Posts by Lesley Mast, CPA, Director of Tax Services:
Phishing Scam Targets Tax Preparers To Get To Taxpayers
Fraudsters don’t take holidays. In fact, they tend to be more active this time of year because they believe we are more likely to let our guards down. Instead, I don’t intend on falling for any of their traps, and I encourage you to do the same.
It’s A Trap
We recently published a blog post with tips to help online shoppers protect themselves against some of the more common tactics used by cyber criminals. From click bait to phishing emails, every link, sponsored post and flashing banner ad is a potential threat and we encourage you to protect yourself at all costs.
For example, you likely receive regular electronic correspondence from companies, organizations, groups and other reputable groups. In fact, you probably willingly provided them with your email address. You may even trust these contacts so much that you never thinking twice about whether their email is valid, and that’s what criminals are counting on. Nobody is immune.
Read Also: Who Is That Email Really From?
A current scam finding its way into inboxes across the country is targeting tax preparers. The email, which is supposedly being sent by the IRS, looks legit and includes the agency’s letterhead, logo and copyright language, among other information designed to add credibility to the piece. But there’s a problem – this email is not official IRS correspondence. Instead, it’s being sent by cyber criminals who are looking to capture usernames and passwords to gain access to taxpayers’ sensitive data.
We’re Not Falling For It
The American Institute of CPAs reached out to the IRS to verify whether the email in question is, indeed, a phishing scam. The government agency confirmed that the email was a scam and were quick to advise recipients to delete the message immediately.
This is just one example of a phishing scam in action. Emails like these are distributed every day and, oftentimes, they come from trusted businesses, organizations or people. As cyber threats continue to be rampant in our society, we must never allow ourselves to become complacent.
What You Can Do
Here are some tips to help keep you safe.
- Do It Yourself – Never click on hyperlinks found within the body text of the email – especially if you received the message from an unknown sender. If you do want to check the validity of an offer or content, manually type the URL into your web browser. Same results, less risk.
- ‘S’ For Safety – If confidential information is being traded, take a look at your address bar to make sure it reads “https” rather than the standard “http” to be sure the web page you are visiting is, indeed, secure.
- If It Pops, Run – Sometimes, the best and easiest strategy you can take to protect yourself from scammers is to configure your computer’s settings and buy and install the proper tools. We recommend disabling all popups, keeping an updated antivirus, use anti-spam and anti-spy software and install and maintain a firewall. Cyber criminals are always looking for ways to get around these measures, but they still provide you with a great first defense.
- Watch Your Back With A Backup – We keep a lot of irreplaceable items on our computers and, to many, the thought of permanently losing their data, photos and other documents is terrifying. One way to take the power away from the scammers is to create and maintain a backup of your data – especially when considering the very real threat of ransomware. That way, if something were to happen, you wouldn’t lose these vital items.
- Education Is Power – These criminals are slick and they are always finding new ways to take what belongs to you. So, one of the absolute best ways to guard against an attack is to educate yourself on current cybercrimes, identity theft trends and tactics being used by fraudsters.
Want to know more about what other threats are out there? Check out these articles:
Just when you thought it was safe to let your guard down, cyber-criminals have blindsided us again. This time they’ve used the Internal Revenue Service’s “Get Transcript” application to gain access to approximately 100,000 taxpayer accounts.
The IRS released a statement Tuesday stating the government agency is “working aggressively to protect affected taxpayers and strengthen [their] protocols even further going forward,” after learning that hackers used “non-IRS sources” to access data, including Social Security information, dates of birth and street addresses associated with the accounts of nearly 100,000 taxpayers. The IRS said the security breach occurred when criminals gained access to its online Get Transcript application, which has since been shut down pending a full investigation by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
According to the IRS, “the online application will remain disabled until the IRS makes modifications and further strengthens security for it.”
The data breach was limited to the Get Transcript application, said an IRS representative. The main IRS computer system that manages tax filing submissions was not affected and remains secure.
Reports state that the criminals were able to gain access to the accounts by obtaining information specific to the certain taxpayers, which allowed them to navigate the Get Transcript authentication process, which includes asking the user to answer several personal questions to confirm their identity. The IRS said, since February, there have been about 200,000 attempts to access taxpayer’s Get Transcript accounts from “questionable email domains – of which, about 100,000 were successful.
