Watch out for aggressive phone scams again this tax season

The Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) is warning taxpayers about one particular category of tax scams that has proven to be very widespread, very aggressive, and very relentless. Callers claim to be IRS employees, and they tell their intended victims that they owe taxes that must be paid immediately using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The fake IRS agents threaten those who refuse to pay with arrest, deportation, or loss of a business or driver’s license. The scammers have been operating in every state in the country.

Here are some practices used by the scammers that taxpayers should watch out for:

* Use of automated robocall machine.

* Caller gives fake IRS badge numbers.

* Caller knows last four digits of victim’s social security number.

* Caller ID is changed to appear as if the IRS is the caller.

* A fake IRS e-mail is sent supporting the scammer’s claims.

* Follow-up calls are made claiming to be from the police department or motor vehicle licensing office, with caller ID again supporting the claim.

If you receive one of these fake calls, complete the “IRS Impersonation Scam Form” on TIGTA’s website, or call TIGTA at 800-366-4484.

David Bradsher, CPA

Some questions and answers about reverse mortgages

A reverse mortgage is a loan against your property. But, instead of you making payments to the lender as you do on a regular mortgage, the lender is paying you. The repayment of this mortgage takes place after you no longer live in your home. Here are some answers to common questions about reverse mortgages.

1. How can a reverse mortgage benefit me?

The proceeds from this type of loan can be used for any purpose you want. You can use it to pay monthly bills, travel, improve your home or anything else you care to. And since it is a loan, it is not subject to income tax.

2. Do I qualify for a reverse mortgage?

To qualify, you must be 62 years of age or older. You must own your home and use it as your primary residence. If you owe money on a current mortgage, back taxes, or insurance, you must clear these off the property by closing time of your new mortgage.

3. What is the process for getting a reverse mortgage?

First, you will meet with a free reverse mortgage consultant.

Second, you will be counseled by a HUD-approved counselor to make sure you understand how this loan works.

Third, submit your application to the lender.

Fourth, have your home appraised.

Fifth, once all the documents are in order, the lender will issue final approval.

Sixth, funds will be available to you after all documents are signed and the closing is complete.

4. How much money will I receive?

The amount of your loan proceeds will depend on you and your spouse’s ages and the value of the equity in your home.

5. How much cash do I need to come up with?

The only expense you need to pay for is the property appraisal. All other fees can be paid for out of the loan proceeds. You should never pay anyone a fee to apply for a reverse mortgage, not beforehand and not at closing.

6. What payments do I need to make during the life of this loan?

You are not required to make loan payments. However, as per your agreement, you must keep the real estate taxes and home insurance current. You must also pay for home repairs.

7. How is this loan different from a regular mortgage?

On this loan, there are no monthly principal and interest payments. There are no credit scores or income requirements to secure this loan. And at the end of the loan, you are not liable for any loan amount over the value of the home.

8. How long does it take before my funds will be available?

There is no fixed time table. In part, it will depend on the appraisal, the title report, and on other paperwork considerations. A typical loan should be done in less than two months.

9. When do I need to pay this loan back?

As long as you meet the contract terms, nothing is due until you no longer live in the home. The home can then be sold and any money in excess of what the lender has coming is refunded to you or your estate. If the sales proceeds do not pay the lender in full, you are not required to pay the difference.

10. How do I know if a reverse mortgage is a good idea?

Reverse mortgages are not for everyone. Your counselor will inform you of all the pluses and minuses. You should have enough information at that time to make a knowledgeable decision. You should compare all aspects of the reverse mortgage against a conventional home equity loan.

David Bradsher, CPA

Update your beneficiary designations

Who have you designated as beneficiaries for your insurance policies and retirement accounts? If you can’t remember, you’re not alone. But it’s worth checking. If you make the wrong decision, it could affect who inherits those assets. In some cases, it could also change the taxes your beneficiaries will pay and the value they’ll receive. Here are some key facts about beneficiary designations.

What are they?

* When you designate a beneficiary for an account, you are naming the person you want to inherit that account.

* Your designation determines who will inherit the assets in the account, regardless of what your will might say. Generally, the assets will bypass probate and go straight to the person or institution you named.

