Equifax Data Breach – 7 Ways to Protect Yourself

4 10 2017

There has been quite a bit written about the Equifax data breach – why it happened; how it happened; and what you can do about it.

 

The most important thing for our clients is the what you can do about it. We’ve listed several steps you can take to help protect your credit report, as well as put some measures into place that may protect it in the future.

Read more … 





What a Wonderful Vacation!

8 08 2018

Everyone loves a vacation.  Some are more special or unique than others.  That would certainly describe the most recent vacation taken by RBSK’s own Bob Blankman along with his wife Carol and daughters, Lisa and Megan.  They traveled to Italy for a very special purpose.

They left Indiana on June 30th arriving in Rome on July 1st.  The first part of the trip was devoted to excursions and sightseeing trips.  While in Rome, they visited the Catacombs, the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain.  A side trip to Assisi was also included.

Then it was off to Tuscany for a wine tasting lunch on July 4th.  From there, they visited Sienna before traveling to Florence.  One of the highlights of the stay in Florence was touring galleries which included the original statue of David by Michelangelo.

Arriving in Florence was the ultimate goal of the trip.  For you see, Bob’s wife Carol is a two-time breast cancer survivor.  Almost 3 years ago she joined the Indy SurviveOars Dragon Boat Racing Team whose home is located at Geist Reservoir in Indianapolis.  This team traveled to Florence, Italy for an international festival for breast cancer survivors hosted by the International Breast Cancer Paddler’s Commission (IBCPC) on July 6th through July 8th.

The IBCPC Dragon Boat Festival is held every four years and is a non-competitive event geared toward teams of breast cancer survivors using dragon boat activities as post-operative rehabilitation.  Canadian sports medicine doctor Don McKenzie introduced dragon boat paddling as a form of rehabilitation after surgery about 20 years ago.  The IBCPC has a total of 129 teams from 17 countries spanning every continent.

The festival was held at Cascine Park, which is the largest public park in Florence and dates back to the 16th century.  The races took place on the Arno River which runs through the outskirts of the park.

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Following a couple of practice sessions and similar to the Olympics, the festivities began the evening of July 6th with a parade of nations through the streets of Florence.  The Blankman family can be seen wearing their parade shirts in the picture above.  A woman from each country carried their nation’s flag followed by the teams participating in the festival from that country.  Each team carried a banner indicating who they were.  A woman from the Indy SurviveOars group had the honor of carrying the American flag followed by 42 teams from the United States.  She was the youngest woman from the United States participating in the festival having survived breast cancer twice at the age of 29.  Pictured below are the Indy SurviveOars participating in the parade.

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The dragon boat races then took place on July 7th and 8th.  Dragon boats are over 40 feet long propelled by a coordinated crew of 20-22 paddlers, a drummer who keeps the pace, and a steerer who guides the craft.  There were enough women who made the trip to Italy for the Indy SurviveOars to field one full team but not enough for two teams.  So, some of the women were part of “composite” teams joining other women from other states or countries to form a full team for the races.  The Indy SurviveOars were a part of 3 “composite” teams joining other women from New York, Vermont and Australia.  Carol and 4 other Indy SurviveOars women joined a team from New York for their races.  Thus, there were 4 teams that included women from the Indy SurviveOars.

It really didn’t matter to the women which team they were on.  Their motto is “One Team, One Blade” with the blade representing the paddle.  This basically means that it doesn’t matter which boat you are in or where you are, we are all in this together.

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Each race consisted of 5 boats racing against each other in a heat.  Carol Blankman (second from the back on the left) can be seen in the picture above paddling with her team in one of the heats.  Each team raced twice each day.  Although this was a non-competitive event, as mentioned previously, once the women were in their boats and racing in their heats, it was very competitive.  Each woman in each boat gave their best effort to not only win their heat, but to also have the best overall time for the two days of racing.  The team consisting of all women from Indy SurviveOars finished 30th out of approximately 125 teams, 11th out of 42 US teams and 2nd among US Midwest teams.  This was their best showing in any of the 3 such festivals in which they have participated.  The picture below shows the view as the boats approach the finish line.

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The most beautiful and meaningful part of the festival occurred at the end of the second day of the races.  Every dragon boat racing event, including festivals, ends with a rose ceremony.  All the boats are linked together in the water, and each woman on the boats holds a rose while a brief talk is given or a short prayer is being said.  Then the roses are tossed in the water to commemorate and remember those women who have lost their battle with breast cancer or have had a reoccurrence, as well as all of those who have had the disease.

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For this ceremony at the festival, music was also playing in the background.  All 4,000 women in attendance wore the same pink T-shirts for the ceremony.  The women who were standing on the side of the river and not in the boats also tossed roses in the water.  It was a very touching and beautiful way to end the festival.

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What a wonderful vacation!!!

For anyone who may be interested in seeing dragon boat racing in person, the White River Alliance in Indianapolis is sponsoring an inaugural White River Dragon Boat Race on Saturday, September 29th.  The White River Races will begin at 8:30a.m. and should end mid-afternoon.  We hope to see you there.

