Posts by Maribeth Wright, CPA:
- Make sure you are volunteering your services to qualified charities. If you want to deduct your expenses, the IRS needs to know that the charity you are working with is legit. There are several great online resources that can help you determine if the organization you are helping out is qualified. The IRS’s EO Select Check tool and Guidestar are two of my favorites.
- Track all out-of-pocket expenses. If you are making necessary purchases that are not directly connected with the services you are performing and are not considered personal living or family expenses; and these expenses were directly result of the volunteerism opportunity, then you may be able take a deduction on your tax return. Keep in mind that you also can’t receive reimbursement by any other means. The ability to deduct out-of-pocket expenses, particularly travel expenses, has huge savings implications. Some of the types of expenses you can deduct include:
- Transportation to and from the job site via plane, train or automobile. This includes any transportation costs accrued for travel between the airport or train station and your hotel.
- Roll up your sleeves and make a big impact. If you are only tagging along or if your duties are minimal, you are not going to be able to make a claim on your tax return. According to the IRS, your charity work must be “real and substantial throughout the trip.” In other words, don’t dillydally!
- Travel expenses for tagalongs are not deductible. Meaning, only the expenses for the individual(s) volunteering their services can be written off at tax time. For example, if you decided to take your children along on the trip but they will not be logging volunteer hours, you cannot deduct their portion of the travel expenses.
- Your time and services are valuable, but you can’t deduct the value of your time and services. This is particularly true for those who are donating professional services, including medical, financial and legal. You also can’t deduct the income you may have lost while you were working as an unpaid volunteer for a qualified charity.
- You cannot package work and play into a single deductible expense. That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy yourself or go out to the beach after a long day of building schools in a third-world country; but if a significant part of your trip is reserved solely for recreational purposes or a vacation, your claim will be denied.
- The Exempt Organization Select Check Tool – this search tool is designed to help you determine the legitimacy of the not-for-profit in question by providing users with information about the organization’s federal tax status and filings.
- Guidestar – this online resource is great for users who want to find out about the validity of tax-exempt organizations as well as other faith-based nonprofits, community foundations and other groups that are typically not required to register with the IRS.
Make Traveling for Charity Part Of Your Summertime Tax Savings Strategy
In addition to planning a fun family get-away this summer, you might want to carve out some time to donate your services to a noble cause as well. For all of you summertime volunteers, listen up and make plans to use some of your travel expenses to help lower your tax bill. Here’s how.
Now that you know what to do to, let’s take a look at what not to do – or rather, what is not tax deductible.
For more information about potential summertime tax savings, email Rea & Associates. You may be surprised by how much you can save when you’re on a mission to do work for those in need!
By Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)
Check out these articles for more summertime tax strategies:
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Making A Donation
From identity theft and tax fraud to criminals finding ways to hack into your company’s network, we are learning every day that it’s simply not safe to let your guard down – for anyone or anything. Unfortunately, that mindset should apply when you are considering gifting a charitable donation as well.
Some fraudsters, in an attempt to prey on the generosity of strangers, have begun to solicit funds for fake charities particularly during and immediately after tax season. But you can shut down these scams by asking yourself these critical questions.
Is this the charity I know and love or is it a spin off?
We are a sucker for the brands we know and love, and criminals will invoke similar names, attributes, branding to trip you up and get you to write that check. Even if you are 99 percent certain the check you are about to write will go to a well-respected nonprofit organization, it makes since to conduct a quick search online to remove all doubt. Two resources to consider are:
Do nonprofit organizations ask for personal information?
Don’t make it easy for a fraudster to steal your identity by willingly providing them with your Social Security Number. Legitimate nonprofit organizations will never need your SSN to complete a transaction and they should never need to retain any of your personal information for their records – this includes passwords.
Should my donation be in the form of a check or is it OK to give cash?
Yes! For your own security, and tax purposes, be sure to establish a paper trail. The best way to do this is to avoid making any type of cash donations. Instead, every time you give money to a charity, consider using a check or credit card to establish proof of the transaction. Not only is it important to establish a paper trail as a safety measure, it will help you when to go to claim the contribution on next year’s tax return.
I’m still not sure if it’s a valid nonprofit organization?
If the questions above don’t provide you with the reassurance you need, reach out to a trusted advisor who can help you identify whether a particular charitable organization is reputable or not while giving you pointers to help you protect your hard-earned dollars as well as your identity.
By Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)
Check out these articles to learn to learn about other fraud scenarios taxpayers should know about.
