Is Your Tax Situation Causing You Pain?

 

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Perhaps, a little humor can help the “medicine go down”

Is a Tax problem (and pain) keeping you up at night? If so, I hope to provide you some relief to feel better by:

  • Helping you Identify your status & gain perspective
  • Provide education – process, proposed solutions, and
  • Suggest do’s and don’t to remedy your situation, or
  • Identify those that can legally help you and with what

Pain Scale:

0 – I hope it stays this way – always

Mild Pain – Filed an extension & still not ready to file?

1-2 – Mild Pain – Can be Ignored?

Moderate Pain – Audit – Find your Records?

3 or 4: Interferes with Tasks

5 or 6: Interferes with Concentration

Severe Pain – Assets seized? Wage Garnishment?

7 or 8: Interferes with Basic Needs

9 or 10: Bed Rest Required

Regardless of your situation, know that you are not alone and help is available.

Tips for those with a Mild diagnosis

  • You have until 10/17/16 to file your 2015 return
  • Now is the time to request help if you want it
  • Reminder to stay current with your estimated tax payments for 2016

Tips for those with a Moderate/Severe diagnosis

Remind yourself that being afraid of things going wrong isn’t the way to make things go right.

Fear is interest paid on a debt you may not owe” – anonymous

Take a breath and let’s dig deeper.

There are 3 types of IRS Audits (verified compliance)

  • Correspondence Exam– not Face to Face
  • Office – Local IRS office – Desk Audit
  • Field – Your office or home or your Accountants office

Audit Scope/Complexity varies from low to high risk

  • In a Correspondence Audit, the IRS, generally, will not expand the scope
  • If you request a transfer to an Office Audit, because of complexity or large amount of documents, the Revenue Agent has the authority to Expand the Scope- IRS internal approval required
  • Field Audit scope can be expanded without approval 

An Audit LifecycleSimplified

  • Inquiry
  • Provide info
  • Wait
  • Proposed Changes
  • Wait
  • Provide Additional info
  • Finalize

Timeframe to Resolve (perspective)

  • Correspondence Exam – 3 to 6 months
  • Office Exam – can take over a year

 

What you need to know:

  • A discrepancy is not an audit; i.e. Form CP 2000, but should be treated like an audit
  • For Audits, the Burden of Proof, falls upon the Taxpayer- show why you are entitled to deduction
  • The IRS may give you a Proposed Tax Bill if you don’t substantiate your position
  • Your Tax Adviser can help you by being the Auditor before the Audit; examples:
  1. Can help you identify Audit Risks – problem areas on your return and/or overlooked deductions & credits
  2. Poor Books & Records & the need to recreate

 

Dos and Don’ts

Do:

  • If you handle your own IRS correspondence, Be Clear, Concise, and To The Point
  • Do provide credible evidence
  • Be timely in your response and provide the requested information – Be organized and help them do their job
  • Do know the Limits on Representation:
  1. CPA, EA, & Attorney can help through the Appeals process
  2. Attorney only for Tax Court

 

Don’t:

  • Do not include needless facts- the auditor could miss your main point if you ramble
  • Do not send/bring a big box of loose unorganized paper- this sets your audit off on the wrong foot
  • Don’t ignore their letters

Action Steps:

  • Read what the IRS is looking for
  • Gather documents, organize, & summarize
  • Recreate unavailable documents
  • Decide, am I going to do this alone or get help

 

Process:

Audit Determination:

  • No change
  • Agree with changes – make payment arrangements
  • Disagree with changes – Appeals Mediation or Appeal

Collection:

  • Generally, the IRS will send you a written notice requesting that you pay a specific amount
  • If not paid and you do not contact them, the IRS could force you to pay by taking future refunds, placing liens on your property, seizing assets, & garnishing your wages

Installment Agreement:

  • Signed agreement to pay down the debt over a period of time
  • Can prevent Wage Garnishment IF payments are made on time

Offer in Compromise:

  • An agreement to settle the debt for less than the amount owed
  • You must qualify by meeting compliance and eligibility requirements. Requirements are strict and the IRS only accepts this under limited conditions

Appeals Mediation:

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Helps to develop resolution strategies
  • Appeals mediator has no power to render a decision or to force either party to accept a settlement.

Appeal:

Appeals is the place for you if ALL of the following apply:

  • You received a letter from the IRS explaining your right to appeal the IRS’s decision.
  • You do not agree with the IRS’s decision.
  • You are not signing an agreement form sent to you.

 

Closing Comments:

  • This blog is intended to provide you some insight and helpful solutions. It is not exhaustive of all possibilities
  • 1st Time Abatement Penalty and relief from other penalties were not discussed in this blog

 

If you have questions, feel free to call me at 619-549-2717.

