This is never a very fun “holiday”, but it’s worth marking every year.
Friday, April 24th is our National “Tax Freedom Day” — that’s the date by which you’ve finally worked enough days just to pay off your taxes for the year. The rest of the year is your “take home” pay, as it were.
This date includes payroll taxes, sales taxes, property taxes and, of course, INCOME tax.
The date varies year to year (this year it is one day later than last), and a whole variety of interesting data is right here: http://taxfoundation.org/article/tax-freedom-day-2015-april-24th
And for some states, the date is even later. Here’s the state-by-state breakdown:http://taxfoundation.org/sites/taxfoundation.org/files/docs/Map%20of%20Tax%20Freedom%20Day%20by%20State.png– that’s a useful snapshot, actually, of a fuller picture of whether “low tax” states actually are low tax (because it takes more into account than just income taxes) … and it might surprise you.
The calculating organization is the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan educational organization dedicated to informing US — the taxpayers — about the burdens of our tax liabilities. And according to the Foundation, here’s a fun little fact: Americans paid more taxes in 2014 than they did on food, clothing and shelter combined.
Which, of course, is why I and my Brooklyn tax preparation staff are here: keeping your tax bill as low as legally and ethically possible.
Regardless, here at Team James Pantzis we’re beginning the process of serving you during the “off season” (there are always many new tax law changes coming), and we’re evaluating how things went.
We also deal with lots of questions this time of year related to a variety of “post-preparation” issues (like “Where’s my refund?”), so I thought I’d address many of them in one swell foop ;).
Which is not at all to say that we won’t answer YOUR questions. Here’s our number: (718) 858-9864
On to the questions…
James Pantzis Answers “Where’s My Refund?”, And Other Questions For After Your Return Is Filed
“Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.” – Ed Cunningham
The dust has settled around here at Brooklyn Tax Planning and Preparation Central, and your return is filed. At least, of course, if you didn’t file for an extension.
It does feel nice, even if more money was owed than you would like … because it *is* completed, after all.
But that doesn’t mean you may not still have questions. Here are some common ones we get this week…
1. “Where’s my refund?”
Well, the IRS does seem to have entered the 21st century.
If you had us “e-file” your return, you can check your status right now, or if you had us mail a paper return, after about 3 to 4 weeks.
When you’re checking with the following options, make sure you have a copy of your tax return on hand or know your “filing status”, SSN and the exact dollar amount of the anticipated refund.
• Online: Go to IRS.gov and click on Where’s My Refund.
[or go right to: https://sa2.www4.irs.gov/irfof/lang/en/irfofgetstatus.jsp ]
• Automated Phone: Call 1-800-829-4477 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for automated refund information.
• In-Person Phone: Call 1-800-829-1954 during the hours shown in your IRS form instructions. [Of course, the hold time for the IRS is … somewhat of an issue]
2. “Do I need to keep a copy of my return?”
Yes, for a *minimum* of three years, but I recommend forever. There’s all kinds of contexts where it’s useful. We do keep one on file, on your behalf, but it’s just smart and safe for you to keep one in a secure place at home. (I’ve already written about Amended Returns, and you need a copy for that process, of course.)
As for the supporting documents from your return, anything that relates to a home purchase or sale, stock transactions, retirement, business or rental property, should be kept much longer than the three years.
I’ll give even more guidance on this issue in subsequent weeks.
3. “I think there’s a mistake in my return. What should I do?”
Sometimes, you’ll find a receipt or a documentation after April 15th which really would have changed your prior year tax return. That’s, again, when you would have us file an “Amended Return”. Here are some other, common reasons to Amend…
• You neglected to report some income earned.
• You claimed deductions or credits you should not have claimed.
• You did not claim deductions or credits you could have claimed.
• You filed under one filing status, but you should have filed under another.
You might have other questions, which I haven’t addressed here. Let me know!
To more of your money staying in your wallet…
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
The loudest thing I want you to hear from this post is this: THANK YOU for your trust, Brooklyn.
Our primary work for this tax season has just about wrapped up.
