“Real World” Personal Strategy Blog

A Tax Day Thank You From Roger Menden

Tax DayLifting my heavily-lidded eyes to peer up through the haze of government forms and procedures, I peek at the calendar, which today said: April 17.

(If any of the above sounded slightly poetic, that’s the coffee talking; I’m a Shakopee, MN tax accountant, after all.)

Yes, today is an extremely busy day for us here at Team Menden — it’s the day before the big deadline (Tax Day = Tuesday, April 18th, 2017). But as I am a person of ritual, I’m still taking the time to write to you on this, of all days. (Though you are likely to be actually receiving it later in the week, depending on how this day goes!)

It’s been a great tax season — and for us, it’s not really ever over.

Yes, we will have a respite because individual filing (and a slew of other things) are due tomorrow, but we don’t take the same kind of extended vacation of which many of our colleagues avail themselves upon tax season’s completion.

But this week gives me the chance to say (again): We are extremely grateful for your trust, and all of the other Shakopee, MN area families we got to meet with this year for tax preparation.

It’s always been our hope that we take a process that is so painful and time-consuming (with so much waste), and convert it into a profitable enterprise (for YOU) through smart tax preparation and planning and in overall financial coaching for our clients. We’re proud to say that we have seen those good stories this year, as we’ve continued to grow on the strength of your referrals.

I won’t be sharing strategic personal financial wisdom today (I hope you’ll forgive our needing to stay focused), but I would like to make one last request:

If you have filed your taxes with us would you…

A) Write something of your experience for people to know about in the future? Yelp and Google seem to be the place where many Shakopee, MN people are looking these days, and your words there would mean a great deal…

(And if for some reason you weren’t satisfied with our service, please write me back personally. I will do everything within my power to make it right, and will make it a priority, even this week.)

B) Share us on YOUR Facebook wall…?

Here’s something you could post on your profile, if so inclined:
“I had my taxes prepared by Roger Menden’s team, and had a great experience. And even now, they’re willing to review your tax return to make sure that everything was done right for you … Give them a call at: 952-445-8753 and let them know I told you to call.” https://www.facebook.com/MendenAccounting

Or some such… thanks again.

I will end by saying this: I have been reminded, once again, this year: YOU are what makes this nation great. No matter what the politicians may want to take credit for, it’s people like you — the quiet ones who might not ever show up on the roll calls of any Forbes list, but who are doing so many incredible things (that WE get to see!) — who are responsible for any greatness that we might claim as a nation.

What a privilege it is to serve you. To know you. We are all so grateful.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Considering Filing A Tax Extension In Shakopee, MN? Read This First.

tax extensionLast week, I wrote all about those deadlines. <shiver> I know for a fact that the very word can strike pain and anxiety into the hearts of certain of my clients (who shall remain nameless).

So, this week … well, I’m going to give you the chance to exhale a little. It’ll be like a warm bath of security, peace and comfort.

(And given all the chaos we’re seeing on the national and international stage, we could all use a little security, peace and comfort, yes?)

And it’s not *just* because the personal tax filing deadline falls on Tuesday April 18th, 2017. (Three extra days!)

Today, we’re going to talk about the magical world of the tax return extension —  and what it really means. If, at this point, you’re still staring blankly at a pile of receipts and documents and it just. seems. so. hard. … well, the extension is your friend.

If you’ve already had us complete your taxes, I really would love it if you would help us in a unique way: Would you leave us a review on Yelp or Google Maps for other potential clients to see? We have found that these sources can be so helpful for people evaluating their options, and we would love to have as much information there as possible. Thank you!

So, here’s the truth about extensions. It’ll still feel like that “warm bath” of comfort I mentioned, but with a few deadline-ish things to know as well.

Considering Filing A Tax Extension In Shakopee, MN? Read This First.
“It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” -Mark Twain

This upcoming Tuesday, April 18, 2017 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) an extension with the IRS by the end of the day on the 18th. This gives you an automatic six-month extension of time to actually file (until October 16, 2017).

