Tax season is once again in full swing. While many concerned taxpayers file tax returns to meet the required deadline, criminals work harder to cash in taking advantage of the hectic tax season. Tax fraud remains a growing concern nationally, and counterfeit scams cost millions of dollars. Individuals who take a proactive approach can deter fraud and protect their identity, information and their finances. Here are a few recent scams catching the watchful eye of the IRS.


TAX PREPARATION SCAMS
 
The IRS just released notice IR-2019-09 to alert taxpayers of unscrupulous tax preparers. Deceitful tax preparers file erroneous tax returns for many unknown taxpayers. The law requires all preparers who receive payment for preparation of federal tax returns to have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). The tax preparer must include their PTIN and sign the return. For e-filed tax returns, a dishonest preparer will omit his electronic signature. Additionally, they may falsify tax information to increase the refund, while directing the refund into their bank account. Tax payers must review their tax returns for accuracy of income and deductions. Ensure the tax preparer signs the return and includes their PTIN. Make sure the bank account and routing numbers are correct. The IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications provides an excellent resource to locate established tax preparers with the IRS.

CHARITABLE GIVING SCAMS

In the fall of 2018, the IRS posted notice IR-2018-188 to inform individuals of charitable giving scams. The 2018 hurricane season ended with Hurricane Florence and Michael wreaking destruction in its pathway, destroying homes and causing millions of dollars in damages. Natural disasters bring out the best in generous individuals seeking to aid donations to humanity in times of a national emergency. Sadly, criminals take advantage of benevolent individuals who desire to financially aid their fellow man in dire need. Counterfeit websites disguise themselves as other well-known established charities to deceive generous individuals to donate money to a dire cause. Additionally, some individuals receive solicitations from fraudulent charities, promising a nice tax deduction in return for your donation. Don’t fall victim to their schemes. Donors can prevent thousands of dollars from falling into the wrong hands. The IRS provides a tool to help prevent against charitable giving scams. Donors can verify if a charity is legitimate by utilizing the IRS search tool, Tax Exempt Organization Search. Never give to a charity who solicits a donation without first verifying the authenticity of their organization.

EMAIL PHISHING SCAMS

In IRS notice IR-2018-226, the IRS alerts taxpayers to a recent spike in email phishing scams. While fraudulent emails and phishing scams have been around awhile, data thieves continue working diligently to improve new tactics to steal valuable information. Emotet is the infected malware of choice in many email scams, and Emotet remains well-known as the most damaging and expensive to fix. Many of these scam emails display tax account transcript in the subject line of the email and include infected attachments with similar wording. These emails appear legitimate. They often disguise themselves as representatives with banks, financial institutions and the IRS. The IRS logo and other well-known bank logos appear real, and many unsuspecting individuals open the infected email attachment. The IRS does not contact individuals through email. The IRS warns individuals to not open suspecting emails. The IRS remains diligent to combat against fraud. If you suspect a suspicious email, you can also forward the email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Democratic Congressman John B. Larson introduced the Social Security 2100 Act on January 30, 2019. The proposed legislation seeks to raise payroll taxes to keep Social Security solvent and expand benefits.

Payroll Tax Increases

Some say that Social Security is in crisis. The program has had a deficit every year since 2010. If Congress does not act, the Social Security Trust Fund is forecast to become insolvent by 2034. The Social Security 2100 Act would address that problem by raising the 12.4 percent payroll tax by 0.1 percent annually until the tax reaches 14.8 percent.

The bill increases payroll taxes in another way. Today, the Social Security payroll tax is levied on all earned income up to $132,900. The new legislation would subject earned income over $400,000 to the payroll tax. Initially, earned income between $132,900 to $400,000 would be exempt from the payroll tax. This exemption gradually would be phased out as long as the cost of living adjustment is going up. All of the bills combined tax increases are projected to keep the Social Security solvent for 75 years.

Benefits Expand

In addition to addressing the insolvency crisis, the other goal of the proposed bill is to expand Social Security benefits. The key measures to increase benefits follow.