Expect to receive a letter in the mail if your account was one of the 200,000 accounts targeted. And if your account was one of those that were compromised, your letter will provide additional information, including specific instructions to access free credit monitoring services that will be provided by the IRS to ensure your data is not being used in other financially damaging ways. According to the IRS, the letters started going out this week.
Concerned about identity theft as a result of this breach? Click here to learn what to do if your identity is stolen or if your personal information is compromised.
If you are a business owner, do you have protocols in place to protect your business from a cybercriminal?Email Rea & Associates to learn how you can protect your business from a cyberattack. You can also get some useful tips and information in the related articles below.
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported earlier this month that nearly 59 million 2014 federal tax returns have been filed so far this filing season. While that may sound like a lot, there’s still a ways to go as, according to IRS estimates, three of five taxpayers are still waiting to file. For those of you still working on your tax prep, there is still time to claim some valuable deductions. Here are five deduction options to help small businesses make the most of the 2015 filing season:
1. Ohio Small Business Deduction
Many small business owners in Ohio are eligible to receive help from the state on their 2014 tax returns through the Ohio Small Business Deduction. Initiated by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and considered to be “the largest overall tax reduction in the country,” the deduction allows eligible small businesses to take a 50 percent tax deduction on their first $250,000 of business income. However, for the 2014 taxable year only, that percentage was increased to become a 75 percent deduction of “net business income from an individual’s adjusted gross income reported on their Ohio personal income tax return.” Your financial advisor can help you learn more about the Ohio Small Business deduction and help you take your business strategy to the next level.
2. Section 179 Deduction
When Congress voted in favor of the Tax Extenders Act late last year, among the many tax incentives that were extended included an action to retroactively reinstate the $500,000 depreciation limit on the Section 179 deduction as well as the 50 percent bonus depreciation. Together, these tax incentives have the potential to save you and your company hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment purchases. Limits and restrictions do apply, however, so make sure to work with a trusted advisor who can make sure your purchases actually qualify.
3. Personal Vehicle Deduction
If you drive your personal vehicle for business, then you may be able to deduct the expenses related to your car or truck as long as the vehicle was actually used for business purposes and not just commuting. A professional advisor can help you determine if you qualify to claim the deduction and can help determine which deduction method is the best one to use given your personal circumstances.
4. Stock Gains Deduction
Some qualified businesses may also be able to exclude the gains generated by qualified small business stock per provision IRC Sec. 1202. Originally passed by Congress in the 1990s, this provision was designed to help reinvigorate the importance of continued investment into our country’s small business infrastructure. This incentive is a little more difficult than some of the others, but if you qualify, you could realize significant savings. Because of the complicated nature of this particular provision, it is essential that you work with a tax advisor to find out if you qualify.
5. Charitable Giving Deduction
If you make a donation to a nonprofit organization during the year, it is almost guaranteed that you will be able to deduct at least a portion of your contribution from your income. But there are rules that need to be adhered to. A good financial advisor can help you get the maximum benefit for every dollar donated.
For more information related to specific tax and deduction questions related to your business, email Rea & Associates.
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)
Since it was unveiled last month, Gov. John Kasich’s proposed two-year state budget has many individuals, businesses, school districts, not-for-profit organizations and others scrambling to find out how his proposed tax reform package will affect them. In his recommendation, Gov. Kasich says his proposal seeks to “create more opportunities for each and every Ohioan.” To this end, the budget focuses on four primary objectives:
- To ensure that students are ready for college and careers
- To help more students get degrees
- To cut and reform taxes
- To help Ohioans move up and out of poverty and into jobs
To achieve these goals, Gov. Kasich has proposed implementation of several tactics to help fund his $35.5 billion 2016 budget, which is up 15.5 percent over the state’s projected spending in fiscal year 2015. Of those tactics, a slew of tax cuts and increases are central to his budget initiative. The following points address some primary changes Ohioans can expect to see if Gov. Kasich’s 2016-2017 budget plan is approved.
Proposed Tax Cuts
- A 23 percent across-the-board income tax rate reduction. This proposed cut would drop the top income tax rate to 4.1 percent, the current from 5.33 percent.
- Business owners of pass-through entities with gross receipts less than $2 million will pay no income tax on their business income.
- Other Ohio business owners will see the 50 percent reduction incentive on income that totals $250,000 and less become permanent.
- Individuals who earn less than $40,000 will see a $1,600 increase in their personal exemption (from $2,400 to $4,000). The personal exemption for those who make between $40,000 and $80,000 will increase by $900 (from $1,950 to $2,850).