* You can designate a person or group of persons, a charity, a trust, or your estate. You may also want to designate a secondary or backup beneficiary in case the primary is no longer living.

Why are they important?

* It’s important to keep beneficiary designations up to date because they determine who will inherit the assets in your accounts. Changing your will won’t change the beneficiaries.

* There can be tax implications too. With a traditional IRA, your choice of beneficiary can affect how quickly withdrawals must be made and taxes paid. That can change the value of the IRA to your beneficiary.

How do you update them?

* First, find copies of all your current designations. Contact your insurance company and plan trustees if you can’t locate the documents.

* Review them and decide what changes you’d like to make. Make an appointment to go over the changes with your tax or estate planning advisor.

* Send your updated designations to the account trustees. Make sure you receive confirmations and keep copies in your records.

David Bradsher, CPA

Every new business needs a record system

Many small start-up businesses are off and running before any record system has been set up. There is money deposited into the new business checking account, some from invested funds and some from sales. Money has been paid out for equipment and supplies, some by check and some by cash out of pocket or from sales receipts.

This informal method of cash receipts and disbursements needs to be formalized. The bookkeeping system does not need to be complicated. In most cases, you can continue to operate much as you have. You just need to do it in a way that leaves a few more tracks.

For example, make all purchases by check. The small miscellaneous cash paid-outs from your pocket (or the petty cash box) are reimbursed by a check with a listing of the expense codes. All your cash receipts are deposited into the bank. No more taking cash from the till for lunches, supplies, etc.

If all the money received by the business is deposited into the bank and all expenses are paid by a company check, the proper journal entries are easy to create from the bank statement.

If you are starting a new business, don’t wait until the end of the year and surprise your accountant with a box of miscellaneous receipts. That is the most expensive and least effective use of your accounting information. In addition to setting up the proper record system, your accountant will provide you with guidance on other business, tax, and financial matters.

David Bradsher, CPA

Check your tax withholding for 2015

Withholding too much tax from your wages isn’t a smart financial move. Review how much you’re having withheld in 2015 to see if it matches the actual tax liability you expect to have. If an adjustment is needed, file a new Form W-4 with your employer.

David Bradsher, CPA

Not all “income” is taxable

There are several sources of revenue that are not subject to income tax.

Here are the most common sources of money that are not taxed on your federal income tax return:

* Borrowed money such as from banks or personal loans.

* Money received as a gift or inheritance from family or friends.

* Money paid on your behalf directly to a school or medical facility.

* Most life insurance proceeds.

* Cash rebates from businesses when you buy an item.

* Child support payments.

* Money you receive for sustaining an injury.

* Scholarships for tuition and books.

* Disability insurance proceeds from a policy purchased with after-tax dollars.

* Up to $500,000 of profit for a couple selling their personal residence.

* Interest received on municipal bonds.

If you have included any of these on your income tax return for the past three years, you can amend your return for a tax refund.

If you would like assistance in determining what to include on your income tax return, please contact us. We are here to help you.

David Bradsher, CPA

Does your business make use of your financial statements?

Many small business owners pay too little attention to their financial statements. This is due in part to not understanding just what the statements have to offer. In fact, many may not be able to tell you the difference between a Balance Sheet and an Income Statement. Read more.

COMPLETE ARTICLE:
Many small business owners pay too little attention to their financial statements. This is due in part to not understanding just what the statements have to offer. In fact, many may not be able to tell you the difference between a Balance Sheet and an Income Statement.

Think of them this way. The Balance Sheet is like a still picture. It shows where your company is at on a specific date, at month-end, or at year-end. It is a listing of your assets and debts on a given date. So Balance Sheets that are a year apart show your financial position at the end of year one versus the end of year two. Showing how you got from position one to position two is the job of the Income Statement.

Suppose I took a photo of you sitting behind your desk on December 31, 2013. And on December 31, 2014, I took a photo of you sitting on the other side of your desk. We know for a fact that you have moved from one side to the other. What we don’t know is how you got there. Did you just jump over the desk or did you run all the way around the building to do it? The Income Statement tells us how you did it. It shows how many sales and how much expense was involved to accomplish the move.