This is the form you can use: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4868.pdf

But it’s also as easy for us to do for you as pushing a couple buttons (it really does pay to use a pro).

This can be a very comforting and helpful process for the procrastinators among us.

An important note: An “Extension of Time to File” is not an “Extension of Time to Pay”, unfortunately. 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.

That said, depending on the amounts we’re talking about, those penalties and interest payments may not be that much. The late payment penalty is 0.5% of the tax owed after the due date, for each month or part of a month the tax remains unpaid (up to 25%, which, hopefully, you would never hit).

So, 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. 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 tax extension.

As I mentioned earlier, You can do this all electronically through our office, you can mail in the form WITH estimated payment (must be postmarked by the 18th), or you can call a specialized provider and pay by credit card. We can provide you with the appropriate number to call.

If you cannot pay your taxes due:

First of all, you’re not alone. There are many, even right here in Shakopee, MN (and, of course, beyond), who are unable to pay everything right away. But this is what we’re here for. We can help you through this stuff too.

Here’s what we would tell you…

1) Pay as much as you possibly can right now.

2) You can ask for (and often receive) an extension of up to 120 days to PAY: https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc202.html. It does require a phone call to the IRS. 🙁

3) “Financial hardship” delay: this is if paying your tax bill would demonstrably affect your ability to pay your other bills. Interest and penalties still accrue, but it’s better to register this with the IRS than to simply ignore the bill.

4) Installment payment plan: If you owe less than $50K in taxes, you should usually be able to get an installment payment plan of up to 72 months, simply by asking for it. If this is something you are considering, please let’s talk it over to make sure we come up with the best plan. But you can apply online for this here: https://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Online-Payment-Agreement-Application

5) Negotiate: this is NOT something to try on your own. We can help, but the number of “Offers in Compromise” that get accepted each year are quite small and a knowledge of how the system works is important.

6) Using existing credit sources (credit card, HELOC, private loans): some tax advisors would quickly recommend this, but I would NOT recommend you go this route. If you’ve exhausted the options above, do this instead:

7) Sell something you don’t need anymore and make up the difference.

But again, this is what we’re here for —  we’ll walk you through your best options and figure out the smartest course of action for you.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Roger Menden’s List of What Else Is Due On April 18th

April 18thIt’s “go time” around here. Our phones are buzzing, the email inboxes are overflowing, but we are focused like a laser beam on giving our clients the BEST service for their time (and wallet), and ensuring that nobody is paying Uncle Sam more than they should.

We’ve invested a lot into this time of year — in education, client management software (so that nothing falls through the cracks), and in staffing — all so that we serve you extremely well. Some tax professionals fly through these last few weeks in a caffeine-soaked haze, but in truth, we are more focused than we’ve ever been … and thrilled that we get to serve people like you.

We see the kinds of lives our clients lead, and we are privileged to play a small part in helping them do it all so well.

But yes — there are a few deadlines coming up, and I’d like to take this chance to remind you of them.

It’s not just taxes that come calling on April 18th this year (yes, you read that right — the tax deadline is a few days later than normal this year).

Now before I explain, if you’ve already had us complete your taxes, I do have a favor:

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

Now, onto those deadlines…

Roger Menden’s List of What Else Is Due On April 18th

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

Yes, personal federal income taxes are due on Tuesday, April 18th 2017.

But that’s not all.

I truly hope this is not overwhelming, and some of this might not apply to you. Regardless, it’s good to know, and some of this knowledge could save you a bunch.

State tax returns are also due. The exceptions are:

  • States with no income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming
  • Hawaii is due 4/20
  • Delaware is due 4/30
  • Iowa, Virginia are due 5/1
  • Louisiana is due 5/15

So, if your state is listed there, we are already on top of things accordingly for you.

