again.

Between now and the magic date of April 15, millions of Americans undergo the annual ritual of gathering documents, saving receipts, filling out forms, navigating the ever-changing rules and, hopefully, ending up with a refund.

If this adventure leaves you scrambling for help, you’re not alone. According to IRS figures, over half of all taxpayers in 2014 paid someone to do their returns, while another one-third used tax software.

Unless your taxes are quite simple or you have great numerical and research skills, the tax code is simply too complicated to tackle once per year. This has led to the growth of a massive tax-preparation industry over the past six decades, since the IRS stopped preparing returns for free in the mid-1950s.

Where To Start

This is a major purchase with long-term consequences. Start by asking around. Work is a good place to start, since many of your co-workers may have similar tax situations.

The Yellow Pages has an entire section filled with practitioners that compete for your business. Interviewing a few of them will give you an idea of their competence, fees and service level.

Several national tax preparation companies serve millions of taxpayers, including H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, Liberty Tax and others. These companies hire mostly seasonal preparers and train them every year on the latest rules and software. All have both new and experienced preparers to choose from. When contacting them, look for a preparer with the experience that fits your situation.

Accounting and CPA firms are often open year-round and may provide a range of services, including payroll, bookkeeping, auditing and more. Taxes may or may not be one of their specialties, so prospective clients should ask specifically about their tax practice.

Higher Level Help

Several professional designations are used in the tax industry.

An Enrolled Agent is most desirable. This is a person who has passed a difficult exam and is qualified to practice before the IRS.

A Tax Attorney is a licensed, practicing attorney specializing in tax law.

These two professionals may represent taxpayers with the IRS in case of an audit. They are best hired for handling unusual or complex tax situations and are not typically needed for everyday tax returns.

What To Expect

Any competent tax preparer will ask about your personal situation, including marital status, dependents, work, school, home ownership and many other factors covered in the tax code.

Since this is sensitive personal information, taxpayers should look for a preparer with whom they feel confident and have rapport.

Many tax preparers and offices are available only from January through April. A reputable preparer offers tax help throughout the year, either personally or through their firm.

Do Your Homework

Like other occasional purchases, we choose tax services to take care of an essential need in our life.

It is critical to understand that no matter who prepares the return, the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for the results.

Look carefully, ask questions and pick the professional that best fits your needs.

Photo: John Morgan / CC 2.0