Tax

What Should You Do When You Receive a Notice from the IRS?

Did you notice that the title states “when” and not “if” you receive a notice? The volume of notices received from the IRS, along with those from the states, has steadily increased over the years, which means that the odds of you receiving a notice are pretty high. What are some of the steps you should take?

Don’t ignore the notice: This may sound basic, but do not ignore the notice. Usually, there is a deadline for your response, and if you do not respond then the issue may get worse and more complicated. If you do not understand the notice or have an accountant, then quickly send the notice to him/her.

Make sure it belongs to you: Sometimes, the notice may not even be yours. Sometimes the IRS or the states have an old address on file, which happens to now be yours. If the notice does not belong to you then ask the post office to return to sender. That is an easy fix, but not as common as one could hope for.

Time period and type of tax: The notice should show what periods and type of tax the notice relates to. Common notices are for Form 1040 (individual taxes), Form 941 (payroll taxes), and various states’ sales and payroll taxes.

What is the notice asking for: A commonly received notice from New Jersey and New York is one requesting additional information to process a refund after filing your tax return. You should provide the information requested and send a cover letter via certified mail. Other common notices state that there was additional income that was not reported, such as stock sales or pension income, and now there is a proposed change to your tax return. The scariest notices are levy notices or lien notices, which are supposed to come after no action has been taken on previous notices.

Compare the notice to your records: In many cases you want to verify the validity of the notice and should compare the information in the notice to your own records. It is possible that the notice may be incorrect or only partly correct.

Always respond timely: Make sure to always adhere to the timeline of the notice and to send any correspondence by certified mail as timely proof of a response. Even though you may respond timely this does not mean that the IRS or states will respond timely to you, and you may have to be patient.

As a warning, the IRS will never email you nor will they ask you to purchase prepaid gift cards from CVS to provide to them. Also, they will not threaten to deport you or throw you in jail. If you did something criminal then they will just show up at your house at 6 AM or possibly 5 AM, and I am sure that you already know why they are there.

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If You Are Looking for a Good Business Partner Then Pay Attention to What They Do, Not What They Say

Running a business is probably one of the most challenging, while equally rewarding endeavors that only the brave embark on. Some go at it alone, while others choose a business partner because sometimes 1 + 1 = 3 or 5 or 10. However, before choosing a partner you must minimize the risk of choosing the wrong partner by paying attention at what they do or have done, not just what they say.

Look at their past: No one is perfect, but generally, when a person is not able to overcome some of their difficulties, then there is a high probability that they will not magically fix their problems when you are their partner. Rather they will bring these issues into your business and wreak havoc. One time events or actions may not be too meaningful, but repeated patterns are a very bad sign.

Specific examples:

Tax problems: It is not uncommon for business owners to have a tax problem at one time or another due to the complexity and burden of an ever increasing number of taxes, fees, penalties, etc. that they need to be aware of. However, if there is a history of not filing tax returns, especially willfully, or not paying their taxes then watch out.

Health, mental, and addictions: The number of times that I speak to people regarding mental issues or addictions is so high that it doesn’t seem real and seems to be on the rise. Just because someone has a mental illness, doesn’t mean that they will make a bad business partner, unless it is not under control and has been for some time. The same goes for addictions, which can include gambling, spending, drugs, alcohol, and everything else. If the addiction was in the way past and has been overcome, then that is a plus. If it constantly resurfaces or is currently happening then that is a sign that it has not been defeated. Unfortunately, it is hard to know these things, especially if you only know a potential business partner casually. Although, thorough background checks and taking a look at the last year or so of bank statements may shed some truth.

Half truths or lies: Maybe your potential business partner ran a business in the past and it didn’t work out, which is not that uncommon. They may have the issues above, they may not be so good at running a business, or maybe there is another reason. One way to find out is to ask a lot of questions and then try to verify their answers with some research and legwork. For example, they may say that their landlord kicked them out of the building because the building was sold. Well, you can easily find out if the building was sold, speak directly to the old and new landlord, and look at their bank statements to see if they were actually paying their rent. Another example is to ask if they ever filed bankruptcy and then look into the public records to see if this is the truth and/or to have them run a credit report in front of you.

These are all of the bad things to look out for, but what are the good things to look out for? The answer is to look for the exact opposite. As I tell my children often: seek truth.

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Should You Buy a Home or Rent?

