tax

BIG Announcement!

I am THRILLED that I get to make this announcement. Seriously, I’m cheesing from ear to ear right now!

I’m launching a brand new, accelerated Money Mastery Coaching Program, and I am making it available, for FREE, to the first 20 people that fill out the contact form below, before October 25, 2015. When you sign up, I’ll send you an email which welcomes you and gives you some information on what you can expect. The actual program will begin November 1, 2015, and end on December 10, 2015 (to allow you additional time to complete the tasks).

On October 27th, you will receive your first email, allowing you access to the program’s private site. You all will be able to do the program completely free of charge. I will be frank with you all: this program is best suited for beginners, so if you are at a more advanced phase of handling your finances, you may find it a little too easy. It’s designed to build comfort in handling your finances, and giving a great snapshot of where you are,financially.

All that I ask in return is that you complete all of the tasks and that you give me lots of honest feedback (you can be completely honest- I want to make the program the best it can be!).

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Here are some important dates to remember:

Now – October 25: Sign up for free coaching program

October 25:Coaching program enrollment closed

October 27: Welcome email sent to enrolled individuals

October 28: General information, Instructions and Frequently Asked Questions sent

October 29: Access email sent

November 1: Program begins

December 10: Program ends

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I look forward to working with you all!

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Updated October 28, 2015: Admission to the pilot program is now CLOSED. Thanks to everyone that signed up, and I look forward to releasing the program to the general public in the very near future.

A Trip to San Diego and A Review of the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum

I spent a fantastic week in San Diego in August, though the trip was more business than pleasure. As part of my Enrolled Agent continuing professional education requirements, I have to take courses in tax law and ethics. I take these courses every year, to keep my skill set sharp and to find out about the latest tax law updates.

This year, as opposed to completing online courses to fill the requirement, I decided to attend the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum. This was my first forum and I attended the San Diego session. The event was held at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center. I stayed at the Town and Country during the week, so that I could walk downstairs to attend the training instead of driving to the location. The forum featured 40 different training topics, with each session lasting 50 minutes. There were also two networking receptions where attendees can enjoy light refreshments. I was pleasantly surprised by the effort that the vendors and IRS put into creating an enjoyable experience.

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My thoughts

The forum was very informative. What I really liked was the fact that these brief sessions made it easy to customize my learning schedule. The speakers were knowledgeable and there were enough topics to satisfy all attendees at varying knowledge levels.

My only points of dissatisfaction were the hotel itself and the location. The staff at the Town and Country were excellent but even they couldn’t make up for the old rooms and less-than-pristine hotel exterior. Also, the hotel was conveniently located across the street from a major mall, but there weren’t many other attractions that could be easily accessed on foot. Many of San Diego’s main attractions could only be accessed by rental car or by extensively coordinating public transportation. Washington DC may have spoiled me a bit: I like being able to walk to everything that I want to see!

The upside of this hotel is that there were beautiful flowers everywhere. Here are a few pics that I snapped while walking around.

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If I attend next year (and I probably will), I will choose a different hotel that is closer to downtown San Diego and just rent a car to get around. Given the perpetually wonderful weather, I’m sure that any hotel I choose will be even more beautiful than the Town and Country.

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Well, that’s my quick review of the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum, the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center, and, of course, what little of San Diego I got to see. Here’s hoping that my next trip to San Diego will include more sightseeing!

Beating Tax Debt: Part 3- Prevention

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If you’re battling tax debt, make sure you read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series first. However, if you do not have any tax debt, or, you just want to prevent owing in future years, read on.

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To say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is a gross understatement when it comes to taxes and avoiding a tax bill.

You CAN automate your preventive steps and reduce your tax stress! It’s a lot easier than you thought, and I’ll provide you with some basic tips in this post on how you can do this.

Several small adjustments can prevent you from having tax bills.