Proposed Tax Increases
- The commercial activity tax (CAT), which is measured by a business’s gross receipts on business activities in the state, will increase 0.6 percent to 0.32 percent.
- The state’s sales tax will increase to 6.25 percent. The current sales tax rate is 5.75 percent and would be expanded to include management consulting, lobbying, market research and opinion polling, public relations, debt collection services, cable subscriptions and parking and travel services.
- Means-tested tax credits and exemptions for retired taxpayers who earn more than $100,000.
- Oil and gas produced by horizontal wells will be taxed at a 6.5 percent tax rate for product sold at the wellhead. If sold downstream, a 4.5 percent tax will be applied.
- The state currently reduces the price paid for the new car or boat by the value of the trade-in. The proposal calls for a 50 percent deduction in this exemption.
- The discount vendors receive for collecting, reporting and remitting sales tax will be capped at $1,000 per month.
To learn more about how tax reform could affect you, email Rea & Associates.
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)
Now that the official 2015 tax season is upon us, you may be going through the process of checking off the laundry list of forms you need to have on hand to file your 2014 tax return. (If you still aren’t sure what files to gather, you can find a thorough checklist here.) While you’re collecting your W-2s and 1099s, don’t forget Form 1099-MISC, which is the form to use if you have used virtual currency over the last year.
The IRS informed taxpayers of the proper way to report virtual currency such as Bitcoin last year. Because the value of virtual currency is converted to the value of real currency, for tax purposes, Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are considered capital assets by the IRS. Therefore, these forms of currency are subject to capital gains rules for any applicable gains or losses that may accrue.
Capital gains rates are more favorable than normal tax rates. For most taxpayers, the rate will be no more than 15 percent. However, if you are in one of the following categories, you will be taxed at 20 percent:
- If you earned more than $406,750 in taxable income
- If you are married and filing jointly and earned more than $457,600
- If you’re the head of your household and earned more than $432,200
- If you’re married, but filing separately and earned more than $228,800
Do you treat Bitcoin as an investment?
If you buy and sell virtual currency, the IRS will treat it as if you were buying and selling stock. You will be required to report the cost basis of the transaction, also known as the difference between the cash price and the futures price of stock. In addition to being taxed at a lower capital gains rate, losses can cancel out any gains. And left-over losses can be deducted from your regular income.
Do you use Bitcoin like cash?
From ordering a pizza to shopping for a new computer, the transactions you make online with Bitcoin may result in gains or losses as well – although determining the value of a particular item or service based on market value is easier said than done. A financial advisor can help you identify whether you have gains and losses to report to the IRS.
Do you get paid in Bitcoin?
For example, for tax purposes, a babysitter who is paid in Bitcoin is the same as a sitter who’s paid in cash and those earnings must go through the same channels to be considered by the IRS. Payments of virtual currency are required to be reported on Form 1099-MISC or a similar form and must be reported using the fair market value of virtual currency, which should be converted to U.S. dollars.
For more information about managing and reporting Bitcoin, email Rea & Associates.
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)
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.
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.
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)
Every mile you drive for business will be worth a little more next year, according to a recent IRS announcement. Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, the optional standard mileage rate for those calculating the deductible costs of driving for business will be 57.5 cents, which is up from 56 cents.
Based on a study of the fixed and variable costs associated with operating an automobile, the standard mileage rates take into consideration vehicle depreciation, insurance, repairs, maintenance, gas, etc. However, if you don’t intend on tracking your mileage, you also have the option of claiming deductions based on the actual costs of using your own vehicle rather than the standard mileage rates. Just be aware that you will not be allowed to claim both.
For example, if you have plans of claiming an accelerated depreciation on your vehicle, then you will not be able to claim the business standard mileage rate as well. If you are a business owner, you should also note that the standard rate is not available to fleet owners, or those who use more than four vehicles simultaneously. Additional details and rules can be found in Revenue Procedure 2010-51.
While the standard mileage rate for the business miles you drive will increase in 2015, those who use their vehicles for medical or moving purposes will see a reduction of half a cent in their mileage rates. Starting Jan. 1, the miles you drive for medical or moving purposes will be calculated at 23 cents per mile driven. And those driving their vehicles as a service to charitable organizations may calculate their deductions at 14 cents per mile driven.
