Even though all the news media are telling us how HARD things are out there, there are still regular people who are quietly but quickly moving forward with their financial goals.
And, sometimes, they get a little help.
(For instance, you know someone who is NOT worried too much right now? The big Powerball winners from a couple weeks ago. Well, perhaps they should be — but that’s a different kind of story.)
Whether it’s a lottery windfall, an inheritance, or a large tax refund, it’s obviously important to handle these influxes well.
This week I’m going to address what you should do if and when you receive some sort of sudden financial blessing — and what not to do.
But, before I get there, a couple quick reminders:
* Identity theft is the big buzz around the tax world this year. And the BEST way to ensure that your information doesn’t get used fraudulently is to file your taxes as early as humanly possible. Yes, I know — easier said than done. (Which, again … this is a very good reason to get some help. Ahem.) Another “off-the-shelf” tax software was targeted by scammers recently (TaxSlayer), and we continue to hear horror stories from people trying to prepare their own taxes. Let us help you! (718) 858-9864
* You should be getting the rest of your paperwork this week, as organizations have until 1/31/16 to mail everything. Make sure you’re setting everything aside into a good folder, and we can help you sort through it all.
Now, back to the fun stuff.
What To Do With An Inheritance (Or A Large Refund): 5 Tips From James Pantzis
“Peace is its own reward.” – Mahatma Gandhi
According to recent data from the Federal Reserve (what do they NOT keep track of??), more than nine million households in the U.S. reported getting an inheritance of at least $100,000. And there is other data which suggests that baby boomers stand to receive over $8 trillion in inheritance over the next few decades.
But sometimes such “blessings” end up as curses to those who aren’t prepared.
Consider former NFL star Clinton Portis, who filed for bankruptcy a few weeks ago after earning over $43 million in reported income over his 9-year NFL career. And, of course, the stories of lottery winners has become so pervasive that Hollywood has even begun using it as a regular plot device on TV.
And I should also point out — we sometimes have seen clients that receive a large refund from the IRS go out and spend it on something silly, even as debts pile up in other areas of their lives. Not wise.
So — a few quick essentials for you to consider, should you find yourself on the receiving end of a small fortune, even if only a large refund of a couple thousand dollars. These aren’t pieces of investment advice, per se, but rather some guidelines which will help you emotionally handle the new situation:
1) Move slowly at first.
Take some time to let it sink in, and get through the emotion of it all. Most of the bad decisions made with sudden wealth happen in the first couple of months. So lock it up in a low-yield savings account for three months, proceed as normal, and use that time productively.
Do this during that time…
2) Circle back to your life goals, and evaluate how the money will help you achieve them. Just because you’ve suddenly been given some cushion, doesn’t mean your life has to radically change. It might get easier … but if you leave behind the goals you created BEFORE this windfall, it’s more likely that it will get harder.
3) Find a disinterested advisor to be a buffer. It’s often best to work with someone who already has experienced handling the finances for people of means. That way they, too, won’t get caught up in the emotion of it. Let them be your “go to” gatekeeper for your greedy cousin or high school friend with those “can’t miss” investment ideas.
4) Immediately, give a portion of it away. I’ve written about this dynamic before, but there’s something special which happens inside your mind when you give away your money: it loses its grip on you, ever so slowly. And, far from turning you into a profligate (and unwise) giver, what can happen is that you aren’t as affected in your character by the sudden influx of funds. Which means that you don’t become more flashy, nor do you become a tightwad.
5) Assess your tax strategy. Coming from me, this should be a no-brainer, but every gift has a variety of ways by which it can affect your taxes. This is something that we are especially prepared to help you with, and you should ALWAYS plan the tax implications of how you receive large sums of money.
There’s much else written out there about what to do with an inheritance … but I hope you see that around here, we like to think beyond just the tactics, and into what really matters with any tax or financial issue.
Let us help you go beyond mere preparation, and into how we can make your money really work on your behalf. It’s what we love to do.
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
For our East Coast friends — how are you enjoying/surviving #SnowZilla? Keep posting those pictures … and stay safe out there.
