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February 2011 Newsletter




Our regularly updated newsletter provides timely articles to help you achieve your financial goals.

February 2011

Feature Articles

Tax Tips

 

Tax Due Dates

This newsletter is intended to provide generalized information that is appropriate in certain situations. It is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The contents of this newsletter should not be acted upon without specific professional guidance. Please call us if you have questions.
 

Five Hidden Reasons You Need a Will

 

Most people don't appreciate the full importance of a will, especially if they think their estate is too small to justify the time and expense of preparing one. And even people who recognize the need for a will often don't have one, perhaps due to procrastination or a disinclination to broach this sensitive subject with loved ones.
 
The truth is, almost everyone should have a will. Here are the five basic reasons why:
 

Reason 1. To Choose Beneficiaries

 
The intestate succession laws of the state in which you live determine how your property will be distributed if you die without a valid will. For example, in most states the property of a married person with children who dies intestate (i.e., without a will) generally will be distributed one-third to the spouse and two-thirds to the children, while the property of an unmarried, childless person who dies intestate generally will be distributed to his or her parents (or siblings, if the parents are deceased).
These distributions may be contrary to what you want. In effect, by not having a will, you are allowing the state to choose your beneficiaries. Further, a will allows you to specify not only who will receive the property, but how much each beneficiary will receive.
  
Note: If you wish to leave property to a charity, a will may be needed to accomplish this goal.

 

Reason 2. To Minimize Taxes

 
Many people feel they do not need a will because their taxable estate does not exceed the amount allowed to pass free of federal estate tax. These assumptions, however, should be reviewed given the current state of change in the federal estate tax laws. It is important to review and update your will on a regular basis. Most wills were written with the existence of a federal estate tax at a certain level.
 
Further, your taxable estate may be larger than you think. For example, life insurance, qualified retirement plan benefits, and IRAs typically pass outside of a will or estate administration. But retirement plan benefits and IRAs (and sometimes life insurance) are still part of your federal estate and can cause your estate to go over the threshold amount. Also, in some states, the estate or inheritance tax differs from the federal laws. A properly prepared will is necessary to implement estate tax reduction strategies.
  
Tip: Changes in the estate tax laws and in the size of your estate may warrant a re-examination of your estate plan.

 

Reason 3. To Appoint a Guardian

 
If for no other reason, you should prepare a will to name a guardian for minor children in the event of your death without a surviving spouse. While naming a guardian does not bind either the named guardian or the court, it does indicate your wishes, which courts generally try to accommodate.

 

Reason 4. To Name an Executor

 
Without a will, you cannot appoint someone you trust to carry out the administration of your estate. If you do not specifically name an executor in a will, a court will appoint someone to handle your estate, perhaps someone you might not have chosen. Obviously, there is peace of mind in selecting an executor you trust.

 

Reason 5. To Help Establish Domicile

You may wish to firmly establish domicile (permanent legal residence) in a particular state, for tax or other reasons. If you move frequently or own homes in more than one state, each state in which you reside could try to impose death or inheritance taxes at the time of death, possibly subjecting your estate to multiple probate proceedings. To lessen the risk of this, you should execute a will that clearly indicates your intended state of domicile.
 
If you need guidance with your will, just give us a call.

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Is Your Sales Force Meeting Your Needs?

 
With today's downsized staff, you need to get the most out of your sales staff.
If goals are being met and revenue is where you want it to be, you may not need to use any measuring devices. But if there is a problem, the following ratios, if applicable to your particular business, may help you pinpoint the problem, analyze it, and take action.
 
The ratios can be applied to your entire business, to a division or department, or to one employee.
 
Progress can be measured by comparing numbers from one month to the next.
  
Ratio 1: Total sales compensation/gross sales = direct selling costs (%).
  
Ratio 2: Gross sales/total hours worked by salespeople = sales dollars per hour.
  
Ratio 3: Number of sales/number of full-time-equivalent salespeople = number of sales per salesperson.
  