Also in its announcement, the IRS noted an adjustment to the standard automobile cost allowable under the fixed and variable rate (FAVR) plan, which considers the costs taxpayers incur by driving their own vehicles for work-related purposes. In 2015, standard automobile costs may not exceed $28,200 or $30,800 for trucks and vans.
Do you use your vehicle for business? Make sure you track of your mileage. Every mile you travel is an opportunity to realize real tax savings. Our expert financial advisors can help professionals like you find opportunities you never even knew existed. Email Rea & Associates today and start the New Year out right.
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)
The calendar may still say 2014, but the IRS is already looking ahead to 2016 – when you will file your 2015 tax returns. In doing so, it recently announced slight adjustments to more than 40 tax provisions to account for inflation. So, what can you expect? The adjustments are outlined fully in Revenue Procedure 2014-61, but a few points that may be of special interest include:
- The new 39.6 tax rate. This rate will affect those who are single with income that exceeds $413,200, which is up from $406,750. Those who are married filing jointly will be affected if their income exceeds $464,850 – up from $457, 600. You can check out a great break down of the other tax rate increases here.
- A slight standard deduction increase. Those who are single, or married filing separately, can expect their standard deduction to be $6,300 – up from $6,200. Married couples filing jointly will see standard deductions increase to $12,600 – up from $12,400.
- Increasing elective contribution limits. In 2015, taxpayers will be allowed to defer $18,000 to your 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan. The deferral limit in 2014 was $17,500. The catch-up contribution limit for employees who are 50 and older will increase to $6,000 – up from the 2014 rate of $5,500.
You can read the full IRS article here. Navigating tax rate and IRS procedure changes can be difficult – not to mention time consuming. To get more information on how you may be impacted by these adjustments, email Rea & Associates.
By Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)
Your business probably uses a variety of software systems, whether it’s for an accounting function, a manufacturing process or a scheduling process. It has been said that technology doubles in advancement nearly every 12-18 months. New updates, new releases, and new products are brought to market constantly. Yet, when was the last time you or your team evaluated your current software or compared it to other existing options?
Most people dread the idea of switching software or converting to a newer version, but if you and your team do the homework, the transition doesn’t have to be so painful or costly.
Considerations For Your Current Software
Consider the following points when evaluating your existing software:
- Does your current software do what you want it to? If so, does your staff know how to use it effectively?
- Does your current software do what you need it to? Have you had to put many workarounds into your systems to make the software work?
- Are your users complaining?
- Is your IT department complaining?
- Are you paying a lot for the service you are receiving?
- Are you getting the IT support you need from the software company?
Five Tips For Easing Your Software Evaluation Process
When you decide to evaluate your software, here are some tips to ease the process:
- Assign a project manager. This person will be responsible for making sure team members are completing assignments and for keeping the group moving forward.
- Put together a team of users. Consider who uses the software and include members who vary in experience, IT savviness and tenure. Include a member of your IT team.
- Do your research. Call on companies who are in your industry to see what they use and ask them about their experiences. Are they satisfied with their software? How do they effectively use it? Also call on companies who use your existing software also to see what their experiences have been.
- Calculate a cost/benefit analysis. With any conversion, there are hard costs and soft costs involved. Calculate the amount of time and resources a change could involve, as well as its impact on your team’s morale. If there is a large conversion cost to incur, how quickly will you earn that back with the efficiencies to be gained from making the change?
- Keep the end goal in mind. What are you trying to accomplish by going through this process? For example, are you trying to find something that will help you gain efficiencies? Be sure the testing and research is focused around those kinds of end goals.
Best Practices For Selecting Business Software
Change for the sake of change is never a good thing. You want to be able to show that you adequately vetted out possible solutions and that the conclusion has been reached by the team. Perhaps you will find out that your current system is adequate, but that your team needs additional training on how to use it to its fullest potential. It would be more cost effective to schedule additional training rather than to go through an unnecessary and costly software conversion. Your team, and your budget, will thank you in the end.
If you would like to learn about more best practices, contact Rea & Associates. Our accounting professionals and business advisors can help you determine what steps you should take during your business software selection process.
Author: Lesley Mast, CPA, Macc-Taxation (Wooster office)
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So you just inherited some real estate. You’re probably now wondering – is this a blessing or a curse? From the tax perspective, of course. And that’s a good question to ask. Just because you inherit something doesn’t mean that you’re free and clear of any potential tax liabilities. Depending on how you use the property and if you sell it will determine if you have a taxable situation. So here’s what you should know about taxes and inherited real estate. Read the rest of this entry “