Estimated tax payments for the first quarter of 2017 are due. For some clients, not only do you have to pay the federal and state bill, but you you need to get started on 2017 estimated taxes. We’ve included this information for clients, and can help you make the proper payments as needed.

Last day to make an IRA contribution to affect your 2016 taxes. This might be a simple way to reduce your tax burden at the last minute. Let’s make sure we have clarity together before you do something hasty on this front, though.

Last day to claim unclaimed funds from 2013 unfiled tax returns. There are (literally) almost one BILLION dollars in unclaimed refund money available from the IRS from 2013 returns. Here’s the catch: You must claim it by April 18th, 2017. (Source: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/irs-1-billion-unclaimed-refunds.aspx)

How do you do that? Have us take a look at your return, and file an amendment if we find something which needs changing, updating, etc. There are all kinds of reasons why this might be — suffice it to say, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

Or, alternatively, there are people who simply didn’t FILE a return, but just trusted that the taxes withheld from paychecks were correct. Oops — that’s where the IRS gets the billions figure, because there are so many unclaimed refunds due to unfiled returns.

Either way, we can help (and routinely do). Call us.

 

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753
Menden Accounting & Tax Service

 

4 Very Common Mistakes Shakopee, MN Investors Should Avoid When Opening An IRA

Opening an IRAThere are so many different messages coming out of DC, per the media, that if you try to make sense of it all through the mass media lens, then you’re bound to work at cross purposes with yourself.

There’s the Republican health care bill, and the current version of the bill is dominating political headlines.

Or, of course, there’s the initial budget being proposed by President Trump which is sure to make certain sectors, of my client base pretty happy.

Then again, there are the war drums being banged (once again) from North Korea

Happy Spring, everyone!

But truly, if you subject yourself to media hysteria, you will make 1) poor financial decisions (because things ALWAYS change) and 2) you will remain in a state of continuous frustration and anger — because that’s what the media feeds on, no matter the political tilt.

I choose to “opt out” of the hysteria. While, of course, keeping my powder dry to respond to REAL issues in my life.

And YOU get the luxury of being able to trust that my staff and I are following all of the tax law changes as they come, and taking greatest possible advantage on your behalf.

Of course the tax law we’re currently using for return preparations has been “in the books” for quite some time now, so we’re not needing to make any rapid shifts these days. Just working the plan, and helping you save the most amount possible.

Speaking of savings… I see many IRAs set up this time of year, and of course, as we review our clients’ return information. But I also see some common mistakes, and I’d like to help you with those.

Let this be a “palate cleanser” from all the chaos, and let’s take a positive step towards saving WELL this week.

4 Very Common Mistakes Shakopee, MN Investors Should Avoid When Opening An IRA
“Part of making good decisions is recognizing the poor decisions you’ve made and why they were poor.” -Warren Buffett

Opening an IRA for your retirement is almost always a good investment, but it’s not always a simple process. There are IRA alternatives (like a SEP, 401k, etc.)  that many of our clients know how to use (but you might not), there is the Roth option, and of course there are also the pitfalls that people fall into when setting them up. For example:

Not getting professional advice. 
Don’t try to do this on your own. Despite the many softwares, websites, etc. trying to lure you with the promise of saving money on commissions or other professional fees, those who work with a professional do tend to see better overall returns over time, for a number of reasons.  Not to mention the timely, expert advice they can provide when you need it — which you surely will from time to time.

If you are reading this post, whether as a client (or you’re considering still working with us) or someone passed it on to you, know that we are in your corner from the get-go for these sort of questions.

Naming the wrong beneficiaries, or not naming any at all. 
Making your minor child a beneficiary will require a court-appointed guardian to manage the money until the child turns 18. If you fail to name a beneficiary, it is likely the IRA will become payable to your estate upon your death. This unnecessarily subjects the IRA to estate taxes.