Here are a few ideas for avoiding a tax bill:

Learn which deduction category is best for you. There are two types of deductions: standard and itemized. Standard deductions are the amounts set by Congress, which determines the income that is excluded from the tax calculation. Itemized deductions are an alternative that allows a person to use other expenses to calculate the deduction amount. If you pay mortgage interest, have a lot of medical expenses, contribute generously to charity, or have a home office that you use for your job, then itemizing your deductions may be more advantageous than taking the standard deduction rate. IRS has a list of all of the things that can be included as itemized deductions. Check this list to see which deduction category is best for you.

Go back to school. There are tax credits and/or income reductions available to folks that pay for college. Normally, you can get a student loan for the expenses, but it’s better to pay as much as you can out of pocket (that way, you don’t create a new bill). If you want more information about education tax benefits, IRS’s website features an entire section that explore all of the benefits of obtaining an education. Aside from the tax benefit, getting an education could open the door to better job opportunities and more income to be taxed– uhm, I mean, more money to accomplish your goals.

Open a small business. Small businesses can generate income, but, during lean years, can reduce taxable income. The tax benefits of opening a business include being able to write off business related travel, tools, equipment, qualified training, and even the cost of licensure. The point is to always retain a business purpose: you must remain within IRS’s guidelines. IRS has a whole section on small business, as well. If you decide to cheat a little on your taxes, you may find yourself as the recipient of a very unpleasant audit (as former auditor, I can tell you that you DO NOT want this experience)!

Change your W-4. This was briefly mentioned in Part 2 (under planning refunds for subsequent years via increased tax withholdings). Withholdings generally work in the following way: you do the W-4 worksheet and it will come up with a number between zero (0) and ten (10). After that, you put the number on your W-4 form, turn it in to your employer, and that determines how your withholding is calculated. However, if you really want to prevent from having a huge tax bill, you will either reduce that number (if you calculate 5 on the worksheet, put 3 on the form that you submit to your employer) or indicate that you want additional money held out of each check. You are not legally required to use the number calculated on the worksheet, but you are required to reasonably estimate your tax (don’t put down “10” on the form when your worksheet calculated “2”). This is a less drastic way to prevent tax liability, since this involves smaller payments toward the tax.

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That concludes the Beating Tax Debt series! I hope you al have enjoyed the information as much as I’ve enjoyed putting this together for you. If you have tax questions or comments, please feel free to comment below. Also, if you don’t already, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’ll talk to you all soon!

Beating Tax Debt: Part 2- Treatment

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After figuring out what is causing your tax debt, the next step is to immediately control the issue. There are several ways to handle tax debt so that it is manageable and less stressful on you.

A multi-prong payment strategy will get your tax debt under control quickly and easily.

Before you can resolve the debt, you will want to explore direct and indirect payment options. There are three ways to pay a tax debt directly, and you can weigh which one works best for your situation. Further, there are ways to indirectly pay your tax debt AFTER you’ve gotten a bill.

First, if you have the money, you can send a check for the full tax balance at the time that the tax return is due. Even if you plan on sending your tax return after the due date, you will still want to submit your payment on the due date, which is normally April 15th. If you pay after the return’s due date, you’ll owe penalties and interest, calculated on a daily basis. If you tend to owe every year, and if your balance is over $1000, you may find that you are assessed an underpayment penalty of 10%, even if you pay off your taxes by the return due date.

If you can’t pay the full amount on April 15th, but anticipate you can have the money within 30, 60, 90 or 120 days, then you can request an extension of time to pay (NOT to be confused with an extension of time to file, which allows you to file up to 6 months after the return due date). The extension of time to pay won’t prevent penalties and interest, but at least you will establish with IRS that you intend to pay the balance in full. You will have to call IRS directly in order to

The third option is an installment agreement. These allow you to pay your balance off over a 72 month period, but there is a charge with requesting them (currently $120). Also, if you are late with your payments or end up owing on a future tax year while you’re under the plan, your plan will be cancelled and you will have to pay a reinstatement fee. This works well for those balances that are too large to pay at once. You can fully pay the balance at any time, and you won’t be penalized for paying more than the required amount or for doing a full payoff.

