Could There Be a Mistake? We Can Fix It.

"If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one."
– Dolly Parton

As I write this on Monday morning, we’re all pretty distracted by the news of the capture and death of Osama bin Laden. It’s a bipartisan moment of gratification — even if it does mean celebrating the death of another human being. In this case, the world may actually be a better place right now.

All that aside, I wanted you to know that we’re starting to pick the pace up around here, after the intensity of the end of our busy season. This is the time of year when we reach out to non-clients and business owners, who are looking for real assistance in managing their tax burdens and finances.

It is, after all, what we do best.

Yes, shutting those doors at the end of the day two weeks ago (the 18th) was sweet. My staff and I could look back on months of hard work, and take real satisfaction in hard work and a bunch of new client relationships which we’re excited to see last for years.

"But…what now?"

That’s a good question–and it takes me back to our offseason preparation. Sure, we’ve taken some well-deserved rest around here … but we NEVER "shut the door" on our relationship with YOU!

That’s why we’ll continue to be here for you for all of your tax and financial needs. If you’re new to us this year…you’ll soon find out that we make a big deal around here of keeping in touch, and offering you hope and wisdom about the current state of the economy–and YOUR wallet!

So this week’s Strategy Note, in fact, deals with a topic which most taxpayers have no idea about.

Roger Menden’s
"Real World" Personal Strategy

Yes, You Can Still Find Deductions

As a client of mine, you’ve already got the peace-of-mind that you were able to claim every possible deduction legally allowed in the tax code for 2010. We put each return through an extensive review process to ensure to ensure you keep as much of your hard-earned income as the IRS allows.

But what about your friends?

Well, since it’s now AFTER April 18th, they might think that the proverbial "fat lady" has sung on their 2010 returns. Not so.

Did you know that according to a report issued by the General Accounting Office, taxpayers overpay the IRS almost $950 million every year, which equates to an average overpayment of $400 per taxpayer. That’s a somewhat dated report…and the current numbers are certain to be higher.

What’s worse is that folks who prepared their own taxes (with a software, or on their own) are the most vulnerable. But did you also know that taxpayers who used one of the "big chain" preparers are almost as bad off?

An excerpt from a more RECENT report from the GAO: In a Limited Study, Chain Preparers Made Serious Errors

In GAO (United States Government Accountability Office) visits to chain preparers, paid preparers often prepared returns that were incorrect, with tax consequences that were sometimes significant. Some of the most serious problems involved these preparers…

   1.  Not reporting business income in 10 of 19 cases;
   2.  Failing to take the most advantageous postsecondary education tax benefit in 3 out of the 9 applicable cases; and
   3. Failing to itemize deductions at all or failing to claim all available deductions in 7 out of the 9 applicable cases.

More clippings from the report:
    * The 19 paid preparers we visited arrived at the correct refund amount only twice. On 5 returns, all for the plumber, they understated our refund amount by a total of $3,465.
    * All 19 of our visits to tax return preparers affiliated with chains showed problems. Nearly all of the returns prepared for us were incorrect to some degree, and several of the preparers gave us very bad tax advice, particularly when it came to reporting non-W-2 business income. Only 2 of 19 tax returns showed the correct refund amount, and in both of those visits the paid preparer made mistakes that did not affect the final refund amount.

So what can your friends do about this?
Simple: file an "Amended" Return.

Many tax businesses don’t provide this service, but even though we’ve completed our clients’ returns, we WILL review any of your friends’ returns–at no charge.

To You and Your Family’s Peace of Mind!

Refunds & UN-Automating Your Life

Success is not measured by what you accomplish but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.
– Orison Swett Marden

Last week, I posted my Note about automating your investment savings. After posting it, I did some more thinking about the whole notion of automating our lives, and I realized that there are some times when "automation", as such, can actually HINDER our financial growth.

Call it the hidden costs of convenience.
And, in my opinion, it’s quite real.

But before I get to that, a few tax-related items:

1) Your Refund Status: 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". (http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96596,00.html?portlet=4)
* 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.