Ratio 4: Gross sales/number of full-time-equivalent salespeople = sales dollars per salesperson.
  
Ratio 5: Gross sales/number of sales transactions = average sales dollars per transaction.
  
Tip: The numbers you get from these ratios might also be used to develop sales quotas or targets.
 
 

How to Avoid Identity Theft During Tax Season

 
Consumers should protect themselves against online identity theft and other scams that increase during and linger after the filing season. Such scams may appropriate the name, logo, or other appurtenances of the IRS or U.S. Department of the Treasury to mislead taxpayers into believing the communication is legitimate.
 
Scams involving the impersonation of the IRS usually take the form of e-mails, tweets, or other online messages to consumers. Scammers may also use phones and faxes to reach intended victims. Some scammers set up phony Web sites.

 

The IRS and E-mail

 
Generally, the IRS does not send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers. Further, the IRS does not discuss tax account information with taxpayers via e-mail or use e-mail to solicit sensitive financial and personal information from taxpayers. The IRS does not request financial account security information, such as PIN numbers, from taxpayers.

 

Object of Scams

 
Most scams impersonating the IRS are identity theft schemes. In this type of scam, the scammer poses as a legitimate institution to trick consumers into revealing personal and financial information - such as passwords and Social Security, PIN, bank account and credit card numbers - that can be used to gain access to their bank, credit card, or other financial accounts.
 
Attempted identity theft scams that take place via e-mail are known as phishing. Other scams may try to persuade a victim to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a larger gain. These are known as advance fee scams.

 

How an Identity Theft Scam Works

 
Most of the scams that impersonate the IRS are identity theft scams. Typically, a consumer will receive an e-mail that claims to come from the IRS or Treasury Department. The message will contain an enticing or intimidating subject line, such as "Tax Refund," "Inherited Funds," or "IRS Notice." Usually, the message will state that the recipient needs to provide the IRS with information to obtain the refund or avoid some penalty. The message will instruct the consumer to open an attachment or click on a link in the e-mail. This may lead to an official-looking IRS Web site. The look-alike site will then contain a phony but genuine-looking online form or interactive application that requires personal and financial information, which the scammer then uses to commit identity theft.
 
Alternatively, the clicked link may secretly download malware to the consumer's computer. Malware is malicious code that can take over the computer's hard drive, giving the scammer remote access to the computer, or it could look for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer.

 

Phony Web or Commercial Sites

 
In many IRS-impersonation scams, the scammer sends the consumer to a phony Web site that mimics the appearance of the genuine IRS Web site, IRS.gov. This allows the scammer to steer victims to phony interactive forms or applications that appear genuine but require the targeted victim to enter personal and financial information that will be used to commit identity theft.
 
The official Web site for the Internal Revenue Service is IRS.gov, and all IRS.gov Web page addresses begin with http://www.irs.gov/.
 
In addition to Web sites established by scammers, there are commercial Internet sites that often resemble the authentic IRS site or contain some form of the IRS name in the address but end with a .com, .net, .org, or other designation instead of .gov. These sites have no connection to the IRS. Consumers may unknowingly visit these sites when searching the Internet to retrieve tax forms, publications, and other information from the IRS.

 

Frequent or Recent Scams

 
There are a number of scams that impersonate the IRS. Some of them appear with great frequency, particularly during and right after filing season, and recur annually. Others are new.
 
