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James Pantzis Exposes Common Myths About Estate Planning in 2015

James Pantzis Exposes Common Myths About Estate Planning in 2015

I think there are two components to our shared reaction about the events in Paris on Friday. On one hand, we have the grief

Seeing those gruesome images, imagining the regular families whose lives have been forever upended … it’s all so immeasurably sad. And what makes it worse, I think, is wondering what we are to do in response. Our lives feel so removed from the devastation … Here I am seeing images of horror and agony — there I am grabbing a caramel latte with a double shot of espresso.

So, we pray. We perhaps change our Facebook profile picture as a point of remembrance (and despite what the voices of cynicism may say, there is great value in even the smallest acts of solidarite). And we honor the fallen.

And then, on the other hand … we have the fear.

And fear can lead many of us to all kinds of weird places. Whether private anxiety, social anger, even a form of seeming xenophobia … all of these are probably normal in the face of terror such as this.

But we must remember that WE are the primary target of such terror. Our hearts. Our family’s hearts. (Certainly I don’t mean to imply that the actual victims are mere ornaments to this story … but only that the murders were, indeed, a message). The hearts of our leaders.

We must pray for them all — and remember that national policy, whether military or otherwise, is a separate question from our own response. We have the luxury of choosing love — as well as hope — in the face of such terror. Our leaders (and France’s), unfortunately, may not have that luxury in the same way.

So let’s remember to carry our own hearts well this week, shall we?

And though it’s rather jarring to transition from this topic, the plain fact is that onward we must go. I had been planning to write to you about estate planning this week. And so I will…

James Pantzis Exposes Common Myths About Estate Planning in 2015
“For every disciplined effort there is a multiple reward.” – Jim Rohn

As we have seen this past week, life can turn on a dime … and we can’t plan for every one of the specific ways it may do so. But we CAN plan broadly.

And if you have a family, or really anyone who relies upon you, it may be the best kind of holiday gift for you to offer them peace of mind.

For me and my family, we’ve put some simple plans in place for a VARIETY of circumstances, not just financial or legal. And it truly helps us sleep better at night, just knowing we’ve got it all covered.

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.

One of the big reasons that most families don’t yet have this in place is because of some incorrect thinking about whether it’s right for them, or if it’s even necessary. And sure, some people just haven’t gotten around to creating a will or trust. Others think they don’t need an estate plan because they’re not rich. I’ve even heard from people that they don’t want to put it in place because when they do, it’s sending some sort of death wish into the universe (or some such).

Well, I’ll start by busting THAT myth: Preparing a plan for your succession will not speed your demise. Easy enough.

But here’s the problem — if you continue without an estate plan, you could leave a legacy of bad feelings and attorneys’ fees.

But, I’ll move off of that easy one, and speak to some of the more common misconceptions out there. I’ll start with two this week, and address three more in a future Note.

1. Only rich people prepare estate plans.
Do you own ANYTHING? Because if so, you need a will. You see, a will allows you to designate who will receive your property should anything happen. Continuing without one ensures that your assets will be distributed under the terms of your state’s “intestate succession” laws. That means your money and property could end up with family members you haven’t spoken to in years, instead of who you’d really like to see control your assets.

I won’t go into all of the different components of a will, trust, health care directive, etc., as my purpose here is to emphasize that failing to plan is simply a decision to trust your assets to government bureaucrats.

Even if you think your situation is pretty straightforward, you may feel more comfortable hiring a lawyer to guide you through the process of estate planning.

2. Everything goes to your spouse, if something happens.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. We deal with clients from different states around the country, and state laws vary. In fact, in most states, if you continue without a will (intestate), your inheritance will be divided among your spouse and your children. In New York, for example, when someone dies intestate, the spouse gets the first $50,000 of the estate and what’s left is divided 50-50 among the spouse and the children.

You can imagine how this could create all kinds of problems, particularly if your spouse was financially dependent on you or you have children from a previous marriage.

I’ll post a few more in the weeks ahead, but I hope you can already see that things are not always as we “think”.

I hope this helps. To your family’s financial and emotional peace…


James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864
James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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Pantzis’ 6 Ways to Climb Out of Your Credit Card Debt

Pantzis’ 6 Ways to Climb Out of Your Credit Card Debt

So, last week I wrote you about your holiday spending, and making sure that you don’t find yourself caught up in all the merchandising and hooha — specifically of the retail variety. (Let’s ALL get caught up in the transcendent beauty of the season, shall we?)

And it made me think about some clients that I’ve walked with over the years who fought their way — successfully — out of debt that would have crushed other families.

How did they do that? Today I’ll tell you.

But here’s something they did NOT do: Borrow money to pay off more borrowed money (and call it savings).

That only works for Uncle Sam, apparently.

And speaking of Congress and debt — included in the upcoming highway funding bill for Congress is a small provision that would require the IRS to use private debt collection agencies to go after IRS debt. In my opinion, that would be a problem for many, despite the jobs it might create for these agencies. Treasury did a recent studythat showed that the IRS is better at this than private agencies, and those agencies would naturally be more aggressive.