  • All recipients would see their benefits rise by about two percent.
    To accomplish this, the primary insurance amount factor would move from 90 percent to 93 percent starting in 2020.
  • The cost of living adjustment would increase.
    Currently, the cost of living adjustment is calculated using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Although the Social Security cost of living adjustment has been tied to CPI-W since 1975, the index doesn't reflect the spending habits of the Social Security's primary demographic group, the elderly. The Social Security 2100 Act would base the cost of living adjustment on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, which takes into account that the elderly spend more in certain categories such as healthcare.
  • The minimum benefit would increase.
    Today's benefit is below the poverty level. Starting in 2020, the bill would raise the minimum benefit to reduce poverty among new retirees and the newly disabled.
  • Federal income tax would be reduced or eliminated on Social Security benefits for select recipients.
    Currently, Social Security benefits are taxed if the recipient's overall income reaches certain income tiers. For example, single tax filers who have an adjusted gross income (AGI) plus one half of benefits of greater than $25,000 can have up to 50 percent of their Social Security benefit taxed. However, at greater than $34,000 of AGI plus one half of benefits, up to 85 percent of Social Security benefits are taxed. The Social Security 2100 Act would simplify taxation by eliminating the tiers and create one income threshold for each taxpayer filing status. The new threshold is up to 85 percent of benefits are taxed for single filers with an AGI over $50,000 and an AGI over $100,000 for joint filers.

Planning for your own retirement income will likely provide you with peace of mind.  Let us know, we can help.

If your retirement dream includes bouncing around between a beachfront condo in the winter and a mountain retreat in the summer, you are in good company. Perhaps you want to keep a small condo close to the kids while also maintaining a home in an area more conducive to how you plan to spend many of your weeks throughout the year. These are only a few of the many reasons why retirees often maintain a primary home as well as a secondary home. While this may seem like an idyllic retirement experience, understand that there are numerous factors to consider before you sign a contract on a second home.


The Financial Impact


One of the most significant factors that you need to review upfront is the financial impact that a second home will have. You may need to take on another mortgage payment. If not, paying cash for the full sales price may impact your ability to draw dividends or to generate other investment income from that money. You also must pay for repairs, utilities, maintenance, taxes, insurance and decorating costs for two homes rather than one. Because you may plan to spend ample time in both locations, your travel expenses should also be accounted for.

On the other hand, you may be able to use your properties to generate side income. For example, you can rent whichever home you are not currently in out to travelers as a furnished vacation rental. While this may generate a profit or at least help you to cover some expenses, keep in mind that you may need to hire a property management company to decrease the hassle avoided with managing the home on your own.

The Long-Term Outlook


Before making a major purchase like a vacation home, it makes sense to think about the long-term impact that this purchase will have on your life. What is the real estate market currently like in a desired area, and what is the market outlook? Do you eventually plan to move into the vacation home full-time in a few years? Do you want to be tied to a specific vacation destination, or do you want to travel frequently and explore other interesting and beautiful areas?

More than that, think about how the real estate purchase will impact your finances. You may accumulate a nice nest egg in your vacation home, but accessing that cash at a later date may require you to refinance or sell the property. Buying real estate ties your money up in a non-liquid asset. You may need your money to grow in an investment with a guaranteed return, such as in high-yield CDs, rather than in a real estate investment that may have a riskier financial outlook.

The Lifestyle Experience


Buying a vacation home can improve your lifestyle in retirement dramatically if this is a financially-sound move for you to make. It gives you a comfortable place to live while you are away from your primary home. Because you have carefully selected the right home for your needs and decorated it with our own furnishings and other items, you can feel truly relaxed and at home while you are in tis space. More than that, you can easily float from your primary home to your secondary home without having to make reservations. You may even keep some of your clothes at each location, and this eliminates the items that you may need to pack as you prepare to transition to the other home. Altogether, life may be much more comfortable and relaxed in retirement when you have two homes to live in.

While buying a retirement vacation home is seemingly ideal at first glance, you can see that numerous factors should be considered before deciding if it is right for you. Keep in mind that the actual location where you select your new vacation home may impact your finances, your use of the home and more. Therefore, analyze all options before finalizing your plans. 

Planning is what we do, we can help you achieve your goals, call us today.

 The average American gets a tax refund each year. In fact, the average tax refund is more than $2,700. That's a pretty nice infusion of cash. Windfalls can lead to temptation. For example, a nice vacation is something that many people will use their tax refunds for. This is only one way to spend a refund, however. One of the better options would be to invest some of that money for retirement.


