Archive for January, 2015

Beware Of Small Business Wire Transfer Scam

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Late last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a wire transfer scam alert for all small businesses in the United States. According to the FBI alert, between October 2013 and December 2014 a total of 1,198 complaints from U.S.- based companies were received dealing with wire transfer scams. Losses from these incidents totaled more than $179 million. The FBI also reports that the scams can follow a Ransomware incident, and may involve a fraudster contacting a vendor and requesting a change of payment to an alternate fraudster-controlled bank account.

How To Mitigate This Type of Scam

If you’re a small business owner, you may be at risk for this kind of scam. The FBI recommends the following mitigation steps for these types of scams:

  • Keep all of your anti-virus software up-to-date.
  • Educate your workforce about security best practices.
    • Be sure that any changes to payments via electronic transfer are verified with an employee of the bank and at a phone number that you utilize for assistance.
    • Don’t use alternate phone numbers provided via email or by a bank representative contacting you.
    • Always call the institution back and verify that you are communicating with your bank.
  • Monitor all of your business’s financial transactions on a daily basis. Suspected electronic fraud must be reported in a single business work day.
  • Use two-party authorization access to complete all wire transfer transactions.
  • Utilize biometric authentication to verify the identity of authorized users.
  • Use online bank portals that require strong fraud controls to complete all wire transfer transactions.

You can find more information about the FBI’s scam alert here. This site also provides detailed samples of how the scams will be run against unsuspecting businesses.

If you have any specific questions about how this scam might impact you or if would like more information on IT security best practices, email Rea & Associates.

By Joe Welker, CISA (New Philadelphia office)

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Signing On The Dotted Line

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Know What Your Pipeline Easement Agreement Entails Before Signing

For years, state and national economists have pointed to the Marcellus and Utica shale regions as a source of relief for Ohio’s economic well-being. As momentum continues to grow, more and more pipeline infrastructure will be built, providing landowners with an opportunity to enter into a pipeline easement agreement. While you may be handed a contract that looks favorable to you, make sure you completely understand your rights and responsibilities before signing.

6 Things To Know Before You Sign

  1. A pipeline easement grants a pipeline company permission to use your real property to transmit natural gas liquids. This means that your entire property is not affected – just the portion outlined in the contract.
  2. Understand the difference between a temporary easement and a permanent easement. A permanent easement refers to a time period of 30 years or longer and the amount is taxed at capital gains rates. This happens when the amount received exceeds the cost basis of the portion of the property where the permanent pipeline covers. A temporary easement pertains to a shorter amount of time and is taxed at your ordinary tax rate. A permanent easement is normally more favorable to the taxpayer because of the capital gains treatment.
  3. You are eligible to be compensated for anticipatory damages to your property. Anticipatory damages are awarded for damages that have not yet taken place. They are generally negotiated with the easement. There are two types of anticipatory damages; Compensatory and Non-Compensatory damages.
  4. Compensatory damages are linked to items such as crop damages, business income interruption, temporary work site rental and temporary road access. Basically if you are using the property to produce ordinary income or the pipeline company wants to rent a portion of the property while they work, the anticipatory damage income you receive is taxed at your ordinary rate.
    Non-compensatory damages are damages that are not tied to the items listed above and are taxed at capital gains rates.
    As a landowner, you can also receive actual damages after the pipeline easement is complete. Actual damages are taxed at capital gains rates and any amount of the actual damage payment that is invested back into the property is non-taxable.
  5. Pipeline easement payments are not ongoing. You will be compensated once, which will likely be when you sign the contract.
  6. Different opportunities are available for different people. For many, a pipeline easement may be an opportunity to save for retirement. For others, additional economic opportunities may be available. Your CPA is qualified to help individuals identify your best options – those that make financial sense and those that do not alter your lifestyle.

There are many different myths about pipeline easements. Your financial advisor can help you understand the facts, ensure that you get a fair price and manage your tax obligations.

Email Rea & Associates to learn more about how to make the most of your pipeline easement.

By David Shallenberger, CPA (Wooster office) and Scott Moyer, CPA (Zanesville office)

 

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How To Prepare For A Federal Tax Return Headache

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Planning to buy a new big-screen television? Airline tickets for that Caribbean vacation you’ve been looking forward to?  A new car? You might want to wait a little longer.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen recently warned American taxpayers that some federal refunds could be delayed for a week or more because of recent budget cuts. So, if you file your tax return on paper, before you start spending that income tax refund check, you might want to wait for the cash to actually find its way into your bank account. Expect to feel a little discomfort during this tax season.

Refund Delays

Historically, refunds for electronically filed federal returns were processed within 21 days of the e-filing acceptance date. Paper returns were typically processed within six to eight weeks from the date they were received. Amended tax return refunds take even longer – the turnaround for these returns were typically 12 weeks.

“People who paper file tax returns could wait an extra week – or possibly longer – to see their refund,” said Koskinen in a memo sent to IRS staff. “Taxpayers with errors or questions on their returns that require additional manual review will also face delays.”

In his memo, Koskinen didn’t explicitly address electronically filed returns, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for these refunds to be delayed (at least a little bit) as well.