So, let’s be sure to avoid that IRS debt as well, ok? :)

By the way, with debt reduction, I’m a big fan of automation — but not in all instances. For example, do NOT “automate” your tax preparation process with off-the-shelf software. Especially of the “free” variety. We have to clean up so many mistakes made by these products (and their users!), that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend them.

Yes, I’m obviously biased. But the facts are the facts. Take a gander at this, for just one small example:

Alrighty then … let’s talk about how my clients get out of debt.

Pantzis’ 6 Ways to Climb Out of Your Credit Card Debt
“What simple action could you take today to produce a new momentum toward success in your life?” – Anthony Robbins

The average credit card balance for an American household as of August of this year was $7,529, which is an increase over years previous and not something that any of us really would like to see increase further. And that counts the households that carry no debt, so the figure for those who *do* is even worse.

So, you may be in a better situation … it may also be worse. So, to answer the questions we often get around here from clients facing tough times, I’ve put together a step-by-step process which we often help people work through.

1. First, pay more than the minimums
If you only pay the minimum payment each month, your credit card debt could continue to INCREASE, even if you completely stop using your card. This is called “negative amortization”–where you think you are paying on your debt but the additional fees and finance charges are more than the minimum payment. The bottom line is: Pay more than your minimum or you will eventually be in debt over your head.

2. Create an automated system
With online banking and automatic payment options, there are GREAT tools for ensuring you don’t mess up because of administrative chaos. If you feel you can’t manage all your bills by pen and paper, there are several good software programs available for keeping track of your financial records.

In fact, I recommend that you automate a payment ABOVE the minimum monthly payment, just to be certain that you start getting ahead of the game. Those minimum payments are rigged against you, and the only way to get ahead is to … get ahead. I have some more thoughts on automation in a moment.

3. Yes, you can negotiate
No, you do not need to be an attorney or other professional to negotiate with your credit card company (negotiating with the IRS, on the other hand, is a very different story!). The rising amount of consumer debt in this country has made creditors realize that they need to be more understanding of their customers — if they hope to get any money back. If you file bankruptcy they are only going to get pennies on the dollar, so they are willing to make deals.

4. Proactively contact your creditors — in writing
Open communication always helps. Usually credit card companies get ignored and end up sending delinquent files to a collections agency. So they’ll actually appreciate your openness in contacting them and may be more understanding of your situation. Proactively dealing with your credit card debt rather than hiding will not only help your financial problem, but will make you feel better about yourself as well.

5. Develop a simple tracking system
If you are not able to pay the full amount of your credit each month, you still should still pay something to stay on top of it. You should work off a written budget so you know exactly where you stand. Some experts suggest that you divide your monthly debt budget by the percentage each bill makes of the total and pay that amount.

Here’s an example: If you owe a total of $1,000, and one credit card is $800 and the other is $200, and you only have $100 available to pay for that month… You should pay $80 on the $800 balance, and $20 on the $200 balance. This way you are reducing each debt by the same percentage.

6. Do NOT be intimidated
No matter how forthcoming and honest you are, some creditors have been taught to be mean and downright nasty. Hang in there and don’t let this tactic intimidate you.

Lastly–don’t let the IRS be one of those creditors. Let us help you this tax season, and THAT will be one less creditor to worry about, I assure you!


James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864
James Pantzis, CPA, PC


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Pantzis On How To Make The Most of Your Holiday Spending

Pantzis On How To Make The Most of Your Holiday Spending

It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is THIS MONTH. The October Classic is in the books (congrats to the KC Royals), and parents everywhere are enjoying their parental “Candy Tax“.

It feels like a seasonal page has truly been turned. And right around the corner will come the Christmas and other winter holidays. Stores are already stocking their shelves with gear.

That’s why now is the perfect time to start planning for your holiday spending. Even if you are a family of significant means, it’s a good idea to be strategic about how you go about it.

And by formulating a plan now, you’ll achieve more than just the happiest of holidays. You’ll ensure that the New Year will begin without worries of too little cash flow or that you went unintentionally overboard on your spending (and maybe creating some spoiled offspring in the process!).

Here’s how.

Pantzis On How To Make The Most of Your Holiday Spending
“Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” – Lord Chesterfield

The best place to begin when it comes to planning for this year’s holiday spending is to examine what you did last year.

Dig up the credit card statements online (and maybe the checkbook registers if you still roll with those!), and add up how much money you spent. You’ll also want to take notes regarding where you spent it. Don’t forget to include money used to purchase gift wrapping supplies, cards, postage, food while shopping, entertainment costs, decor, and special-occasion clothing.

Now that the numbers are in front of you, it’s time to form an opinion.

How do you feel about last year’s spending? Did you spend a realistic and appropriate amount, or did you go overboard? Try to be objective. This analysis will serve as the backbone of your plan.

Look at the Present … And That Pun Is Intended
Financially speaking, how have you fared this year compared to last year? Be sure to look at any changes in income as well as expenses. If your finances haven’t changed and you’re happy with last year’s spending, then you’re starting off in very good shape. If your overall financial status has declined, or if you were less-than-pleased with last year’s performance, then you’ve got some work to do.

