Three Ways to Maintain Good Credit

Your credit history is your financial reputation. And just like your professional and personal reputations, your credit history takes many years to cultivate, can be easily damaged, and will follow you the rest of your life.

Maintaining good credit is important. Nearly everyone will need to borrow money from a lender at some point — say, for buying a car —  and your credit history determines whether you qualify for a loan and, if you do, what interest rate you pay. It can make or break your application for a credit card. A prospective landlord can check it to judge whether you’ll be a responsible tenant. Potential employers may request your credit reports to see if there are any red flags.

Luckily, many resources are available to help you learn how to successfully establish — and maintain — a healthy financial reputation. Here are three tips for creating a stable foundation for good credit.

  1. Monitor your credit reports.

Understanding your financial habits — such as payment history and spending patterns — can help you improve them! Your score is generally based on information in your credit reports. Mistakes on your credit reports could hurt your credit score, so check them regularly. Make sure to check that your reports don’t contain any errors, such as incorrect contact information, closed accounts listed as open, or an item like an unpaid debt listed twice.

If you find something wrong in a credit report, you should contact both the credit reporting agency that produced it and the creditor that provided the information.

  1. Pay your bills on time.

This is one of the simplest ways to keep your credit score strong — yet, with the bustle of everyday life, it can be easy to lose track of time and miss payment deadlines. Set up auto-payments or electronic reminders to ensure that you won’t be hit with late-payment penalties. Paying bills late can hurt your credit score, which in turn can raise your interest rate — meaning that you’re out even more money.

It’s a common misconception that the best way to improve a credit score is to pay off all of your accounts and close them. Get up to speed on your payments and stay on schedule, but be careful when closing accounts. Doing so eliminates some of the credit available to you, making balances appear higher when compared with the combined credit limit of all of your accounts. Also, if you managed an account well and made payments on time, closing it will remove all the positive benefits of your responsible credit behavior on your reports and score.

  1. Don’t get close to your credit limit.

Credit scoring models look at how close you are to being “maxed out,” so keep your balances low in proportion to your overall credit. Experts advise keeping your use of credit to no more than 30 percent of your total credit limit. That means that if you have $12,000 of available credit on one open account, you shouldn’t use more than $3,600.

You can decrease your credit utilization ratio over time by paying as much of your credit card balance as possible each month. If you can, pay more than the minimum balance due; this will increase your available credit and decrease your utilization ratio faster.

Just like a shining professional reputation can take you far in your career, your credit score can make or break your financial status. To learn more about how to establish a stellar financial reputation, go to FinancialProtection.USA.gov.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,    Grayling 989.348.4055,                           Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    Saginaw 989.782.1985,    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Key Tax Tips on the Tax Effects of Divorce or Separation

Income tax may be the last thing on your mind after a divorce or separation. However, these events can have a big impact on your taxes. Alimony and a name change are just a few items you may need to consider. Here are some key tax tips to keep in mind if you get divorced or separated.

  • Child Support.  If you pay child support, you can’t deduct it on your tax return. If you receive child support, the amount you receive is not taxable.
  • Alimony Paid.  If you make payments under a divorce or separate maintenance decree or written separation agreement you may be able to deduct them as alimony. This applies only if the payments qualify as alimony for federal tax purposes. If the decree or agreement does not require the payments, they do not qualify as alimony.
  • Alimony Received.  If you get alimony from your spouse or former spouse, it is taxable in the year you get it. Alimony is not subject to tax withholding so you may need to increase the tax you pay during the year to avoid a penalty. To do this, you can make estimated tax payments or increase the amount of tax withheld from your wages.
  • Spousal IRA.  If you get a final decree of divorce or separate maintenance by the end of your tax year, you can’t deduct contributions you make to your former spouse’s traditional IRA. You may be able to deduct contributions you make to your own traditional IRA.
  • Name Changes.  If you change your name after your divorce, notify the Social Security Administration of the change. File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. You can get the form on SSA.gov or call 800-772-1213 to order it. The name on your tax return must match SSA records. A name mismatch can delay your refund.

Health Care Law Considerations

  • Special Marketplace Enrollment Period.  If you lose your health insurance coverage due to divorce, you are still required to have coverage for every month of the year for yourself and the dependents you can claim on your tax return. Losing coverage through a divorce is considered a qualifying life event that allows you to enroll in health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace during a Special Enrollment Period.
  • Changes in Circumstances.  If you purchase health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace you may get advance payments of the premium tax credit in 2015. If you do, you should report changes in circumstances to your Marketplace throughout the year. Changes to report include a change in marital status, a name change and a change in your income or family size. By reporting changes, you will help make sure that you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance. This will also help you avoid getting too much or too little credit in advance.
  • Shared Policy Allocation. If you divorced or are legally separated during the tax year and are enrolled in the same qualified health plan, you and your former spouse must allocate policy amounts on your separate tax returns to figure your premium tax credit and reconcile any advance payments made on your behalf. Publication 974, Premium Tax Credit, has more information about the Shared Policy Allocation.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,    Grayling 989.348.4055,                           Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    Saginaw 989.782.1985,    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Don’t Fall for New Tax Scam Tricks by IRS Posers