Several years back when the real estate market was red hot, it was almost a no-brainer to buy a home. A year or two later your home appreciated by thousands of dollars and was worth much more than you paid for it. We all know that this is not true now, so does it make sense to be a homeowner or a renter?

Let’s start with the benefits of owning a home. First, home prices are much more affordable than in the past. Combine this with historically low interest rates, and it makes home ownership much more enticing. Over time real estate does generally appreciate and over time it usually becomes one of the largest assets a person owns, especially for the middle class. Also, the interest paid on your mortgage and property taxes paid are generally tax deductible.

The drawbacks of owning a home are several. First, you must be able to afford and qualify for a mortgage. The combined mortgage and property tax payments are usually much higher than renting. Although, over time theoretically your rent will increase while your mortgage payment stays constant with hopefully only a small increase of property taxes. Also, you are responsible for all of the upkeep, improvements and repairs, utilities and all other expenses.

Renting can be beneficial for a variety of reasons. First, the payments are usually lower than a mortgage and property taxes. You do not need a large down payment, except for a security deposit. It is easier to move because you do not have to worry about selling a home and can take a job much farther than where you currently live. You also may be able to save more money because your housing costs are lower.

Renting can present a problem in the long-term though because it may prove to be more expensive over time. You also do not build any equity or have the benefit of real estate appreciation. Also, when you rent you obviously are more restricted by the rules of your landlord.

Many factors should be weighed before purchasing a home or choosing to continue renting. Home ownership is the American dream, but one thing to keep in mind is that you want to make sure that your monthly payments do not cause a financial strain. This even applies to existing homeowners.

My Customer/Tenant Didn’t Pay Me. Can I Deduct This on My Tax Return?

I get asked this question a lot, mostly from business owners. The answer to this question is that it depends. First a quick accounting lesson of cash vs. accrual. I promise not to keep it too technical!

If you are a cash basis taxpayer, then you record income or sales once you get paid, either by cash, check, or credit card. You also record expenses when you pay them, even if with a credit card.

For an accrual basis taxpayer, you record income when it is earned. For example, if you are a consultant and you sent an invoice to your client in January for December’s work, then you record the income from the invoice during December. The same goes for expenses, as it generally doesn’t matter when you paid your bill, but when you incurred the expense. This means that if you ordered supplies in December, but paid for them in January, you can deduct the expense in December.

Now to answer the original question: A cash basis taxpayer cannot deduct as an expense an outstanding invoice that was not paid by their customer, or tenant, if they are a landlord. Remember, the invoice was not included as income. On the other hand, an accrual basis taxpayer can deduct an expense for non-payment from a customer or tenant, as long as it is deemed uncollectible.

Most small business clients and landlords are on the cash basis method of accounting. It is much easier for record keeping purposes, and especially for income tax purposes.

Getting the Most from Your Deductions

No one likes to pay any more taxes than they have to. One simple way to avoid this is to get the most from your deductions and expenses. This means keeping track of all of your tax deductible expenses throughout the year. Once the last-minute rush to gather up all of your receipts begins, expenses are often overlooked that can reduce your tax liability.

Here is one strategy for charitable contributions: each time you make a charitable contribution, obtain a written receipt to acknowledge your donation, which should contain the name of the charity, the date, and the amount contributed. When donating household goods, such as clothing, you can use a guide, such as the one at www.salvationarmyusa.org to determine the value of your donations. Please note that the IRS does not allow a deduction for contributions without a proper receipt or a cancelled check (for amounts under $250).

Keep track of unreimbursed employee expenses. As always, you should keep your receipts for any business expenses that you pay out of pocket. These can include tolls, parking, gas, meals and entertainment, dues, subscriptions, advertising, and marketing. Additionally, if you use your vehicle for your job, keep track of your business and overall mileage. It will be well worth the savings come next tax season.

One more way to better keep track of expenses is to reconcile your bank statements to your checkbook. This is true whether you use QuickBooks, Quicken, or a pencil and paper. By reconciling your checkbook, it insures that you are capturing all of your expenses, such as bank fees, or checks that you forgot to record. Both businesses and individuals can benefit from reconciling their books.

Keep all of your receipts in one place or in an envelope – whatever works best for you. Usually the extra effort is worth the hassle, especially because it makes you more conscious of what you are doing with your money.

NJ Homestead Benefit & Senior Freeze Applications Extended

The New Jersey Homestead Benefit and Senior Freeze Applications have been extended to October 19th.