To see why a third kind of financial statement called a Funds Flow Statement is useful, follow this case. A printer has started a new printing business. He invested $20,000 of his own cash and borrowed $50,000 from the bank to buy new equipment. After a year of operation, he has managed to pay off the bank loan. He now owns the equipment free and clear. When he is told his net profit is $50,000, he can’t believe it. He might tell you that he took nothing out of the business and lived off his wife’s wages for the year. And since there is no cash in the bank, just where is the profit? The Funds Flow Statement will show the income as a “source of funds” and the increase in equipment is an “application of funds.” The Funds Statement is even more useful when you have several assets to which funds can be applied and several sources of funds such as bank loans, vendor payables, and business profit or loss.

Don’t be afraid to ask your accountant questions about your financial statements. The more questions you get answered, the more useful you will find your financial statements. Accounting is sort of a foreign language. Learn to speak a little of it.

David Bradsher, CPA

Are you aware of the numerous age-related provisions in the IRS code? They are probably more plentiful and significant than you thought. Read more.

* At birth up to age 19 and even 24: dependency deduction. Parents can claim a dependency exemption for a child under 19 or for full-time students under the age of 24.

* Under 13: child care credit. This provision gives parents a tax credit for dependent care expenses.

* Under 17: child tax credit. If parental adjusted gross income is below a threshold level, parents can claim a child tax credit of $1,000.

* At 50: retirement contributions. The government allows extra “catch up” contributions to retirement savings. This is a helpful provision to encourage savings.

* Before age 59½: early withdrawal penalty. Withdrawals from IRAs and qualified retirement plans, with some exceptions, are assessed a 10% penalty tax.

* At 65: increased standard deduction. Uncle Sam grants a higher standard deduction, but there’s no additional tax benefit if the taxpayer itemizes deductions.

* At 70½: mandated IRA withdrawals. The IRS requires minimum distributions from a taxpayer’s IRA beginning at this age (doesn’t apply to Roth IRAs). This starts to limit tax-deferral benefits.

Awareness of how the tax code affects you and your family at different ages is important. For tax planning assistance through the various phases of life, give our office a call.

David Bradsher, CPA

Is your business using part-time workers?

Recent job statistics indicate that more employers are using part-timers to deal with variations in workload and for short-term projects. Here are a few tips your business will find useful if you hire part-time workers.

* Communicate clearly with the part-timer. Explain the person’s duties, the hours and benefits, and the individual to whom the part-timer will report.

* Tell your full-time staff why you’re hiring the part-timer. Make it clear what that person will and won’t be expected to do.

* Provide introductory training for the part-time worker. Assign someone the new person can turn to with everyday questions.

* Monitor the part-timer’s progress. Provide feedback on performance and recognition for doing a good job.

Pay attention to these points if you want hiring part-time workers to be a good choice for your company.

David Bradsher, CPA

There are many ways to make your business more profitable, and sound credit policies are high on the list. The current slowdown in the economy is a good reason to reexamine your company’s policies. Read more.

There are many ways to make your business more profitable, and sound credit policies are high on the list. The current slowdown in the economy is a good reason to reexamine your company’s policies. Keep the following items in mind as you review your policies.

* Don’t be so eager to sign on new customers that you neglect to check out their credit history. Take the time to check references, and obtain a credit report to see how they’ve handled other financial transactions.

* Establish collection policies and follow up promptly on delinquent accounts. The more overdue accounts become, the more likely they are to become uncollectable. That cuts into your profits.

* Calculate what it costs to carry credit for your customers. For example, if your business generates $1,000 per day in credit sales, and it takes you an average of 60 days to collect, your cost of providing credit to your customers is $3,000 per year. This example assumes you can borrow money at 5% interest. By speeding up the average collection to 30 days, you cut your carrying costs by half.

* To speed collections, invoice customers when you ship the goods; don’t wait until the end of the month. Make sure your invoice clearly shows your payment terms, including penalties for late payment and the discount, if any, for prompt payment.

* Be aware of the payment cycles for your industry. For example, if contractors typically pay their bills by the 10th of the month, make sure your invoices arrive in plenty of time for them to process your payment.

Call us if you’d like to review your credit policies.

David Bradsher, CPA