2) "Do I need to keep a copy of my return?"
Yes, for a *minimum* of three years. 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’ll soon have a Note about Amended Returns, and you will need a copy for that process, as well.)

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.

Now … I have a humble suggestion for you this week, and as always, I’d love your thoughts!

Roger Menden’s
"Real World" Personal Strategy

The Benefits of De-Automating Your Personal Finances

Small business owners know what it is to write checks for quarterly taxes, and, I believe, they have deeper sense for what they are paying, as a result.

In fact, I think our country would be a different place if everyone had to write a personal check and send in their taxes like this. When people really see what they pay (or don’t pay) I think they would feel differently about their tax burden!

This is a common refrain among certain political observers — but it has me thinking about what it might mean for YOUR family…

In fact, this is part of the genius of financial guru Dave Ramsey’s "envelope system" for family budgeting (whereby you place cash into specified envelopes, and pay only as much cash as remains in the envelope for different budget categories). "Automating away" our obligations can lull us into financial slumber.

Which is why I now propose that you REMOVE automation from certain checks that you write each month. (Again, this is aside from automated savings, as discussed last week.)

[But a word of caution: The only danger to this approach is that you run the risk of focusing too much on scrimping pennies. I certainly advocate wise budgeting, but it’s important to remember that thinking over much about saving money can constrict your mind away from important "risks", which can often be worth taking — like starting that business, making a new investment, etc. Don’t let this technique keep you from expanding your financial mindset!]

So, a few suggestions for what you might DE-automate:
1) Just once, receive your paycheck in cash (instead of ACH’d), or cash the full amount when you receive it. Because, have you ever HELD one paycheck’s worth of money before?  It’s really hard to fully comprehend how much you’re bringing in until you physically feel those stacks of $20s in your hand.  I can guarantee you it’s a lot harder to spend it when you’re seeing it in person rather than online.  And it hurts frittering it away more, too.

2) Paying your mortgage manually. Feel the burn of this large check, every time you write it. It will trickle into how you think about the other bills which you pay such that even if this is the only bill you take off of "auto-pay", you’ll be wiser with your remaining funds each month.

3) Only purchase vehicles for cash.
If you had to pay outright, wouldn’t you end up with a cheaper car?  Probably. Just because many are used to setting up loans and payments for vehicles, does NOT mean it’s wise — in fact, this is one of the primary markers for the "quiet millionaires" (those who are getting ahead financially, even on relatively smaller salaries). Yes, your pride might suffer when you’re not rolling around in a 2011 Lexus … but considering the real cost of that pride-booster does wonders for ameliorating your egotistic tendencies.

In short, paying in cash (or with a manual check) helps you to consider the following questions:

* Is this ____ still WORTH it?
* Is there a way I can cut it down a bit?
* What’s the best way to pay for it right now? (c/c, check, cash?)

Again, some of this could literally take seconds, but the point of it all is that you STOP to do it. With automation, you don’t get the "ping" every month because it’s already doing the thinking for you.  You’ll learn a LOT more about the financial "you" this way than you would otherwise, I’m certain. It’s really about paying closer attention.

Enjoying the slowdown around our offices, but still thinking of YOU!

Thoughts During Our Final Week

The ability to concentrate and to use your time well is everything if you want to succeed in business–or almost anywhere else for that matter.
– Lee Iacocca

I’m writing this on Monday morning, the 11th, and our offices are buzzing!

Next Monday will be no different — it’s the federal deadline, after all, and we always get panicked phone calls from people on that day. There is still time for us to do an excellent job for you or for your friends, as of this writing, but the window is closing rapidly.

So, I have a solution for you in this week’s Post … but before I get to that, a couple quick points:
1) The averted government shutdown means that refunds will NOT be delayed — more than normal, that is. If you’re curious about the status of yours, go here:
http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96596,00.html

2) Tomorrow (Tuesday) is "Tax Freedom Day", which is calculated each year by the non-partisan Tax Foundation (if the government *had* shut down, it would be even later!). Here’s that information, if you’re interested: http://www.taxfoundation.org/taxfreedomday/. One of the fun little facts:

Americans will pay more in taxes in 2011 than they will spend on groceries, clothing and shelter combined.