Where To Save

There are several options for saving a tax refund. First is a regular savings account. This might not help much toward retirement, but for those who have little in the way of an emergency fund set up, it could be a good idea regardless of what their income level might be. Traditional or Roth IRAs are good options for saving toward retirement with a tax refund. Additionally, those who are self employed can opt for what's called an SEP-IRA. These are quite easy to set up today. There are many online brokerages that allow for setting up retirement accounts with a few clicks of a mouse and five or 10 minutes of time. The average tax refund would go a long way toward getting into some mutual funds through Vanguard or Fidelity that charge very low management fees. From there, it's possible to start saving even very small amounts each month.

There Are Tax Breaks

Saving in a retirement account comes with some pretty nice tax breaks. Those who are don't make too much to invest in a Roth IRA pay with after-tax dollars, and there will be no taxes due on the contributions or the growth when it comes time to start withdrawing from the account. Those who decide to save with a Traditional IRA will see their tax bill go down in the contribution year. For example, investing the entire $2,700 average tax refund in a Traditional IRA would cut taxes by $594 for those who hit the very middle-class 22-percent tax bracket. The Traditional IRA allows for pre-tax savings, and those who invest in this vehicle will owe taxes when they withdraw the funds. Additionally, those who make less than $60,000 in taxable income and save within a qualified retirement plan will be able to take advantage of a special savers tax credit.

Don't Forget To Have Some Fun

For those who have a hefty return that's higher than the average, it's still possible to save for retirement while having some fun. Instead of spending $5,000 on a vacation, why not stay closer to home and invest some of the refund for retirement.  Some could choose to opt for a weekend staycation depending upon where they call home. It's important to remember that every dollar that's saved today will likely be worth much more than a dollar a few decades down the road. Even those with relatively high incomes will frequently have little in savings for retirement or otherwise. A nice tax refund provides the perfect opportunity to save a bit toward retirement. It's important to keep in mind that IRAs are available to many Americans even if they have 401(k) or other similar plans available through their places of employment. Even if they are not available, it's possible to save in a taxable account.

Few times of year provide a windfall that's as big as a tax refund. Rather than spending it all on a pricey vacation, putting some of the refund away can help toward retirement. The further away retirement is, the more the savings will pay off in the future as the funds will compound over a period of years or even decades.

If you are looking for additional guidance on your retirement plan and we have not talked with you recently or at all, give us a call.  Make 2019 the year you felt confident in your retirement plan.

Millions of people in the U.S. are unable to care for themselves and need long-term care services. These people need assistance in performing one or more self-care activities of daily living such as eating, bathing, dressing, and executing basic movements like walking, sitting, or standing. Services can be provided in the patient’s home, a residential care community, nursing home, assisted living facility, adult day service center, or at a hospice. Housework, money management, shopping, organizing medication, and helping with communication are some of the other long-term care services that are provided.


The need for long-term care services has grown as the life expectancy of the U.S. population increases. There is a 70% chance a person who is 65 years of age or older will need long-term care, and women are more likely to need this care because they live longer than men on average. It’s not just the elderly who are most likely to need long-term care services. People who have been in an accident or have a chronic illness or chronic condition due to poor eating habits, lack of exercise, or family history are more prone to need long-term care services. Also, people who live alone are likely to need long-term service if they don’t have family or a partner nearby to help take care of them.

Long-term care services are expensive for most people, and the longer a person needs servicing, the more expensive it gets. Some policies for long-term care went up by 58%!  The average national annual long-term care are as follows:

• Home health care: $45,760 - $46,332
• Adult day health care: $17,680
• Assisted living facility: $43,539
• Nursing home care: $82,125 - $92,378

Costs for some providers are all-inclusive, and other providers have a flat fee then add extra charges for services beyond room, food, and housekeeping.

Health insurance only provides limited coverage for specific types of long-term care medical needs, and disability insurance doesn’t provide any long-term care coverage. Health insurance, including Medicare, generally covers skilled nursing facility stays after a recent hospitalization and medically necessary skilled home care. Disability insurance is only designed to provide an income to a person when they become disabled and are unable to work.

Long-term care insurance is specifically designed to cover the cost of long-term care services that are provided in a variety of settings. This insurance is comprehensive, and it’s flexible enough to provide a person with individualized coverage. The monthly premiums for a long-term care insurance policy are based on a person’s age at the time they apply for a policy, the type of policy they apply for, and the type of coverage they select.

Long-term care is a complicated process that involves family, nursing care representatives, and in some cases, social workers, and legal counsel. It can be a delicate time for everyone involved. It’s important to take the time to make the right decision so that the person who needs these services can be satisfied with the decision.

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