Start The Estate Planning Process During Tax Season by James Pantzis

Start The Estate Planning Process During Tax Season by James Pantzis

We are rocking and rolling through tax season these days at Ye Olde Pantzis Tax Shoppe. But I woke up Monday to the news that the federal government took in a record $1.08 trillion in taxes during the first quarter of their fiscal 2017 (which ran from Oct ’16 – Jan ’17).

That’s a lot of nickels.

And it reminded me of why we love what we do here — not because we take particular pleasure in seeing governmental coffers bulge, quite the opposite. We exist to help people like YOU pay their fair and legal share, but only their fair and legal share of taxes. The government doesn’t need you to give them any tips!

But far too many Brooklyn people end up doing so because they don’t have a skilled advocate in their corner, nor do they have someone who can help them navigate through the pile of forms to fill out (and know which ones NOT to fill out). It can be a confusing mess if you’re not skilled and practiced — but if you’ll pardon the horn-tooting, we are, and we love the opportunity to serve.

And speaking of tax money, those who have already filed their taxes and claimed the Earned Income Credit (EIC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) have had their refunds held back because of congressional action. The VERY good news is that the IRS says they will start processing those refunds on February 15th — though the IRS did say in a statement that “these refunds likely will not start arriving in bank accounts or on debit cards until the week of Feb. 27.”

Thanks, IRS.

The best way to check the status of your refund is the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on IRS.gov: https://www.irs.gov/refunds Hopefully we’ll see some movement on that front for our clients, and soon. But you never should expect things to move fast, unfortunately.

So, that business aside … it’s been a relatively smooth tax season for the most part. We love getting the chance to see our clients, and having all the catch-up conversations we haven’t had throughout the year. And “tax time” is the perfect time for you to get other, long-delayed financial tasks accomplished. One of these is the sometimes-dreaded estate plan. This is something which every family should have in place, and so I’ve got some further thoughts on that for you in this week’s Note…

Start The Estate Planning Process During Tax Season by James Pantzis
“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” -John Dewey

Most of us spend a considerable amount of time and energy in our lives working for our families and accumulating wealth.

But unless you’re careful, much of it could go to waste.

That’s why a well-crafted estate plan is so critical. It ensures that your hard-earned wealth (including intangible, non-financial assets) can pass intact to those you intend to be your beneficiaries, instead of being siphoned off to government processes and bureaucrats, or even being lost. We all dislike handing over our resources to those who don’t have our best interests in mind.

A well-made estate plan guarantees that this will NEVER happen to your family.

“But, what happens if I don’t create an estate plan? Doesn’t the judicial system have easy steps in place for families?”

Yep, and it’s called “probate” (Latin for “prove the will”), and it’s an ugly process.

You see, “probate” guarantees government interference in how you transfer your estate (however large or small). Documents must be filed, and approval must be received from a court to pay your bills, pay your spouse an allowance, and account for your property. Oh, and even worse — it all takes place in the public’s view.

If you fail to plan your estate, not only do you lose the opportunity to protect your family from an impersonal, complex governmental process (that is a burden at best), but it’s slapped across the public domain for all to see.

Then, of course … there’s taxes. You think the government is incentivized to keep those low on your behalf? There’s a variety of solutions for each family’s particular situation, but the plain fact is that working without a plan is U-G-L-Y no matter how you slice it.

When it comes right down to it, planning is a gift for your family (the people you love most), because if you don’t take care of things while you are living and able, they’ll have a mess to clean up when you are gone.

Even more, if you have children, you want to establish the proper (legal) procedure for ensuring they’re taken care of properly.

So if these issues are important to you (and I believe they are), make your tax preparation appointment with us count twice, and we can set you up with information about how to get the estate planning process started right.

To your family’s lasting financial and emotional peace

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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A Brooklyn Tax Professional’s Valentine’s Day Plan

A Brooklyn Tax Professional’s Valentine’s Day Plan

Whatever you might think about the New England Patriots, it’s nearly impossible not to respect their prowess on the football field. And there are plenty of storylines we can all take away from that epic game:

* Apparently it’s a good year to be a man with a foreign-model wife, with a sketchy history with the rules and who is written off by nearly everyone …

* Or maybe it was about the completion of the ultimate scrappy underdog story (remember, Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the draft, despite his current hero-status) …

* Or, for the commercial-watchers out there, we learned many things: cleaning the house turns regular Joe’s into muscular, computer-animated hunks, Justin Bieber likes to dance, all of us should appreciate each other’s differences, pursue our dreams no matter what, etc.