Which, of course, is why I and my staff are here: keeping your tax bill as low as legally and ethically possible.

And, of course, we can always do this …

Roger Menden’s
"Real World" Personal Strategy

Extensions, Explained

Let’s clear some things up with some facts about getting an "extension".

As you know, this upcoming Monday, April 18, 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) this form…
http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4868.pdf

…with the IRS by the end of the day on the 18th.  This gives you an automatic six-month (until October 17, 2011) extension of time to file. 

Here’s the deal: 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!

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 (or other 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 18th), or you can call a specialized provider and pay by credit card. We can provide you with the appropriate number to call.

To You and Your Family’s Peace of Mind!

Kindergartners With A Credit Card?

"Good, better, best. Never rest until good be better and better best."
– Mother Goose

Google tells me that Mother Goose didn’t *actually* exist — but she sure was smart, eh?

We’re heading into spring … and just a couple weeks remain here in "tax season" (what we tax professionals call it). I do hope that, by now, you’ve taken the steps to be in touch with my office, and that we’re already working on your file.

Next week, I’ll have some advice for "procrastinators" (you know who you are!), but needless to say — let’s not have you be in their ranks, ok?

In my Strategy Note this week, I’d like to address moms and dads. We’ve seen many parents in our offices these last few months, and I’ve asked a few of them how they handle finances with their young children. Well, many parents have no plan for training their children how to understand, and handle finances.

I’d like to help you fix that. We’ve put together some strategic advice to help you raise financially-literate children, in hopes that by the time they reach adulthood, they’ll be contributing to your family economy — rather than draining it!

Let me know what you think …

[And again–drop us a line to get in our queue … and send your friends our way! We reward generously for referrals because they always end up being our best clients.]


Roger Menden’s
"Real World" Personal Strategy

Money Lessons For Young Children

Perhaps I’m biased, but I believe that it really is never too early to start teaching your children about good money habits. Obviously, by doing so, you are preparing them for the uncertain future. You’re also establishing a family culture, wherein money is handled with maturity and openness.

But the best news is that helping them to develop these habits can be fairly simple! I’ve put together some basic steps — many of these may not seem like rocket science, but my job is to be a coach and a goad for you to do the things which you already may "know" to do!

1) Give them an allowance–with strings. Don’t just give them an allowance for doing nothing — this actually defeats the purpose! You can buy your young children whatever they ask for, so they don’t need "spending money". Instead, see an allowance as a training tool: your children should learn that money is earned by working. Believe it or not, this isn’t an obvious connection for a young child! Because a kindergartner truly is able to help with small chores around the house, you can put them to work and let them earn their allowance this way. Rather than seeing it as a "bribe", or some sort of indentured servitude, this is a critical knowledge base for a young child.

2) The old lemonade stand. Encourage this! And do it with adult supervision. Your child will learn how to make a product, market it and sell it. While the idea is to teach good money habits, they are also learning valuable life lessons — nothing sells itself, after all. (Though with cute kids, that’s sometimes the case!)

3) Saving and investing.
Rather than showering your young child with gift after gift, encourage them to go through the process of working towards a savings goal. You can always "supplement" this process, but having your child save up for an item will teach them that nothing comes for free. In return, children also learn that the items you buy them have real value and should be treated as such.

This might, even, cut down on those "negotiations" so familiar to parents who bring their children into stores!

4) Cold, hard cash.
A lot of children nowadays are so used to seeing parents pay with debit and credit cards that they may not know what actual money looks like! This is a new-generational issue, and it’s important that your children learn that money is more than a mouse click, or a card swipe. Show your kids the different types of money – coins, bills, etc. and tell them the monetary amount for each.