     Refund Scam: This is the most frequent IRS-impersonation scam seen by the IRS. In this phishing scam, a bogus e-mail claiming to come from the IRS tells the consumer that he or she is eligible to receive a tax refund for a specified amount. It may use the phrase "last annual calculations of your fiscal activity." To claim the tax refund, the consumer must open an attachment or click on a link contained in the e-mail to access and complete a claim form. The form requires the entry of personal and financial information. Several variations on the refund scam have claimed to come from the Exempt Organizations area of the IRS or the name and signature of a genuine or made-up IRS executive. In reality, taxpayers do not need to complete a special form to obtain their federal tax refund. Refunds are triggered by the tax return they submitted to the IRS.
·
     Lottery winnings or cash consignment: These advance fee scam e-mails claim to come from the Treasury Department to notify recipients that they'll receive millions of dollars in recovered funds, lottery winnings, or cash consignment if they provide certain personal information, including phone numbers, via return e-mail. The e-mail may be just the first step in a multistep scheme in which the victim is later contacted by telephone or further e-mail and instructed to deposit taxes on the funds or winnings before they can receive any of it. Alternatively, they may be sent a phony check of the funds or winnings and told to deposit it but pay 10 percent in taxes or fees. Thinking that the check must have cleared the bank and is genuine, some people comply. However, the scammers, not the Treasury Department, will get the taxes or fees. In reality, the Treasury Department does not become involved in notification of inheritances or lottery or other winnings.
 
     Beneficial Owner Form: This fax-based phishing scam, which generally targets foreign nationals, recurs periodically. It's based on a genuine IRS form, the W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding. The scammer, though, invents his or her own number and name for the form. The scammer modifies the form to request passport numbers, information that is often used for account security purposes (such as mother's maiden name), and similar detailed personal and financial information, and states that the recipient may have to pay additional tax if he or she fails to immediately fax back the completed form. In reality, the real W-8BEN is completed by banks, not individuals.

 

Other Known Scams

 
The contents of other IRS-impersonation scams vary but may claim that the recipient will be paid for participating in an online survey or is under investigation or audit. Some scam e-mails have referenced Recovery-related tax provisions, such as Making Work Pay, or solicited for charitable donations to victims of natural disasters. Taxpayers should beware an e-mail scam that references underreported income and the recipient's "tax statement," since clicking on a link or opening an attachment is known to download malware onto the recipient's computer.

 

How to Spot a Scam

 
Many e-mail scams are fairly sophisticated and hard to detect. However, there are signs to watch for, such as an e-mail that:
 
  •      requests detailed or an unusual amount of personal and/or financial information, such as name, SSN, bank or credit card account numbers, or security-related information, such as mother's maiden name, either in the e-mail itself or on another site to which a link in the e-mail sends the recipient;
  •      dangles bait to get the recipient to respond to the e-mail, such as mentioning a tax refund or offering to pay the recipient to participate in an IRS survey;  
  •       threatens a consequence for not responding to the e-mail, such as additional taxes or blocking access to the recipient's funds;
  •      gets the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agency names wrong;
  •      uses incorrect grammar or odd phrasing (many of the e-mail scams originate overseas and are written by non-native English speakers);
  •       uses a really long address in any link contained in the e-mail message or one that does not start with the actual IRS Web site address (http://www.irs.gov). The actual link's address, or url, is revealed by moving the mouse over the link included in the text of the e-mail.

What to Do

 
Taxpayers who receive a suspicious e-mail claiming to come from the IRS should take the following steps:
 
·     Avoid opening any attachments to the e-mail, in case they contain malicious code that will infect your computer.
 
·     Avoid clicking on any links, for the same reason. Alternatively, the links may connect to a phony IRS Web site that appears authentic and then prompts for personal identifiers, bank or credit card account numbers, or PINs.
 
·    Visit the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov, to use the "Where's My Refund?" interactive tool to determine if you are really getting a refund, rather than responding to the e-mail message.
 
·     Forward the suspicious e-mail or url address to the IRS mailbox phishing@irs.gov, and then delete the e-mail from your inbox.
 
·     Consumers who believe they are or may be victims of identity theft or other scams may visit the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's Web site for identity theft, www.OnGuardOnline.gov, for guidance on what to do. The IRS is one of the sponsors of this site.
 
If you've received an email claiming to be from the IRS, call us to talk it over before taking any action. We don't want you to fall victim to a scam.
 