Sports is a diversion, entertainment. But it also tells a story. And I hope that if you’re feeling like life has knocked you to the mat, that you can find the strength to get back up. Even when nearly everyone (perhaps even yourself) has written you off.

And, of course, the commercials also wanted to teach us that artificial intelligence software is going to help bored, big-chain tax preparers with your taxes. Or they wanted to teach us that we can sit on a wall and do our own taxes with our smartphone (and fall off in the process).

Sure … you can try to go one of those routes.

But I’m hoping you see the value of having a real, well-trained professional in your corner.

Well, next week happens to contain Valentine’s Day. And just because I’m a tax professional, doesn’t mean I won’t offer dating advice. 😉

(Even if it is coming from a compulsive penny-pincher like me. But maybe that’s a good thing for you.)

A Brooklyn Tax Professional’s Valentine’s Day Plan
“Love keeps the cold out better than a cloak.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

With all of the turmoil in our nation, it’s a good idea to save money wherever possible. Anything can happen.

Truth be told, of course — I’m usually in favor of saving money no MATTER the occasion, which is part of why we’re so ruthless on behalf of our clients.

With Valentine’s Day coming up (Tuesday the 14th), I thought I’d help my Brooklyn clients and friends make some romance magic, but do it in a way that saves them cash. Yes, America — you can still be romantic on a budget.

With that in mind, here are some ideas to jumpstart your Valentine’s Day plan.

Of course, I should add a disclaimer: “Results not guaranteed.”

So, instead of the tired old “flowers, candy and chocolate” [boring!], here are a few of my favorite modest (and occasionally tongue-in-cheek) suggestions for a sizzling Valentine’s … one that won’t torch your wallet!

The Video Greeting: With all of the the video tools out there these days, it’s never been simpler to create a heartfelt message of love for your sweetie. Then, post it to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, SnapFace or whatever other platform you choose! Um, just be sure to make that video setting to “private” unless you want to share with the world your undying love for your honey (hopefully with all your clothes on).

The Hopeless Singer/Artist Method: I hear this one works well. Even if you can’t sing, your valentine will give you kudos for the effort. (Ask me how I know about that one.) You could step it up by writing an original song and then sing it. Or, for the slightly-less courageous, you could pull a page out of John Cusack’s book in Say Anything and hold a boombox (or smartphone) above your head and blare Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”. That seemed to work.

Not a singer? More of a writer? Or artist? For the otherwise artistically inclined:
– You could pen a poem on nice paper
– or even paint it
– You can paint a picture of your honey. Just be sure it looks good.

And, of course, you can COMBINE the previous two suggestions for even more romance sizzle.

The Surprise Mid-Day Outing: Surprise your love with a ‘picnic’ in the park, at the beach, or any other outdoor nature spot. If the weather isn’t ideal for outdoors, you could bring the outdoors inside — find a fake palm tree, flowers, sand, beach umbrella, radio, towels (borrow them). Nothing says “I love you” like fake palm trees.

Write a Message To Be “Stumbled Upon”: Well, perhaps not *literally* stumbled upon, but try a nice outdoor surprise. With snow outside, you could stomp out the message and fill in the letters with spray paint or flower petals or rocks.  Without snow, you can use sidewalk chalk to write a message to your sweetie.

Wait a minute, you say? I should stick to taxes?

Fair enough.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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What To Look For In a Brooklyn Tax Professional

What To Look For In a Brooklyn Tax Professional

The world is awash in shouting these days. Can you feel it?

It’s tax season, and so I’m not spending much time in Facebook, but I know for a fact that there is a lot of anger, frustration and noise about politics. So much so that it seems everywhere you turn these days somebody is agitating over something.

Can I give some unsolicited advice? Tune out.

Yes, everyone is saying that we need to listen to each other, and there is a great deal of truth in that. But in my opinion, the voices we MOST need to listen to are the ones sleeping under our own roofs. The ones we hear on a regular basis — through our actual ears, not just in “virtual land”. The ones that should matter most to us.

Perhaps also the ones who can help you save a boatload on your taxes? Ahem. (Well alright, perhaps that one is a tad self-serving. But really though.)

It’s time to focus on what we are each called to do with our valuable hours. Last time I checked, you weren’t getting paid to inform your friends of the newest, most-reliable, political opinion. You probably aren’t changing many hearts online by pointing out problems. You might in fact just be adding to somebody else’s noise.