But notice I said “primary”, there … you see, unlike some tax professionals, we make it a point to do a bit more than simply “fill out forms” on your behalf. I’ll tell you more about that in a moment.
It is no small matter to place your financial life in front of another, and I know that for some it can bring with it some anxiety or discomfort. That’s why we work so hard to be people that you can trust for even more than just a simple “filling out some forms” service.
It’s why I make it a point to post these notes every week (even when we are slammed with work), and it’s why we work so hard to stay up-to-date on all of the latest tax code updates and regulatory changes that come like clockwork, every year.
We take your trust seriously. THANK YOU for it, and for your business.
But this work also brings with it a certain joy — because this past season, we got to see remarkable lives of generosity, love and integrity laid out before us with regularity. For some, this was reflected by their financial statements — and for others, this was displayed by the warmth, kindness and delight by which you communicated with us during this process.
This much is clear: No matter the state of your financial life, nobody (not the IRS, not anyone) can take from you the strength derived from a life lived with gratitude and joy.
You’ve reminded us of that once again, this year. What a privilege it has been to serve Brooklyn taxpayers this tax “season” … and we look forward to years of service to come.
Lastly, I hope you’ll forgive me for taking a break from writing you a Personal Strategy Note for this week … I’m not sure that if I did so, anything besides numbers and spreadsheets would come out. It’s amazing what 4 months of staring at government forms does to a brain!
But hey — this is what we signed up for. And we are extremely grateful for your trust, and for the chance you’ve given us to serve you in it, so you don’t have to suffer the same fate.
We will be in touch again soon. Hopefully, we’ll be able to taper off the newly-intense coffee addiction around here enough to write you clearly in the future!
[And, as I mentioned above … we’re not letting up! We’re committing the “offseason” to continue our education related to more ways to save you on your bottom line, and to serving you and your family in ways well beyond simple tax preparation. Ask us about how we can help you be better prepared for next year, and you may really like what we can do for your family’s bottom line!]
With affection, and until next week …
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
This has been an intense tax season.
For those of us in the tax professional community, there have been emails, message board postings and blog posts flying about the difficulties that many have been facing with regards to all of the additional paperwork called for in the ACA (“Obamacare”)regulations — not to mention the normal round of new tax law changes that we saw.
But you know what has kept me sane? You.
This is the busiest week of our year, this last full week, and we continue to experience graciousness, warmth and encouragement from our clients. I’d like to think that it’s purely because we do such an excellent job, but that wouldn’t quite account for all of it.
We have the best clients of any tax professional firm in the nation, and realizing this, as we have, makes this next week or so vastly better, and more encouraging.
So, before I get to the content of what I have for you today, I wanted you to know how we have been feeling about YOU (among others). More about this soon.
Now, a couple quick reminders about what ELSE April the 15th means…
1) Wednesday, April 15th is the deadline to contribute to IRA’s, etc., in order to have them count on this year’s (2014) taxes.
2) It is also the deadline to claim the almost $1BN in unclaimed refunds for returns dating back to 2011. If you, for some reason, didn’t file for that year, you could be missing out. Call us for this special circumstance: (718) 858-9864
(Or for any other question — but again, bear with us, as we are extremely busy!)
Pantzis’ Tax Extension Cheat Sheet
“Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?'” – Brian Tracy
There is a lot of confusion, every year, about filing a tax extension, so allow me to share what it’s REALLY about …
As you know, Wednesday, April 15th is the filing deadline for a federal tax return. If you need more time to get your paperwork complete, you need to file (or have us file on your behalf) Form 4868 (Automatic Extension of Time to File –http://1.usa.gov/1DcfWno) with the IRS by the end of the day on the 15th. This gives you an automatic six-month (until October 15, 2015) extension of time to file.
Here’s the bottom line: An “Extension of Time to File” is not an “Extension of Time to Pay”, unfortunately — except for certain cases (more on these in a moment). In normal circumstances, the Extension simply gives you an automatic six months of additional time to get your paperwork together and file that return.
But, if you owe more than what you paid with your estimate, you’ll be accumulating penalties and interest on the difference — so PLEASE don’t take the entire six months to do this!