Phone Jams

Nearly eight out of ten taxpayers receive an average tax refund totaling $2,800, which prompts many taxpayers to check in on the status of their refunds by calling the IRS. The agency is predicting an abysmal connection rate of these calls this year – 43 percent connection rate with a hold time of 30 minutes or more.

Instead, if you would like to track the status of your refund, hang up the phone and log onto the IRS’s website to use its Where’s My Refund feature.

Time will only tell how these budget cuts will impact next year’s tax return process, as well as other services provided by the IRS. In the meantime, start preparing to file your tax return as early as possible to avoid additional delays. Email Rea & Associates to learn more.

By: Trista Acker, CPA, CFP (Dublin office)

 

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File Faster With This Tax Prep Checklist

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

It’s that time of year again – time to gather your information and prepare to file your tax return. If you want the process to go smoothly, make sure to gather and organize your information before sitting down with your tax preparer. You may be surprised how fast the entire filing process goes if you spend a little time preparing!

Here’s a list of some items to compile before you get started.

Personal Information

Hopefully you know YOUR social security number and date of birth by heart. But do you know your spouse’s SSN? Your kids? Make sure you remember to bring the social security numbers and birth dates of everybody who will be claimed on your tax return.

Income Info

While your W-2 is important, there are many other pieces of information you will need to collect before you will be able to get started. Gather the following pieces of relevant information:

  • W-2s for you and your spouse.
  • Investment income: This type of income will be listed on various 1099 forms including –INT, -DIV, -B, etc.). You may also have K-1s and stock option information to provide to your tax preparer.
  • Income received from state and local income tax refunds and/or unemployment. This income can be found on the Form 1099-G.
  • Gather information about any alimony you may have received.
  • If you are a business owner or farmer, don’t forget to provide a profit/loss statement and capital equipment information.  And if you use your home for business, your tax preparer will need to know the size of your house, the size of your office and what you have paid to maintain your home and office.
  • You will need to provide your IRA/pension distributions as well. This information will be provided to you on Forms 1099-R or 8606.
  • If you rent a home or other type of property, be sure to gather that information that proves the profit or losses you realized as a result of the rental.
  • Be sure to claim any Social Security benefits you may have received. This information is found on Form SSA-1099.
  • If you sold your house in 2014, you must provide your tax provider with Form 1099-C, which will include the income you received from the sale of the property. Your preparer will also take the home’s original cost and cost of improvements, the escrow closing statement and cancelled debt information into consideration.
  • Some other information you will need to pass along to your tax preparer includes items such as jury duty, gambling winnings, scholarships, etc..

Adjustments To Your Income

Now that you have collected all the information you can to adequately identify your income in 2014, some adjustments may need to be made. Making the following adjustments to your income may help increase your tax refund or lower the amount you owe to the government. If you have documentation of any of the following information, be sure to bring them to your appointment.

  • IRA contributions
  • Student loan interest
  • Medical Savings Account contributions
  • Moving expenses
  • Self-employed health insurance payments
  • Pension plans such as SEP and SIMPLE
  • Alimony you paid
  • Educator expenses

Itemized tax deductions and credits

This is another way to increase your refund or reduce what you owe. The following deductions and credits help lower the tax burden on individuals. Be sure to collect this information before filing your return.

  • Child care costs – child care provider’s name, address, tax ID number and amount paid
  • Education costs – these can be found on Form 1098-T
  • Adoption costs – the SSN of the child as well as legal, medical and transportation costs associated with the adoption
  • Home mortgage interest and points you paid, which can be found on Form 1098
  • Investment interest expense
  • Charitable donations that were made to not-for-profit organizations. Make sure you have the amounts and value of the donated property, and any out-of-pocket expenses you may have accrued in your effort to make the donation, including transportation costs. Include receipts for any contribution over $250

o   Losses you realized as a result of casualty and loss (the cost of the damage and insurance reimbursements

  • Medical and dental expenses
  • Energy credits
  • Other deductions include items such as union dues, unreimbursed employee expenses, such as unreimbursed employee expenses

New for 2014 returns

For the first time, you will need to provide information about your health insurance coverage to your tax preparer. Be prepared to answer questions such as these:

  • Was everyone claimed on your tax return covered by health insurance?

o   If not, why?

  • Did you or anyone on your return obtain health insurance coverage through Healthcare.gov or through a state run exchange in 2014?

o   If yes, did any of those individuals receive a premium tax subsidy, cost reduction, or premium tax credit? If yes, provide Form 1095-A.

It’s likely that you have already started receiving tax forms in the mail from various places. It’s easy to misplace these documents if you’re not careful. If you haven’t already, set aside a place for these items until you have collected them all. Once you have everything you need, you can set an appointment to file your taxes with your financial advisor or tax preparer. For additional tax information, or to speak with a tax expert, email Rea & Associates.

By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)

 

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Theft Safeguards To Cause Tax Return Delays In Ohio

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

If time is money then the new security measures to protect Ohio taxpayer’s returns and prevent identity theft comes at a price. The Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) said that in an effort to boost security and prevent tax-fraud in the state, Ohio will implement an “up-front filter to all tax-refund requests to analyze the demographic information reported on the return.”