For us, this week is actually heating up a little! The first full week of tax preparation is behind us (as of Tuesday this week), and it’s already been very busy. We have LOVED seeing old friends come through this past week, and give us the chance to serve them (once again) for this year on their taxes.
Our calendar is getting full for the next few weeks, so if you have not yet contacted us to set up a time to discuss your taxes, now is a GREAT time to make that happen. Shoot me an email (just click the email button above) or give us a call ASAP: (718) 858-9864
After all, would you rather spend 18 hours going it alone — or have your trusted advisor do it all for you?
And I hate to be so “tax heavy” in this blog post, but, well … ’tis the season, after all. Because this is the week when you will begin getting most of your tax-related mail. Organizations have until January 31 to send most documents your way, and here’s the list of forms you should be looking for in the mail, and online (from any employer, vendor, client or anyone else with whom you had a taxable transaction last year):
* Wage earners, watch for your W-2 forms, one from each employer.
* “Other income” (like a state tax refund, or government benefits) is shown to you on Form 1099-G
* Prize winnings — Form W-2G
* Most canceled debt (but not all) is reported as taxable. In which case, you’ll get Form 1099-C
* 1095 Forms if you purchased your health insurance through a Marketplace or exchange
… as I’m writing this, I realize the list is extremely long. Here’s a good place for the whole list: http://1.usa.gov/1UmxlzM [This is a list of all forms due out from organizations, and it’s worth looking over to see what you should be expecting, if the conditions apply.]
Be very careful about your 1099’s: Each one is linked to your SSN, so if you fail to report it, you are almost certain to be audited. So, when you receive them, open them right away to check for errors. If you report something differently than does the organization that sent it to you … again, audit risk. So you want to be on top of those, and contact the organization ASAP if there is a discrepancy with your records.
Often, they can fix it before it is sent to the IRS itself. If not, then we have to ask them to file a corrected form and it will have to get cleaned up after the fact on the return. This hassle is just another in a long line of reasons why it helps to have someone handle this stuff on your behalf.
I thought I’d wrap my post with some intel on a rapidly-exploding scam targeting taxpayers around the country, and perhaps give you an idea to let off some steam and even enjoy the process if the scammers target you…
‘This is a Final Notice From The IRS’ Phone Scam, and Other Warnings From James Pantzis
“I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” – Ronald Reagan
In case you didn’t already realize it, “tax season” (as we professionals refer to it) is a ripe harvest for spammers, scammers, phishers and con artists of every stripe.
When you pause and consider, it makes sense. After all, we’re dealing with A) significant sums of money (and information about it) PLUS B) fear (and loathing) of the IRS.
So if and when you get a voice mail purporting to be from the IRS, it makes sense that it might throw you off a little.
Before I fully address that, let me also give you some other news.
The list of states who are delaying state tax refunds (which, perhaps obviously, are different from the often-larger FEDERAL return refunds) is growing larger. As of this writing, it stands at: Illinois, Louisiana, and Utah plus the recent new additions: Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina. These states are taking extra caution against the theft during transmission of identifying information for tax returns.
And a good thing too! Popular tax software, TaxACT just reported a small data breach (story: http://bit.ly/1Pggwqh), which comes on the heels of last year’s widely-reported data breach of TurboTax (ABC News video: http://abcn.ws/1PggApP).
So again, caution against data thieves is a perfectly normal reason to utilize a professional for your taxes (our Enterprise-level software has very strict security protocols).
But back to the subject at hand: The IRS or Treasury Department will almost NEVER contact you by phone, and certainly not in order to issue some kind of “final notice”. Many people are receiving voice mails purporting to be from the IRS, when in fact, there are criminals on the other end of these calls.
If you receive a phone scam like this, here’s what to do (taken from the IRS’ page on the matter):
- Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page to report the incident.
- You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your report.
If you think you may owe taxes:
- Ask for a call back number and an employee badge number.
- Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS employees can help you.
- Or, if you would rather not land in phone-tree oblivion with the IRS, you can give us a call: (718) 858-9864 [This last one, ahem, wasn’t on the IRS website — but of course, it’s very true.]