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself “ – Andy Warhol

 

Thanks for reading,

Deb

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth. She can help by being your financial compass while you captain your ship.

Debbie offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations. We can discuss/resolve via a mix of e-mail, phone, virtual, and in-person communications.

http://www.debfoxfinancial.com

Call 619-549-2717

E-Mail me @ debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Facebook: Deborah Ann Fox, CPA

Dive into the Numbers-Who Does What?

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Bookkeepers, Accountants, & CPA’s: Who Does What?

 In my experience, I have found that frequently, many people do not understand the difference between a Bookkeeper, an Accountant, and a Certified Public Accountant.

A business owner may wonder, “ Do I need a bookkeeper or an accountant?”

The answer might be both.

The following general descriptions may provide some insight as to function and how each group may work together to provide value to those they serve.

Bookkeepers: May have Certifications

  • Uses accounting software to record day-to-day financial transactions
  • Generates financial reports
  • Sends invoices to customers
  • Enters invoices received from suppliers into the accounting system
  • Reconciles Bank Statements
  • Prepares Payroll
  • Specific responsibilities will vary by type and size of business
  • Work may be overseen by an accountant and/or the small business owner

Accountants: Bachelors Degree, with an emphasis in Accounting 

  • Assist Business Owners with their accounting systems, financial statements, income tax returns, tax planning, and investment decisions
  • Prepares detailed budgets
  • Works with a corporation’s management in analyzing costs of operations, products, and special projects such as forecasted to actual results
  • Works with management in setting prices of products manufactured or services offered
  • May prepare Cash Flow projections and analysis
  • Works with banks to ensure the company will have funds when required
  • Leads Tax Planning and determines income tax and other taxes payable to governmental entities
  • Assess financial risks associated with projects
  • Accountants and auditors perform overviews of the financial operations of a business in order to help it run efficiently.
  • May Supervise teams of Bookkeepers in a large office or work in conjunction with bookkeepers to provide a different level of service to owners
  • Help a business owner interpret the financial statements and offer suggestions to improve profitability, cash flow, and efficiency

 

Certified Public Accountants (CPA’s)- Licensed by the State and agrees to abide by a Code of Ethics

  • Have met the “Three E’s” – Education, Examination, and Experience – that are required for initial licensure as a CPA and they continue to meet the annual continuing education requirements to renew their license each year
  • The current exam includes 4 parts and includes a testing period of up to 14 hours
  • A minimum of 40 continuing education hours are required each year
  • CPA’s frequently become Trusted Business &/or Personal Financial Advisors
  • We may perform any of the services shown under Accountants, or work in Public Accounting which includes a wide range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting tasks for small business, corporations, non-profit organizations, government, and for individuals (Personal Financial Planning)
  • A CPA can do two things than an accountant without a CPA license cannot:
  1. Provide Attestation Services: Compilations, Reviews & Audits of an entity’s financial statements
  2. Represent clients in front of the Internal Revenue Service
  • Certified Public Accountants, Enrolled Agents, and Attorneys have Unlimited Representation Rights before the IRS. Tax professionals with these credentials may represent their clients on any matters including audits, payment/collection issues, and appeals

 

Accounting and Tax is like a foreign language for most people.

It is an acquired skill.

Experience can be wide and deep.

Yet, most of us “Number Crunchers” have one thing in common, we enjoy helping and we use our knowledge and experience to empower others.

We like to use our gifts to help you.

 

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” – Dr. Peter F. Drucker

Similarly, an accountant/CPA may find meaning for you by “reading between the lines” and offer suggestions to improve the Bottom Line on your financial statements.

 

Thanks for reading,

Deb

 

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA helps Small Business Owners & Individuals build and protect their financial wealth. She can help by being your compass while you captain your ship.

Debbie offers free 30 minute no obligation consultations and is available for appointments – including remote. More information is available at http://www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Money on the Table”- 2015 Year-End Tax Saving Strategies

Leaving “Money on the Table” is an idiom, which means not getting as much money as you could.

You can do this in a lot of different ways such as salary negotiations, selling low when you bought high, or by not using the IRS tax rules and planning opportunities and then leave your hard earned money “on the table”.

The IRS, literally, spells “theirs”. The money is theirs if you just wait until the tax- filing season comes, complete & submit your 1040 tax form and then pay the amount owed or get a refund.

As a CPA – Tax Advisor, I love learning the rules and then sharing information to help other people reduce their tax bills. It is my way to help empower other people and hopefully, make a small difference in their quality of life. Nobody likes paying taxes; almost all of us like to save money.