Tax scammers work year-round. The IRS advises you to stay alert to protect yourself against new ways criminals pose as the IRS to trick you out of your money or personal information. These scams first tried to sting older Americans, newly arrived immigrants and those who speak English as a second language. The crooks have expanded their net, and now try to swindle virtually anyone. Here are several tips from the IRS to help you avoid being a victim of these scams:

  • Scams use scare tactics.  These aggressive and sophisticated scams try to scare people into making a false tax payment that ends up with the criminal. Many phone scams use threats to try to intimidate you so you will pay them your money. They often threaten arrest or deportation, or that they will revoke your license if you don’t pay. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests, sometimes through “robo-calls,” via phone or email. The emails will often contain a fake IRS document with a phone number or an email address for you to reply.
  • Scams use caller ID spoofing.  Scammers often alter caller ID to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legit. They may use online resources to get your name, address and other details about your life to make the call sound official.
  • Scams use phishing email and regular mail.  Scammers copy official IRS letterhead to use in email or regular mail they send to victims. In another new variation, schemers provide an actual IRS address where they tell the victim to mail a receipt for the payment they make. All in an attempt to make the scheme look official.
  • Scams cost victims over $20 million.  The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, has received reports of about 600,000 contacts since October 2013. TIGTA is also aware of nearly 4,000 victims who have collectively reported over $20 million in financial losses as a result of tax scams.

The real IRS will not:

  • Call you to demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call you if you owe taxes without first sending you a bill in the mail.
  • Demand that you pay taxes and not allow you to question or appeal the amount that you owe.
  • Require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For instance, require that you pay with a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying.

If you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Do not provide any information to the caller. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page to report the incident.
  • You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,    Grayling 989.348.4055,                           Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    Saginaw 989.782.1985,    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Tax Tips for Starting a Business

When you start a business, a key to your success is to know your tax obligations. You may not only need to know about income tax rules, but also about payroll tax rules. Here are five IRS tax tips that can help you get your business off to a good start.

  1. Business Structure. An early choice you need to make is to decide on the type of structure for your business. The most common types are sole proprietor, partnership and corporation. The type of business you choose will determine which tax forms you will file.
  2. Business Taxes.  There are four general types of business taxes. They are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax and excise tax. In most cases, the types of tax your business pays depends on the type of business structure you set up. You may need to make estimated tax payments. If you do, use IRS Direct Pay to pay them. It’s the fast, easy and secure way to pay from your checking or savings account.
  3. Employer Identification Number. You may need to get an EIN for federal tax purposes. Search “do you need an EIN” on IRS.gov to find out if you need this number. If you do need one, you can apply for it online.
  4. Accounting Method. An accounting method is a set of rules that you use to determine when to report income and expenses. You must use a consistent method. The two that are most common are the cash and accrual methods. Under the cash method, you normally report income and deduct expenses in the year that you receive or pay them. Under the accrual method, you generally report income and deduct expenses in the year that you earn or incur them. This is true even if you get the income or pay the expense in a later year.
  5. Employee Health Care. The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit helps small businesses and tax-exempt organizations pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. A small employer is eligible for the credit if it has fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time. The maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers, such as charities.

The employer shared responsibility provisions of the Affordable Care Act affect employers employing at least a certain number of employees (generally 50 full-time employees or a combination of full-time and part-time employees). These employers’ are called applicable large employers. ALEs must either offer minimum essential coverage that is “affordable” and that provides “minimum value” to their full-time employees (and their dependents), or potentially make an employer shared responsibility payment to the IRS. The vast majority of employers will fall below the ALE threshold number of employees and, therefore, will not be subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions.

Employers also have information reporting responsibilities regarding minimum essential coverage they offer or provide to their fulltime employees.  Employers must send reports to employees and to the IRS on new forms the IRS created for this purpose.