And, of course you can play along and waste the time of these criminals. Take a page from Esquire writer Dave Holmes, who had some ‘fun’ recently with these criminals, and maybe you can use it to blow off some steam. (Story and a mild language warning: http://bit.ly/1Pgh9Qw)
Lastly — please, for the love of Pete, don’t walk through the tax preparation process alone! Let us help. It’s what we love to do.
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
This past week saw some pretty tough economic news. Retail sales numbers for 2015 were released and the results weren’t pretty. (Some commentary here: http://bloom.bg/1RwiUv5)
On top of that, the stock market has been taking a dive, and Wal-Mart announced the closing of 269 stores around the world (152 in the US), and the laying off of about 10,000 US employees. (Here’s a list of the stores they are closing, by the way: http://usat.ly/1Rwj2KS)
All of this has led to multiple calls from the usual voices that we are heading into another crash like we had in 2008 and that a terrible recession is right around the corner.
My thoughts? That may be true, but nothing is certain.
For some counter arguments, consider:
* In EACH of the past five recessions, we saw annual auto sales growth be negative for at least 8 months running before the recession officially began. Now? We haven’t had even one month of negative automobile sales trends.
* Gas continues to be very cheap, and (perhaps not coincidentally) the number of miles driven has reached a decade high.
* Flights were 85% full in December (which is remarkably high).
My point? You can make a good argument either way. In which case, it’s always smart to be prepared. I’ve written previously about how best to be prepared for financial emergencies, and it boils down to:
1) Keep yourself from falling into a pit of fear
2) Have some ready cash
3) Eliminate all your consumer debt
4) Slow down your monthly spending and adjust your cashflow towards savings
5) Automate some investment and/or savings
If you’ve done these things, then you will really be just fine. Don’t let the headlines pull you into their swamps — the media business model thrives on fear!
Lastly, and speaking of business models … I saw a tax business commercial the other day that I simply need to address.
James Pantzis On Hidden Fees Behind Popular Tax Chain’s “Free” Tax Prep
“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
For various liability issues, I’m loathe to actually mention this company by name, but let’s say (for the purposes of this conversation) that there’s a big, popular company who made its fortune on the backs of lower-income taxpayers called H&P Black (a name picked completely at random). This company is flooding the airwaves with a brand new program offering “free” tax prep for federal and $9.99 for state.
Maybe you’ve heard about it? Well, like many such things, there are, shall we say … strings.
First of all, here are the restrictions: it only covers those filing the 1040EZ federal form, which covers only the very simplest tax issues. It can’t be used by anyone who has dependents, makes more than $100,000 per year, is age 65 or older, claims adjustment to income like alimony or tuition deductions, or itemizes their deductions. Thus, homeowners who deduct mortgage interest or people with large charitable contributions can’t use the 1040EZ.
Plus, filers have to pay fees for other forms and any other fees incurred which are conveniently not mentioned — and they have a tendency to pile up.
A few years ago, when this company first actually rolled out this strategy and was asked by stock investors why [said company] was doing this, an executive replied: “Our ability to monetize this program means a minimal impact on our net average charge,” Retail Tax President [for said company] Phil Mazzini told analysts. (Source: http://bloom.bg/1Rwmx47)
In other words: yes, we are offering “free” tax prep, but we still bring in the same fees!
It’s always enlightening to look at executive interactions with stock analysts to see why public companies do what they do, I’ve found.
So — in summary: 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.
In fact, one of OUR revenue centers over the years has always been in fixing the mistakes made by these “big box” retail tax outfits and off-the-shelf software programs, and discovering loads of missed opportunities and overpayments.
(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.
So yes — this article is certainly self-serving, as you can see. I can’t get around that, unfortunately.
But what I CAN do is make this blog post serve you even more than by simply giving you information.
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
The big news in tax land last week was about the states that are choosing to delay their refunds because of concerns over identity theft. Right now, Illinois, Utah and Louisiana are delaying their STATE tax refunds (I repeat — these are refunds for state income taxes, not for the federal returns) for weeks or even months. Here’s the writeup: http://politi.co/1RihO61
This might be the beginning of a trend. We’ll be watching.