When you go shopping, let your child have a try at paying for certain items. This will help them feel quite grown up, and again — they see that transactions don’t just "happen", they cost.

What about you? How have you gone about introducing your children to money? I’d be interested to hear some other tactics, and may share them with the list next week.

But until then, I remain your kindly tax professional — out to save the world from unnecessary taxes … and from young adults still living on Mommy/Daddy credit!

To You and Your Family!

Posting This Again

“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”

– Lucille Ball

Well, last week I departed from my normal area of expertise, and wrote a real-world guide on preparing your family and home for a true disaster. Got lots of feedback — thank you!

But, I thought I should re-enter the fray of my primary task: ensuring you and your family don’t face an IRS disaster! And, since we’re nearing the home stretch in tax season, with the deadline for individuals (April 18th) just under a month out, we’ve been “packing them in” around here!

But this is something we still get asked about every day!

However, before I get there, I did want to say that one of the main reasons we love tax season around here is that we get to sit down with such incredible people. I’ve truly been reminded of how grateful I am for our clients–and for your trust in us during these “unusual” times.

We’re getting notes around here more and more often as people pass around my Strategy Notes to their friends. People seem to hunger for real world hope. I’m glad to be able to say that there *is* reason for anticipating a recovery in our future, but that whatever comes, my staff and I will be here to walk you through the storms.

So, onward with the answer to our most commonly-asked question around now!

Roger Menden’s

“Real World” Personal Strategy

Your Tax-Time Checklist!

In early January, I wrote a “checklist”, and it was one of our most popular messages. I guess it was handy!

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 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.

So…even if for some strange reason you won’t be using our cost-effective services this year, and because we’re getting so close to April 18th, here it is again for you: what you’ll need to prepare your taxes…

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

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

While some of these statements, and their ensuing deductions may seem like “pocket change”…just a few minutes of effort can pay a nice hourly rate! And, better in YOUR pockets than in Uncle Sam’s, right?

So, I hope this helps!

The Japan Disaster And You

He who loses wealth loses much; he who loses a friend loses more; but he that loses his courage loses all.
– Miguel De Cervantes

It’s deja vu all over again, with another massive earthquake coming during tax time this year. Last year, it was Haiti … this year, of course, it’s Japan.

The fallout (if you’ll forgive that term, not intended as an insensitive pun) has been radically different for each event — but, as was the case with the Haitian earthquake, the real problems and ramifications for everyone are yet to be seen … but what *is* clear is that many lives have been lost, and many more have been radically altered.

So, how have you been processing this one?

Last year, I was struck by how different my daily existence was, from the devastation wrought in Haiti. The same is true here … but I must confess to feeling (at least at first) some "disaster fatigue" setting in.

It seems that the world has spawned disaster after disaster over the last year.

But that doesn’t mean we turn away. No, this is the time where we actually need to "press in" a little, and care.

(So, as an aside, I’d also be interested to find out if you have located an effective place to send donations–the big organizations spend so much money on "overhead", that (as I mentioned about this time last year, for Haiti) I find it difficult to believe I’d get the most "bang for my buck" in donating to them (as we unfortunately saw with Hurricane Katrina). Any thoughts?)

So, rather than my normal tax or financial fare this week, I have something different. I’ve stopped apologizing for being such an obsessive planner … it sort of pays to be that way, in my profession, after all! This week, I wanted to remind you of what we almost never think about during "good" times: How to prepare your family for "grid-failure" emergencies.

This isn’t an area of extensive expertise for me, but it’s so important, I did some research, and have a good framework for you to consider… (after the jump)

Roger Menden’s
"Real World" Personal Strategy

How To Prepare Now For a "Japan-Type" Disaster

With the images of devastation we’ve been seeing, in addition to being moved for those who are currently experiencing all this, I’ve been reminded how important having a plan really is.

This is true for finances (a tax plan, an estate plan, etc. — let us know if you need to set one of those up! 952-445-8753), and it’s equally true for a big disaster.

