IRS Announces Top Tax Scams for 2017

The IRS has announced the completion of its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams. The annual list highlights various schemes that taxpayers might encounter throughout the year, and especially during tax-filing season. “Taxpayers need to guard against ploys to steal their personal information, scam them out of money or talk them into engaging in questionable behavior with their taxes,” the IRS said.

The “Dirty Dozen” scams the IRS highlighted in 2017 are as follows:

Phishing: Taxpayers are advised to be on guard against fake emails or websites looking to steal their personal information. Specifically, they are warned to avoid opening surprise emails or clicking on web links claiming to be from the IRS, as the IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a bill or refund.

Phone Scams: Taxpayers are warned that aggressive and threatening phone calls from criminals impersonating IRS agents remain an ongoing danger. The IRS said it has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent years, as con artists threaten taxpayers with police arrest, deportation, and revocation of their driver’s license if they fail to pay a bogus tax bill.

Identity Theft: The IRS is advising taxpayers to watch out for identity theft, especially around tax time. Taxpayers are cautioned to always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections, to make sure the security software is always turned on and can automatically update, to encrypt sensitive files such as tax records stored on the computer, and to use strong passwords.

Return Preparer Fraud: Taxpayers are cautioned to be on the lookout for unscrupulous return preparers, and to choose carefully when hiring an individual or firm to prepare a tax return.

Fake Charities: The IRS is warning taxpayers to be wary of groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors, and especially of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Taxpayers should avoid giving out financial information to individuals soliciting for charity, and should check the status of charitable organizations using the IRS website.

Inflated Refund Claims: Taxpayers are cautioned to be on the lookout for individuals promising inflated refunds. In particular, taxpayers should be wary of anyone who asks them to sign a blank return, promises a big refund before looking at their records, or charges fees based on a percentage of the refund.

Excessive Claims for Business Credits: The IRS is warning taxpayers to avoid improperly claiming the fuel tax credit, pointing out that this tax benefit is generally not available to most taxpayers, as it is usually limited to off-highway business use. Taxpayers are also cautioned to avoid claiming the research credit unless they can demonstrate that they participated in qualified research activities or satisfy the requirements related to qualified research expenses.

Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns: Taxpayers are urged to resist the temptation to falsely inflate deductions or expenses on their returns. In particular, the IRS warned taxpayers against overstating deductions such as charitable contributions and business expenses, or improperly claiming credits such as the earned income tax credit or the child tax credit.

Falsifying Income to Claim Credits: The IRS is advising taxpayers to avoid inventing income to erroneously qualify for tax credits, such as the earned income tax credit. Taxpayers are warned that individuals are sometimes talked into falsifying their income by con artists. These scams can lead to taxpayers facing large bills to pay back taxes, interest, and penalties; and may even result in criminal prosecution.

Abusive Tax Shelters: Taxpayers are cautioned against using abusive tax structures to avoid paying taxes, and are advised to be on the lookout for individuals advertising tax shelters that sound too good to be true. The IRS emphasized that it is committed to stopping complex tax avoidance schemes and the individuals who create and sell them.

Frivolous Tax Arguments: Taxpayers are warned not to use frivolous tax arguments to avoid paying tax, as the penalty for filing a frivolous tax return is $5,000. The IRS noted that there are frivolous schemes that encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims, even though such claims have been repeatedly thrown out of court.

Offshore Tax Avoidance: The IRS is cautioning taxpayers against trying to hide money and income offshore, pointing to a recent string of successful enforcement actions against offshore tax cheats and the financial organizations that help them. The IRS recommended that taxpayers with unreported funds in offshore accounts catch up on their filing and tax obligations through the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

*Content provided by MHM publications*

The Tax Deadline Has Come and Gone – Are You Happy?

With April 18th in your rear view mirror it is time to review how your tax preparation went.  Was it a painless process for you?  Did you have constant communication with your accountant?  If you did, you should thank your accountant and start planning for next year!  If not, maybe it is time to start thinking about a change.  Over the years we (as a Firm) have noticed clients switching to CPA Firms of our size over the traditional sole practitioner.  While you may enjoy a personal relationship or believe that it would be inconvenient to make a change to a full service CPA Firm – think again….

When you make a switch to a public accounting firm, you gain resources, a team of CPAs with more robust professional backgrounds, and a one-stop shop for all your personal and business financial needs. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a full suite of services at your fingertips – other then just tax preparation? What happens if you want to outsource your accounting, or maybe buy or sell a business?    A CPA Firm handles the “here and now” AND “the here and far from now” process. With an overarching look into your personal or business situation a good CPA Firm can do so much more for you then you ever imagined.  Here’s a look into how they do it:

The Secret Behind A CPA Firm’s Success

A (good) CPA firm functions as a part of your leadership team.  That’s it – that’s the secret.  Before your anticipation dies down, allow us to ellaborate on that.

They Care About You

When you invest in a CPA Firm, they recognize the engagement as a relationship, not a contact.  CPA’s bind themselves to your business, taking a true interest in your financial past, and expressing genuine desire to improve your financial future.

Why is a passionate CPA so important to your financial future?  Because without a genuine desire to grow, your accounting department is simply going through the motions, paying no mind to long-term effects or future goal fulfillment – that doesn’t exactly increase your bottom line.

They Plan With You

Your current financial team always seems too busy with other tasks to focus on the future.  You want daily deadlines to be met, but you also want to plan for next week, next month, and next year. You know how important planning is, but your team doesn’t seem to view it with the same urgency.

Whether it’s because they lack the time, or they’re just too focused on tasks at hand, your team’s priorities are out of place in your opinion. You need a firm that takes the time (any time and every time) to consult with you, give you valuable feedback, or simply provide financial reassurance. A CPA firm sees past daily duties, making your future their main priority and taking the time to plan for a prosperous one.

They Seek Success For You

A CPA firm is going to share your goals, as well as your motivation for reaching them. Even after your organization has reached its financial goals, your CPA keeps at it – they want to see your success accumulate and reach a firm, unwavering stability. A CPA creates opportunities that lead to constant financial growth and a robust bottom line.

Your current accounting department might be deemed your financial team, but do they really function as your teammates? Are they as invested in your financial future as you are? If not, it’s time to start thinking about investing in a real team – one that cares about you, functions with you, and helps you secure a steady and successful financial future.

Ready to get proactive and reach beyond standard tax preparation?  Click below to learn how a CPA firm can provide insight beyond taxes.

Estate Planning For The Wealthy and Not-So-Wealthy

Estate planning is important for both the wealthy and not-so-wealthy.  Even if your estate is not large enough to require payment of estate taxes at your death (for 2017, the estate tax lifetime exemption amount is $5,490,000), having the proper documents in place at your death can minimize the burden placed on your loved ones.  Consider the following items when devising an estate plan:

Create A Will

This is an important first step in the estate planning process.  Wills help you make sure your wishes are carried out with respect to distribution of property, and if you have minor children, a will can be used to designate a guardian or guardians.

Avoid Probate

Documents can be put into place that will eliminate the need for the costly and time-consuming probate process.  In preparing an estate plan, all assets should be examined to determine the best way to title the property so the assets will be distributed according to your wishes and to minimize the expense of the final distribution of your assets.

Where To Start

Your attorney and wealth management advisors (brokers, bankers, CPA, etc) can assist you in the estate planning process to ensure you have a plan in place that is optimal for you.

Whether you need to devise a new estate plan or update an existing plan, having the proper documents in place is the key to providing peace of mind for you and your family. Contact us today to learn more!