Confining yourself to the form. 
Most account agreements allow little space in which to name more than one beneficiary. With a little jiggering though (whether with an additional paper tacked to the initial paperwork, or by working the software a little) you can make sure to add the information of all beneficiaries, and exactly how you want the account to be distributed.

Thinking your financial institution keeps records of everything. 
In this age of mergers and acquisitions, who knows where your records could be? Keep copies of your account agreement and beneficiary designations, and let your professional and your family know how to find them.

And as I mentioned, we’re here to help. Let me know if you have any questions.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Why You Should Consider Giving Away Your Tax Refund by Roger Menden

tax refundThis past Sunday, the NCAA revealed the brackets for March Madness. The country will be inflicted with a particular form of hysteria these next few weeks, but unfortunately, this little national hoops holiday isn’t one which my staff and I get much chance to participate in. We’re too busy doing your taxes!

Yep, this is close to our busiest time of the year, and we’re working “like mad” (see what I did there?) to handle the increased volume this year. Because with all of the political chaos out there, it’s clear that people want real answers from someone who knows them — and cares.

But let me say this: though my business does well this time of year, I’d rather things were better and our tax code was simpler. I’d rather the economy was roaring and everyone felt confident enough to handle their own financial forms.

However, the sheer complexity of the tax code keeps me in business — to take the hassle away from you, and apply our expertise to your situation. But wouldn’t it be more efficient if paying taxes didn’t actually require so much expertise?

I know … a bit of a controversial statement from a tax accountant. But I get tired of seeing new clients bring last year’s tax returns to us–and realize that if we’d helped them sooner, they would have saved a bunch of money (fortunately, we *can* file amended returns!). If things were simpler, people would keep more of their money — and THAT’S one of my passions.

Now, I have some thoughts here that might feel a bit controversial. But I’d love your thoughts on it, and I read every note that comes my way.

Why You Should Consider Giving Away Your Tax Refund by Roger Menden
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”  -Tony Robbins

We have many clients who are receiving tax refunds this month, and that number of course will only be rising. So, here’s a thought for you: What would it look like for you to give your refund away?

Yes, this is a radical idea to think about, but consider: what does this tax refund represent to you?

If you’re like many families, it’s a bit like “found money” — i.e. an unexpected windfall. And, in those scenarios, it’s tempting to hoard it, or to splurge.

However, as with other windfall scenarios which I’ve written about in the past, one of the smartest things you can do is to give a portion (at least) of it away.

Why do I suggest this?

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

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

(Though, there are significant soul reasons for giving. Have you seen, as I have, that those who freely give seem to be more pleasant company?)

Before you write this off as being “ask the universe” mushiness, understand that 1) I don’t subscribe to that baloney and 2) I am merely reporting an observed phenomenon. Do with it what you will.

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

So consider this. I know it might feel painful. But trust me when I tell you that it can actually provide you with a deeper feeling of joy than if you choose to cling tightly to everything that comes your way.

I hope I didn’t ruffle your feathers … but if so, understand that most of all, we are here to walk with you no matter WHAT your balance sheets look like, or what you choose to do with it.

And lastly, we’re here to help. Let me know if you have any questions.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Roger Menden’s Tax Paperwork Checklist

tax paperwork checklistThese days, I’m often glad that it’s our busy tax filing season, so that I have an easy excuse when political conversations are happening: Oh THAT [crazy new political story]? Huh, didn’t see it — I’m too busy with tax season.

With all of the chaos out there, the division and shouting — from Washington to Facebook to right here in Shakopee, MN, it’s helpful to try to tune out the shouting and focus on what is actually in our sphere of productivity.

So speaking of being productive, it might be time to get moving on your tax files, if you haven’t already.

The IRS did a study a few years ago that computed that the *average* time that it takes to complete a tax return is 22 hours. And obviously, that number varies by the return, but I’m reminded (again) of the blessing that it is to free our clients’ TIME — not to mention the additional deductions we find, the stress we remove, and the security we can provide in knowing that it’s being handled right.