Tax Deadline - April 18, 2011

 
In the 2011 tax filing season, taxpayers have until Monday, April 18 to file their 2010 tax returns and pay any tax due. Emancipation Day, a holiday observed in the District of Columbia, falls this year on Friday, April 15. By law, District of Columbia holidays impact tax deadlines in the same way that federal holidays do; therefore, all taxpayers will have three extra days to file this year. Taxpayers requesting an extension will have until October 17 to file their 2010 tax returns.

 

Who Must Wait to File

 
For most taxpayers, the 2011 tax filing season starts on schedule. However, tax law changes enacted by Congress and signed by President Obama in December mean some people need to wait until mid to late February to file their tax returns in order to give the IRS time to reprogram its processing systems. The IRS recently announced February 14, 2011 as the start date for processing these delayed tax returns.
 
Some taxpayers, including those who itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A, will need to wait until February 14, 2011 to file. This includes taxpayers impacted by any of three tax provisions that expired at the end of 2009 and were renewed by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 enacted December 17, 2010. Those who need to wait to file include:
  • Taxpayers Claiming Itemized Deductions on Schedule A. Itemized deductions include mortgage interest, charitable deductions, and medical and dental expenses as well as state and local taxes. In addition, itemized deductions include the state and local general sales tax deduction that was also extended and that primarily benefits people living in areas without state and local income taxes.
  • Taxpayers Claiming the Higher Education Tuition and Fees Deduction. This deduction for parents and students, covering up to $4,000 of tuition and fees paid to a post-secondary institution, is claimed on Form 8917. However, the IRS emphasized that there will be no delays for millions of parents and students who claim other education credits, including the American Opportunity Tax Credit extended last month and the Lifetime Learning Credit.
  • Taxpayers Claiming the Educator Expense Deduction. This deduction is for kindergarten through grade 12 educators with out-of-pocket classroom expenses of up to $250. The educator expense deduction is claimed on Form 1040, Line 23 and Form 1040A, Line 16.
In addition to extending those tax deductions for 2010, the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act also extended those deductions for 2011 and a number of other tax deductions and credits for 2011 and 2012, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the modified Child Tax Credit. The Act also provides various job creation and investment incentives, including 100% expensing and a 2% payroll tax reduction for 2011. Those changes have no effect on the 2011 filing season.
 
If you're unsure how the new tax laws affect you, give us a call. We can help sort through the details.
 

7 Tips for Preparing Your Taxes Without the Stress

 
Many people find preparing their tax return to be stressful and frustrating. But it doesn't have to be! Here are 7 tips for how to do your taxes without pulling out your hair:
 
1.   Gather your records in advance. Make sure you have all the records you need, including W-2s and 1099s. Don't forget to save a copy for your files.
 
2.   Get the right forms. They're available around the clock on the IRS Web site, www.IRS.gov.
 
3.   Take your time. Don't forget to leave room for a coffee break when filling out your tax return as rushing can mean making a mistake.
 
4.   Double-check your math and verify all Social Security numbers. These are among the most common errors found on tax returns. Taking care will reduce your chance of hearing from the IRS. Submitting an error-free return will also speed up your refund.
 
5.   E-filing is easy. E-filing catches math errors and provides confirmation your return has been received. It also gives you a faster refund.
 
6.  Get the fastest refund. When you e-file early, you receive your refund faster. When you choose direct deposit, you receive your refund even sooner because you don't need to wait for a check. This year, electronic filing options will speed the payment of refunds to millions of taxpayers. Taxpayers who e-file and choose direct deposit for their refunds, for example, will get their refunds in as few as 10 days. That compares to approximately six weeks for people who file a paper return and get a traditional paper check.
 
7.   Get started early. Don't wait to the last minute to work on your taxes. Getting a head start will not only keep the process calm, but also mean you get your return faster.
 
And remember, if you run into any problems or you have any questions, call us. We are more than happy to help.
 