Yes, the world is divided and broken. So let’s take a breath, extend grace, and buckle down to the work of each of us moving our specific worlds forward, with excellence and kindness abounding.

And speaking of excellence abounding, can we have a conversation about the tax preparation process? I’ve been doing this long enough to know what it is that makes the process feel good for my Brooklyn clients. It’s the mark we continue to shoot for, and I’d like you to know about how we see our work…

What To Look For In a Brooklyn Tax Professional
“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” -Tom Peters

Unfortunately, with the way that most tax professionals and CPA’s present themselves to the world, it seems like we’re all the same. We all seem to offer the same services, for pretty similar fees. If I weren’t working every day in this industry, I’m pretty sure I would think that all accountants and CPA’s were the same.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You see, each tax professional does have certain qualifications. Some might be experts at this sort of tax law, or in working with farmers or with getting money back through IRS representation, or a whole variety of different things … but are they really providing what you, the consumer, wants?

What do you want from a tax preparer?  

When I sit down and talk with Brooklyn regular families, here’s what I discover:

You want to be able to work with a caring professional — NOT one of those “cattle call” shops, where you’re squeezed in with a bunch of other people, and seen by harried, poorly-trained employees who just completed a basic tax course.

You want an accurately-filed tax return. You want the whole thing broken down in terms that you understand, and in a way that you don’t need a translator to communicate. You want there to be processes in place to ensure that the most money is kept out of the grasping hands of Uncle Sam, and in your wallet (legally).

You want a heads up about future ways you can legally add deductions and make sure that you can get even more money back in the future. You want assurances everything your tax preparer is doing for you is valid and correct, so a guarantee(s) is essential to the process.

And of course, you want it done fast. Look, I know this is a big deal for consumers. You don’t want your accountant pushing back at you all the time, saying “give me more time”, when you know it’s not because they’re working hard on your behalf, but that they’re so poorly organized that they’re not getting ANYONE’S work done on time.

Oh, and if you ARE getting a refund, you want a tax firm who can get you the most money back, and soon … with the most options available.

Here’s the bottom line:  You want professionalism, accuracy, you want clarity, you want to be aware of beneficial tax options, you want peace of mind, you want an efficient use of YOUR time. And at the end of the day, you want to KNOW you got the most money back from the Treasury AND that the IRS will stay off your back so you can sleep like a baby at night.

If the accountant or tax professional you are talking to can’t do these things, you need to call one that can.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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Common Tax Return Errors To Avoid For Brooklyn Self-Preparers

Common Tax Return Errors To Avoid For Brooklyn Self-Preparers

The Super Bowl teams are set, the new President is inaugurated … why does it feel like things are still going so fast?

Perhaps, for me and my team, it’s because we finally are able to submit tax returns to the IRS (they began receiving them on Monday the 23rd). But it’s also just the time of year when there seems to be a LOT of noise, especially when it comes to taxes.

It’s our job to cut through the noise of the burdensome pile of forms and regulations which form our tax process. Yes, some people get paid to create tasty food, others to patrol our streets, and we? Well, we put out financial and regulatory fires.

And it can be a lot of fun — really! There are stories every year, which circulate around our office, about the grateful client who was utterly hopeless about their financial and tax situation … until they met with us, we crunched their forms and numbers, and not only gave them the nice news of a lower tax bill (or higher refund) than they expected — but that we were able to speak life into the overall situation of their finances.

But for some strange reason, many taxpayers STILL choose to “go it alone” when it comes to preparing their returns.

Well, far be it from me to have such hardy souls be left in the dark. While what I’m writing this week may seem “professionally risky”, we are sincere about wanting everyone in the Brooklyn local area to pay the least amount possible in income to taxes.

So, even though it might encourage some people towards the risks of software-powered self-preparation, instead of our cost-effective, quick-but-meticulous services … here is a list of the most common errors I see when I review self-prepared returns.

(Warning: There’s no “app” for experience.)

Common Tax Return Errors To Avoid For Brooklyn Self-Preparers
“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” -John Dewey

As all of your information is coming into your mailbox or being uploaded to your online accounts this month to prepare for your taxes (Doctor’s bills, 1095’s, 1099’s, old W-2’s, interest statements for student loans, etc.), it can be tempting (to some, at least) to forego the perceived “expense” of using a professional to help you save on your taxes for the year.