Already, we have many, many Shakopee, MN tax clients who have filed, have received refunds and have written us notes telling us that they’ve never been more pleased with their filing experience. And of course, this makes me happy, as you might imagine.Now, I’ve got something here that we posted towards the beginning of January, but as we are moving into the depths of March, I thought it would be worth posting once more…

Roger Menden’s Tax Paperwork Checklist
“We are not retreating — we are advancing in another direction.” -Douglas MacArthur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Automobiles
Personal property tax information
Department of Motor Vehicles fees

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

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

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

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

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Four Tips On Gently Encouraging Your College Graduate Living At Home To Independence by Roger Menden

college graduate living at homeIt’s a hard world out there, for sure.

(You know it’s tough when they can’t even get the Best Picture award right at the Oscars!)

And for our young millennials, it sure seems like things are harder than they were when we were entering the workplace life.

If you haven’t already watched this, I highly encourage you to check out this video clip of best-selling author and thought leader, Simon Sinek, about the particular challenges faced by a generation of young people who have been raised in the world of Facebook, streaming video and instant communication:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU

Sometimes our technology, which promised to make our lives better, carries a bunch of unintended consequences that we don’t see right away.

And sometimes, our love for our children can prevent them from growing in the way they need to, or from taking on the responsibilities that make for a fuller, more rewarding life.

I’ve seen this dynamic with a few clients, and so I thought I’d offer some tips on helping our younger ones move forward with more effectiveness.

And out of our basements!

[And yes, we’re cranking through tax season and our calendar is very full. But that does NOT mean we don’t have time set aside for you.

Email me by clicking the email button in the upper-right corner of this page or call us (952-445-8753), and let’s get you on the calendar ASAP so that we can ensure you aren’t “lending” unnecessary money to Uncle Sam.]

Four Tips On Gently Encouraging Your College Graduate Living At Home To Independence by Roger Menden
“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.” -Veronica Roth

If you’ve got a recent college graduate living at home, searching for his or her first “real” job, you know how difficult the job hunt can be these days. In the interest of getting your kids off the sofa and out of the house, here’s some of my advice…

1. Clean up the online profiles. Potential employers will check your new grad’s profile on Facebook and other social media sites. Advise your job-seekers to remove images and language that might give recruiters pause. Coach them on how to use sites like LinkedIn to create a more professional online persona.

2. Network. Your son or daughter might be tired of hearing, “It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know,” but it’s still true. If you have useful contacts, introduce your children. Otherwise, nudge them toward making an effort to connect with people in their chosen field, and advise them on how to act.

3. Work for free. This may seem counterintuitive when you want your children to start making money, but internships and volunteer work can teach them useful skills while introducing them to the world of work, and can bring them into contact with a wider range of networking contacts who may be able to help them in their fledgling careers. I can’t over emphasize how powerful this strategy can be, especially if your child wants to break into a difficult industry.

4.Update the wardrobe. Remind your kids that jeans and T-shirts won’t make the grade in most workplaces, especially when they’re interviewing there. Help them pick out some sophisticated, professional-looking outfits so they can go out into the world with style.

To your family’s lasting financial and emotional peace — including your grown children …

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

The Top 12 2017 IRS Scams by Roger Menden

2017 IRS ScamsEvery year around this time of year, the Treasury Department releases their list of the various shenanigans that criminals and the like try to pull around taxes. Obviously, this activity peaks around now, and so it’s a very good idea to be on your guard.

Last week, the IRS completed their 2017 IRS Scams list, and though it isn’t substantively different from last year’s list, the tactics within each category keep evolving. Fortunately, with us in your corner, you don’t need to worry much about these.

But readiness is always something I encourage. These shenanigans include different ways that perpetrators would want to steal your personal information, scam you out of money or talk you into engaging in questionable behavior with your taxes.