Missing Your Form W-2?

 
You should receive a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, from each of your employers for use in preparing your federal tax return. Employers must furnish this record of 2010 earnings and withheld taxes no later than January 31, 2011 (if mailed, allow a few days for delivery).
 
If you do not receive your Form W-2, contact your employer to find out if and when the W-2 was mailed. If it was mailed, it may have been returned to your employer because of an incorrect address. After contacting your employer, allow a reasonable amount of time for your employer to resend or to issue the W-2.
 
If you still do not receive your W-2 by February 15th, contact the IRS for assistance at 1-800-829-1040. When you call, have the following information handy:
 
·      the employer's name and complete address, including zip code, and the employer's telephone number;
 
·     the employer's identification number (if known);
 
·    your name and address, including zip code, Social Security number, and telephone number; and
 
·    an estimate of the wages you earned, the federal income tax withheld, and the dates you began and ended employment.
 
If you misplaced your W-2, contact your employer. Your employer can replace the lost form with a "reissued statement." Be aware that your employer is allowed to charge you a fee for providing you with a new W-2.
 
You still must file your tax return on time even if you do not receive your Form W-2. If you cannot get a W-2 by the tax filing deadline, you may use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, but it will delay any refund due while the information is verified.
 
If you receive a corrected W-2 after your return is filed and the information it contains does not match the income or withheld tax that you reported on your return, you must file an amended return on Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.
 
If you have questions about your Forms W-2 and 1099 or any other tax-related materials, please call or email our office.
 
 

Tax Due Dates for February 2011

February 10
Employers - Federal unemployment tax. File Form 940 for 2010. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time.
 
Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2010. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.
  
Small Employers - File Form 944 to report Social Security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2010. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time.
  
Farm Employers - File Form 943 to report Social Security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2010. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time.
  
Certain Small Employers - File Form 944 to report Social Security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2010. This tax due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time.
  
Employers - Nonpayroll taxes. File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2010 on all nonpayroll items. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time.
  
Employees - who work for tips. If you received $20 or more in tips during January, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.
February 15
Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.
  
Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.
  
Individuals - If you claimed exemption from income tax withholding last year on the Form W-4 you gave your employer, you must file a new Form W-4 by this date to continue your exemption for another year.
  
Employers - Begin withholding income tax from the pay of any employee who claimed exemption from withholding in 2010, but did not give you a new Form W-4 to continue the exemption this year.
February 28
Businesses - File information returns (Form 1099) for certain payments you made during 2010. There are different forms for different types of payments. Use a separate Form 1096 to summarize and transmit the forms for each type of payment. See the 2010 Instructions for Forms 1099, 1098, 5498, and W-2G for information on what payments are covered, how much the payment must be before a return is required, what form to use, and extensions of time to file.
 
If you file Forms 1098, 1099, or W-2G electronically (not by magnetic media), your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to March 31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms is still January 31.
  
Payers of Gambling Winnings - File Form 1096, Annual Summary and transmittal of U.S. Information Returns, along with Copy A of all the Forms W-2G you issued for 2010. If you file Forms W-2G electronically (not by magnetic tape), your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to March 31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains January 31.
  
Employers - File Form W-3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements, along with Copy A of all the Forms W-2 you issued for 2010.
 
If you file Forms W-2 electronically (not by magnetic media), your due date for filing them with the SSA will be extended to March 31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms is still January 31.
  
Employers - with employees who work for tips. File Form 8027, Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips. Use Form 8027-T, Transmittal of Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips, to summarize and transmit Forms 8027 if you have more than one establishment. If you file Forms 8027 electronically (not by magnetic tape), your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to March 31.
  
Farmers and Fishermen - File your 2010 income tax return (Form 1040) and pay any tax due. However, you have until April 18 to file if you paid your 2010 estimated tax by January 17, 2011.

Copyright © 2011  All materials contained in this document are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All other trade names, trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.
 
 
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