The exception to this rule is for:
1) Those who have served in combat zones during any taxable events (including earning income) are given the same amount of time they served in the combat zones + 180 days — and this applies to filing *and* paying those taxes. More information for those affected by that is here: http://1.usa.gov/1IDkuTE
2) Any US citizens or resident aliens who live and work abroad automatically have until June 15th to file and pay their taxes (unless already covered by my first provision above)
3) If you have been affected by certain natural disasters. The official list is here:http://1.usa.gov/1FvZrlv
So, if that’s you — let us know. We’ll help you get the relief you need.
For the rest of you, when filing your “Extension of Time to File”, you’ll need to estimate what you think you owe to the IRS. This should not be pulling numbers out of thin air (or various body parts). You’ll still need to go through your receipts and tax documents and get them “somewhat” organized.
From here, you can estimate both your income and your expenses, and then approximate what you owe Uncle Sam. Keep in mind that this is an ESTIMATE. And, you’ll have to pay what you estimate you owe at the time we file for the extension.
You can do this all electronically through our office, you can mail in the form WITH estimated payment (must be postmarked by the 15th), or you can call a specialized provider and pay by credit card. We can provide you with the appropriate number to call.
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
I’ve heard rumors that (for some unknown reason) many people don’t like to file taxes?
It appears that most folks do NOT like to fill out reams of paperwork only to finally discover how much money they are really giving to the IRS!
This, of course, is why we work so hard — to make this process as painless as possible, and to ensure that you keep all the money you deserve to keep, legally and ethically, under the current tax code.
And we’re in full “all-irons-in-the-fire” mode around here these days, with two weeks left to go in tax season.
James Pantzis Shares On Overcoming Procrastination
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
When your day wraps to a close, are you leaving tired and satisfied? Or just … tired?
You’ve spent the day in nearly constant activity.
And you may have been procrastinating the whole time.
“Huh?” you say, “I can’t have been procrastinating. I’ve been really busy!”
But there’s the rub: when we’re busy, we can easily trick ourselves into thinking that all of that activity means we’re not procrastinating. Yeah, we’re busy — but we’re not focused on the things that should really have our attention. If someone were to tap us on the shoulder and say, “that thing you’re doing — is that the best use of your attention right now?,” we would hesitate to agree.
We’re busy procrastinating.
The explosion of digital channels and the mobile web makes it very easy to integrate busy-ness and procrastination. There are a lot of “channels that lead to you.” Email, sure. But also Facebook and Twitter and instant messaging and LinkedIn and … etc., etc.
The inputs from these channels come at us thick and fast. That makes it tempting to let the real-time arrivals drive us. Procrastination is always only a click away.
But ask yourself: what are the odds that email at the top of your inbox is the best thing to focus on next? If it’s not, and you choose to deal with it next anyway, then you’re being driven by “latest and loudest,” and are letting your channels dictate your priorities.
So, if you’re set on overcoming procrastination, then what should you do? To get it under control, we need to make getting moving on the right things as attractive as possible.
Procrastination usually boils down to: 1) Not Thinking or 2) Not Doing. Here’s how to beat each…
1) Not Thinking.
I’m avoiding thinking about things I know I should think about.
There can be all kinds of reasons we don’t want to think about a given item, or issue. Whatever the reason, it is usually because of the size or complexity of the issue.
So, boil it down to its contingent parts, and address the smaller issues within the larger whole. Ask yourself: What’s the exact, smallest action that can be taken to move this forward? And, What do I want to see happen from that action? You can always address those questions.
Which leads to…
2) Not Doing.
I’m avoiding doing things I know I should be doing.
Again, break it down into something smaller. Take the tiny action, do it again … and you’ll find yourself suddenly settled into taking the larger action you had been putting off in the first place.
Here’s one small action…
Consider us “The Ultimate Procrastination Solution”.
Allow us to take the pain away from that big pile of forms and obligations … and allow yourself to move into sustained action on those bigger things.