If for some reason you decide to go down that lonely road, please do at least watch out for these common errors (which we routinely correct for those who have us review their previous-year returns):

* Filing the wrong status (dependent or independent, 0 instead of 1, etc.)
* Missing forms
* Forgetting to sign it (this is incredibly common! Make SURE you sign!)
* Not adhering to new laws (a biggie)
* (or perhaps worse) Not taking advantage of deductions or credits from new laws
* Math errors or mixing up numbers
* Standardized deduction (one lump sum) when itemizing may return more
* Forgetting earned interest
* Not claiming your charitable donations (more common than you’d think!)
* Incorrect social security numbers
* Missing the deadlines
* Not checking last year’s taxes to see if anything carries over (again, very common — and a good reason to have a pro check it out)
* Not taking deductions where they’re pertinent (IRA’s, too much Social Security being taken out)
* Failing to include dependents who don’t live with you
* Claiming someone as a dependent who claimed themselves as independent
* Not filing domestic or self-employment taxes
* Not claiming credits where they’re due (Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Credit)

So what can you do to correct all of these errors?

1) Double check. And triple check. Then check again. The idea here is that when another pair of eyes look at it, they can see stuff you don’t. Your mind will tell you that things that you write or calculate are correct, even if they aren’t.

2) Go to a professional. Self-serving? Why, yes. But as I mentioned in my introduction, we get paid to know what we do, and following the tax code permutations is our J-O-B. We’ve seen so many tax returns, even already this year, that what would take you 12 hours — can be accomplished by me and my practiced team in one.

I’m not suggesting we never make mistakes … but can you really afford to skimp when thousands are on the line?

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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James Pantzis’ Rule From The Successful

James Pantzis’ Rule From The Successful

I have to first get this off my chest, before we get to the orders of business for today.

A Brooklyn friend who was watching football the other day asked me about a commercial he saw from a “popular” tax chain (who shall remain nameless) that is heavily advertising “free” tax preparation.

Leaving aside the fact that it is only for those who file the absolute SIMPLEST of returns, allow me to let you behind the curtain a little…

One of OUR big revenue centers over the years has always been in fixing the tax preparation mistakes made by these “big box” retail tax outfits and off-the-shelf software programs, and discovering loads of missed opportunities and overpayments made by their clients.

Yes, you might be getting something “free”, but please: don’t be seduced by the siren call of getting something for nothing. You usually end up paying for it, in a whole host of ways.

(Because, speaking of software: do you remember when a former Treasury Secretary used the leading tax software to do HIS taxes, unintentionally created a bunch of errors with it, and then blamed the software itself for all of his tax problems in front of the Senate? Not an uncommon issue, I’m afraid.)

The old adage *is* an adage because it’s so often true: you get what you pay for. It’s the foundation for a stable economic system because it’s almost always true.

Admittedly, this is highly self-serving. But I wouldn’t share it if it wasn’t also serving you.

Alright … moving forward now. Some quick items:

1) The start of actual tax filing will not begin until January 23, 2017. This does NOT mean that we can’t begin the preparation process earlier (we can, if you really have your paperwork in order), but it does mean that the IRS won’t be issuing refunds or otherwise officially accepting returns until that point.

2) Would you do me a favor? Would you leave us a review on Yelp or Google Maps for other potential clients to see? We have found that these sources can be so helpful for people evaluating their options, and we would love to have as much information there as possible. Thank you!

https://www.yelp.com/writeareview/biz/K00AU5tJZ-FVunsEmLhsXw?return_url=%2Fbiz%2FK00AU5tJZ-FVunsEmLhsXw

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Pantzis+James+CPA/@40.6920271,-73.9870417,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x5c8085718f54cf57

Lastly, and before I get to my quick word for the day, I have included a special incentive for you at the end of this note … check it out!

I’ve given you a bunch of “orders of business” today, and so I wanted to simply tell you a story here, in my note. Would love your thoughts…

James Pantzis’ Rule From The Successful
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” -William James

Warren Buffett is known to be a generous man. Just a few years ago, of course, he made the biggest single contribution to philanthropy ever made — including an enormous bequest to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (erstwhile rivals on the Forbes rich list).

But it’s also common knowledge that Buffet is generous in other aspects of life as well.

And speaking of Forbes, I read a story in it about Buffett and an MBA student from Kazakhstan. This student attended a function at which Buffett was present but left his camera in the Berkshire Hathaway boardroom. The student wanted some pictures of himself with Buffett — and so, true to his form, Buffett offered to give the student a ride back himself to the office to pick up the camera.

During the drive, Buffett offered some advice to the young man. Do what you love, he told him. He also revealed to the student that his personal goal was not to live like a king, and that he liked living a fairly simple life, eating simple meals and driving a regular car.