Identity theft is becoming a significant issue for tax returns — and it is a very good reason not to be using commercial software to submit your information. Certainly, even we professionals can be hacked (NOBODY is immune) … but the kind of encryption and security that we put into place on behalf of our clients (and the enterprise-level software that we use) is just one more reason not to undertake this process on your own.
Anyway, as for federal returns (the big ones), those we can begin filing on Tuesday, January 19th. Which means that in some cases, we could see clients receiving refunds from the IRS as early as next week.
So … things are officially about to become busy here, and all over the country.
As they are for you, no doubt!
I’m going to change the topic here and discuss one of the more difficult tasks for me which is when I meet with a family or business owner who doesn’t have the confidence they wish they had about the security of their finances into future generations.
At the point of making decisions related to asset distribution, etc. (we occasionally work alongside estate-planning experts in helping our clients), we CAN put into place a whole range of mechanisms which ensure that financial assets are properly distributed, when the time does come.
But wouldn’t it be great if our children had the experience and self-control to handle money and assets WELL, starting at an early age?
That’s why I’ve put together some pointers for you (8 of them) which will help your family raise children who “get it” when it comes to money. This is a great blogpost to share with your friends and family, I think … as it’s an issue which too often goes neglected within families.
James Pantzis on Teaching Your Kids About Money In 8 Effective Steps
“One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.” – James Russell Lowell
The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start a new regime with your family for instilling great financial smarts. We may be a few weeks in, but really — anytime in January is a good time to begin making changes.
Some of these may be difficult (the first ones, in particular, if they represent a shift for you), but after seeing many families do this well, these are some of the best things you can do with your children.
1. Talk openly about money.
Parents make a mistake when they keep information from their children. The only way children learn what is a good deal and what is too expensive is by the experience of what their family earns and what items cost. Hiding this information robs children of the financial education they need.
2. Talk factually about money.
Many parents have strong emotions about money based on their childhood experiences. These emotions are always transmitted to children. Instead of helping children, they can cripple children from growing up to make sound financial decisions
3. Require chores; pay for optional work.
Everyone in the family has to help complete the work that needs to be done. If you want to pay your children, only pay them for optional work they can choose to do or not to do.
4. Provide children an allowance they can make real choices with.
Talk about money is important, but children need real-world lab experience to understand the consequences of their decisions. Consider giving them an allowance large enough so that they can purchase some of their own needs. Then continue to give them honest advice, and help them ask the right questions to make wise decisions based on their values.
5. Help children comparison-shop.
Help them consider issues such as cost, quality, and convenience. Every choice in life involves trade-offs, right?
6. Require children to wait before making large purchases.
Adults should wait at least a month whenever they are making a large purchase. Children shouldn’t be expected to wait that long. Here is a good rule of thumb: Children should be required to wait as many days as they are old in years before being allowed to make a large purchase (over a week’s allowance). There is always tomorrow and over half the time they won’t remember what attracted them to it in the first place. Developing this habit will help make them resistant to impulse buying.
7. Don’t use money as a punishment.
Your priority should be helping to give your values to your children, not buy their outward behavior.
8. Don’t loan your children money!
If their desired purchase is something they should be saving for, let them save for it. If you want to buy it for them for the value of the experience, buy it for them. The principles are “If they want it, they have to save for it. If you want them to have it, you will buy it for them.” Loaning your children money for items they want teaches them they aren’t responsible and they don’t have to prioritize.
Some may disagree with all of these admonitions–I don’t intend to become a “parenting guru” in my spare time–but I do hope that, at minimum, this will help you in teaching your kids about money.
I do hope all this helps. To your family’s financial and emotional peace…
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
Well, now the holidays are truly behind us, and this is the week where reality sets in for everybody. With the way the schedule worked out this year, it almost feels like we’ve been in a holiday stupor for three weeks!
But this week is when life gets closer to normal. And, in my opinion, how it plays out is crucial to how the rest of your year goes.