Begin by looking at the number of purchases you made a year ago.

Which ones would you make again and which ones have you scratching your head? It may be time to reduce your gift-buying list or change the amount you spend on each purchase. The obvious way to accomplish this is to be less extravagant with your selections. A less obvious but often effective approach is to research your potential purchases. Sometimes you end up paying extra for the convenience of one-stop shopping, so look through the newspaper to find which stores are offering deals.

Then check online to see if you can beat their prices by purchasing somewhere else. This practice will cut down on last-minute shopping, which can be an expensive proposition.

Think About Future Years
So, you’ve figured out how many purchases you need to make, as well as which ones need scaling back in terms of price. Now it’s time to create a budget. Once again, there is no magic formula. Creating a budget and sticking to it requires two main things: common sense and commitment. Let’s take a closer look.

A budget should always be based on the money you have, not the money you can borrow. If you are still paying off charges from last year, then you need to avoid using credit cards to make gift purchases this year. The amount of money you decide to allocate toward holiday spending should be based solely on what you’ve saved or what you will save from now until the time you start shopping.

When drafting your budget, start by creating a list of recipients, along with columns for the gifts you intend to buy and the dollar amounts you expect to spend. (Is that too uptight? No, I don’t think so.)

As you make purchases, keep track of the results. If you overspend on one gift, it is imperative that you make it up somewhere else. Your diligence is one of the keys to staying within your budget.

It’s also important that you watch out for potential pitfalls, including impulse shopping. Getting into the spirit of the holidays is one thing, but spending frivolously based upon a last minute decision is something else. You’ve got a list, and your job is to stick to it!

One final thing that may need an adjustment is your overall philosophy. It’s easy to look at the budget you’ve created as a restriction. After all, it’s nothing more than a set of rules. The flip-side is that these rules are there for your protection. Sticking to them will not only help you feel comfortable about your finances before and after the holidays, it will free you from the stress that comes from accumulated debt. When you look at it this way, a budget can be downright liberating. Give yourself the gift of a financially stress-free holiday, by planning in advance.

We thrive based on your referrals, and are truly grateful for them. Thanks again.


James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864
James Pantzis, CPA, PC


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How The Tax Code Makes Regular Brooklyn Taxpayers Angry

How The Tax Code Makes Regular Brooklyn Taxpayers Angry

Many people think that preparing taxes for a living is a somewhat easy assignment.

Bless their hearts.

It’s NOT just “filling in the boxes” and having the spreadsheets or the software spit out the results. I WISH it were so simple. There’s three big reasons why it’s much harder than that — even for many professionals.

1) The tax code is incredibly long. The version of the tax code we just wrapped up using for extensions and also back in the spring before the April 15th deadline is74,608 pages long (and that is about 186 times LONGER than it was back in 1913 when we started with it) — and it will only be getting longer this year. Congress has yet to decide about certain tax “extenders” that will affect things for everyone.

2) The code also happens to be pretty complicated and laden with contradictory incentives. Take this credit, and watch that other credit go bye-bye. Fail to deduct this item, and then you won’t be able to deduct that other item. You get the picture.

Sorting through all of them is most definitely NOT a task for a computer software program. It requires sitting down with an individual, a business owner, a family, determining what they most care about, and then use that complicated code to plan for it all properly. Really, that’s the only way to do it. Everything else is just “after the fact” clean-up work.

Which is why it’s so critical to meet with someone before the end of the year to make sure that you’re set up to hold a tax position which represents the real picture of where you really want to be going.

This is the essence of tax planning. Some may say that this is overstating it — but after years of doing this, I’ve become convinced that it’s the truth. I’m in the business of helping you fulfill your dreams by helping you hold on to as much income/revenue as possible!

3) Oh, and as I alluded to previously, there is one more big reason this job is no cupcake — staying up to date with how the law is constantly changing.

And I’m as patriotic as the next person … but Congress makes THIS task no cupcake.

How The Tax Code Makes Regular Brooklyn Taxpayers Angry
“You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” – Dale Carnegie

Despite what certain fringe voices might claim (and they cite all kinds of “facts” behind their claims), the truth is that we don’t have the choice to “not file” or “not pay” what the tax laws say we owe. That’s why the IRS audits returns and has all sorts of “encouragements” (liens, refund offsets) to encourage us to file by each April 15, and to do so correctly.

But even with automatic payroll deductions, etc. we U.S. taxpayers are trusted to fill out the forms, ensure the correct amount was withheld and let the IRS know what our true final bill was. That’s called tax filing. And if we discover that we owe the U.S. Treasury, then our system (as it stands now) relies on us to send in the necessary payments. This, of course, is what we spend much of our time on around here at Team Pantzis — helping YOU do this ethically, but ensuring you’re not overpaying.

But Congress makes this much harder than they need to.

They do this — probably unintentionally — by tinkering with our tax laws so much.They change them, sometimes slightly, sometimes quite a bit, and they do so constantly. What’s worse is the annual rite of procrastination in the House and Senate. I see this all the time. As a regular course of business. We’re seeing it now, here in the fall of 2015.