 

 





Three Common Types of IRS Tax Penalties

1 06 2018
Three Common Types of IRS Tax Penalties

Photo: Rawpixel

Around this time of year, many people have filed and forgotten about their 2017 tax returns. But you could get an abrupt reminder in the form of an IRS penalty. Here are three common types and how you might seek relief:

One

Failure-to-file and failure-to-pay. The IRS will consider any reason that establishes that you were unable to meet your federal tax obligations despite using “all ordinary business care and prudence” to do so. Frequently cited reasons include fire, casualty, natural disaster or other disturbances. The agency may also accept death, serious illness, incapacitation or unavoidable absence of the taxpayer or an immediate family member.

If you don’t have a good reason for filing or paying late, you may be able to apply for a first-time penalty abatement (FTA) waiver. To qualify for relief, you must have: 1) received no penalties (other than estimated tax penalties) for the three tax years preceding the tax year in which you received a penalty, 2) filed all required returns or filed a valid extension of time to file, and 3) paid, or arranged to pay, any tax due. Despite the expression “first-time,” you can receive FTA relief more than once, so long as at least three years have elapsed.

Two

Estimated tax miscalculation. It’s possible, but unlikely, to obtain relief from estimated tax penalties on grounds of casualty, disaster or other unusual circumstances. You’re more likely to get these penalties abated if you can prove that the IRS made an error, such as crediting a payment to the wrong tax period, or that calculating the penalty using a different method (such as the annualized income installment method) would reduce or eliminate the penalty.

Three

Tax-filing inaccuracy. These penalties may be imposed, for example, if the IRS finds that your return was prepared negligently or that there’s a substantial understatement of tax. You can obtain relief from these penalties if you can demonstrate that you properly disclosed your tax position in your return and that you had a reasonable basis for taking that position.

Generally, you have a reasonable basis if your chances of withstanding an IRS challenge are greater than 50%. Reliance on a competent tax advisor greatly improves your odds of obtaining penalty relief. Other possible grounds for relief include computational errors and reliance on an inaccurate W-2, 1099 or other information statement.





Deducting Home Equity Interest Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

1 06 2018
Deducting Home Equity Interest

Photo: Valentina Locatelli

Passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in December 2017 has led to confusion over some longstanding deductions. In response, the IRS recently issued a statement clarifying that the interest on home equity loans, home equity lines of credit and second mortgages will, in many cases, remain deductible.

How it used to be.

Under prior tax law, a taxpayer could deduct “qualified residence interest” on a loan of up to $1 million secured by a qualified residence, plus interest on a home equity loan (other than debt used to acquire a home) up to $100,000. The home equity debt couldn’t exceed the fair market value of the home reduced by the debt used to acquire the home.

For tax purposes, a qualified residence is the taxpayer’s principal residence and a second residence, which can be a house, condominium, cooperative, mobile home, house trailer or boat. The principal residence is where the taxpayer resides most of the time; the second residence is any other residence the taxpayer owns and treats as a second home. Taxpayers aren’t required to use the second home during the year to claim the deduction. If the second home is rented to others, though, the taxpayer also must use it as a home during the year for the greater of 14 days or 10% of the number of days it’s rented.

In the past, interest on qualifying home equity debt was deductible regardless of how the loan proceeds were used. A taxpayer could, for example, use the proceeds to pay for medical bills, tuition, vacations, vehicles and other personal expenses and still claim the itemized interest deduction.

What’s deductible now.

The TCJA limits the amount of the mortgage interest deduction for taxpayers who itemize through 2025. Beginning in 2018, for new home purchases, a taxpayer can deduct interest only on acquisition mortgage debt of $750,000.

On February 21, the IRS issued a release (IR 2018-32) explaining that the law suspends the deduction only for interest on home equity loans and lines of credit that aren’t used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan. In other words, the interest isn’t deductible if the loan proceeds are used for certain personal expenses, but it is deductible if the proceeds go toward, for example, a new roof on the home that secures the loan. The IRS further stated that the deduction limits apply to the combined amount of mortgage and home equity acquisition loans — home equity debt is no longer capped at $100,000 for purposes of the deduction.

Further Clarifications

As a relatively comprehensive new tax law, the TCJA will likely be subject to a variety of clarifications before it settles in.

Please contact us for help better understanding this provision or any other.





Foreign Accounts Call for Specific Reporting Requirements

14 05 2018

Foreign Accounts Call for Specific Reporting Requirements

In an increasingly globalized society, many people choose to open offshore accounts to deposit a portion of their wealth. When doing so, it’s important to follow the IRS’s strict foreign accounts reporting requirements. In a nutshell, if you have a financial interest in or signature authority over any foreign accounts, including bank accounts, brokerage accounts, mutual funds or trusts, you must disclose those accounts to the IRS and you may have additional reporting requirements.