Remember when writing a check to a charity left you with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment? Unfortunately that feeling has been replaced with vulnerability and uncertainty as soliciting for fake charities has become a common way for scammers to prey on the generosity of strangers. Before you tear that check from your checkbook, take another look at the “Pay to the Order Of” line. That person who just spent the last 15 minutes explaining why your donation is critical to their organization might have less-than-admirable intentions.
Every year the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warns taxpayers about what it considers to be the “Dirty Dozen” of tax scams. The annual report identifies schemes that appear to be more prevalent during filing season. And while you may be inclined to use some of your refund to help a worthwhile charity, the IRS reminds taxpayers to remain vigilant against scammers “masquerading as a charitable organization to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors” – particularly this time of year when scammers appear to be more active.
If you are approached by somebody who claims to be soliciting money for charity, here are a few tips to ensure that your money will be used for a worthwhile cause.
What’s In A Name?
Sometimes fake charities will adopt a name that’s similar to one you are sure to recognize and consider to be a respected organization within your community or nationwide. Even if you are confident that the not-for-profit you are about to donate to is reputable, a quick online search can remove any doubt. The IRS provides access to a search tool designed to help the public identify valid charitable organizations. You can also find registered 501(c)(3) organizations on Guidestar, an online tool that provides users with data and information about tax-exempt organizations and other faith-based nonprofits, community foundations and other groups typically not required to register with the IRS.
Keep Personal Information Private
Nonprofit organizations do not need your Social Security Number to complete the transaction, nor do they need to retain it for their files. So if someone claims to represent a charity and asks for any of your personal information (including passwords) – don’t give it to them! Scammers use this information to steal their victim’s identity. Protect yourself from fraud and remember to keep your personal information private.
Where’s The Proof?
When you make a decision to donate to a tax-exempt organization, make sure to have proof of the transaction. For your own security – and for tax record purposes – you should never make a cash donation. Use a check or credit card every time you give money to charity. Doing so not only proves that you made the donation; it will help you claim the contribution on next year’s tax return.
Ask An Expert
A trusted advisor can help you identify whether a particular charitable organization is reputable or not and can help you make the most of your donated dollars. Email Rea & Associates for more information.
By Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)
Did you know that the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) expects you to provide workers compensation coverage to your nonprofit’s board of directors? And while the bureau hasn’t heavily enforced this guideline in the past, you can expect to see more enforcement of the rule in the future.
We recently caught up with a BWC representative to validate a letter one of our clients received pertaining to this issue. The conversation was valuable because we were able to walk away with some important pieces of information that, over time, had either been forgotten or ignored by many in the nonprofit sector.
Even though your board of directors may not receive a paycheck for the time and resources they have put in to your organization, they are likely on the front lines when it comes to managing the organization’s volunteers, finances, events and other initiatives. In other words – they are “working” for you.
“Active executive officers of a corporation, except for an individual incorporated as a corporation or officers of a family farm corporation, are considered employees for workers’ compensation purposes,” the bureau states in its Coverage Information by Employee Types.
Here are four facts nonprofit organizations need to know to avoid issues with the BWC:
- An organization’s officers are always considered employees of the organization. Even if an individual receives no pay, officer status indicates that they’re responsible for regular organizational work. Therefore, they are identified as an employee by the BWC, not a volunteer.
- Individuals who perform volunteer, non-emergency services for private employers (including nonprofits) are not covered under the BWC’s compensation policy.
- Since the BWC identifies those who hold an office with nonprofit organizations as employees, the nonprofit organization is responsible for reporting all wages paid to officers to the BWC, as well as to the IRS.
- You must pay the minimum reportable amount even if you have an “all-volunteer board.” However, non-officer board members are not subject to these rules.
Email Rea & Associates today to learn more about the BWC’s compliance requirements. The sooner you understand your compliance requirements, the sooner you can get back to focusing on doing more for your communities, families and causes your organization cares about.
By: Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)
More than 1,000 American taxpayers have collectively lost about $5 million as a result of a recent phone scam that has been reported to be active in virtually every corner of the nation. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reminds everybody to be vigilant, to never give personal financial information to anybody over the phone, and to report instances of phone scams to the IRS and/or to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
According to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”
To date, more than 90,000 complaints regarding the scam have been made to the IRS and TIGTA.
Signs of An IRS Phone Scam
A media release, sent Aug. 13, reports that scammers will use fake names and IRS badge numbers, are able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s social security number, and spoof the IRS’ toll-free number on caller IDs so that the calls appear legitimate. Victims reported that they were threatened with jail time or driver’s license revocation if they refused to comply with demands. After hanging up, scammers call back claiming to be local law enforcement or a DMV representative. The second phone call is supposed to reinforce their original claim and demands.