For help starting a business or with any income tax question call one of our offices:                                       

Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,    Grayling 989.348.4055,                           Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    Saginaw 989.782.1985,    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

 

 

Review Your Taxes Now to Prevent a Surprise Next Spring

Each year, many people get a larger refund than they expected. Some find they owe a lot more tax than they thought they would. If this happened to you, review your situation to prevent another tax surprise. Did you marry? Have a child? Have a change in income? Some life events can have a major effect on your taxes. You can bring the tax you pay closer to the amount you owe. Here are some key IRS tips to help you come up with a plan of action:

  • New Job.   When you start a new job, you must fill out a Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate and give it to your employer. Your employer will use the form to figure the amount of federal income tax to withhold from your pay. Use the IRS Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov to help you fill out the form. This tool is easy to use and it’s available 24/7.
  • Estimated Tax.  If you earn income that is not subject to withholding you may need to pay estimated tax. This may include income such as self-employment, interest, dividends or rent. If you expect to owe a thousand dollars or more in tax, and meet other conditions, you may need to pay this tax. You normally pay it four times a year. Use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure the tax.
  • Life Events.  Check to see if you need to change your Form W-4 or change the amount of estimated tax you pay when certain life events take place. A change in your marital status, the birth of a child or buying a new home can change the amount of taxes you owe. In most cases, you can submit a new Form W–4 to your employer anytime.
  • Changes in Circumstances.   If you are receiving advance payments of the premium tax credit, it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. You should also notify the Marketplace when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace plan. Advance payments of the premium tax credit help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Reporting changes will help you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance so you can avoid getting too much or too little in advance.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:                                               Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,    Grayling 989.348.4055,                           Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    Saginaw 989.782.1985,    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Heatstroke deaths are 100 percent preventable

With temperatures soaring across the country, the NHTSA urges everyone to remember that heatstroke can be deadly to kids left in hot cars. Heatstroke is the leading cause of death for children under 14 in motor vehicle incidents  (other than crashes) . There have already been 10 deaths in 2015. Follow these tips to prevent heatstroke:

  • Never leave an infant or child unattended in a vehicle, even if the windows are partly open, or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on.
  • Don’t let children play in an unattended vehicle.
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle before locking the door and walking away.
  • Take steps to remember not to leave a child in a vehicle by leaving a note or placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat.
  • If you see a child alone in a vehicle, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible.

For help with any tax question call one of our offices:                                       

Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180, Grayling 989.348.4055,                           Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    Saginaw 989.782.1985,    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

 

Five Tax Tips about Hobbies that Earn Income

Millions of people enjoy hobbies. They can also be a source of income. Some of these types of hobbies include stamp or coin collecting, craft making and horse breeding. You must report any income you get from a hobby on your tax return. How you report the income is different than how you report income from a business. There are special rules and limits for deductions you can claim for a hobby. Here are five basic tax tips you should know if you get income from your hobby:

  1. Business versus Hobby.  A key feature of a business is that you do the activity to make a profit. This differs from a hobby that you may do for sport or recreation. There are nine factors to consider when you determine if you do the activity to make a profit. Make sure you base your decision on all the facts and circumstances of your situation. Refer to Publication 535, Business Expenses to learn more. You can also visit IRS.gov and type “not-for-profit” in the search box.
  2. Allowable Hobby Deductions.  You may be able to deduct ordinary and necessary hobby expenses. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted for the activity. A necessary expense is one that is helpful or appropriate. See Publication 535 for more on these rules.
  3. Limits on Expenses.  As a general rule, you can only deduct your hobby expenses up to the amount of your hobby income. If your expenses are more than your income, you have a loss from the activity. You can’t deduct that loss from your other income.
  4. How to Deduct Expenses.  You must itemize deductions on your tax return in order to deduct hobby expenses. Your costs may fall into three types of expenses. Special rules apply to each type. See Publication 535 for how you should report them on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.
  5. Use IRS Free File.  Hobby rules can be complex. IRS Free File can make filing your tax return easier. IRS Free File is available until Oct. 15. If you make $60,000 or less, you can use brand-name tax software. If you earn more, you can use Free File Fillable Forms, an electronic version of IRS paper forms. You can only access Free File through IRS.gov.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:                                               Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,    Grayling 989.348.4055,                           Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    Saginaw 989.782.1985,    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

If You Get an IRS Notice, Here’s What to Do

Each year the IRS mails millions of notices and letters to taxpayers. If you receive a notice from the IRS, here is what you should do:

  • Don’t Ignore It. You can respond to most IRS notices quickly and easily. It is important that you reply right away. 
  • Focus on the Issue. IRS notices usually deal with a specific issue about your tax return or tax account. Understanding the reason for your notice is important before you can comply.
  • Follow Instructions. Read the notice carefully. It will tell you if you need to take any action to resolve the matter. You should follow the instructions.
  • Correction Notice. If it says that the IRS corrected your tax return, you should review the information provided and compare it to your tax return. If you agree, you don’t need to reply unless a payment is due. If you don’t agree, it’s important that you respond to the IRS. Write a letter that explains why you don’t agree. Make sure to include information and any documents you want the IRS to consider. Include the bottom tear-off portion of the notice with your letter. Mail your reply to the IRS at the address shown in the lower left part of the notice. Allow at least 30 days for a response from the IRS.
  • Premium Tax Credit. The IRS may send you a letter asking you to clarify or verify your premium tax credit information. The letter may ask for a copy of your Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement. You should follow the instructions on the letter that you receive. This will help the IRS verify information and issue the appropriate refund.
  • No Need to Visit IRS. You can handle most notices without calling or visiting the IRS. If you do have questions, call the phone number in the upper right corner of the notice. You should have a copy of your tax return and the notice with you when you call.
  • Keep the Notice. Keep a copy of the notice you get from the IRS with your tax records.
  • Watch Out for Scams. Don’t fall for phone and phishing email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS first contacts people about unpaid taxes by mail – not by phone. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text or social media.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:                                               Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,    Grayling 989.348.4055,                           Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    Saginaw 989.782.1985,    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Top 10 Tips about Tax Breaks for the Military