And these delays in tax changes — or the decision to make some laws retroactive months later (extenders, estate tax, etc.) — totally screw up basic tax planning, sometimes negating options that could have been used to legally lower a tax bill.

(Which, incidentally, is why I have to pay so much attention to what’s happening in the legislation NOW, during the offseason. I do this so you don’t have to.)

So some people fudge their returns. And, unfortunately, they feel justified in doing so.

One recent example was the first-time homebuyer credit that was created a few years back … then revised … and revised again. Many homebuyers had to “pay back” a credit that was taken under existing law — then later canceled.

And I know (from conversations with real people) how many felt justified in finding ways to “skim back” (i.e., fudge) that $500 back into their returns because they were annoyed at how Congress handled it.

And there are plenty other tax laws with similar histories that tick off filers enough so that they look for ways of getting payback when they fill out their 1040’s.

Now I’m not condoning these taxpayers’ decisions to “even up” the tax code where they may find it unfair. Life can be unfair and taxes are a part of that often unfair life.

But Congress can do a lot to prevent these they hurt me, so I’ll hurt the tax system right back attitudes, by doing its tax-writing job in a more rational and professional manner.

Until it does, well then Capitol Hill is going to keep creating bad attitudes.

But here’s where some hope comes in…

For my clients and contacts, you can rest assured that we are paying attention … and that we will be on top of even these woefully-procrastinating legislators. We’ll do all that is ethically possible to make sure you don’t make moves that you’ll regret after the fact.

And the best way to help us help YOU, is by giving us a call to talk things through NOW, while we can still make a difference with 2015 returns.
(718) 858-9864

Or simply shoot me an email by clicking the button at the top of the page. Let’s do something great for you before the year ends.

Please do let us help you. It’s what we’re here for.


James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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James Pantzis’ 11 Smart Ways To Reduce Your 2015 Tax Bill

James Pantzis’ 11 Smart Ways To Reduce Your 2015 Tax Bill

Last week, we tied a bow around all of our client tax returns for 2015, i.e. for “tax year 2014”, as the extension deadline came and went. It feels good to turn the page and move into our intensive preparation season for tax season 2016.

(And now I’m searching for a third metaphor for that paragraph — which it needs like a fish needs a bicycle.)

Over the weekend, we also found out that when the US Treasury closed its books for our government’s 2015 fiscal year on September 30, they had taken in a record $3.25 trillion in payments from US taxpayers (and yes, that’s trillion with a “tr”). The $3,248,723,000,000 was the most tax ever collected here (maybe anywhere?), and represents an 8% increase over last year’s figure.

And, well, the feds still operated at a deficit, even under that figure.

Hopefully, you and your family have figured out how to operate on a budget more effectively than has the Congress.

And while we’re still waiting for Congress to make some decisions about extending certain tax credits for THIS year (which they *should* do by the end of the year, but you never know), well, we’d love to help you make some smart moves that will pay off on your tax bill, no matter what might come down the pike.

You’ll hear from me more than once on this sort of thing … but now’s a perfect time to start in on some of them.

James Pantzis’ 11 Smart Ways To Reduce Your 2015 Tax Bill
“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” – FDR

Here are eleven simple things you can do before the end of the year to keep your income taxes as low as possible next year. And, as I do hope is clear, we can (and will) help!

1. Consider an extra mortgage payment.
The extra interest you pay will be added to this year’s mortgage interest by your lender, boosting your itemized deductions.

2. Pay your property taxes right now (not next year).
Real estate taxes are tax deductible. If your property tax bill is due in early 2016, you might want to pay it now and take the deduction.

3. Donate to charity–it’s ok to do good and save at the same time.
It pays to be charitable, especially at the end of the year. Donating cash is always a good idea. You can also donate household goods, clothing, and other items. Under the Pension Protection Act, you will need a written receipt for all charitable donations, and donated items must be in good or better condition. You can also deduct the cost of driving for charity at 14 cents per mile. You cannot take a deduction, however, for the value of your time or services when volunteering.

4. Take care of those medical bills.
Pay doctors, insurance premiums, buy eyeglasses, or stock up on prescription medications. You can take a deduction for medical expenses exceeding 10% of your adjusted gross income.


5. Boost business expenses.
Business owners and independent contractors can buy office supplies, invest in new equipment, or pay bonuses to their employees. They should also review their retirement plans or decide about setting up a retirement plan. Many retirement plans need to be established by the end of the year if owners want to make tax-deductible contributions for 2015.

6. Get Your Papers In Order NOW.
Good record-keeping can really pay off at tax time. Not only will it make your tax preparation easier and faster, but you might uncover enough tax deductions to be able to itemize. More importantly, the IRS will require receipts and other records in the event of an audit. Plus, it helps us out A LOT.


7. Sell losing investments to offset capital gains.
Investors can lower their capital gains taxes by selling securities that have lost money. Losses offset gains dollar for dollar, and losses in excess of your gains can be deducted, up to a certain amount per year.

8. Wait to invest until after the ex-dividend date.
Avoid buying mutual funds held in taxable accounts until after their ex-dividend date. You’ll avoid paying capital gains tax on the dividend.