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
Spring has officially sprung and we’re working like busy bees on client tax returns these next few weeks before April 15th, and I would like to say: if you have not yet done so, we need to get your information to complete your return as soon as possible.
This has been a very busy season … so as much as you can enable us to do our work on your behalf, the better.
Give us a call: (718) 858-9864 or contact us.
You need someone on your side who can fight for you.
More and more municipalities (states, cities, the federal government) are looking into every corner possible for additional cash, and not just those who are facing bankruptcy.
And one way they do so is to scrutinize … you.
James Pantzis Reveals 6 Common Tax Preparation Mistakes That Could Get You Audited
“What is once well done is done forever.” – Henry David Thoreau
Sometimes clients come to us from other professionals because they have gotten themselves in hot water with the IRS, and they’re facing the withering gaze of the auditors.
We don’t want that to happen for you — so here are 6 common tax preparation mistakes we watch out for when preparing and submitting your tax returns…
1. Indefensible claims
There are so many old wives’ tales saying that certain items trigger an audit: home office deductions, passive losses, schedule C (sole proprietorship) activities, etc. But you really can’t predict the trigger (and you can drive yourself crazy trying), but you *can* adopt the “be reasonable” mantra about every item on your return, including these. So if you don’t have a decent claim for a home office, don’t claim it. If your money-losing sole proprietorship is really more of a fun hobby, treat it as such.
Look–don’t be scared to take deductions and losses you’re entitled to, but don’t take tax positions you aren’t comfortable defending. If you take reasonable tax positions, you’ll likely find you won’t end up needing to defend them. And if you do face an audit, it will likely be far easier.
2. It doesn’t all add up.
This seems like it should go without saying, but make sure you add, subtract and multiply accurately. Check your numbers through each step and do some simple math checks when you finish. If you do make a math mistake, you are likely to get a math correction notice from the IRS. This isn’t an audit. But your goal is to minimize your interaction with the IRS bureaucracy, which, ah… isn’t known for the best mail handling practices.
3. Lost 1099
This can be confusing, because the Form 1099 comes in many varieties, including 1099-INT for interest, 1099-DIV for dividends, 1099-G for tax refunds, 1099-R for pensions and 1099-MISC for miscellaneous income. These forms are sent by payers of such funds to both you and the IRS.
So regardless of how many 1099s you receive, make sure they all are accounted for on your return. There are also Forms 1098 which lenders send (to you and the IRS) recording how much interest you paid. The IRS matches your return against the 1098s and 1099s. So one sure way to guarantee an IRS query is to fail to account for something! If a Form 1099 is wrong–say it reports more income than you had–you can explain or deduct it on the return, but you need to first report it.
4. Suspicious OVER-reporting
I’m not talking about under-reporting income, or holding necessary information back. But you’d be surprised how many professionals and amateurs alike try to submit too much *supporting* information. True, if your return is complex, you may need to add explanations or disclosures in footnotes. Be concise, truthful and accurate, but don’t provide copies of sales agreements, settlement agreements, bank statements, etc., unless you are later asked by the IRS to do so.
Disclosures can be made on regular paper or special IRS forms. A Form 8275 “Disclosure Statement” on plain paper can be used any time you need to disclose something that can’t be adequately disclosed on the forms. Form 8275-R “Regulation Disclosure Statement,” is for disclosing positions that are contrary to IRS Regulations or other authority. You shouldn’t be filing a Form 8275-R–or taking a tax return position that would require it–without professional help.
5. Fighting unnecessary fights.
If you take reasonable tax positions, and complete your return accurately, checking your math, why should you pay a bill if the IRS sends you one?
Frankly, it’s simply a matter of practicality (and wisdom) rather than principle. It just doesn’t pay to fight with the IRS on small matters. So don’t get into the bureaucratic system and risk bigger problems for a few dollars. Just pay it and move on.
6. Ticky-Tack Prior Year Amending
Here’s the reverse situation of my previous point: amended returns are reviewed much more regularly than initial returns. So if you forgot a deduction or otherwise think you can get a small amount back by amending, think twice before amending your return (i.e. — consult with a pro). Consider whether you might have bigger problems if other matters on your return, unrelated to the amendment, are reviewed. Yes, you can win a battle … and lose a larger one.
