Social Security Numbers: Your Most Valuable Asset

ssn 3We frequently receive calls from clients requesting their spouse’s, children’s, and/or parents’ social security numberBy law, we cannot give clients’ social security numbers over the phone. Even if we know who’s calling. And because these numbers are more valuable than gold to identity thieves, we all need to be extra vigilant about keeping them confidential. We can only provide this information if the request is submitted in writing, via e-mail or letter, or if you visit us in person and provide the proper identification.

Protecting Your Information: Our Priority

You can hardly look at the news these days without hearing about another scam or data breach that has potentially put your personal information at risk. As keepers of sensitive information for our clients, we take our legal responsibility toward protecting that information extremely seriously. Just as your health care providers need to adhere to strict legal guidelines with regard to releasing any information, we are legally bound to follow similar rules. Unfortunately, sometimes this can be frustrating for clients.

We are fortunate to have friendly, often decades-long relationships with most of our clients. We may even recognize your voice when you call. The downside of this is that, even when we are 100% certain that it’s you on the other end of phone, we cannot release any information without properly documented authorization.

Mortgage Lenders: We Work for You, Not Them

When mortgage brokers contact us regarding your finances we are happy to provide them what they need on your behalf, but only if we have heard from you first! In order to disburse any personal financial information we require proper authorization, in writing. So while it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of buying or refinancing a house, don’t forget to let us know in advance, via e-mail or letter, that you are in the process of applying for a loan.

We can all agree that laws and policies are that in place to keep your information safe are necessary. But they can also cause delays in getting things done. You can rest assured that the last thing we want to do is cause you any inconvenience. On the contrary, the first thing we want to do is to protect your information, and not just because we are required to by law!

Let us know if you have any questions about this subject, or if you have any life events coming up that will require us to release your financial information. We are here to help!

Two Ways Your Taxes are Like a Vacation. Really!

islandchair 3

1. They both require planning.

You’ve probably never thought about it quite this way, but just like a vacation, maximizing the tax benefits you are entitled to requires some advance planning.

2. The best months to plan are May, June, and July.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive at first, removing the pressures and deadlines of tax filing season translates to more focused, big picture planning.

Meeting with clients about their taxes as we approach year end—or worse, during the height of filing season—is almost like trying to plan your vacation on your flight home. Traditionally, clients most often come in to meet with us during February and March, which limits our discussion to a prior year’s tax filing. And because the main focus is to complete your income tax return at that time, we are constrained to discussing only past events.

Over the course of the last three years we have determined that the best window for effective client meetings is from late spring through early summer. This timeframe allows us to take a longer view of your financial future and provide more in-depth assistance that will be to your advantage.

Whether you are interested in seeing us for current tax planning, budgeting assistance, or exit strategies for retirement, we are confident that—just like a good vacation—scheduling these meetings in warmer weather will take away some of the stress of tax planning and bring the most benefit to all of our clients. Keep an eye out for more information about scheduling financial strategy meetings with us in 2019.

Fraud Alerts

Scam AlertUnfortunately, we continue to hear frequently from clients who are concerned about threatening phone calls claiming to be from the IRS about delinquent taxes. Please know that the IRS will never initiate contact with you via email, nor call and threaten you with arrest. We cannot state strongly enough that you should never send personal financial data in response to an unsolicited email, nor give it over the phone to someone you can’t verify.

Criminals continue to find new ways to steal people’s money and identities. One of the latest scams involves trying to direct you to a phony IRS website that will ask for personal data. The following link will take you to the real IRS website for information about the many phone and e-mail scams that are currently making the rounds: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scamsconsumer-alerts

We also want to make you aware of a new payroll theft scheme where employee login information is stolen through fake e-mails. Once cybercriminals have this, direct deposits can be diverted to fraudulent accounts. The link below is a public service announcement from the FBI detailing the specifics.
https://www.ic3.gov/media/2018/180918.aspx

Payroll Withholding Calculator

Curious about whether your 2018 withholding will be sufficient under the new tax laws? The IRS has made available a new self-service online tool which can help you determine this. It is important to read the instructions carefully before you start, as you will need to have documentation handy to answer several of the questions (e.g.most recent tax return, pay stubs).

The system will prompt you for missing information, but you will need to know things like your projected income for 2018, and number of children who qualify for the child tax credit (they must be under age 17 as of 12/31/18), so make sure to gather everything you need before you start the questionnaire. Also, please note that If your health care is through the Health Connector, this amount will not factor in to the ACA premium tax credits.

You can access the Withholding Calculator at this link:
https://www.irs.gov/individuals/irs-withholding-calculator

Lost Deductions Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

There is an extensive list of deductions that can no longer be claimed under the new tax code. For instance, those of you who use your vehicle for work are no longer able to deduct your expenses for gas, meals, parking and tolls. Likewise, all miscellaneous deductions on form 2106 have been repealed, and things like union dues, work uniforms, and publications are no longer deductible. The article at the link below does a good job of explaining how the changes will likely impact your returns this year.
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/9-tax-deductions-individuals-can-no-longer-claim-in-2018/

Government Shutdown Update: How might it affect your tax return for 2019?


irscheck_1040

We are all hoping that the shutdown will end soon. In the meantime, we will process all tax returns for our clients just as we have done in the past. 

Below you’ll find an excerpt from information provided by the National Society of Accountants about how the shutdown is affecting taxpayers:

Despite the government shutdown, the Internal Revenue Service confirmed that it will process tax returns beginning January 28, 2019 and provide refunds to taxpayers as scheduled. “We are committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive their refunds notwithstanding the government shutdown. I appreciate the hard work of the employees and their commitment to the taxpayers during this period,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.

Congress directed the payment of all tax refunds through a permanent, indefinite appropriation (31 U.S.C. 1324), and the IRS has consistently been of the view that it has authority to pay refunds despite a lapse in annual appropriations. Although in 2011 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directed the IRS not to pay refunds during a lapse, OMB has reviewed the relevant law at Treasury’s request and concluded that IRS may pay tax refunds during a lapse.

The IRS will be recalling a significant portion of its workforce, currently furloughed as part of the government shutdown, to work. Additional details for the IRS filing season will be included in an updated FY2019 Lapsed Appropriations Contingency Plan to be released publicly in the coming days.

As in past years, the IRS will begin accepting and processing individual tax returns once the filing season begins. For taxpayers who usually file early in the year and have all of the needed documentation, there is no need to wait to file. They should file when they are ready to submit a complete and accurate tax return.

Software companies and tax professionals will be accepting and preparing tax returns before Jan. 28 and then will submit the returns when the IRS systems open later this month. The IRS strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically to minimize errors and for faster refunds.

We will continue to keep you apprised of any events that will impact your returns.