If you’d like IRS’s explanation of payment options, CLICK HERE.

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There are a few interesting indirect ways of paying your taxes. These are great because they are usually easy to deploy and won’t put serious cramps in your lifestyle.

One of the least utilized methods for reducing a tax bill is a penalty waiver request. Once upon a time, IRS used to be able to quickly determine your eligibility for waiver when you called them. I’m unsure if they still have this function, but it’s always good to ask. If you are denied your waiver, you can always write to request it. (I have an EASY waiver request template available here!) Allow 30 days for a response, as IRS is required to respond to all written requests within a 30-day period. Pretty much everyone, except the worst tax offenders, probably qualifies for some sort of reasonable cause waiver.

When the penalties are waived, you can expect your balance to decrease. Depending on the type of penalty, you may see as much as 25% vanish from your bill, not to mention the fact that the interest will decrease, since it is calculated on the tax due and the penalties.

Another way to indirectly pay your taxes is to plan for a refund in the subsequent year. So long as you’re under a payment plan, you will be chipping away at the balance, but the quickest way to see a big drop in your tax bill is to have refunds applied from subsequent years. You can increase the likelihood of generating a refund by stopping whatever caused the bill, increasing tax withholdings, increase pre-tax retirement contributions, and by READING about the different tax credits available. Credits can be the difference between paying on a tax bill for 6 years or wiping it out in two or three years.

THIS is why it’s important to file every year, even when you are only getting a small refund. Even tiny refunds can be applied to reduce an existing bill.

If you need to play catch-up and file some older tax returns, feel free to contact me for assistance, or visit your local IRS so that you can get the forms and publications needed to prepare those old returns!

Stay tuned for the third and final part of this series, that addresses how you can prevent owing tax.

Beating Tax Debt: Part 1- Diagnosis

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One of the more interesting things that I’ve encountered when I worked at Internal Revenue Service is the confusion surrounding tax debt. For many people that owe taxes, they find it difficult to get out of tax debt and stay out of it. They don’t quite understand how they got into the debt and what they can do to prevent it in the future. No matter how big or small the bill, the steps for resolving the issue remains the same.

In order to STOP owing IRS, you must understand WHY you owe and you must STOP doing whatever is causing you to owe.

Of course, many people are so intimidated by IRS that they won’t even call IRS to get some help with their tax dilemma. Even worse, many paid tax preparers are not very good at understanding and explaining what generates a tax bill. Sorry to say it, but many paid tax preparers only input numbers, without having much knowledge of tax law and its implications. I’m here to tell you: if you aren’t clear on why you owe, you WILL owe again. So, Step 1 of eliminating tax debt is to properly diagnose what caused the tax bill.

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The easiest way to figure out what happened with your taxes is to order your return and account transcripts online (these are FREE of charge and available immediately after signing up on IRS’s website; unfortunately, at the time of this post, the online order system is unavailable, though the transcripts can be mailed to you). Then you can compare the numbers on your copy of the tax return to what’s on the transcript. If you don’t have enough prepayments (either tax withholding, quarterly estimated tax payments, or tax credits) to cover your tax, then you will have a bill. If you find yourself owing for one year, after never owing in previous years, you may want to check the transcripts against one another, to see where the difference occurs.

If you look at your transcripts and are still confused, you can visit your local walk-in IRS so that one of the employees can walk you through your transcripts. If that is more time consuming than you would like, feel free to contact me, and I can assist you. After working at IRS for nearly a decade, I’m confident that I can resolve your issue.

However, I’m sure that with a little patience, anyone can figure out what happened with their taxes to cause a tax bill. This is a crucial step in knocking out tax debt. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the “Beating Tax Debt” series, so you can find out the next step needed to handle your tax debt permanently!