According to Joe Testa, the state’s tax commissioner, the ramped up security is in response to increased fraud attempts. The Columbus Dispatch reports that the state foiled $250 million in attempted tax fraud during the 2014 tax season, which is a significant increase over the foiled tax fraud average of $10 million in previous years. Figures of how much fraud went undetected last year or in previous years are not available.

The Tax-Fraud Quiz

If your tax return is flagged as a result of anomalies in reported demographic information then you will have to complete an Identification Confirmation Quiz, according to Testa. If you are selected to take the quiz, you should expect a delay as to when your funds will be dispersed. Traditionally, it takes up to 15 days to process refunds that will be distributed to the taxpayer via electronic deposit. Those who opt to receive their refunds in check form could wait 30 days to receive their money. This year, those who must take the quiz to validate their identities, may have to wait longer than they have in previous years to receive their refunds.

Which Returns Will Be Flagged?

On its website, the ODT says that tax returns will be analyzed for certain inconsistent data points against public and commercial data sources. For example, in the Dispatch article, taxation spokesman Gary Gudmundson said that “names and Social Security numbers that show up in a different part of the state, or in another state, after being located for years in a specific area of Ohio” may be flagged. This means that if you moved this year, your return may flagged as one that has a higher probability of fraud. The next step is to take the quiz to verify your identity. If the return is flagged, the taxpayer will be required to complete the quiz or prove their identity through documentation before the tax return will be processed.

How To Know If Your Return Was Flagged?

The ODT will send a letter to taxpayers who are required to take the identification quiz. Those who don’t receive a letter will not be able to complete the quiz. Those who are selected will have 60 days to complete the multiple choice quiz. The quiz will be timed and it must be completed online. The state agency has provided answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the quiz on its website.

Contact your financial advisor or seek out a tax professional to help guide you through these security measures. Email Rea & Associates for more information about this and other tax-related concerns.

By Lisa Beamer, CPA (New Philadelphia office)

 

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Six Things 401k Plan Sponsors Need To Do Now

Friday, January 16th, 2015
2015 Retirement Plan Deadlines - Ohio CPA Firm

Mark your calendars and don’t forget these 2015 retirement plan deadlines. Click on the image to easily see what is due and when to file.

January may be flying by, but the New Year is still fresh. This is still a great time to make sure that the qualified 401k plan you offer your employees helps them effectively save for retirement and remains qualified. Not sure where to start? Here are six ways to get the most out of your 401k plan:

1. Review Your Match Formula

An employer match can be critical to helping your employees meet their retirement goals and stretching the match formula is a great way to entice employees to save more. Instead of matching 100 percent on the first 2 percent of deferrals, consider changing your contribution formula to 50 percent on the first 4 percent of deferrals, or 25 percent on the first 8 percent of deferrals instead. Each one of these formulas will result in a 2 percent wage cost to you, the employer, but changing the formula may encourage additional employee saving. Instead of saving 4 percent of their income (2 percent employee income plus 2 percent employer match), the employee may be motivated to increase contributions to their retirement plan to 10 percent (8 percent employee income plus 2 percent employer match). Contact your TPA to discuss different strategies.

2. Check Your Contribution Limits

Did you know that the 401(k) and 403(b) plan deferral limits have increased to $18,000? Employees older than 50, now have the option to defer an additional $6,000 of their wages toward retirement. Encourage your employees to review their payroll deduction to ensure that they are on target to meet their personal savings goals.

3. Offer Your 401(k) Plan To All Eligible Employees

If your 401(k) plan has an entry date of Jan. 1, be sure all newly eligible employees were provided the opportunity to participate in the plan. Even if you have an employee who doesn’t want to participate, I recommend that you obtain a signed election form that indicates a 401(k) election of “0 percent.” By doing this, you have documentation that they employee was offered the chance to participate, even though they decided not to.

4. Provide Employee Census To Your TPA

Your third party administrator (TPA) needs yearly plan census information to conduct compliance testing, verify 401(k) and to calculate matching contributions and profit sharing allocations. The deadline for most compliance tests is March 15.

5. Check Your Fidelity Bond

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requires a fidelity bond for every plan fiduciary and for those who handle the funds or property of a plan. The bond must be at least 10 percent of the company’s plan assets. It’s a good idea to ensure that your bond is still meeting the 10 percent minimum requirement.

6. Restate Your Plan Document

Prototype documents for 401(k) plans currently are in a restatement window; therefore, if your plan uses a prototype document, it must be updated to meet new IRS standards. This document restatement period is a great time to examine your plan provisions. For example, do you want to change eligibility requirements or add a loan provision that you have contemplated adding in the past? This is a good time to make those changes. The deadline for restating 401(k) prototype documents is April 30, 2016. Managing your company’s retirement plan can be confusing or overwhelming at times, but it doesn’t have to be. Email Rea & Associates today to learn more. By Steve Renner, QKA (New Philadelphia office)

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