Don’t Be An IRS Phone Scam Victim
- If you think you might owe taxes or that there may be an issue with your taxes, call the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040. An authorized IRS representative can help you determine if you have a payment due.
- If you get a suspicious call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you know that you have no IRS issues, report the incident to TIGTA at (800) 366-4484. You should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use its “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Be sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
- Don’t let scammers catch you off your guard with questions about your tax history. Call your CPA and be confident about whether you owe money to the IRS or not. When it comes to your financial security, take a proactive approach.
Email Rea & Associates if you’re ever unsure about anything you received from the IRS, whether it is a letter, a phone call or an email. We can help you determine if the inquiry is legitimate.
By Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)
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You get a call from a man who said he was from the IRS and was informing you that criminal activity was found after the IRS performed an audit on your past taxes. Then he asks if you had a criminal lawyer to represent you. And as you tried to get a word in edgewise, he told you not to interrupt him because the IRS and local authorities were recording your phone call. Pretty unnerving, right?
Well, unfortunately, this phone call actually took place with a client. And these types of phone calls are happening constantly. Back in April, the IRS issued a warning for consumers about phone scams targeting taxpayers. During the 2013 tax filing season numerous phone scams occurred, but the IRS has seen an increase in these scams since then. Because the IRS believes that these incidents will continue to plague taxpayers, it’s important to be vigilant for these kinds of calls.
The 4-1-1 On These IRS Phone Scams
- Some taxpayers who received these calls were told they’re entitled to a big tax refund, or that they owe a lot of money to the IRS that needs to be paid immediately. Don’t be fooled. The IRS won’t contact you via phone about these matters. If you ever owe the IRS money, you’ll be sent a written notification via mail.
- The IRS will never ask you for personal financial information over the phone, such as your credit or debit card information. If you’re asked for this information from someone claiming they’re from the IRS, don’t give it and report the incident immediately to the IRS.
- Some IRS scammers use fake names/surnames (most of the time these names are common) and IRS badge numbers when they identify themselves.
- It’s possible that a scammer knows and can tell you the last four digits of your Social Security number.
- The phone number that a scammer calls you from could look like it’s from the IRS toll-free number.
- If you take one of these scam calls, you may receive a bogus follow-up email to make it look like it is a legitimate inquiry from the IRS.
- You may be threatened with jail time or driver’s license suspension from one of these scammers. They may then hang up on you and then call back pretending to be the police or DMV, further trying to prove their claim to you.
What Should You Do If You Get One Of These Calls?
So have you received one of these calls? If so, and you’re not sure the next step, here’s what you should do:
- If you think you might owe taxes or there may be an issue with your taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. Someone at the line can help you determine if you indeed have a payment due.
- If you feel you received this call unexpectedly and know you have no IRS issues, call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.
In light of these increasing incidents, be on the lookout and don’t fall prey to these scams. Hang up if you’re uncomfortable with the call. And know that the IRS would never ask for personal financial information over the phone or in an email. If you receive any suspicious emails, forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ohio Tax Help
If you’re ever unsure about anything you received from the IRS, whether it be a letter, a phone call or email, contact Rea & Associates. Our team of Ohio tax professionals can help you determine if the inquiry is legitimate, and assist you with responding.
Author: Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)
Looking for other articles on how to protect you and your business? Check out these articles:
Please note the funds from this project have been distributed.
Could your nonprofit use some “extra cash”? I’m sure most of you answered “yes” to that question. And the timing couldn’t be better. A few months back I wrote a blog post about Ohio’s Honor Project Trust. The Honor Project Trust was created as a result of a lawsuit settlement. Excess settlement proceeds from the lawsuit totaling approximately $9 million were earmarked for Ohio nonprofits. The trust’s mission is to identify and providing funding to not-for-profit charitable organizations that have a societal impact in the State of Ohio. Read the rest of this entry “
Please note the funds from this project have been distributed.
Nonprofit organizations in Ohio may soon have “free money” coming to them. Who’s giving out the money? The State of Ohio. The Honor Project Trust was created as a result of a recent lawsuit settlement. Excess settlement proceeds from the lawsuit totaling approximately $9 million were earmarked for Ohio nonprofits. The trust’s mission is to identify and providing funding to not-for-profit charitable organizations that have a societal impact in the State of Ohio. So how do you know if you qualify for this grant and get a piece of the pie? Read the rest of this entry “
You may employ hundreds, if not thousands of employees. Or maybe you only employ three to five. Regardless of the number of employees you have, the way you classify your workers is important to the federal government. Worker status is a hot button issue at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Ohio Job and Family Services, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and the U.S. Department of Labor are also challenging the way businesses report their payments to “independent contractors.” Read the rest of this entry “
“Interested in credit card theft? There’s an app for that.”