9. Max out your retirement savings.
Contributions to a retirement plan reduce your taxable income.


10. Make the most of your Flexible Spending Account.
You should use up any funds in your Flexible Spending Accounts, or risk losing that money forever. Use your FSA funds to buy eyeglasses, medications, or get a checkup.

11. Avoid the gift tax by giving $14,000 or less per year per person.
Gifts over that amount will reduce your lifetime gift tax exclusion, and gifts over the exclusion will be taxed to the giver. (Giving is a tax strategy used by taxpayers who are facing a potential estate tax bill and need to remove assets from their taxable estate).

We thrive based on your referrals, and are truly grateful for them. Thanks again.


James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC


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James Pantzis’ 5 Tips for Successful Business Lunches

James Pantzis’ 5 Tips for Successful Business Lunches

The other day, I saw an article that made my jaw drop — and reminded me (once again) why we do what we do.

Remember the BP oil spill in the Gulf? Yes, it was a while ago … but the region is still feeling the after effects, and not just environmentally. But for BP, it sure has been nice to have smart tax people in their corner.

You see, from their $20.8 billion settlement, BP was able to gain a $15.3 billion tax writeoff. That’s pretty incredible, considering it all.

As seemingly shocking as this may be, it’s pretty common for corporations. Regardless of how we all feel about this development, what is plain is that there really are separate tax codes — one for the “connected” and powerful … and another for those who don’t have people like that in their corner. Which brings me to how this matters for you:

We have a passion for bringing the same kind of dogged intensity and creativity that high-priced corporate tax professionals bring to large corporations for their tax work — to regular families like you.

And this week, as we’ve been wrapping up a bunch of extension returns, I’m glad to say that we’ve been able to help a lot of families keep far more in their pocket than if they had used the “drag and drop” solutions, or one of those tax prep boiler rooms.

And we’re grateful for your trust.

Now, I’ve had to turn down a few lunch appointments this week simply because of all the work we’ve been doing … but it sparked some thinking for me, about this whole practice of business lunches — and how to do them right.

I had someone suggest this piece of advice to me early in my career, and it was good advice. Heck, it’s good advice for me NOW (and it was useful for me to put the article together, to clarify my mind on it all).

Simply put, I believe that this method is the BEST way to advance in a career, as a parent, or any other venture you’d like to pursue: ask someone who has gone ahead of you.

James Pantzis’ 5 Tips for Successful Business Lunches
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

For those of you in the early stages in your career, this article might be worth more than many of the classes you took in college — if you follow my advice.

And, for those of you who are further along in your career … frankly, the advice still applies. I can’t tell you how many business lunches (or coffees) I’ve been to with ill-prepared, meandering partners. And while some of the specifics of your questions might change, from the below, and from person to person, and over the years … there simply isn’t a better way to build relationships with someone who is busy and successful than what I suggest below. After all … they gotta eat!

1. Go somewhere easy — and YOU pay.
Nobody has time to meet you for a fancy dinner in the middle of a busy work day. A cup of coffee works because you pay in advance. You don’t want that awkward moment where you both wait for the bill to come, or to have the server interrupt you a dozen times.

And yes, you might be young and poor-ish. But if you’ve chosen your lunch partner properly, it’s simply good manners to ante up the $20-$30 (or less) to pay for their meal. This signals your valuing of their time, and it will build up good will.

2. Ask questions the entire time.
You convened the meal — so it is your turn to ask the questions, pick this person’s brain, and get as much feedback as you possibly can on your topic. I highly suggest that you come loaded with questions, ready to fire out.

Oh and there’s one thing about questions that you need to know…

3. Ask good questions.
Please don’t ask for their “best tips or advice”. That’s horribly lame and they won’t know where to start. So make it a rule to not ask general questions, because you’ll simply get vague responses that won’t help you much.

So what are some good questions?
Well, that of course, does depend on your lunch mate, and your own goals for the time. But, for general-purpose networking, and learning the stories behind someone’s success, here are some good places to start:

* What did you do right after high school? What did you do after college? [You want to see what a successful person has done right after completing their studies. This will usually surprise you.]

* What does an average day look like in your life? I wonder if there’s time for video games?

* Who else do you work with? [This way, you can find out the other players involved in making their team work.]

* What would you do if…? [Then you present a specific scenario — hopefully one that you’re experiencing yourself.]

4. Don’t talk about yourself, unless asked directly.
Or, as The Rock used to say: “Know your role and shut your mouth.” This is your time to be all ears and become a sponge for information. Don’t give your input on every single comment.

5. Do some research.
Don’t walk in confused or clueless about what this person is all about. It’s important that you take some time to do your research and figure out exactly what this person has been working on. This will score you some bonus points. It pays to be interested. People want to know that their work is being taken seriously.

I do hope this will save you some embarrassment, and, even, open some doors for you that will take your career to the next level. Feel free to forward along, of course!

We thrive based on your referrals, and are truly grateful for them. Thanks again.