This Week in Tax & Finance

Here’s a quick rundown of the most interesting tax and finance articles I’ve read this week:

Special taxes for soda? Well, Mexico implemented a 10% soda tax, which meant that any sugary, carbonated beverages costs consumers more than the price of a bottled water. According to the article posted by Wired, the US could learn something from how the Mexican soda tax was implemented. Berkeley, California already has a version of this tax, but, without nationwide uniformity, the effects of a soda tax are limited. The researchers remain hopeful about the US implementing something similar, but I remain a skeptic. I know how Americans, in general, feel about any tax. They also believe it is their right to guzzle toxic products, so long as said toxic product tastes good.

The takeaway? A soda tax is highly unlikely in the US, where personal freedom reigns over collective wellbeing.

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Kids are benefiting from “drugs” (marijuana sales) in Colorado. The Cannabist reports that the 2015 excise taxes collected on marijuana sales totals $3.5 million so far, with numbers expected to increase over the upcoming months. The funds are being used for school construction. There is some additional proposed legislation that will help facilitate the continued use of the excise taxes for school, but it’s very likely that the proposition will pass.

The takeaway? Since marijuana purchases in Colorado mean school funding, purchasing cannabis is now a civic duty.

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Do you find that, at the end of the month, you always end up with more month than money? Well, that seems to be a national epidemic, as the federal government managed to overspend its tax revenue by $313 billion dollars. According to CNS News, the feds collected nearly $2.5 trillion dollars in tax revenue over the past 9 months, and still managed to overspend. The largest tax collected came from individual income taxes, followed by payroll (Social Security and Medicare) taxes, then corporate taxes. Despite so many tax streams, the government still spends too much. Let’s hope that this fiscal mismanagement gets under control.

The takeaway? Bouncing checks is a national trait, and it’s detrimental on any level.

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That’s all for this week. Look out for another post this week!

Special Offer- FREE 30 Minute Consultations!

I promised you all that this month, you’d see more posts, more tweets, and some special offers.

Today, I’m offering something REALLY special. Normally, my consultations are 15 minutes long, and longer consultations are only part of purchased programs. However, if you request a free consultation any time through May 21, 2015, I will DOUBLE the consultation time! That’s 30 minutes of FREE advice/answers from me! By the way, this offer will apply to any consultations scheduled, as long as you submit your request by May 21st. The appointment period will run from today to August 31, 2015.

In the contact form below, make sure you put your name, email address, and any finance/tax questions you have. I will do my best to answer them as completely as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you!

This Week in Tax & Finance …

More of the amusing and interesting stories in the world of tax and finance that I’ve read this week…

If you think that your last speeding ticket was a doozy, just imagine paying $58k for wanting to get to your destination faster. Forbes reports that Finland assesses speeding fines based on a percentage of personal wealth, rather than the fixed rates that most countries impose. This fine was imposed for going just 14 miles over the speed limit. It may sound odd, but since fines and penalties are designed as a deterrent, it makes sense that these fees would be proportionate to income.

The takeaway? Drive at the speed limit.

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Usually, being the first person to do something is a privilege. It’s a source of pride for years and gives you serious bragging rights. However, Plaxico Burress, NFL wide receiver and New Jersey resident, is finding out that being the first isn’t always a good thing. Burress has been indicted for “willful failure to pay state income tax”. The law went into effect September 2014 and Burress is now the first person to be charged for willful nonpayment. According to the NJ Prosecutor’s Office, Burress filed his state income taxes but experienced a failed Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). The state views failed EFT similarly to writing bad checks.

The takeaway? Make sure that your checks and EFTs are clearing properly, so you won’t be left with fees and (in the case of Burress) legal woes.

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Is it possible to get hooked on doing GOOD for others? According to this Reuters article, microfinancing addictions are REAL and the urge to do more can quickly become consuming. The author mentions that the desire to help as many budding entrepreneurs around the globe can spiral out of control. He suggests that microlenders set a cap to their spending, be patient with issuing loans and receiving repayment. and consult others before going all in with your lending.