It was then that Buffett offered this nugget of wisdom: “Be a nice person … It’s so simple that it’s almost too obvious to notice. Look around at people you like. Isn’t it a logical assumption that if you like traits in other people, then other people would like you if you developed those same traits?

So I ask you: if this advice was the first thing which rolled off of Warren Buffett’s lips when speaking to a fresh-faced MBA student, what would YOU say to just such a student?

And, of course, if this advice represented part of the essence of why Buffett is so successful (well, that plus preternatural stock market understanding), how can you integrate his advice into your life this week?

Something great to ponder. And, as we head into the busyness of tax season, I wanted to remind you: we’re here to help. Let me know if you have any questions.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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James Pantzis’ Tax Preparation Checklist

James Pantzis’ Tax Preparation Checklist

I shared my “resolutions” last week, and it was really nice to see the response, and to know that many of our Brooklyn clients are equally excited for the opportunity to put new legs to a new year … and to make 2017 (much) better than 2016.

I remember seeing a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Jun 2012) by Wilhelm Hofmann a few years back about resolutions, temptations, etc. and how we can control them — or be controlled by them. It’s probably worth sharing with you the key bit (and lest you think I’m a psychology nerd, I’m pretty sure I saw it referenced in an article in the NYT, but I’m not able to immediately find that particular link)…

Essentially, people with the best “self control” are those who end up having to *use* self control the least. They set up their lives in order to minimize temptation and create systems by which they are able to avoid being put into the position of being tempted. They conserve their energy and outsource as much self-control as they possibly can.

Sometimes our best method for sticking to our resolutions (both financial and otherwise) is not to “gut it out”, but to allow others, and our own pre-set boundaries, do the heavy lifting for us.

Which, of course, brings me back to the tax preparation process. If you’ll pardon the somewhat-clumsy segue here, may I humbly suggest something? Let us help you this year.

I truly do pity those who attempt to wade through all of the different tax codes and forms on their own, and not devote a week’s labor to the transaction. It really doesn’t pay to “go it alone” for certain tasks.

I’ve put together a handy little list of what you’ll need to bring in. There may be certain situations where we’ll need other documentation to get you even more deductions. But, of course, we’ll let you know about that, should the situation arise!

Also, an important note: As I mentioned before, the start of actual tax filing will not begin until January 23, 2017. This does NOT mean that we can’t begin the preparation process earlier (we can, if you really have your paperwork in order), but it does mean that the IRS won’t be issuing refunds or otherwise officially accepting returns until that point.

James Pantzis’ Tax Preparation Checklist
“If you do not think about your future, you cannot have one.” -John Galsworthy

With the increased penalties associated with the ACA in 2017, and all of the other changes every year, filing your taxes on your own is not for the faint of heart — even with nice-looking softwares on the market which purport to make it easy for you.

But that’s what we’re here for. Let us be your easy button.

Below is a list of what you will need during the tax preparation process. Not all of them will apply to you — probably MOST will not. Nonetheless, it’s a useful checklist.

Before you get overwhelmed: yes, this is a long list — but it’s the unfortunate reality of our tax code that it’s not even comprehensive! But these items will cover 95% of our clients.  Really, this is for ensuring that we’re able to help you keep every dollar you can keep under our tax code.

Even if for some strange reason you won’t be using our cost-effective services this year, feel free to use this list as a handy guide…

Personal Data
Social Security Numbers (including spouse and children)
Child care provider tax I.D. or Social Security Number

Employment & Income Data
W-2 forms for this year
Tax refunds and unemployment compensation: Form 1099-G
Miscellaneous income including rent: Form 1099-MISC
Partnership and trust income
Pensions and annuities
Alimony received
Jury duty pay
Gambling and lottery winnings
Prizes and awards
Scholarships and fellowships
State and local income tax refunds
Unemployment compensation

Health Insurance Information
* All 1095-A Forms from marketplace providers (if you purchased insurance through a Marketplace)
* Existing plan information (policy numbers, etc.)
* If claiming an exemption, your unique Exemption Certificate Number
* Records of credits and/or advance payments received from the Premium Tax Credit (if claiming)

Homeowner/Renter Data
Residential address(es) for this year
Mortgage interest: Form 1098
Sale of your home or other real estate: Form 1099-S
Second mortgage interest paid
Real estate taxes paid
Rent paid during tax year
Moving expenses