Because intentions and actions matter. No, I don’t subscribe to a mystical “law of attraction” — but I DO believe that how we walk out our stated goals and intentions for this week sets a subconscious pattern that 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 2016.
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.
And, 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. The stakes are higher every year. And, it seems as if I say that *every* year … which probably isn’t a great sign for families who are wanting to do their own taxes.
Let me know your thoughts, and, of course, if you’d like to talk this over with us, we DO have a couple appointment slots left for this week. Call or email (simply click the button at the top of this page) soon, though!
James Pantzis’: “What Documents Do I Need For Tax Time?”
“Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.” – Henry David Thoreau
With the increased penalties associated with the ACA in 2016, and all of the other changes every year, preparing for tax time on your own is becoming much less ‘fun’ for regular taxpayers — even with nice-looking softwares on the market which purport to make it easy for you.
I truly do pity those inexperienced ones who try to muddle through all of the different codes and forms on their own,without devoting even a week’s labor to the transaction. It really doesn’t pay to “go it alone” for certain tasks.
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…
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
Jury duty pay
Gambling and lottery winnings
Prizes and awards
Scholarships and fellowships
State and local income tax refunds
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)
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
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
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
Personal property tax information
Department of Motor Vehicles fees
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)
Education expenses (tuition and fees)
Child care expenses
Medical Savings Accounts
Tax return preparation expenses and fees
Estimated tax vouchers for the current year
Self-employment SEP plans
Self-employed health insurance
K-1s on all partnerships
Receipts or documentation for business-related expenses
State and local income taxes
IRA, Keogh and other retirement plan contributions
Casualty or theft losses
Other miscellaneous deductions
I do hope all this helps. To your family’s financial and emotional peace…
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
I woke up Monday morning, after the wonderful holiday weekend … and I had a realization: there are only THREE days left in 2015.
Obvious, yes … but it carries implications for your wallet, if you are wise with these days.
The VERY good news is that we’ve been able to clear out four appointment slots this week for fast-acting clients and friends who want to be pro-active, and ensure that their tax bill for 2015 is the lowest it can possibly be.
Simply click the button at the top of this page right away to email me to snag one, or call: (718) 858-9864 — and may I suggest you do it quickly? These slots are sure to go quickly. After that point, you’ll be put on a short waiting list.
But for those of my clients and friends who prefer to “do it yourself” (though with THIS tax code, I’m not sure that’s always wise), here are some quick ideas:
* Donate to your favorite charity (I’m sure you’re being flooded with EOY appeals)
* Pay your mortgage early so that you can take that deduction for this year
* Pay tuition now for 2016 classes that will start in the first quarter of next year. That way you’ll be able to use those costs to claim the (recently extended) American Opportunity Tax Credit. It could save you up to $2,500 on your tax bill, part of it refundable.
* Defer some income (if you’re able)
* Harvest investment losses, especially if you’re looking at a modified AGI higher than 200K
And, well, if we’re already into 2016 when you’re reading this, you can still open an IRA or contribute to an existing one by April 18th, 2016.
Regardless, the best thing you could do is to make sure that you have a competent, caring professional by your side for your 2015 taxes. And yes, I may be a little biased with that statement.
And further, let’s set some effective financial goals for you … perhaps even ones that we can review during our tax appointment?
Send me a snapshot now of where you’d like to be (simply click the button at the top of this page to email me), and then when we meet for our tax appointment, let’s see if you are where you want to be.
And here a few more thoughts about setting financial goals (since many will be telling you to do so next week, I thought I’d get a little ahead of the game)…
James Pantzis’ 4 Tips To Start Planning For Your Financial Goals In 2016
“Whenever an individual or a business decides that success has been attained, progress stops.” – Thomas J Watson
Before you launch into the yearly exercise so many of us do during the first two weeks of January, here are some ideas…
1) Set realistic goals.
First, ask the right questions, and stay the course until you’ve found the answers. Goals that are shared are ten times more likely to be acted on. Don’t wait until you have everything set up, to seek out accountability.