We can be so complacent about the security of our daily existence, that an event like this seems unrealistic. But, we’re getting continued reminders, every year, at how fragile our modern world truly can be.

But that doesn’t mean you have to panic.

No, with a few basic points of preparation, you and your family could be vastly more prepared than your neighbors, even giving you the opportunity to be ones who can support and assist your neighbors, rather than have to *ask* for support.

There are three primary areas where you need to be prepared:
1)    Energy/Power/Heat
2)    Water & Food
3)    Family

1) Energy: However unlikely a massive grid failure might seem now, it’s important that you at least think through what you and your family would do about heating your home during the winter (wood stove? indoor propane heater? burning your furniture?), and/or cooling your home during the summer (which may not be quite as critical).

Additionally, consider what parts of your existence are dependent on power, and what it would be like to live without it. Write down your plan.

2) Food & Water: For water and food, it’s a very good idea to have food and water for at least 3 days on hand, and in permanent storage. Typically, you need about a gallon of water, per person, per day … and non-perishable food is now so readily-available, that you have your pick for how to stock up. You can save water in a leech-proof plastic jug and just switch it out every 5 years.

3) Family Plan:
* Identify meeting places where you and your family would come together, in the event of some sort of catastrophic grid failure or event, in which you aren’t able to stay at home.
* Put together a "Go Bag" for your family, which carries critical supplies and information for whatever circumstance you may run across. Here is what your bag should include
•    A disaster plan including location of emergency centers, rallying points, possible evacuation routes, etc.
•    Positive Identification, such as drivers license, state I.D. card, or social security card
•    Enough medicine to last an extended evacuation period
•    Cash and change, as electronic banking transactions may not be available during the initial period following an emergency or evacuation
•    A first aid kit
•    Fire starting tool (e.g., matches, ferrocerium rod, lighter, etc.)
•    Professional emergency literature explaining what to do in various types of disaster, studied and understood before the actual disaster but kept for reference
•    Maps and travel information
•    Standard camping equipment, including sanitation supplies
•    Weather-appropriate clothing (e.g., poncho, headwear, gloves, etc.)
•    Bedding items such as sleeping bags and blankets
•    Medical records
•    Pet, child, and elderly care needs
•    Battery- or crank-operated Radio
•    Lighting (battery- or crank-operated flashlight, glow sticks)
•    Firearms and appropriate ammunition
•    Fixed-blade and folding knife
•    Duct Tape and rope/para-cord
•    Plastic tarps for shelter and water collection
•    Slingshot, pellet gun, blowgun or other small game hunting equipment
•    Wire for binding and animal traps

This all might seem a bit excessive now … but so does every disaster plan — until disaster actually strikes.

So, perhaps make it a fun family activity to work through setting up these plans, and you’ll sleep much better knowing you’re prepared!

To you and your family’s safety!

Are You Working Without A Net?

“Then give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you.”

– Madeline Bridges

Before I get to what I wrote this week, I wanted you to know that there are a few important “announcements”, following my Note, which affect your tax situation for 2010 (i.e. the taxes we’re helping you prepare NOW), or for this year.

I’m always fascinated by the “behind the scenes” of what happens in different businesses. For instance, I wonder what the board meetings are really like for professional sports teams, for tv stations. Some people think about the teams, the shows … I find myself thinking a lot about the business behind them. That’s just how I’m wired.

Well, one of the “behind the scenes” aspects of OUR work is our interaction with other tax professionals. We go to conferences (put on by the IRS, etc.), we share strategy with one another (unless we’re in fierce local competition — but even then, I make it a point to be giving), and we often get to see each other’s work (reviewing returns).

But one of the problems with many tax professionals are the “terms” by which they operate, and a  lack of communication about what happens when … well, read on.

Roger Menden’s

“Real World” Personal Strategy

When The Tax Return is Wrong

Do you have a tax accountant who guarantees their work…in writing?

Sure, some guys might say: “We’ll make it right if we screw up”, but then the stuff hits the fan and they fight you every step of the way.