To do so, your tax preparer will check the box on line 7a of Schedule B (“Interest and Ordinary Dividends”) of Form 1040 — regardless of the account value. If the total value of your foreign financial assets exceeds $50,000 ($100,000 for joint filers) at the end of the tax year or exceeds $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers) at any time during the tax year, you must provide account details on Form 8938 (“Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets”) and attach it to your tax return.

Finally, if the aggregate value of your foreign accounts is $10,000 or more during the calendar year, file FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) Form 114 — “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).” The current deadline for filing the form electronically with FinCEN is April 15, 2018, with an automatic extension to October 15.

Failure to disclose an offshore account could result in substantial IRS penalties, including collecting three to six years’ worth of back taxes, interest, a 20% to 40% accuracy-related penalty and, in some cases, a 75% fraud penalty. For further information, contact us.





Get an Early Tax “Refund” by Adjusting Your Withholding

14 05 2018

Get an Early Tax "Refund" by Adjusting Your Withholding

Each year, millions of taxpayers claim an income tax refund. To be sure, receiving a payment from the IRS for a few thousand dollars can be a pleasant influx of cash. But it means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan for close to a year, which isn’t the best use of your money.

Fortunately, there’s a way to begin collecting your 2018 refund now: You can review the amounts you’re having withheld and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making, and adjust them to keep more money in your pocket during the year.

Choosing to adjust

It’s particularly important to check your withholding and/or estimated tax payments if:

  • You received an especially large 2017 refund,
  • You’ve gotten married or divorced or added a dependent,
  • You’ve bought a home,
  • You’ve started or lost a job, or
  • Your investment income has changed significantly.

Even if you haven’t encountered any major life changes during the past year, changes in the tax law may affect withholding levels, making it worthwhile to double-check your withholding or estimated tax payments.

Making a change

You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even more than once within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.

While reducing withholdings or estimated tax payments will, indeed, put more money in your pocket now, you also need to be careful that you don’t reduce them too much. If you don’t pay enough tax throughout the year on a timely basis, you could end up owing interest and penalties when you file your return, even if you pay your outstanding tax liability by the April 2019 deadline.

Getting help

One timely reason to consider adjusting your withholding is the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act late last year. In fact, the IRS had to revise its withholding tables to account for the increase to the standard deduction, suspension of personal exemptions, and changes in tax rates and brackets. If you’d like help determining what your withholding or estimated tax payments should be for the rest of the year, please contact us.





Crooks Direct Taxpayers to IRS.gov to “Verify” Calls

14 05 2018
Crooks direct taxpayers to IRS.gov to “verify” calls

Photo: Rawpixel

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service warned of a new twist on an old phone scam as criminals use telephone numbers that mimic IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) to trick taxpayers into paying non-existent tax bills.

The IRS and its Security Summit partners – the state tax agencies and the tax industry – urge taxpayers to remain alert to tax scams year-round, especially immediately after the tax filing season ends. Even after the April deadline passes, the tax scam season doesn’t end.

In the latest version of the phone scam, criminals claim to be calling from a local IRS TAC office. Scam artists have programmed their computers to display the TAC telephone number, which appears on the taxpayer’s Caller ID when the call is made.

If the taxpayer questions their demand for tax payment, they direct the taxpayer to IRS.gov to look up the local TAC office telephone number to verify the phone number. The crooks hang up, wait a short time and then call back a second time, and they are able to fake or “spoof” the Caller ID to appear to be the IRS office calling. After the taxpayer has “verified” the call number, the fraudsters resume their demands for money, generally demanding payment on a debit card.

Fraudsters also have been similarly spoofing local sheriff’s offices, state Department of Motor Vehicles, federal agencies and others to convince taxpayers the call is legitimate.

IRS employees at TAC offices do not make calls to taxpayers to demand payment of overdue tax bills. The IRS reminds taxpayers it typically initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service.

There are special, limited circumstances in which the IRS will call or come to a home or business, such as when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, to secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or to tour a business as part of an audit or during criminal investigations.

Even then, taxpayers will generally first receive several letters (called “notices”) from the IRS in the mail.

Note that the IRS does not:

  • Demand that you use a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS will not ask for your debit or credit card numbers over the phone. If you owe taxes, make payments to the United States Treasury or review IRS.gov/payments for IRS online options.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes. You should also be advised of your rights as a taxpayer.
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement to have you arrested for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke your driver’s license, business licenses, or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into buying into their schemes.

Taxpayers who receive the IRS phone scam or any IRS impersonation scam should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at its IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting site and to the IRS by emailing phishing@irs.gov with the subject line “IRS Phone Scam.”





Equifax Data Breach – 9 Ways to Protect Your Business

4 10 2017

Consumers have been the target of most of the fraud prevention measures the Equifax breach highlighted. However, there are many things business owners should also put into place in highlight of this case.

Here are nine steps you can take to help protect your business. The first step is to act quickly and review your current security protocols and measures.

Keep reading …