Those were the recent words of Gunter Ollmann, a technology security consultant. To Mr. Ollmann’s point, identity theft is getting easier and easier to perpetrate. Identity thieves are using the internet to find victims and steal their private data. But, the use of technology swings both ways; consumers are increasingly using it to protect themselves and their identities. Here are some on- and offline steps you can take to protect yourself from those trying to gain access to your data: Read the rest of this entry “
It’s been 4 years since the IRS redesigned the 990 Form. Part of the change was the addition of a list of questions on various policies your organization may have adopted. Since that time, the IRS has conducted a study to determine which policies organizations have and how the existence of those policies correlates to both good governance and IRS compliance. The study found that those organizations that have polices – and follow them – generally have better tax compliance and governance. Read the rest of this entry “
Understanding Tax-Exempt Reporting
The IRS Form 990 is an annual reporting return that certain federally tax-exempt organizations must file with the IRS. It provides information on the filing organization’s mission, programs, and finances.
Form 990 has been around for more than 50 years. The first 990 was filed for tax years ending in 1941. This comparatively simple two-page form included only three yes/no questions, an income statement, and a balance sheet (although some line items required attached schedules). For example, individuals paid a salary of $4,000 or more were required to be listed on a schedule showing their name, address and amount paid. Similarly, contributions exceeding $4,000 received from any one person were required to be itemized. Read the rest of this entry “
A new study by Identity Finder shows that 18% of non-profit organizations have published social security numbers on their Form 990 tax returns.
But, we all put our social security numbers on our tax returns. So, what’s the big deal? Unlike personal income tax returns, 990s are available to the public. They’re regularly published by the IRS and shared with various grant-making organizations and the public. Non-profits use 990s for a lot more than just filing taxes – often they submit copies of 990s with grant applications and make them available to donors. A 990 can tell you a lot about the financial health of an organization; they’re considered the industry standard financial snapshot for non-profit organizations. Read the rest of this entry “
Farming is a pleasure activity for some individuals, and for others, it’s how they support themselves. If you farm for profit, how do you prove it to the IRS? Read the rest of this entry “
Anyone can access your organization’s website – even the IRS. Not only can anyone easily find it through an Internet search, it is now prominently displayed on the first page of your Form 990. As the IRS begins to scrutinize tax-exempt organizations more closely, it is likely examine your organization’s Web advertising and merchandising. Read the rest of this entry “
The IRS recently announced an extension until March 30, 2012, for tax-exempt organizations that normally have a January or February return filing deadline. Read the rest of this entry “
Wouldn’t your not-for-profit organization love to find an additional $500 to $5000? Nonprofit groups are often surprised to find that they may qualify for the small business healthcare tax credit, which began in 2010. The credit, which applies to both for-profit and nonprofit entities, has already netted several of our clients between $500 and $5000 in refunds for the 2010 tax year. Read the rest of this entry “
The IRS has announced it will help thousands of small charities keep their tax-exempt status who missed the May 17 deadline for filing the new online return, called the Form 990-N or “e-postcard.” Read the rest of this entry “
Arranging summer day care for your children can be challenging, but knowing those expenses may be tax deductible may help. The IRS recently shared some tips regarding the tax credit available for child care of children under age 13. Read the rest of this entry “
Just as they did when earthquakes ravaged Haiti, many fast-acting organizations have mobilized to help rescue animals caught in the massive Gulf oil spill. But as was also the case with Haiti, not all groups have the best interests of the animals, or the donors, in mind. If you want to help, how do you know which ones are responsible, versus inefficient, ineffective or outright scams? Read the rest of this entry “
Hundreds of thousands of not-for-profit organizations are in danger of losing their tax-exempt status because they missed a critical May 17 filing deadline, however smaller nonprofits are being thrown a lifeline by the IRS. The IRS is working to help organizations with annual receipts under $25,000 maintain their tax-exempt status and encourages these groups to go ahead and file the document even though the deadline has passed. Read the rest of this entry “
IRS auditors know what good governance practices are, and they’re not afraid to test them on your not-for-profit organization.
Tax-exempt organizations represent a significant and growing industry. There are more than 1.9 million exempt organizations, not including those with religious exempts, and more than 200 new applications are approved each day. With such large numbers, it’s not surprising the agency is placing increased focus on this area. Read the rest of this entry “
In recent years, the IRS has made several revisions to its Form 990, the tax return for tax-exempt organizations. These changes focus on obtaining additional information that help organizations become more transparent to both the IRS and the general public. However, these changes also mean increased responsibilities for the trustees of these organizations. Read the rest of this entry “