I’ve heard too many horror stories about taxpayers getting a letter from the IRS, then they take it to their accountant, and then the letter sits on a desk gathering dust.

Or stories about the EA who makes some calls on your behalf, but then you get charged an arm and a leg in the process.  Or sadly, a taxpayer doesn’t get any help from the person who prepared their taxes for them so they “go it alone”, call the IRS themselves and have to try to figure out what to do and not to do during this normally ugly IRS correspondence … THIS can be a nightmare!

Don’t let that happen to you. You need to have a written understanding with your tax professional that you won’t be left in the lurch. Oh, and also-does this guarantee actually do something you want it to?

I’ve seen some accountants guarantee they will file your taxes for you by April 15th or they will file an extension for you.  Well…great!  That sure makes you feel good in the morning, doesn’t it?   Other weak guarantees I’ve seen in the tax industry are, “We guarantee we will begin preparing your tax return the same day we meet with you.”

That means nothing to me.  I don’t care when you start preparing my taxes.  I want to know how long it is going to take you to finish it and do so without leaving out silly errors you know you should have caught.

So remember:  the guarantees should be in areas you care about, like:

Tax Return Accuracy … Speed of Service … Most Money Legally Yours … Ongoing IRS Protection For Years After Filing …

These are the things YOU care about!  Make sure the tax professional you choose stands behind these critical areas of tax filing so you get the most out of your tax filing experience.

Now for those announcements:

1) There are (literally) BILLIONS of dollars in unclaimed refund money available from the IRS from 2007 returns. Here’s the catch: You must claim it by April 18th, 2011. 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 to say that 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 was correct. Oops — that’s where the IRS gets the billions figure, because there are unclaimed refunds due to unfiled returns.

Either way, we can help (and routinely do). Call us: 952-445-8753

2) About that deadline: We have three extra days to work on your information this year, but this does NOT mean that you should procrastinate!

The three extra days have been added because of Emancipation Day, which is a little-known Washington, DC holiday that celebrates the freeing of slaves in the district. The holiday actually falls on Saturday, April 16 this year, but will officially be observed on Friday, April 15. As a result, the IRS pushed the filing deadline to Monday, April 18 – since the tax code states that filing deadlines can’t fall on Saturdays, Sundays or holidays.

Despite this short extension, the federal filing deadline is approaching quickly. Don’t wait until the last minute to get your paper work in order.

With gratitude for your trust!

A Friendly Tip (Not About Taxes)

“It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked.”

– Kahlil Gibran

Last Monday, there was a certain holiday to attend to,

and it’s pretty easy to let things sort of slide on by after

that point. But here’s my advice for you:

Don’t stop there.

Yes, yes — the old canard: EVERY day is Valentine’s Day!

And I’m very aware that you may have had a budget

for your expressions of love, so I’m taking a different approach.

These are some non-budget-busting ways to go “above and beyond” —

when it matters. Sure, wives may scoff at this list, and be gratified

when their husbands successfully surpass it. And husbands, well,

I know some are skilled at romance; and others …

well, here’s some help!

You see, how nice would it be to have “come through” last week

(or, well, not, as the case may be), but then follow up with

something more?

And again, I know that many families on my list have a certain

amount of means at their disposal, and others don’t. Which

makes this list even more helpful. Because *whatever* your budget,

the simple gesture of coming back around AFTER Valentine’s Day

is how real magic happens.

So, yes — today’s Note is not about taxes, per se … but as part of my

continuing quest to serve you “above and beyond”, I thought I’d offer

you a friendly reminder.

[But, on that note: Have you contacted us yet to get your taxes

in order? Because our schedule is rapidly filling up. Oh, and we

do generously reward for referrals, so send your friends our way! Just

have them let us know you sent them, and we’ll give them a special

deal — just from you.]

Roger Menden’s

“Real World” Personal Strategy

Making Your Love Gestures Stick

It’s no secret that our economy is in tough shape. And whatever your particular financial situation, wouldn’t it be great to create romance “magic” without spending an arm and two legs? So, perhaps you’ve done the old “flowers, candy and chocolate” routine already last week. Well,  here are a few modest and occasionally tongue-in-cheek suggestions for a sizzling follow-through … that won’t torch your wallet!