Yes, we need to pay our share, but we don’t need to pay more than we need to. The IRS also does not want us to pay more than we should. The rules are in place to help us pay less. It is our responsibility and our choice to use them or not. The IRS is not going to tell you, you could have paid less, if you had just (xxx). There are a lot of possible ways to “fill in the blank”. Each tax story is unique.

As an advocate for “not leaving money on the table”, I offer you some practical, actionable, steps to take now to see if you can reduce your 2015 tax bill, now, before it is too late.

Step One: Estimate your 2015 Income & IRS Withholding

If you want to want to make sure your money is more in “your pocket” than theirs:
• Determine how much you have earned this year
• Determine what you have paid toward your 2015 tax bill
• Then increase each of these amounts to estimate the year-end amounts

Step Two: Compare this year to last year:

Now that you have a glimpse of your 2015 tax situation, compare those numbers to those on your 2014 tax return. A filed return can be used as a sort of “road map” to see if there are options to reduce your tax bill now or in the future.

For example, did you get a refund last year? If so, consider this:

Last year, Kiplinger’s had a great article titled, “Safeguard your Refund by shrinking it”. The article includes the following:
• More than 75% of Americans get an IRS tax refund each year which is the equivalent of giving the IRS an interest free loan
• Identity Theft is on the rise and thieves file fraudulent returns to collect refunds. Avoid this risk by limiting the amount of refund you receive
• Use on –line tax calculators to see if your estimated tax withholding is correct; the IRS and Kiplinger’s both provide these tools
• File a revised W-4 with your employer this year to change your tax withholdings; remember the goal is to break even

Step Three: Review 2015 & determine actionable steps

Shift “Income” to this year or to next year?

Consider if you can shift your income to decrease the amount of tax owed.

If you think your income will decrease next year and your tax rate would be lower, can you:
1. Defer a year-end bonus to January 2016?
2. Postpone a sale that will trigger a gain to next year?
3. Delay exercising stock options?

Alternatively, it may make sense to move income to this year:
1. Covert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA and recognize the conversion income this year?
2. Take IRA distributions this year?

Shift Payments?
If you itemize, would you benefit if you changed the timing of some of your payments?
If you expect your income to decrease next year, then you might want to move some payments/deductions to the current year to offset your higher income this year. Can you:
• Prepay property taxes?
• Make your January mortgage payment this year?
• If you owe state income taxes, consider making up any shortfall rather than waiting until your return is due
• Consider the timing of medical expenses so you can benefit from the deduction?
• Sell some or all of your loss stocks?
• If you qualify for a health savings account, consider setting one up and making the maximum contribution allowable

Defer Deductions to 2016
If you expect tax rates to increase next year, or if you anticipate a substantial increase in taxable income, you may want to explore waiting to take deductions until 2016:
• Postpone year-end charitable contributions, property tax payments, and medical & dental expense payments, to the extent you might get a deduction for such payments
• Postpone the sale of any loss-generating property

Step Four: Can you do anything else?
For those that would like to take it a step further, consider if there is anything you can do to increase your “Above the Line Deductions”.

On a Federal Individual 1040 tax form, the basic formula is:
Income minus “Above the Line” deductions = Adjusted Gross Income.

These deductions include paying monies to:
• Establish an IRA for you or your spouse?
• If qualified, set up a Health Savings Account?
• If self-employed, would you benefit from having health insurance or a Qualified Pension Plan?

While this is not an exhaustive list, I hope it gives you enough information to initiate your plan, act this year, and save money on your 2015 next tax bill.

A dollar saved is a dollar you don’t need to earn. Keep marching towards financial freedom. Happy planning!

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets by helping others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointments. More information is available at http://www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

Where is “The Help?”

We have a need. We have a want. Where is The Help?

Where is the help if we want to talk to an affordable professional about our money?

The Need:

Many of us worry about our money situation because of consumer debt, student debt, limited savings, or the ability to retire.

We might worry, but talking about our money is not something we like to do. A recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) showed that we would rather tell people how much we weigh than the amount of our credit card debit or our FICO score. Many of us are embarrassed.

We might not want to talk about our money situation, but we also know that we could benefit if we did. We know what we don’t know or understand.  We might be comfortable not thinking about it, but this only allows anxiety to grow and does not change anything. A comfort zone can be a beautiful place to be, but nothing ever grows there.

The Want:

We all need and want financial stability.

We might know what to do with our money and just not do it. We know that we need to spend less than we make, but doing that is hard. It can also be hard to save and not spend. We have heard, pay your self first, but do we? We leave money on the table by not getting the full company match for our 401k plans at work.

Most of us were not taught how to manage our finances when we were in school.  We learned the hard way: through trial and error and through the “school of hard knocks”.