Feel very free to share this article with a Brooklyn business associate or client you know who could benefit from our assistance — or simply send them our way? While these particular articles usually relate to business strategy, as you know, we specialize in tax preparation and planning for Brooklyn families and business owners. And we always make room for referrals from trusted sources like you.


James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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James Pantzis On How to Win Through Giving

James Pantzis On How to Win Through Giving

The fall is here, but before we’re able to *really* enjoy it around here at Team Pantzis, we are carefully working through our roster of 2014 tax returns that were put on extension.

As I mentioned last week — we are still able to set appointments for other matters (like tax planning, etc.), but our focus is pretty strongly set upon these extensions for the next week or so.

But there are a few things that may matter to you for BEFORE October 15th that you might consider:

1) Open and contribute to a SEP retirement plan if you are self-employed and got an extension. This may not apply directly to YOU, but if it does, you should consider it. Contributions to these self-employed retirement plans are above the linedeductions, which means that they directly reduce your tax burden and are very smart vehicles.

2) Re-characterize a Roth IRA conversion? It may have seemed smart last year to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth, but with the way the stock market has been acting recently … perhaps now not so much. You have until Oct. 15th to “undo” this move. This makes sense for some folks, when and if the retirement account lost value since the change. So not only is the Roth worth less (because it lost value), but you owe tax on the converted amount. This reality can erase the reason for the original conversion to Roth.

Let us know if you need help with either of these propositions.

Now … speaking of adjustments to your tax status, one of the things that is sure to come up these next few months is the question of gifts.

I’d love for you to consider what I have to say here, as you ponder this question.

James Pantzis On How to Win Through Giving
“Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve!” – Andrew Carnegie

We’re into the final quarter of 2015, and since this is the biggest quarter of the year for giving, I’d like to take the opportunity as one of your financial advisers to make a few points about giving to charity.

Why do you give to charity? Is it for the tax deductions … or for a different reason?

Now, as someone who prepares tax returns, much of what we do is obviously centered around tax avoidance strategies. I have ZERO problem whatsoever in helping my clients use all available strategies to their utmost, ethical advantage. But I love it when I see my clients and friends make giving decisions which seem to run counter to immediate, short-term self-interest.

And, I believe it’s actually enlightened self-interest in the long run. And not just in our sense of feeling good.

I see the balance sheets of people from every walk of life and every kind of income class, and over the years I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: individuals and families who make giving a priority, even when they aren’t “wealthy” by others’ standards, seem to eventually do better in the long run. And I do mean financially — not just in their state of mind.

(Though, there are great “state of mind” reasons for giving. Have you seen, as I have, that those who freely give seem to be much more pleasant company?)

So, in my line of work, I have made it a point to observe how money works. And, for some reason — money gets attracted to those who aren’t in hot, desperate pursuit of it. It’s almost like in romance — potential lovers are usually turned off by the overly-aggressive seeker.

So, because of (and not despite) the looming fiscal realities in Washington, may I suggest that you consider increasing your giving? You might be surprised by what happens in your heart. And, dare I say, in your balance sheets.

And, of course, we might as well take some good tax deductions while we’re at it — if at all possible. We’re only an email or phone call away for that kind of strategizing.

But don’t make that the contingency for your gifts.

Give more — our world needs it!

Feel very free to share this article with a Brooklyn business associate or client you know who could benefit from our assistance — or simply send them our way? While these particular articles usually relate to business strategy, as you know, we specialize in tax preparation and planning for Brooklyn families and business owners. And we always make room for referrals from trusted sources like you.


James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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James Pantzis On How Having a Tax Strategy Wins Out

James Pantzis On How Having a Tax Strategy Wins Out

As I’m writing this, chances are good that we are headed towards yet another federal government shutdown of some sort, due to Congressional disagreement over a host of different funding and tax related items. (Forbes just bumped the probability from 67% to 75%.) And if doesn’t happen October 1, it may be happening in December.

Gotta love those lawmakers.

Snarky comments aside, I will say this: there is a certain genius in the system of checks and balances envisioned by our founders. It’s a good thing that we don’t typically have a “ruling party” situation, wherein one particular group wins power and simply shoves through all of their pet provisions without any check from different branches of the government (whether it’s judiciary or executive or legislative).

I’m glad for that. But it doesn’t make navigating through the labyrinth of their decisions any easier!

Which, I suppose, is why we have jobs around here — and why (I hope!) you are grateful to have us by your side. We pay attention to this stuff so you don’t have to!

I think it was former Congressman Barney Frank who said, “Government is just another word for the things we choose to do together” — in which case, well, we may need to work on becoming a little less dysfunctional … together!

Speaking of government deadlines — allow me to remind you, if you are working with us on an extended return, that these are due in about two weeks — on October 15th. Most of our clients have given us all we asked for … but if you haven’t yet, consider this to be another little “bump”!

And, well … as we’ve been working on extension returns, it made me remember something that I really like to communicate to ALL of my clients whenever possible: A tax return is a report, not a strategy.

Here’s what I mean…

James Pantzis On How Having a Tax Strategy Wins Out
“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.” – Beverly Sills

It’s true — there are certain people for whom this Note doesn’t apply. There are those who are perfectly fine paying the amount of tax they pay every year, thank you very much.