The takeaway? Pace your do-gooder inclinations so that you can do good for a longer time.

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That’s all for this week. There will be more posts VERY soon!

This Week in Tax & Finance …

This post is just a summary of the more interesting articles I’ve read about tax and finance over the past few days.

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According to this article published yesterday (April 26, 2015) on NBC News, the Clinton Foundation had errors on its tax return. The errors weren’t of the calculation sort, but were due to misidentified income. I’m fairly certain that someone will lose a job over this, especially since this is the beginning of the Clinton presidential campaign and there is NO room for errors that may make the organization look unethical or careless.

The takeaway lesson? Grant money IS NOT a charitable donation. Identify it properly!

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Next, an article posted by Accounting Today highlights the tax effect of the marijuana business. 27 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana usage in some form, though it is still considered a controlled substance under federal law. Marijuana businesses get taxed on their income as gross income (similar to gambling winnings and alimony) instead of net income (like businesses that aren’t selling controlled substances). This means higher taxes for marijuana retailers- unless they get creative with their taxes. There is also speculation that any providing tax advisory services to a marijuana business could be found in violation of federal law, as they may be found to participating in “aid[ing], abet[ting], counsel[ing], command[ing], induc[ing] or procur[ing] the commission of a federal offense”. Tax preparation isn’t so problematic, as it is done AFTER business transactions have occurred. It’s tax advisement (which occurs BEFORE the taxes are filed) that may punishable by federal law.

The takeaway lesson? A good tax preparer may help marijuana retailers avoid a heavy tax burden, but tax advisors could get in hot water over their advice.

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Say it isn’t so! Hershey’s stock is down and they are hurting. CNN reports that Hershey has recently purchased several other companies, including Mauna Loa, the macadamia nut processors (imagining the tasty treats that can come from that merger). Unfortunately, Hershey isn’t making any money off of those purchases yet. Nestle, however, has seen a 10% overall in stock value, due to the euro weakening and making chocolate production cheaper.

The takeaway lesson? The US dollar is up, the euro is down, and even though Hershey is suffering, this is a great time to take a trip to Europe (perhaps you can enjoy some more affordable Nestle products while you’re there).

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That’s my quick recap of the most interesting articles I’ve seen over the past couple of weeks. Look out for even more fun stuff in May, including some great FREE gifts to subscribers!

Your Taxes Are Filed- Now What?

You have your returns done (or you will have them done soon). Now you get to relax … Actually, don’t relax yet. You have a couple more things to do. But these are quick- I promise!- and will save you a lot of future headaches.

Await your refund

If you are receiving a refund, then it normally takes 2 weeks for electronically filed returns and 4-6 weeks for mailed returns. If you experience delays, you can check the refund status on the IRS “Where’s Your Refund?” application.

Submit your payment

The sooner you pay, the better. Every day that you delay paying your taxes, interest and penalties accrue. Even paying a portion will translate into savings.

Request an extension of time to pay

You can contact IRS to request an extension of time to pay your taxes, in case you aren’t able to pay. The extensions are available for up to 120 days, though if you need less time, that is fine.

Request that penalties be waived

While you’re requesting your extension of time to pay, you can ask for a penalty waiver. When penalties are waived, your overall bill will be reduced. This is at IRS’s discretion, so it may or may not work. But it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Double-check your records

A few weeks after submitting your returns, compare your tax returns to your receipts and other documents. Sometime between June and August, get copies of all of your income statements from IRS (you can do this online). If you see a forgotten 1099 or W-2, you can amend your tax return to include that newly discovered information.

Prepare for next year

Adjust your W-4s at work if your withholding was inadequate. Start digitally scanning your receipts and other relevant documents so that you can have all of your information in one place.

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This short list will help you catch any errors and reduce your tax stress. Here’s to low-stress future tax seasons!