2) Make those goals concrete, and then document them.
Set your savings goals as a specific annual percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI). It’s a great idea to save at least 10% of your AGI in tax-free retirement accounts and another 5% toward retirement in taxable investments. If you are behind on your savings, you may want to save even more in order to catch up.
3) Craft the best strategy to implement your goals, including prioritizing the appropriate retirement vehicles. Start by investing just enough to get the entire match from a company’s 401(k) plan (if you have one), and then fund your Roth IRA accounts next. After these two, make certain you have enough non-retirement savings.
4) And this is a BIG deal — automate your plan. Automating putting money in an employer-defined contribution plan is easy. Automating a taxable savings plan is just as painless. Most banks or brokers offer an automatic money link between an investment account and a checking account. They should also offer a monthly automatic transfer between the two accounts.
Going into further detail would actually entail sitting down and creating a true, full financial plan — which is impossible to do for you in a blogpost like this (but very do-able, in person).
I do hope all this helps. To your family’s financial and emotional peace…
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
It’s Monday the 21st today, as I put this post together. We’re hard at work, digesting all of the tax provisions in the huge omnibus spending bill (http://onforb.es/1QFX5J5) that was passed on Friday.
We’ll be taking a few days to break, and be with our families for some holiday time together, but as you may understand, these next few months will be rather “busy” for us, and we are hopeful that we can get ahead of it as much as possible.
As the years go along, I’m increasingly aware of how this holiday season is a time of joy for many, as well as a time of pain for a significant portion of my contacts as well.
Missing loved ones, loneliness, and pain can sometimes be the most prominent decorations of this season, and if that’s the case for you, know that you are not alone, and that you are loved and appreciated.
Not just by us here at Team Pantzis, but undoubtedly by more people than you could possibly imagine. THAT is the bottom-line, real-world truth, whether you believe it or not right now.
Best to you. May your season be truly bright.
To your family’s financial peace over these holidays…
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
I’ve finally discovered the real secret of these holidays.
It is the one common thread through every faith this time of year, and it is one of the most unifying factors in our Western culture.
I say that with a good helping of eye-rolling. Whichever faith tradition you hold dear, it’s likely to have become extremely commoditized and “product-ized” around this time of year.
And we all complain about it, reliably, loudly and regularly — yet there we are at Macy’s, stocking up on plastic toys and off-brand cologne, all to “celebrate” the holiday. (And that’s a taste of my weekend, by the way…and I’m tired).
Now, far be it from me to decry the operation of a healthy economy, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s a tad bit more to what we are all celebrating than simply an excuse for nice sales.
So may I make a humble suggestion? Regardless of your tax-deduction needs, consider making GIVING a large part of your holiday plans.
Now, when I talk about this, I occasionally make some people angry. There are people who don’t ever feel like it’s appropriate to part with their hard-earned money, and they don’t like how many people or organizations sometimes feed off guilt, when it comes to making their pitch.
So, this post is for you, if you’re in that camp … but also, as a little “bump” for those who may still yet struggle with feeling benevolent.
James Pantzis’ Four Good Reasons To Give, No Matter The Tax Deduction
“When in doubt as to what you should do, err on the side of giving.” – Tony Cleaver
As often is the case, when I tell someone my profession this time of year, I get cornered for tax tips.
When I mention giving to charity, sometimes I hear about how and why charities are terrible investments.
In these cases, I’m usually too interested in avoiding arguments, so I don’t often share this sort of thing in person. But here’s what I WOULD say to Giving Scrooge: four good reasons why you should be giving money to charity, right now — regardless of the tax deduction or even the impact the money will create…
1. Your heart changes.
Studies show that when individuals spend money on gifts for friends or charitable organizations, their happiness increases — while those who spend on themselves get no such boost. Even Scrooge can agree that everyone wins.
2. You’re likely to just blow it on something dumb anyway.
As pious as you are, there’s still extra money in your budget somewhere. Create a budget for charity donations, then take some of your extra money (each month or each year) and donate it to charity. Use your spending money to make a difference instead of spending it on Brookstone junk you’ll use once. And if you think you don’t have enough, take that extra 2% you’ll be earning next year and put that toward a charity fund. For someone making $100,000, that’s $2,000.00!