However, since YOU have chosen to invest yourself in our services (or at one point considered it), you are probably in the second group: those who would love to pay less in taxes, THIS year.

If that’s the case, well there are two main things which you need to understand:

Pantzis’ Irrefutable Fact #1: Our tax system is not fair.
It is too true — the Donald Trumps, Warren Buffetts, Barack Obamas, Mark Zuckerbergs etc. operate under a vastly different system than most “regular” taxpayers. This is NOT because they are politically-connected (though they are), but because of the people they have who do wonders on their behalf.

And the sooner you quit complaining about those who *seem* to be connected … and make the decision to JOIN their ranks, the sooner you will pay less in taxes.

Because all of those people, and other people like them, understand the second fact …

Pantzis’ Irrefutable Fact #2: A tax return is a report, NOT a strategy.
Yes, we’re pretty good at coming behind with our magic brushes and cleaning up the mess made by many of our clients in their finances and taxes. But there is a much better way to fly.

It’s called tax planning, and it’s essentially comprised of three parts:

1) Strategic review:
Assess the current situation, and identify short-, mid-, and long-term strategies to lessen your taxes, and grow your income.

2) Implementation:
This can be a little tricky (especially if you do it yourself), because there are bound to be accounting and local regulatory questions which arise. We recommend that you stay with your same team who developed the tax strategy so they make sure you’re doing what you need to do.

3) Proper compliance:
There are plenty of people out there who will give you “the secrets to paying less taxes!!!” — but are they willing to put their name on a dotted line and defend it? If not, RUN from these people. They are hype artists. Or worse, they know that their advice will lead to a fraudulent return.

The main thing to understand is that in order to REALLY get your tax situation improved, you MUST plan ahead with a team and have a solid tax strategy in place.

Otherwise, you’re just cleaning up a mess that was already made (and can’t be fixed) when filing your tax return.

The good news is that there is still plenty of time to do some great work on your 2015 taxes, even now that we are in the final quarter. We have a pretty full two weeks ahead of us with extension returns, but we can still schedule a time to talk about ways to better your tax strategy now, so that we aren’t just cleaning up after a mess.

Drop me a note, and let’s set a time to talk.

Warmly (and until next week),

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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James Pantzis Shares On Family Life on a Single Income

James Pantzis Shares On Family Life on a Single Income

Last week I wrote about preparing for financial chaos, and gave you some step-by-steps for what your priorities should be right now.

Got a bunch of wonderful feedback, so THANK YOU for taking the time to do that. I see every email that comes my way, and I love getting responses to what I put out there for you.

So, I’m continuing along with the theme then, and while this doesn’t, perhaps, pertain *directly* to financial preparation, it’s a circumstance that some families are forced into, others choose, and still others take it up for other financial reasons.

I’m referring to sustaining your family on one income. And whether or not this is on the horizon for you, it’s worth considering in advance because sometimes, well, things aren’t always as stable.

Including the tax code. There are changes coming in the tax code that (depending on what Congress decides upon) could mean significant tax increases for some families.

And aside from the tax situation, and as I think we can all agree, these next few months and years will be extremely “interesting” … and it’s all the more reason why it’s so good that you have someone like me in your corner. Because those who don’t have someone who can plan ahead on their behalf are going to be facing some significant changes on the tax horizon, whether they like it or not.

So … whether you are planning ahead, perhaps dealing with unemployment, or are looking at one spouse staying home for other reasons (like children!), here is a great way to think about living on a single income…

James Pantzis Shares On Family Life on a Single Income
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” – May Sarton

I’ve recommended before that couples who are ultimately planning on one person staying home with children, start running their finances and their budget that way from the beginning. That’s simply the best way to be prepared for what is to come.

I’ve also pointed out that one of the best times to save is before having children. But with marriage happening later and later in our culture (and the transition into parenthood for those marriages therefore happening perhaps a bit more quickly than it otherwise might), this important savings period has been crunched. So here’s some quick advice for those who are single: realize that you are saving now for your future family’s financial life.

That aside, here is some advice for those who are starting down this road toward a single income for their family, or even for those who already find themselves walking it out…

Try It Out In Advance
I recommend that couples contemplating a stay-at-home arrangement first take a period of living as if they had only one income for at least three months before one of them quits a full-time job. They may find that even though their expenses will be cut for needs such as day care, transportation and clothing, they may find it hard to continue to dine out frequently or splurge in other ways. If that’s you, it’s a good idea to bolster an emergency fund to cover unexpected things that come up, such as household repairs.

It’s even better if this “trial run” can begin at the start of a marriage, which should allow for a fantastic period of saving before having children.

More Life Insurance
Couples should buy life insurance on both partners, not just on the working spouse. If the stay-at-home parent dies, the surviving spouse can use the benefits to pay for outside child care, live-in nannies, housekeepers and other functions that had formerly been handled by the stay-at-home parent.

I see clients using this advice, and then dropping the insurance as their youngest was heading to college — and that’s smart.