If you are in the U. S. Armed Forces, special tax breaks may apply to you. For example, some types of pay are not taxable. Certain rules apply to deductions or credits that you may be able to claim that can lower your tax. In some cases, you may get more time to file your tax return. You may also get more time to pay your income tax. Here are the top 10 IRS tax tips about these rules:

  1. Deadline Extensions.  Some members of the military, such as those who serve in a combat zone, can postpone some tax deadlines. If this applies to you, you can get automatic extensions of time to file your tax return and to pay your taxes.
  2. Combat Pay Exclusion.  If you serve in a combat zone, certain combat pay you get is not taxable. You won’t need to show the pay on your tax return because combat pay is not part of the wages reported on your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. If you serve in support of a combat zone, you may qualify for this exclusion.
  3. Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC.  If you get nontaxable combat pay, you can include it to figure your EITC. Doing so may boost your credit. Even if you do, the combat pay stays nontaxable.
  4. Moving Expense Deduction.  You may be able to deduct some of your unreimbursed moving costs. This applies if the move is due to a permanent change of station.
  5. Uniform Deduction.  You can deduct the costs of certain uniforms that you can’t wear while off duty. This includes the costs of purchase and upkeep. You must reduce your deduction by any allowance you get for these costs.
  6. Signing Joint Returns.  Both spouses normally must sign a joint income tax return. If your spouse is absent due to certain military duty or conditions, you may be able to sign for your spouse. In other cases when your spouse is absent, you may need a power of attorney to file a joint return.
  7. Reservists’ Travel Deduction.  If you’re a member of the U.S. Armed Forces Reserves, you may deduct certain costs of travel on your tax return. This applies to the unreimbursed costs of travel to perform your reserve duties that are more than 100 miles away from home.
  8. ROTC Allowances.  Some amounts paid to ROTC students in advanced training are not taxable. This applies to allowances for education and subsistence. Active duty ROTC pay is taxable. For instance, pay for summer advanced camp is taxable.
  9. Civilian Life.  If you leave the military and look for work, you may be able to deduct some job search expenses. You may be able to include the costs of travel, preparing a resume and job placement agency fees. Moving expenses may also qualify for a tax deduction.
  10. Tax Help.  Most military bases offer free tax preparation and filing assistance during the tax filing season. Some also offer free tax help after April 15.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:                                               Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,    Grayling 989.348.4055,                           Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    Saginaw 989.782.1985,    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Statute of Limitations

The IRS does not have unlimited time to collect back taxes. The law provides the agency 10 years to collect any tax debt. This collection period of 10 years is known as the statute of limitations.

Even though the IRS usually closes a tax debt case after the 10-year statute of limitations expires, it can, if it wishes to, collect back taxes even after that. However, that is rare.

Usually, after the expiry of the statute of limitations, the entire tax debt is forgiven and the case closed. There can be various reasons for the IRS’ inability to collect back taxes for 10 years, including inability to track down the taxpayer, and the taxpayer’s poor financial condition that doesn’t allow any payment.

The IRS is particularly strict with non-payment of income tax, but they are even more aggressive with non-payment of payroll taxes. The IRS closely watches small employers. The tax code places a 100% penalty on “responsible persons” who do not withhold employee taxes, or who withhold and do not transfer the tax money to the IRS. Employers and even employees that are required to withhold payroll taxes are required to pay payroll taxes on time.

If a taxpayer has the ability to pay and can be located, the IRS will usually collect back taxes well before the statute of limitations. Ability to pay includes income, equity in assets, and the ability to take loan.

Taxpayers that do not have the ability to pay any amount in back taxes may be assigned the status of Currently Not Collectible (CNC). This stops collection actions and allows the taxpayer more time to pay. If the financial condition of the taxpayer under CNC does not improve significantly by the expiry of the statute of limitations, the tax debt is forgiven and the case closed.

For help with any income tax question including unpaid taxes call one of our offices:      Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,    Grayling 989.348.4055,                           Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    Saginaw 989.782.1985,    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600