Be Green – Save Money and the Environment at the Same Time!

With the economy taking its toll on virtually every industry, even the high-rollers are looking for ways to spend their cash more effectively. One Hollywood studio saved $40,000 on cards and postage by doing e-Cards and videos for all of their clients and friends.

Seem cheap?  Spin it this way – you’re being green by not using snail mail – that’s so 20th century anyway. You’re keeping with the times, utilizing powerful technology and reducing your “footprint” at the same time! What environmentally-conscious woman could resist?!

Make a Video.

You can use the video setting on your digital camera, and create a heartfelt message of love for your sweetie. Then, you can post it to YouTube, or another online video-sharing site and send it on! Um, just be sure to adjust that YouTube setting to “private” unless you want to share with the world your dying 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 more-than-a-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 artistically and/or musically 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 a service like Apple’s iBook service and iPhoto.

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. 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. If you do have snow outside, you could stomp out the message and fill in the letters with spray paint or flower pedals or rocks.  If there’s no snow, you can use sidewalk chalk to write a message to your sweetie.

You see, anybody can go out and “buy something” – but it takes effort and thoughtfulness to make it personal … and it doesn’t require a lot of money!

Just remember … follow-through is everything!

‘They’re All The Same’, And Other Untruths

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”

– Virginia Woolf

So the really important question: How’d you do on Valentine’s Day?

Many people say it’s a “Hallmark Holiday”, but well–some spouses and significant others think otherwise, right? Well, if you blew it, I’ve heard that it’s NEVER too late. Make this week count, my friend.

In fact, I briefly considered writing a treatise on love for you this week, but, well — I figure I should stick to my area of most expertise. And this week’s Note is about a marriage of a different sort.

There’s a news story floating around this week about politicians having to prepare their own taxes. (Here’s what I’m referring to, btw: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/yourtaxes/13essay.html) Apparently, the proposal gets a few laughs from those who hear about it, because, really — it’s becoming mind-numbingly complex, even for many professionals.

You think I’m kidding on that one? Well, you should see some of the returns we review for people who have had them prepared elsewhere … yikes.

So, just as the choice to file taxes via robotic software fails the test, selecting the wrong professional to file your returns can be a big, big mistake.

Here’s what I mean.

Roger Menden’s

“Real World” Personal Strategy

Is There Really Any Difference?

Unfortunately, with the way that most tax professionals and EA’s present themselves to the world, it seems like we’re all the same. We all seem to offer the same services, for pretty similar fees. If I weren’t working every day in this industry, I’m pretty sure I would think that all accountants and EA’s were the same. Nothing could be further from the truth.

You see, each tax professional does have certain qualifications. Some might be experts at this sort of tax law, or in working with farmers or with getting money back through IRS representation, or a whole variety of different things…but are they really providing what you, the consumer, wants?

What do you want from a tax preparer?

When I sit down and talk with regular consumers, here’s what I discover:

You want to be able to work with a caring professional…NOT one of those “cattle call” shops, where you’re squeezed in with a bunch of other people, and seen by harried, poorly-trained employees that just took a basic tax course.

You want an accurately filed tax return.  You want the whole thing broken down in terms that you understand, and in a way that you don’t need a translator to communicate. You want there to be processes in place to ensure that the most money is kept out of the grasping hands of Uncle Sam, and in your wallet (legally).

You want a “heads up” about future ways you can legally add deductions and make sure that you can get even more money back in the future. You want assurances everything your tax preparer is doing for you is valid and correct, so a guarantee(s) is essential to the process.

And of course, you want do it fast.  Look, I know this is a big deal for consumers…you don’t want your accountant pushing back at you all the time, saying “give me more time”, when you know it’s not because they’re working hard on your behalf, but that they’re so poorly organized that they’re not getting ANYBODY’S work done on time!