Home-Based Tax Deductions Used Correctly
If the stay-at-home parent or both parents operate a home-based business, both should be listed on IRS Schedule C and all related business documents when they file taxes.

I’ve reviewed past returns (which we do for free, for non-clients — our clients, of course, already being well taken care of!) where only the information of the spouse who actually filed the taxes was submitted, in effect denying the other spouse from accumulating Social Security benefits.

Finally, what is most important: YOU.
Stay-at-home parents should make sure they are well on their way to funding their own retirement before paying for a child’s college education. The best thing you can do for your kids is to take care of yourself first. If your children have to take out student loans, despite all the bad publicity, they do have 40 years to pay those loans back — and at favorable interest rates, at that.

Again, I welcome your thoughts …

Warmly (and until next week),

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC


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Pantzis’ 6-Step Plan For Preparing For A Financial Emergency

Pantzis’ 6-Step Plan For Preparing For A Financial Emergency

Here at Team James Pantzis, we are working hard through a pile of returns for our Brooklyn tax clients, both from extensions and for corporate filings (due tomorrow, 9/15, as I sit down to write this on Monday morning!) — but that doesn’t mean I won’t carve out the time to write a blogpost for my Brooklyn area (and beyond!) friends.

First of all, we should all be mindful that the current economic situation may not last, perhaps for ill. Here’s a somewhat technical walk-through.

If and when the Federal Reserve raises interest rates, it will be very … interesting to see what happens in the markets, and here in Brooklyn. And, as 2008/9 reminded us, this doesn’t simply affect investors, but has implications for all of us.

I can’t recommend a specific course of action in this post for a variety of reasons, but nonetheless, it’s something to be aware of.

I do NOT recommend giving into fear.

Instead, as I’ve recommended in the past during times of tumult, it’s a time to take positive action and make a few positive steps towards shoring up your family’s finances, whatever state in which you find them today.

So, in that light, I have some thoughts for you today.

Pantzis’ 6-Step Plan For Preparing For A Financial Emergency
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” – Helen Keller

The peak of the September hurricane season has been remarkably quiet.

“As we reach the historical peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, there are no active hurricanes in the Atlantic or the Pacific basins.” (Source)

That’s great news for many on the Eastern seaboard.

However, there are other storms that can be seen on the horizon. And this is ALWAYS the case, regardless of the world economic outlook — because for every Jane Smith here in the Brooklyn area (or anywhere else) who has shored up her finances for whatever may come, there is a John Smith next door who has not.

And, of course, nothing is ever *truly* fully within our control. It’s a falsity that we could ever create a hermetically-sealed financial boat, completely impervious to any outside factors. Even if you were to convert everything to cash and gold, these currencies are subject to the vicissitudes of market fluctuations. Even raw goods (always handy in a real crisis) can fail us.

That said, it does, indeed, pay to be prepared.

Here’s the first step for my Brooklyn clients and friends: Watch your mindset.Were the market to collapse overnight, how would you carry your heart? Where would you place your ultimate security? It’s helpful to realize that no matter what may come, there are certain things — family, relationships, eternal matters — that will NEVER be shaken by mere circumstance. Remembering this deeper truth will help you through whatever might come.

Second, ensure you have some small amount of ready cash available. I recommend having $1,000 in some capacity, whether in cash in a safe place in your home, or in an account that provides you immediate access. This should be the case,no matter what kind of debt you are carrying. “Paying yourself first” means preparing for any kind of emergency, and this is a very helpful buffer. Only access it in a true financial emergency.

Third, kill your credit card debt — forever. There are loads of articles out there, from Dave Ramsey to Suze Orman (yes, they run across the philosophical spectrum) on the proper step-by-step plan for this, so I won’t rehash that here. Needless to say, this is an important first step … and it will help you face whatever might come, without starting from a major hole. And it leads to the fourth:

Adjust your monthly cashflow. Ideally, you’ll be able to create a budget under which you can live off approximately 65% of your take-home pay each month. After all, the biggest difference between the wealthy and the working poor is much less about the money they bring home … it is more about the money they keep. Live off that 65, then send 10 percent to long-term savings for big purchases, 10 percent to retirement accounts, 5% to taxable savings … and make room to be able to give at least 10 percent to charitable sources. This will help your mindset AND, of course, will enable you to be a source of supply for those who are in need.

Automate an investment strategy. With that money that you are peeling away for retirement and other savings, find a strategy that has enough diversity for the purposes of safety but which is still angled towards growth. And AUTOMATE the contributions so you aren’t “deciding” each month to send it where it should go.

Lastly … well, you’re ready for an emergency. And you can mobilize what you need if (rather, when) something unpredictable strikes your family or the broader economy. You’ll also be able to see whether your budgets and plans held up under pressure, and be able to adjust accordingly for the future.

As I look back over this post, I’m realizing that this can even serve as a step-by-step plan for your financial growth. For a variety of reasons, each person’s actual strategies within each step might vary, and there is a lot of hard work required in between each step. But it’s a battle worth fighting NOW, and I recommend that you train yourself up for it.

Again, I welcome your thoughts …

Warmly (and until next week),

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

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