And a last word: No matter how careful you are to avoid tax preparation mistakes, there’s no way to guarantee you’ll never have a tax controversy. Sometimes your number just comes up.
And if your number is called, well, we’re here to walk with you …
(But we’ll do everything in our power to make sure it’s NOT called!)
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
Brackets, brackets, brackets.
Depending on when you read this, you may have already filled yours out (or it may already be busted!). Billions fly around every year (probably much of it not reported on Form W-2G!), and it’s become a huge part of this season, as you no doubt know.
You know what else is a big part of this season? Unclaimed refunds.
Every year, we get the number from the IRS, and it always hovers around $1B. That’s where it is this year: http://cnnmon.ie/1wQECRl
There’s buckets of the green stuff sitting in accounts, waiting for those unsuspecting non-filers to realize that it’s actually theirs. DEADLINE: April 15.
If you didn’t file taxes in 2011 (i.e., during the spring of 2012), now is your last chance. Allow us to help you do so by either reviewing a prior year’s return which somebody else submitted for you, or by evaluating your financial records if you didn’t actually file a return that year. It’s amazing how many people that is true for.
Lastly, in the interest of having this NOT happen for you, let’s make sure you do it right for THIS year.
In early January, I posted a “checklist”, and it was one of my most popular messages. I guess it was handy. And now is a time when many are finally getting around to this, so I thought I’d share it again.
Putting together this list may run slightly counter to my business goals — after all, we do get paid to do this on behalf of clients! That said, our mission is to ensure that EVERYONE in the local area saves the most possible when the IRS comes calling. Some of these may seem small, but trust me when I say that they add up.
Once Again, James Pantzis’ 2015 Tax Time Document Chase List
“So many fail because they don’t get started; they don’t go.” – W Clement Stone
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 (New for 2015)
* 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
We hope this helps, and we really look forward to seeing you in here in 2015!
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
I wrote this piece a couple months ago to my business clients and colleagues, whom I keep in touch with outside of these “Personal Strategy Notes”, and I felt that as we turn the corner into March (and we’re staving off the lions, hoping for lambs), it was something that ALL of my contacts should hear.
It’s about how we process the world around us.
But before I get there, a tax-related alert (and follow-up from last week):
* The Department of Treasury has announced that the IRS will not collect additional taxes from those 50,000 (or so) taxpayers who had already filed using the bad forms 1095-A. In other words, if you’re one of those 50,000 taxpayers who has already filed using those bad forms and you would have owed money by using the corrected forms, there’s no need to file an amended return. If, however, you have already filed and the revised forms benefit you (meaning you’re due money back), you likely want to amend your returns. Give us a call if that’s you: (718) 858-9864
If you have NOT filed your taxes yet, and you received a bad form, it is important to note that we need to wait for the corrected form 1095-A to arrive before we can send your paperwork into the Treasury.
Now … I pay attention to this stuff, so you don’t have to.
Honestly, I’m tired of seeing clients and friends who are “beaten down” by all the fear and stress in their lives.
And there is one major source for it — which is entirely optional.
I suggest you “opt-out” of it, if you will.
James Pantzis On Carving Away The Fear
“Derive happiness in oneself from a good day’s work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.” – Henri Matisse
Life in the modern world isn’t always a trip in the sunshine.
But it’s made so much harder by the tendency of our world to suffocate you with mental junk and global negativity.
I believe that the number #1 danger for ALL of us moving forward in 2015 is allowing today’s world to starve your brain with “junk food” and deaden your spirit with the overwhelming feeling that you are small, insignificant … helpless.
I’ve learned to avoid the 24-7 news channels, and the sites online that traffic in fear. I figure that I’ll see what I need to when seeking out resources for our clients about current events. But recently, I did, in fact, watch some CNN.
Now, CNN is about as bland as you can get — it’s “normal” to “normal” people. But I also realize, most “normal” people accomplish relatively little in their time on this planet (at least on the outside). Those of us who are going somewhere in life must have better things to do than to listen to talking heads opine about dozens of tragedies that we can’t (and won’t be able to) do anything about.