And before I explain about these (and how to guard against them), I also wanted to ask you a favor…

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

Yelp

Google Maps

Now, onto those dirty dozen…

The Top 12 2017 IRS Scams by Roger Menden
“Don’t think or judge, just listen.” -Sarah Dessen

Scammers are creative … but not THAT creative. As I mentioned, this list is similar to the one from last year.

And if they were so smart, they’d be doing something real, instead of criminal.

But knowing what to look out for is only the first step. After I describe these, I’ll give you a quick rundown on how never to get taken in.

This is the list — presumably in the order of most common first, and in the order in which the IRS described them.

Phishing: This is when people use tax time to try to get you to do something that might help them steal your personal info. Know this: The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a bill or refund. So don’t click on anything that says it’s from the IRS, because it almost certainly is not.

Phone Scams: This was much bigger last tax season, but in October 2016, one of the primary phone centers from which these calls originated was raided. But phone calls do continue, and it usually involves con artists threatening you with police arrest, deportation and license revocation, among other things. The IRS always initiates contact with you via postal mail and typically only contacts you via phone for an ongoing correspondence.

Identity Theft: This isn’t “tax related”, except that people like to steal SSN info, and file taxes before you do. Simple solution: file your taxes before the scammers file your taxes. We can help with that.

Return Preparer Fraud: Believe it or not, there are some tax pros who get set up with the IRS for purposes of stealing personal information and perpetrating refund fraud. The good news is that such tax professional outfits are pretty easy to spot. For one, they usually don’t keep in touch with their clients via a weekly blog. 😉

Fake Charities: This is when organizations set up shop for the purpose of soliciting (supposedly tax-free) donations. They imitate legitimate organizations and unsuspecting donors give them money. The IRS has a tool you can use called “Select Check” to ensure the organization you’re donating to is legit.

Inflated Refund Claims: Don’t have anyone prepare your taxes who asks you to sign a blank return or charges fees based on a percentage of your refund. This is a no-no.

Excessive Claims for Business Credits: There are two credits that the IRS is keeping an especially close eye on. One is the fuel tax credit, which is a tax benefit generally not available to most taxpayers and most often limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming. The other is the research credit. Research activities have to be scrupulously documented to qualify.

Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns: Basically, this is about lying on your return and improperly claiming credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit. This problem, and the IRS trying to fix is, is why refunds were delayed this year for many.

Falsifying Income to Claim Credits: Sometimes con artists will try to get taxpayers to falsely claim income so they can qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Basically again, don’t lie to the IRS.

Abusive Tax Shelters: Sometimes tax pros invent complicated schemes (usually involving insurance) to falsely enable clients to avoid paying any tax. If someone offers you a scheme that sounds too good to be true, check it with us.

Frivolous Tax Arguments: This is aimed at the crowd that claims that the income tax “has never properly been legislated” and so therefore nobody should have to pay any tax. You can understand why the IRS doesn’t dig that. Here’s their rundown on the various schemes: https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/the-truth-about-frivolous-tax-arguments-introduction

Offshore Tax Avoidance: Not a great idea these days. The Panama Papers, while fascinating, aren’t a guide for financial planning.

Now … in order to avoid this stuff, it’s actually quite simple.

1) Be skeptical. Don’t just take somebody’s word for it, especially if they are contacting you via phone.

2) Don’t reply to (or click on) emails, calls or other communication without first confirming that the source and sender is legitimate. If you get something that seems hinky, check with us.

3) Did I mention that you can check with us? Sure, you can go to the source itself (the IRS), but this is after all what we are here for.

Allow us to serve you well.

To your family’s lasting financial and emotional peace

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Start The Estate Planning Process During Tax Season by Roger Menden

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

That’s a lot of nickels.

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

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

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

Thanks, IRS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To your family’s lasting financial and emotional peace

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

A Shakopee, MN Tax Professional’s Valentine’s Day Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair enough.

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

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