Oh, and if you ARE getting a refund, you want a tax firm who can get you the most money back the fastest … with the most electronic filing options available.

Here’s the bottom line:  You want professionalism … accuracy … you want clarity … you want to be aware of beneficial tax options … you want peace of mind … you want an efficient use of your time …. you want your refund money back in your hands fast …. And at the end of the day, you want to KNOW you got the most money back from Uncle Sam AND know that the IRS will stay off your back so you can sleep like a baby at night!

If the accountant or tax professional you are talking to can’t do these things, you need to call one that can.

To your family’s financial and emotional peace!

Well-Publicized Mistakes, And Going Alone

The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.

– George Eliot

This week after the Super Bowl is leaving football fans at a bit of a loss. But an interesting fact about the winning Green Bay Packers: They’re the only professional sports team operating as a non-profit organization. There are exactly 112,015 owners of the club. That’s why it was the team “President” receiving the trophy the other night, rather than the usual team owner.

Now for the awkward segue into what I want to tell you about — and warn you about: The Green Bay Packers ownership isn’t a “lonely” enterprise, but you know what is? Trying to prepare your taxes correctly on your own.

[Sorry for that. Sometimes I have to stretch events to fit the narrative:). But stay with me, as this is important — especially for you or your friends & family who may choose to go this route.]

You see, I don’t like to crow about other people’s mistakes.

In fact, in our line of work, much of what we get to do is to *fix* or alleviate those mistakes, at least when it comes to their tax implications.

And many of the mistakes we see, every year, are when taxpayers decide to tame the tax code on their own, or with the “help” of off-the-shelf software. Do you remember last year when even the Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, testified about tax irregularities in his personal returns? Do you remember where he placed the blame?

Turbo Tax.

And he’s not alone. But there’s a good way to fix that problem…

Roger Menden’s

“Real World” Personal Strategy

Don’t File Your Taxes By Yourself

The “Free” Online Options

Did you know that we accountants like to joke to one another about how good these online software programs (TaxCut, TurboTax, etc.) are for our business? Firstly, they are not as “easy to use” as claimed, and secondly…they cost you an arm and a leg.

You might think they’re cheap. And on the surface, you might be right (though, last year, a $1 Billion class action lawsuit was filed in the federal court in Philadelphia alleging gross misstatement of fees and deceptive standards of the federal “FreeFile” program … so even on the surface, it wasn’t always cheap). But I’m not even talking about the money for the service itself.

Using those programs can end up leaving hundreds, or even thousands of your dollars in the coffers of Uncle Sam … even if you follow all of their instructions to a tee. I see it all the time–frustrated clients bringing in their prior year’s tax return, astonished at all the “hidden money” my staff and I are able to find for them!

Even worse…

Choosing the wrong method, or forms, in filing your taxes can place you directly in the crosshairs for an audit.

Even if I don’t owe a ton of back taxes, I still don’t want my record to show some IRS agent that there has been some discrepancy in the past so that red flags start to fly, and more bureaucratic people begin looking through all my past tax filings and current income holdings … basically taking my social security number and poking around in my private life.

(If you think they won’t do this, read a little online about the increased “enforcement” measures the IRS is taking this year.)

They can do a lot of things you won’t want them to do. However, if you keep a clean slate (no IRS correspondence with you related to filing your taxes correctly), the opportunities for them to mess with your personal stuff will be limited.

Here’s another reason why this is so important … now more than ever. New government regulations in 2010, delays in Congressional action, and issues with refund “loans” from the big chains are creating a mess in the tax industry… and the “Big Brand Names” (you know who I’m talking about) do NOT want you to know about it. In fact, they’re doing all they can this year to hold on to their business, and trust me — it is not good for you.

Yes, it can be seductive to “go it alone”…to trust a piece of software to point out possible deductions. To trust your work to poorly-trained preparers in a big box office.

But it can be a big trap.

Just ask Tim Geithner.

To your family’s financial and emotional peace!

Next Page »