Financial Assets
Interest income statements: Form 1099-INT & 1099-OID
Dividend income statements: Form 1099-DIV
Proceeds from broker transactions: Form 1099-B
Retirement plan distribution: Form 1099-R
Capital gains or losses

Financial Liabilities
Auto loans and leases (account numbers and car value) if vehicle used for business
Student loan interest paid
Early withdrawal penalties on CDs and other fixed time deposits

Automobiles
Personal property tax information
Department of Motor Vehicles fees

Expenses
Gifts to charity (receipts for any single donations of $250 or more)
Unreimbursed expenses related to volunteer work
Unreimbursed expenses related to your job (travel expenses, entertainment, uniforms, union dues, subscriptions)
Investment expenses
Job-hunting expenses
Education expenses (tuition and fees)
Child care expenses
Medical Savings Accounts
Adoption expenses
Alimony paid
Tax return preparation expenses and fees

Self-Employment Data
Estimated tax vouchers for the current year
Self-employment tax
Self-employment SEP plans
Self-employed health insurance
K-1s on all partnerships
Receipts or documentation for business-related expenses
Farm income

Deduction Documents
State and local income taxes
IRA, Keogh and other retirement plan contributions
Medical expenses
Casualty or theft losses
Other miscellaneous deductions

We’re here to help. Let me know if you have any questions.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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James Pantzis’s New Year’s Resolutions

James Pantzis’s New Year’s Resolutions

Well, here we are in 2017. Rather eerie, in my opinion.

As the holidays wind down, it means no more extended family (which might be a relief?), no more parties, no more presents. Just … daily life in Brooklyn. And, in my opinion, this coming week is actually crucial to how the rest of your year goes.

Why? Because intentions and actions matter. No, I certainly don’t subscribe to a mystical law of attraction — but I DO believe that how we act out what we intend to do sets a subconscious belief system in place which can have an impact for months at a time.

In other words — do what you *intend* to do this week, and it’ll be much easier to carry that forward into more of 2017. At least, that’s been my experience.

What about you? Do you find the beginning of the year to be full of opportunity? Or is it full of discouragement? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Well, for my staff and me … it’s certainly full of preparation. This is one of our most intense years of groundwork for tax season, simply because the tax code is getting even MORE complex.

Also, an important note: As I mentioned before, the start of actual tax filing will not begin until January 23, 2017. This does NOT mean that we can’t begin the preparation process earlier (we can, if you really have your paperwork in order), but it does mean that the IRS won’t be issuing refunds or otherwise officially accepting returns until that point.

Now, here are MY goals for the year. Would love to hear yours…

James Pantzis’s New Year’s Resolutions
“Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success.” – Ross Perot

2016 is in the rearview mirror. The holidays are past (family, football, gifts and such gave my body AND my wallet a bit of a beating! Can you relate?). And now, we’re facing a brand new year … and we’ve all got some pesky resolutions to follow.

The following are MY new year’s resolutions for 2017 . . .

1) Provide my clients and their friends with THE standard in tax preparation and financial advice — especially in light of all the uncertainty with the installment of a new presidential administration. There are MANY changes in store for us this year, and we’re planning to be on top of all of them, on your behalf.

2) Make an effort to eat more natural foods — especially the kind that taste good. Probably no explanation is necessary here. 🙂

3) Lead my team well — with grace, excellence and compassion during our busiest times. The metaphorical bullets fly fast when we are handling hundreds of clients, and we have been looking ahead to this time for months now. But I’m under no illusions about the fact that my leadership and attitude will be one of the key factors for the success of our team.

What are YOUR resolutions? I’d love to hear about them. In fact, shoot me an email and I’d love to know what you’re resolving to do in 2017.

And, if you’ll forgive a bit of a self-serving plug — it’s a very good idea to contact us right away, and set a time to meet. (Email or call: (718) 858-9864) Sure, you don’t have your paperwork ready yet — but give yourself a deadline, and help us plan our workflow effectively at the same time. Poor planning is the “hidden tax” during this season.

This, of course, is why I’m in the business — to help clients and friends make sure they’re not getting nailed by these multiplicity of “hidden” taxes. This year  — again, with so much futurecasting based in uncertainty — the “Stupid Tax” is NOT working with a well-prepared professional. Don’t pay that one, if you can help it.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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4 Last Minute Tax Savings Ideas For Brooklyn Taxpayers

4 Last Minute Tax Savings Ideas For Brooklyn Taxpayers

I woke up Monday morning, after the wonderful holiday weekend … and I had a realization: “After today, there are only FIVE days left in 2016.”