Increasingly, we want financial literacy taught in our schools. Students need to learn how to balance their bank account, manage debt, credit, and avoid financial traps.  In short, we want our children or the youth of our community to be better prepared than we were.

The Help:

Clearly, we have a need and a want. Where can we go for affordable help?

Historically, formal financial planning services were designed for and enjoyed by those who had large sums of money to protect. Comprehensive Financial Plans are expensive and time consuming to prepare. Financial Planning service firms may have provided this service at a nominal cost and made their money by selling insurance or investment products or by providing investment management services.  This works well for people who have plenty of money and the need for a comprehensive plan.

Where is the help for those that have less money?

Where is the help for those that do not yet need comprehensive financial plans, but have questions about their money?

Where is The Help for the:

  • Young Adult?
  • Young Career?
  • Young Family?
  • Families living paycheck to paycheck?
  • Working Poor?
  • Shrinking Middle Class?

Over the last few years, service providers have started to pop up. The marketplace had a void and some are stating to fill it, including me. I want to make financial planning, understanding, and capability more accessible for this underserved market for both individuals and small business owners.

For personal finance, maybe you would like to:

  • Talk about your money situation, evaluate, prioritize, act, and build confidence about your economic future?
  • Learn to use a systematic approach to evaluate a financial decision?
  • Have a mentor/friend to help empower you to become more accountable?

For the entrepreneur or small business owner, would you benefit by learning new business skills about:

  • Pro-Forma financials for your business plan?
  • Budgets and cash flow?
  • Tax planning?

For those that like to read and learn on your own, there are a lot of good resources out there to help you.  I have resources listed on my website at www.debfoxfinancial.com. I also blog, post frequently on my Facebook page and share information on Twitter.

Perhaps, you learn best by working “one on one” and would benefit by having the opportunity to ask financial questions and then work together, as a team, to learn, grow, and achieve your financial goals.

I believe that the scope of financial services should be broader than is currently available and want to use my expertise and experience to help others.  We could work together on one project, many projects, or perhaps, I can just be a resource for financial information?

Execution matters. I can help. It is important that you know that I would not tell you what to do.  I can be a financial compass and help you sort through choices and evaluate the potential costs and the benefits of the available options. You decide what is best for you.

I am a financial literacy advocate and want to provide affordable financial solutions by providing meaningful, actionable, advice. If you can afford a personal fitness trainer; you could afford “one on one” help from me.

Takeaways:

  • Decisions made today affect the options available to you in the future
  • What you do today with “Your Present Self” has a direct impact on “Your Future Self”
  • An investment in you today can result in a financially stronger you tomorrow
  • Financial strength brings more freedom of choice

“Tell me and I’ll forget. Teach me & I may remember. Involve me & I learn” – Benjamin Franklin

Deb Fox is working to “make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets”. Although she earned her CPA designation in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others. She does not give investment advice; this is outside her areas of expertise. She can help with financial planning, tax, accounting, and commercial property and casualty insurance questions.

Website: www.debfoxfinancial.com

E-mail: debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

 

Financial Literacy – No App for That, but…

Over the past few years, we have heard or said “there is an App for that” and indeed, from a financial literacy perspective, there are applications for:

  • Mobile Banking
  • Budgeting
  • Cash Flow Management
  • Investing Loan Calculators

These are helpful but currently can only help us so much.  There are resources to help fill in the gaps such as:

  • The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has a free community service program titled 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy.  http://www.360financialliteracy.org . The goal is to help people make smart financial decisions at every stage of life.  Information is included for both personal finance and for small business owners.
  • Feed the Pig: www.feedthepig.org was designed to encourage 25-34 year olds to take control of their personal finances.

Poverty-Action.org has a paper titled Keeping it Simple: Financial Literacy and Rules of Thumb http://personal.lse.ac.uk/fischerg/Assets/KIS-DFS-March2013.pdf .  The research suggests that reducing complexity can improve effectiveness. Rather than teach double-entry accounting, working capital management, and investment decisions to some business owners, Rules of Thumb could be used. Most of us use some of these in our personal life, but as a country we do not do a very good job in practice.

The Council for Economic Education: Survey of the States 2011: The State of Economic and Personal Finance Education in our Nation’s Schools http://www.councilforeconed.org/news-information/survey-of-the-states/ includes a lot of information that is important for our kids, ourselves, and our economic future.

We are all busy and we usually only seek information when we need it; i.e. “just in time education”.  Some people like to learn on their own and for you, I have provided some on- line resources. Others like to learn with someone and for you, perhaps, I can be your partner. As Benjamin Franklin said, “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest”. Please let me know if I can help.

Email: debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

I hope this information helps to empower you to navigate life’s uncertain financial seas. Life is meant to be good; enjoy.