But right now, the world is swimming in negativity. And you need to be serious and proactive about it. Because — if you don’t — it’ll kill your vocation, kill your career growth, kill your dreams and everything you really care about.
The mass news media is NOT your friend.
They feed on fear, and they sell paranoia, division and hyperbole. It’s what they do.
And not only must you protect yourself from this drip, drip, drip of depression, you need to fight it on behalf of your family and friends, your coworkers and customers.
Tell them what’s good. Greet them with a smile and with encouragement. Tell them what they’re doing right. Give them a voice to the hope within their bones — which is too often buried in a junkpile of media-fueled negativity.
You (and they) need to celebrate little tiny victories. Every. Day.
This is an essential skill for a business owner — and for all of us: when you have a major victory in your life, you need to find encouraging people who will celebrate it with you. Because good news is good news indeed.
Let’s continue to make the rest of 2015 full of JOY, shall we?
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
As I’m sure you’ve heard me say before, it’s a good idea to check the accuracy of those tax statements you receive in the mail.
Well, on Friday the 20th (Friday afternoon being the perfect time for dumping this junk into the media), those of us who were paying attention found out that almost 1 million taxpayers who purchased Obamacare health insurance (the Affordable Care Act) don’t have to bother — their forms are wrong anyway! http://1.usa.gov/1Dets8r
Details are on that link above, but about 800,000 households will be contacted by HealthCare.Gov to let them know their information is wrong. And then another 100,000 or so in California were sent the wrong info as well (which was announced the previous week): http://cbsloc.al/1DeuiSv
Which means, of course, they’d like you to hold off on filing your federal return until all the info is correct. We should be able to access it by the end of the month.
This does NOT mean you can’t have us prepare your taxes. We will simply get all the rest of your information handled and prepared … and just as soon as we are able to input the correct information from Form 1095-A, we’ll fire it off to the ol’ Treasury Department.
We do, of course, want to make sure that you receive every deduction to which you are entitled! So, in the interest of jogging your memory from the year … here are some “interesting” 2014 tax deductions that you may or may not be aware of…
Let us know if we can help you with any of these: (718) 858-9864 or http://www.accountantbrooklyn.net//contact
Pantzis’ Top 11 Overlooked Tax Deductions for 2014
“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.” – George Eliot
Have you thought about these …?
1) Pet Food and Veterinary Bills: You can deduct veterinary bills and pet food, only if they are for your foster pet. As an example, Jan Van Dusen, a California family lawyer, devoted most of her time outside of work caring for feral cats, 70 to 80 at one time. A tax court found that she was entitled to much of her claimed $12,068 in cat care expenses as a charitable deduction on her income taxes. In another case, Seawright v. Commissioner (http://1.usa.gov/1DexKfV), a couple ran a junkyard. They put out food to attract wild cats to control snakes and rats, making the junkyard safer for customers. When they claimed the cat food as a business expense, the IRS said no way. However, the tax court disagreed.
2) Moving Fido: If you are changing jobs and meet a couple of tests, you can deduct your moving expenses–including the cost of moving your dog, cat, or other pet from your old residence to your new home.
3) Swimming Pools: If swimming pools are used for medical purposes, as prescribed by a doctor, they can be tax-deductible. In Cherry v. Commissioner (http://bit.ly/1Deyf9T), the taxpayer had emphysema and installed a swimming pool after his doctor ordered an exercise regimen. The primary purpose of the pool was medical care, so he was able to deduct the pool, part of the cost of heating the pool, pool chemicals and part of insuring the pool area.
4) Fitness: Fitness is tax-deductible, if your doctor signs off on it, and tells you that your life might be in danger if you don’t start exercising and lose weight. The cost for remedies that help you drop a few pounds, improve your heart rate, or reduce your cholesterol might all be deductible.