Perhaps not a genius realization — fine. BUT, if you’re smart about how you handle these days, you can pay yourself quite well when tax time rolls around.

The VERY good news is that we’ve been able to clear out three “FAST ACTION” appointment slots this week only for clients and friends who are committed to following our advice quickly, and who want ensure that their tax bill for the 2016 tax year is the lowest it can possibly be.

Send me an email (you can use the button in the upper-right of the site here) to snag a Fast-Action Appointment, or call: (718) 858-9864 — and may I suggest you do it quickly? These slots are sure to go fast. After that point, you’ll be put on a short waiting list.

But for those of my Brooklyn clients and friends who prefer to “do it yourself” (though with THIS tax code, I’m not sure that’s always wise), I’ve put together a brief, and actionable “checklist” to ensure that you’re squeezing every last drop out of the deductions still available to you for 2016.

And, on the early note — let me wish you a premature Happy New Year, 2017!

Now, let’s get deducting…shall we?

4 Last Minute Tax Savings Ideas For Brooklyn Taxpayers
“Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.” – Josh Billings 

Because time is short, and some moves do require more than this week to pull off, I’m restricting myself to those items which you can realistically affect for tax savings before the end of the year.

This will be short, and (hopefully) sweet to your wallet…

1) Use Your FSA Funds
Money set aside in a flexible spending account must be spent by the end of the year, else the funds are lost. Some employers allow a 2-and-a-half month grace period. So check with your employer to see what your personal deadline is for utilizing your FSA savings.

2) Make an Extra Payment on Your Mortgage
If you own a house with a mortgage, and you can swing the cashflow hit, add an additional payment before year-end, and the interest on that payment will be deductible for 2016. Of course, that means that it WON’T be so for 2017, but perhaps you can use this as an “extra” payment … and get ahead of the escrow game.

3) Make the Switch to a Roth IRA
Roth conversions are taxed in the year the conversion happens. However, taxpayers have the option to undo part or all of that conversion by their filing deadline. But in order to retroactively undo part of their conversion next year, they first have to convert this year. So if you are on the fence about converting, consider taking the plunge before the end of the year, knowing that you (and/or WE) can re-characterize some or all of the amounts early next year.

4) The old standby
You know how I feel about charitable giving by now (I hope). This week, of course, is a big one for non-profits who are the happy beneficiaries of our last-minute donations. You can pay early on a monthly gift, or give a lump-sum gift. The purpose (aside from the many, many benefits to the organization, and to you), of course, being to knock more income into a different tax bracket perhaps, or to simply cut your tax bill, regardless of the bracket status.

Now, there are plenty others. But these are the quickest, and the easiest (aside, perhaps, from the Roth conversion — but that can be done quickly).

Do you have others you want to explore? Give us a call ((718) 858-9864) or shoot me an email (again, you can just use the button in the upper-right of the site here), and we’ll help you out.

Best to you. We’d love to see your family THRIVE in 2017!

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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James Pantzis’ Holiday Season Prayer

James Pantzis’ Holiday Season Prayer

I came in to the office this morning, and I noticed that traffic is already a little lighter around town. Many of us are still working, but I have plenty of friends who have already taken time away from work, starting today.

Whatever your faith background, it’s hard to ignore the holiday clamor. In my opinion, it’s a crying shame that a season of reflection and prayer would become transformed into something so… busy. It’s almost as if we now have to rush around to purchase or artificially create these nostalgic moments, when they probably would have earlier happened on their own.

Now look — as a proud Brooklyn business owner, I have no problem with people earning money during this holiday season…I just wonder when it’s time to say “enough”?

Maybe it really is the holidays, because as I’ve been meeting with clients recently, I’ve discovered that many of you are worried and stressed — about finances, family, personal circumstances, etc. It’s not my job to save the world on your behalf of course, but I do get to be somebody in your world who can encourage you to slow down, take a breather and keep your perspective on what’s really important. 

(By the way, we are still meeting with clients to help them with year-end issues, so feel free to email me or call us at (718) 858-9864 for help.)

Anyway, thanks for your friendship, and for your business in 2016, and (hopefully) in 2017.

This week’s Note is to help us all keep perspective, this week…and into next year.

James Pantzis’ Holiday Season Prayer
“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.” -St. Augustine

“God, help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children.

“Help us to remember that the pierced, tattooed, disinterested young man who can’t make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.

“Remind us, Lord, that the scary-looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares …

“Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slowly through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last week, this will be the last year that they go shopping together.