3. Face it: If you don’t help now, you never will.
Don’t pretend that instead of giving money, you’re going to donate time. When was the last time you volunteered at a soup kitchen? Don’t let your mind fall for this trick. Send the money now or you’ll end up giving nothing.
4. Be a leader, not a follower.
This is the biggie, in my opinion, and perhaps the most important. There’s something intangible that happens in your psyche when you cut a big (or relatively big) check to someone in need, or to a charity organization. You feel more powerful — more dynamic. You signal to your own soul: “Money doesn’t rule me. I have more than enough, so much more than enough that I’m giving it away.” Then, of course, something special often happens: more money seems to find itself in your hands.
I’m not advocating a mystical pay-it-forward scheme or weird “prosperity-style” theology; I’m simply making the observation over years of being a student of how money works. And, perhaps ironically, it just seems to find itself in the hands of those who give it away.
So — was any of this convincing? Did it help you see things in a new light? Let me know…
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
Well, communication and requests are now coming across my desk in a way that we haven’t seen for a few months, but I’ve come to expect it for this time of the year. We are in our intense “preparatory” stage for tax season AND so are our (smarter) clients.
I absolutely love what I get to do … but it does add some oomph to the “holiday rush”.
And one of the primary things we do right now is this rush of last-minute tax planning moves. Because as I’ve said before, preparing a tax return is a defensive, retrospective action … but making the right moves ahead of time is going on the offensive, and it affects the future.
Which means I’d like that far better for you.
One important note: Penalties for ACA NON-compliance (i.e., if you don’t have health insurance, and/or it isn’t reported correctly) are going up significantly this year. Open enrollment for the Marketplace plans ends on December 15th — so make sure you have that covered, at the very least.
But here are some other tax tips for you, which hopefully we can discuss in person or via phone ((718) 858-9864) before the end of the month/year.
James Pantzis’ End Of 2015 Tax Tips
“The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” – Kakuzo Okakaura
When we make informed tax decisions, it is always best, of course, to start with real data. That’s why a good first step in any tax planning environment is preparing a draft tax return, to see where things stand before you make any hasty moves. Obviously, this is something we would be doing on your behalf, unless you want to navigate the software for a few hours. That is up to you.
(And no — you don’t have to fill in every line of your 2015 Form 1040. But a down-and-dirty analysis of what your upcoming tax return might look like could reveal some tax areas that you need to take care of by Dec. 31.)
But knowing what your income will look like, and particularly having in mind what you project that it might be for 2016 will help make these decisions easier.
Next, it’s always a good idea to harvest tax losses if you have investments: Did you sell some assets earlier for a nice gain? Or are you expecting your mutual funds to provide you with a nice payout of dividends and/or capital gains distributions? Look for some losers in your portfolio to offset that added income.
Take a quick look at your withholding — and you can make some last-minute shifts to ensure that you aren’t overpaying, or to prevent yourself from being slapped with an underpayment penalty (yes, those do exist).
And then, of course, we move to the meat of your possible moves. Before December 31, we can help you look into…
• Winterizing your home with upgrades that qualify for the energy efficiency tax credit of up to $500 (which can get a little complicated, so make sure you have some guidance on that).
• Spending down your medical flexible saving account (FSA) balance.
• Bunching deductible expenses, both miscellaneous and medical.
• Maximizing the sales tax deduction with a tax-qualifying major purchase.
• Giving to your favorite nonprofit.
• Paying next semester’s college costs early and counting the costs toward the American Opportunity tax credit (some income limits apply).
• Considering ways to defer income if it will push you into a higher tax bracket.
Also, you could …
… 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.
All of these tax tips are good options to make a dent in your 2015 tax bill. Help us help you make the right decisions and call: (718) 858-9864 to set up a year-end tax planning appointment (or click the button at the top of this page to email me).