5) Significant others: Couples who can claim their significant other as a dependent can also use them as a tax break. In order to do so, couples must have lived together for an entire tax year and the significant other must have an annual salary of less than $3,900. Also, the individual claiming the tax break must show they have paid for more than half of their significant other’s expenses. A total of $3,900 can be claimed if all the qualifications are met.
6) Deadbeat Friends: Did you lend a friend cash in a pinch, never to see the money again? Don’t despair–all is not lost. You can write off the unpaid amount if there’s no hope to collect payment.
7) Organ Donation: Organ donors can deduct not only any medical costs associated with the donation, but also costs of transportation.
8) Hunting: As long as business discussions are conducted and you are attempting to do business on the hunting trip, it would be possible to deduct this type of expense. However, these types of deductions may be heavily scrutinized.
9) Bariatric Surgery: The IRS ruled that obesity is a medical disease, which means that specific treatments aimed at curbing obesity are allowable deductions, including bariatric surgery. As with all medical expenses, you can only deduct unreimbursed expenses that exceed 10% (7.5% if over 65) of your adjusted gross income (AGI).
10) Addiction Treatment: Drinking, smoking, and drug abuse are serious medical hazards, so the IRS has ruled that you can write off expenses related to quitting. Eligible deductions can include the cost of any products or programs designed to help you quit, including nicotine patches or other aids. In-patient treatment at a drug or alcohol facility including meals, lodging and some transportation expenses can also be deducted as medical expenses. Additionally, transportation to and from meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, if attended based on doctor’s orders, can also be written off.
11) Bingo: Bingo-playing taxpayers can deduct the amount lost in a given year, up to the amount that was won. The IRS allows taxpayers to deduct losses for other types of wagering, too. To do so, they must keep a detailed diary of the kind of wager, where they placed it, who they were with, and how much they won or lost.
These are just a start to the sort of things that we can help you find in your tax year. Oh — your friends’ current software or tax professional didn’t help them find these? Hmm … maybe it’s time you helped them find someone who could?
I hope this helps.
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
The tax world was roiling late last week over some fraud detected from within TurboTax.
Here is the story: http://onforb.es/1DNkQot
Essentially, the makers of the software detected a level of fraud occurring in state tax return submissions that made them decide to completely shut down submission of those returns for a period of time. Eventually, they determined that the apparent source of the fraud was outside of their system, and have resumed filing state tax returns. It does seem that TurboTax did everything by the book, and should be (relatively) safe to use.
What is the takeaway for taxpayers? Perhaps trusting your most sensitive (and financially-important) interaction with the state and federal government to a software, rather than a real person (who will sign their name on your return and shoulder the burden with you) should give you … pause.
Again, TurboTax seems to have handled this fairly well, all things considered. But when there’s a problem or question — would you rather sit on hold with the IRS, deal with online chat help, navigate through instructional videos, etc. etc. — or deal with a human who knows you?
Now … all that said, we’re pretty darn good at navigating the labyrinth of our tax system around here. But we may not be the most authoritative source on All Things Valentine.
That doesn’t prevent me from chiming in on it this week though, with a little penny-pinching twist, if you will. That, after all, is what we tax pros are GREAT at (finding ways to save!).
And just because it’s tax season doesn’t mean I won’t offer dating advice.
A Tax Pro’s Valentine
“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln
Look — whatever your particular financial situation, wouldn’t it be great to create romance “magic” without spending an arm and two legs? So, instead of the tired old “flowers, candy and chocolate” [boring!], here are a few of my favorite modest (and occasionally tongue-in-cheek) suggestions for a sizzling Valentine’s … one that won’t torch your wallet!
Make a Video: You can use the video setting on your phone or digital camera, and create a heartfelt message of love for your sweetie. Then, post it to YouTube, Vimeo or another online video-sharing site and send it on! Um, just be sure to make that video setting to “private” unless you want to share with the world your undying love for your honey (hopefully with clothes on!).
Learn a Romantic Song and Sing it to Your Sweetheart: Well, I’m no singer, so I can’t say I’ve tried this … but I hear it works well. Even better, if you can’t sing, your valentine will give you kudos for the effort! You could step it up by writing an original song and then sing it. Or, for the slightly-less courageous, you could pull a page out of John Cusack’s book in Say Anything and hold a boombox (or iPod) above your head and blare Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”. That seemed to work.
