The tax filing deadline is right around the corner! As you’re busy gathering your tax documents or reviewing your tax return, included here is a caution concerning the security of IRS online applications and websites.
If you’re an independent contractor, there is an article outlining tips for surviving the world of self-employment.
This issue also includes an article on the pros and cons of renting or buying a home and an interesting article on new viewing alternatives targeting younger audiences.
Please call if you would like to discuss how this information could impact your situation. If you know someone who can benefit from this newsletter, feel free to send it to them.
The IRS Data Theft Problem
Here’s how to minimize your risk
What better place for online thieves to target than a database that contains 300 million+ Social Security numbers and a treasure trove of financial information?
The IRS has 52 Internet applications to help U.S. citizens comply with their tax obligations. But these online portals, which collect, process and store large amounts of personal information and tax data, are also a potential gateway for online criminals and identity thieves.
While the IRS’s electronic authentication security controls have improved, the Treasury Inspector General recently said that the IRS’s internet applications are not yet compliant with the National Institute of Standards and Technology guidelines.
Here’s what you can do to protect your tax-related identity and information while the IRS tries to improve its security controls:
- Use the IRS’s Internet applications judiciously. Think you need to use one of the IRS’s online applications? Consider requesting or obtaining certain information via the U.S. Postal service. Simply decide if you’re willing to take a risk using an application that isn’t compliant with the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
- Get an IP PIN. An Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) is a six-digit number that helps prevent your Social Security number from being used on fraudulent federal income tax returns. If you are a confirmed victim of identity theft, the IRS will mail you an IP PIN after the fraudulent tax issue has been resolved. If you haven’t been the victim of tax-related identity theft, you can voluntarily ask the IRS to issue you an IP PIN if you live in certain states. Additional states will be added until the IP PIN program is available nationwide.
- Review your credit report once a year. Check your credit report for any unauthorized activity or errors. This periodic review can often be the earliest warning that your private information is compromised.
Should You Buy or Rent a Home?
The pros and cons of renting versus buying
For many folks, the lyrics of a 1960s rock song summarize the American dream: “Our house is a very, very, very fine house.” According to U.S. Census figures, about two-thirds of American families are homeowners.
But buying a house or condo may not be the best choice for every family in every situation. Renting offers the following advantages:
- Greater flexibility. When renting a house, apartment, or condo, you have the option of moving at the end of the lease term. No need to contact a realtor, no hassle with buying or selling. For those who want to keep their options open, especially in terms of job location or dwelling size, renting may prove the better choice.
- Opportunities to invest elsewhere. Instead of plowing your savings into a home, you might get a better return by contributing to mutual funds or other investments. Depending on the housing market in your city, the annual increase in your home’s value may barely outpace inflation.
- Lower cost. Apartments are often smaller than homes, so heating and cooling expenses tend to be lower. If you don’t have a lawn, you won’t incur the cost of water to keep it green. Roof leaking? Appliances on the blink? Call the landlord. Home repair and maintenance aren’t normally your responsibilities.
Of course, as many realtors and financial analysts rightly point out, homeowners also enjoy significant advantages:
- Greater flexibility. Ironically, homeowners enjoy certain freedoms denied to renters. If a homeowner wants to paint a wall or hang a picture, he or she doesn’t answer to a landlord. Installing a doggy door isn’t a problem. Hiring a remodel contractor to tear out a wall is perfectly acceptable. Don’t try this if you’re a renter.
- Increasing equity. One of the greatest advantages to buying a home is the likelihood of increased equity over time. As long as your mortgage is being whittled down by monthly payments, you’re building equity—even if your property value remains stable.
- Lower taxes. The ability to deduct mortgage interest and property taxes (if you itemize) can significantly lower your end-of-year tax bill. Renters must forgo this benefit.
Clearly, the choice to rent or buy a home depends on individual circumstances and tastes. If you’d like help with this important decision, give us a call.
How to Succeed as an Independent Contractor
Are you one of the now 33% of Americans who work as either an independent contractor or freelancer?
If you answered yes, you are now a participant in the gig economy, a modern term for an economy characterized by workers who earn money through short-term contracts or freelance work.
Succeeding as an independent contractor can be challenging because it requires understanding a different set key success factors than being a full-time employee. Here are some tips on developing your skill set as an independent contractor and where to turn to if you need help.
- Contract for companies with generous payment terms. The formula for companies to pay its contract workers varies from business to business. Investigate a company’s policy for paying its contract workers to make sure it’s what you’re expecting. Remember, cash is king!
- Market your services by creating an online portfolio. If being a contract worker is your full-time job, you’ll need to always be looking for your next gig. One great way to market yourself to prospective businesses is to create an online portfolio that showcases the work you can perform. You can choose to build a website using a do-it-yourself service or hire a developer to create a custom website.
- Stick to budget. As a full-time employee, you know the exact date you’ll receive your paychecks and usually the exact dollar amount. As a participant in the gig economy, however, you could earn a bunch of money in one month and hardly any money the following month. Prepare a financial budget so you can use income earned during your good months to cover costs during low income months.
- Stay one step ahead of the IRS. Paying taxes is now your responsibility. Participating in the gig economy requires more knowledge about how to meet your tax obligations. So ask for professional help. Plus use other tools at your disposal. For instance, the IRS Gig Economy Tax Center gives guidance on how to figure out what you may owe the IRS. The website is https://www.irs.gov/businesses/gig-economy-tax-center.
- Get advice from others. Working primarily by yourself can leave you isolated from fellow workers. Join a local group of self-employed workers that meets on a regular basis to network and learn what other workers are doing to be successful.
Remember you are not alone. The complex nature of tax obligations for contractors can easily be navigated with professional help.
Ease the Pain of Repaying Student Loans
Student loan debt is a hot topic and for good reason. Managing the burden that comes during repayment is very difficult. Fortunately, there are ways to get some relief while taking advantage of timely tax breaks at the same time. Here are four ways to help lessen the strain of repaying your student loans.
- Deduct your student loan interest. The IRS allows you to deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest payments on your tax return each year. The great thing about this deduction is you can take it even if you don’t itemize! Each loan provider should issue you a Form 1098-E if you pay over $600 in interest for the year. If you pay less than that, and you don’t receive a Form 1098-E, save your monthly statements as back up for the interest you pay. Even if you are still in school, and you are making interest payments, you are eligible for the deduction.
- Exclude cancelled debt as income. In most cases the IRS considers cancelled debt as income. However, the IRS recently announced that students would not have to report cancelled student loans as income in the following situations:
- The school closed when you were attending, or shortly after you attended.
- The school actions are contradictory to applicable laws.
- You are a part of a successful legal settlement against the school.
If you receive a Form 1099-C for cancelled student loan debt, conduct research to determine if one of these exclusions applies to your situation.
- Refinance to lower your payments. Are you making two or more different student loan payments every month? Refinancing multiple accounts into one loan can lower your effective interest rate and your monthly payment. You can also lower your monthly payment by taking an existing loan and refinancing over a greater number of years.
- Plan for tuition costs. Utilizing student loans to finance your education is a necessity for many people. However, you can cut down on future payments with early savings. For example, parents and grandparents can create 529 college savings plans. And as soon as you start earning income, earmark a portion of every paycheck for college. Grants and scholarships are another way to reduce tuition costs, so start researching early.
College debt can seem daunting. But by combining a long-term plan while taking advantage of tax benefits, the mountain of debt can become a manageable hill.
As always, should you have any questions or concerns regarding your tax situation please feel free to call.
– Due date for partnership and S corporation tax returns (Forms 1065, 1120S)
– Daylight saving time begins Sunday, March 8