To your family’s well-planned saving over the holidays…
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
As is my habit, this post is being composed on Monday … and today happens to be good ol’ Cyber Monday.
I say “good ol” because, well, the days are long gone when the actual rationale behind it was true: remember — everyone had dial-up at home, and Monday was the first day after the holiday weekend that most people had access to broadband (which came through those copper T1 connections at many workplaces). So (presumably while the boss wasn’t looking), happy employees everywhere caught up on their holiday shopping with the “lightning” speeds available of about 2 mbps.
And thus, “Cyber Monday” was born.
Now, well … most cell phone signals are exponentially faster than those days of yore, and it’s all pretty much just an excuse for a big sale. And we have Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday thrown into the mix.
Hopefully someone will soon get “Sleep-It-Off Sunday” the attention it righteously deserves!
But I’m here today to talk about some bad reasons.
Specifically, as it relates to planning for your family’s future — because while the traditional estate tax threshold has been raised quite high in recent years, estate planning is *much* more than just avoiding the “estate tax”.
In fact, the majority of our clients don’t (yet) find themselves within the wealth category affected by the estate tax threshold being raised.
But that does NOT mean that planning for “what’s next” isn’t important. And yet, too many people hold onto faulty thinking in order to justify their procrastination.
Here’s a little more of what I mean…
James Pantzis Confronts 3 More Estate Planning Myths That Might Surprise You
“Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.” – Sean O’Casey
A couple weeks ago, and before our collective turkey-induced comas, I wrote about these common myths still held by the majority of Americans.
In fact, as of this writing, it’s a fact that almost 60% of Americans don’t have a basic will, and that’s a big problem.
Much of the reason for this is because they mistakenly believe these common estate planning myths, and I dealt with two already:
Myth 1. Only rich people prepare estate plans.
Myth 2. Everything goes to your spouse, if something happens.
Well, I’ve got three more for you to chew on, and dispense with.
Myth 3. After I create my will or living trust, there’s nothing else to think about.
Well, if you follow this line of thinking, it could lead to a lot of problems. For instance, once you set up a trust, you need to re-title the assets you want to transfer to the trust. Otherwise, the trust doesn’t help a thing.
On top of that, families need to periodically update their will or trust to reflect major life events, such as a divorce or the birth of a child. You’ll also want to revisit your estate plan if you move to another state.
In fact, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate your plan every 3 or 4 years to make sure your plan is fully up-to-date.
Myth 4. If I have a will, my estate automatically won’t go through probate.
Well, again — that’s not the case. In fact, ALL wills are subject to “probate”. This is a process in which a court determines whether the document is actually valid and ensures that relatives and creditors are notified. This process can take several months and drain thousands of dollars from your estate.
So here’s one way to avoid that entirely–create that living trust. Essentially, a living trust is a legal document you create which holds property (such as brokerage accounts and real estate). When you die or are incapacitated, the property is smoothly transferred to your beneficiaries. This transfer occurs outside of the probate process, which saves a TON of hassle.
Not everyone needs one of these documents, but it’s something which you can’t paint over with a broad brush. Which is why it’s important to walk with a competent guide on these matters.
By the way, if you own property in more than one state, a living trust is a no-brainer. Going through probate in multiple states is a nightmare.
Another advantage to a living trust is privacy. A will is a public document, and anyone can come to the probate hearing to see if any fights break out. Living trusts aren’t published in any courthouse, so people can’t gain easy access to them. That’s quite nice.
Myth 5. I could be held responsible for a deceased parent’s debts.
No, you’re not responsible for credit card debts from your parents.
In general, children aren’t responsible for a deceased parent’s debts, and in some cases spouses are often exempt as well. Again…you can’t paint it with a broad brush. But as a general rule, the estate is responsible for paying debts. If there isn’t enough in the estate to cover the amount owed, the debts usually go unpaid.
So really … there is no “great” reason to avoid this kind of planning. And it just so happens to be something that would make a great addition to your tax preparation process. So, let me know if you’re interested and we’ll help you get started on the right track.
I hope this helps. To your family’s financial and emotional peace…
James Pantzis, CPA, PC