Not a singer? More of a writer? Or artist? For the otherwise artistically inclined:
– You could pen a poem on nice paper
– or even paint it
– You can paint a picture of your honey. Just be sure it looks good.
The “Mix Tape” (or Playlist): This is an old standby of high school kids everywhere. Except these days, the “tape” part is a bit less convenient. Instead, make a CD or mp3 playlist of Sweet Love Songs and make a cover list / liner notes on the memories of you and your honey from the songs. And you can make a Personalized Photo Album using Shutterfly or a service like it.
Romantic Picnic: Surprise your love with a ‘picnic’ in the park, at the beach, or any other outdoor nature spot. If the weather isn’t ideal for outdoors, you could bring the outdoors inside — find a fake palm tree, flowers, sand, beach umbrella, radio, towels (borrow them). Nothing says “I love you” like fake palm trees!
Write a Message To Be “Stumbled Upon”: Well, perhaps not *literally* stumbled upon (nor am I referring to the website), but try a nice outdoor surprise. With snow outside, you could stomp out the message and fill in the letters with spray paint or flower petals or rocks. Without snow, you can use sidewalk chalk to write a message to your sweetie.
Now — who said tax professionals weren’t good for anything other than your finances? Oh … hmm. That would be Abraham Lincoln (see my opening quote below the title).
Perhaps we should keep our advice restricted to things financial. Ah well.
Happy Valentine’s Day, regardless!
And please feel free to call [(718) 858-9864] or email me and my staff with any questions: http://www.accountantbrooklyn.net//contact (just no dating questions, please!).
To a loving — and financially sound — February …
James Pantzis, CPA, PC
We’re knee-deep in tax forms and legal documentation this week (with a nice little dash of healthcare forms thrown in, new for this year). Our families miss us (though apparently, according to the commercial last night, all will be forgiven if I purchase my child a Nissan Maxima), and we’re still in the first quarter of OUR yearly Super Bowl. Fortunately, before we left for the office this morning, we made sure to bubble wrap our children so that they wouldn’t perish before tax season’s completion (thank you, Nationwide Insurance).
And speaking of children … well, my riff on those Super Bowl commercials leads me to what I’m writing about today.
When we sit down with a client during tax season, we are picking through history — we are helping you to sort through your 2014, and to make sure that the numbers match … AND, of course, that YOU are able to take advantage of every possible legal and ethical method to hold on to your hard-earned dollars (or sometimes receive a nice bump in your supply from a refundable tax credit).
But we also like to spend time future-casting with our clients, if they let us.
In conversations about the future, we can make the most careful plans when it comes to the disposition of our financial assets, but can we also think … bigger?
James Pantzis Suggests You Don’t Just Pass Along Money …
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” – Robert Frost
Too many tax and accounting firms focus only on the financials, and neglect to help families identify, articulate and pass along their dreams, passions and hopes for their children and loved ones.
Yes, some families take the bull by the horns, and do this themselves, but it makes really good sense to get outside help in making absolutely sure that every base has been touched.
Because really — what are you after with all of that money we help you save on your taxes?
It’s worth putting some thought into it.
Specifically, your children and your loved ones should be able to have resources and tangible memories which help them answer these kinds of questions:
* What dreams did they have for me?
* How have they seen the world change around them, and how do they feel about it?
* What kind of family were they hoping to create?
* Were there any mistakes made which they’d like to see me avoid?
* What activities were they most glad to have participated in?
* How did they make decisions about what to do as a family?
There are of course more questions like this that you could cover … but the main point I want to make with you is this:
You just never know when these questions will be asked.
And, I hope you put in place the right tools to make sure they’ve got the answers when they need them most. Whether that is after your “work is done” on this little planet — or, even better, while you still have the time to affect it all.
We are in your corner, and want to think bigger with you. Let us be your advisors in matters like these.
To your family’s financial and emotional peace…
James Pantzis, CPA, PC