“Father, remind us each day that, of all the gifts you give us, the greatest gift is love. It is not enough to share that love with those we hold dear. Open our hearts not to just those who are close to us, but to all humanity. Let us be slow to judge and quick to forgive, show patience, empathy and love. ”

Amen.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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Fake News & Four Online Privacy Tips By James Pantzis

Fake News & Four Online Privacy Tips By James Pantzis

There’s a lot of talk these days about fake news — which is interesting, because most of us have realized for quite some time that much of the news is glorified “PR” in the first place.

But before I get there, here is some information that is NOT fake…

A bunch of tax deadlines were just released to us by the IRS, and they might interest you (warning — tax-heavy content ahead):

January 23, 2017: This is the first day that the IRS will accept e-filed returns (or start processing paper ones). Here at our James Pantzis, CPA, PC offices, of course, we can start working with you before that time to get your return set up, but won’t be able to actually FILE until that date.

However, if you are planning to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), you should also know about this next date:

February 15, 2017: On December 18, 2015, Congress passed the “PATH Act” (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes), and one of the provisions is that the earliest day that the IRS can issue a refund for returns that use the EITC or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) is February 15th.

The stated reason for this is that there has been so much fraud related to some taxpayers wrongly claiming these (refundable) credits, and this delay will give the IRS more time to verify the claims of these taxpayers. (Note: If you were somehow planning to get your refund earlier than this date, there may be options through a bank arrangement, so let us know if that’s you, when you come in.)

The IRS has also just told us that it might take a few days for EITC/ACTC-related refunds to process. So if you’re looking to get your refunds fast, we might need to have a conversation.

April 18, 2017: If you’re perhaps a little more laid back about your filing habits, the good news is that this year, the actual filing deadline is 3 days later.

Phew! That’s a lot of tax news. None of it fake. But before you depart from this note and head back over to FacebookLand, you should also perhaps remember that some of what you’re seeing there isn’t exactly correct — and, well, I also want to help you stay safe there. Here’s what I mean…

Fake News & Four Online Privacy Tips By James Pantzis
“Progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity.” -Thor Heyerdahl

Like me, you’ve probably seen a friend or two post a “legal notice” to their Facebook accounts, as if it would have any kind of impact on the legal status of what they put there.

Unfortunately, what your friends are responding to is very much in the category of “fake news”.

Here’s the truth: http://bit.ly/2gEyp6Y

The best “privacy policy” I know of? If you don’t want someone to see it, don’t post it on Facebook.

Yet Brooklyn people using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other networks (even those with serious privacy controls) are thoughtlessly giving actionable intelligence to thieves.  I think that an awful lot of people believe they are invincible when they get online and communicate with their friends. But a seemingly-benign post or piece of information could actually make you a target of identity thieves and traditional crooks.

So, to protect yourself, here are four things you should avoid posting online…

1. Date of birth. Must you get random birthday greetings from elementary school friends? Almost 60% of social networkers post their date of birth (according to a survey by Identity Theft 911). But resist the urge to post your complete birth date — including the year — on your Facebook profile, just to get a lot of messages on your big day. This is extremely valuable information for identity thieves. I know — you’re thinking only your friends see what you post. But if someone does a search for your name, that person will often see your birth date if it’s listed in your profile.

2. Travel plans. I bet you’ve seen Facebook posts like this: “We’re going to the beach next week. Can’t wait!” In fact, you may be guilty of it yourself — but according to the research I’ve recently seen, 18% of social media users post travel times.

Guess what? You’ve just extended an invitation for people to burglarize your home. In fact, recently three men in New Hampshire burglarized more than 18 homes by checking Facebook status updates to see when people wouldn’t be home. Pro-Tip: Make sure anything travel-related is set to ONLY show to your trusted friends. If you see the little “globe” icon below your post, that means it’s out there for the world to see. Fix that.

3. Address. If your address is on your profile AND you let people know when you’re going out of town, well, you know where I’m going with this. Nonetheless, 21% of social media users post their address.

4. Mother’s maiden name. It may seem like common sense to not post your mother’s maiden name on a social media platform, but about 11% said they did. Identity thieves will hit the jackpot if you reveal this bit of information online.

Not only should you avoid posting any of this information, but also you should fix your Facebook settings to control who sees what on your page.

Further, use different passwords for social media sites than you use for financial sites, such as your bank or credit card site. That is ALWAYS good practice.

With all of the holiday posting that is sure to be happening, please … for the sake of your REAL privacy, keep this stuff in mind!

And remember … we’re here to help.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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