Look Who the IRS Is Adding to its Staff

For those who believe in giving people a second chance this will be good news. For those who feel the IRS is already rife with crooked employees that will stop at nothing to take more of taxpayers’ money, this news will leave a bad taste in your mouth.

According to the IRS, between 2015 and 2016, the agency rehired more than 200 employees who were previously fired for wrongdoing. In other words, these employees were not let go because of a lack of work or insufficient funds to pay them.

All 213 of these individuals were let go because they were convicted of theft, dodged taxes, used taxpayer data without authorization or falsified documents.  According to E. Faith Bell, the agency ’s acting human capital officer, in a letter she wrote to the inspector general, “to the extent possible by law, the IRS will take all steps allowable to prevent the rehiring of former employees with conduct and performance issues.”

Bell also noted. “she had commissioned a team to implement corrective actions.”  According to the IRS, agency officials in charge of hiring do not have access to applicant’s previous employment history with the IRS. However, only 27 of the 213 applicants did not report that they had been terminated previously.

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IRS Hitting Estimated Tax Filers With More Penalties

The IRS plays no favorites when it comes to taxpayers missing payments or not paying enough. However, those who pay their income tax via quarterly estimated payments had better pay particular attention because lately the IRS has been coming down hard on these individuals with much more frequency.

According to recent IRS data, the number of penalties issued by the agency has jumped 33 percent between 2007 and 2016, from nearly 7.5 million to almost 10 million. These taxpayers, who often work as freelancers and business owners, get penalized because they don’t withhold enough money from their income to pay the necessary taxes.

According to the IRS, the data would appear to indicate that these individuals are either making mistakes in their calculations or they simply aren’t aware they need to pay these taxes. As for the cause of the increase in the number of penalties, the IRS doesn’t really have the answer.

However, the agency believes the increase in the number of taxpayers that now work for themselves, either as business owners or as freelancers, is one factor that is likely playing a role in the rising number of penalties.

The IRS suggests anyone who is responsible to make quarterly estimated tax payments fill out the agency’s annualized income installment method worksheet in order to calculate his or her taxes correctly and avoid the penalty.

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The Fight for Tax Reform Will Be Long and Arduous

Is it starting to feel like the process to simply put up a new stop sign in the Nation’s Capitol would take an act of Congress? These days nothing is simple in Washington and when it comes to tax reform the battle will be anything but easy.

When President Trump took office it was widely believed that tax reform would be fairly simple and would come with only minor headaches. With the Senate and Congress both controlled by republicans, tax reform was just a matter of when, not if. Well, not so fast.

If you thought the battle for healthcare reform was tough, the nation’s lawmakers are just getting started. The interesting thing is, the tax reform battle isn’t just a matter of party lines. Republicans are very divided on tax reform, including what changes to make and how to pay for them.

There are several overriding factors that could delay tax reform even further, not to mention that another election cycle is coming up. First off, Congress needs to pass a fiscal budget for 2018 before it can take on tax reform. Secondly, republicans are divided over whether they should seek a tax cut or complete tax reform.

The battle over many long-standing tax incentives and breaks is also a big sticking point.  Additionally, Obamacare is still unfinished business and it is looming over the current administration. Some lawmakers, including the president, are still focused on resolving that matter first.

Therefore, those still hoping for, or expecting, tax reform this year better prepare to curb their enthusiasm. This looks like another long journey with many twists and turns.
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Do Canadians Get Their Money’s Worth With Taxes?

For those in the U.S. who oppose high taxes the truth is compared to some other countries, most Americans don’t have it too bad. In fact, when compared with the other 34 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. comes in just below average.

One of those nations is Canada, where for the most part, Americans believe the tax burden is even greater. According to the OECD, Canadians do pay a higher than average amount of total taxes. Canada, like the U.S., also has a progressive tax system so the more you earn, the more taxes you pay, generally.

However, it’s what Canadians receive in return for their tax dollars that makes the difference. In fact, the Canadian government offers a lot more to its residents in terms of social services than the U.S. provides its citizens. That’s one reason Canada is ranked as one of the top 10 happiest countries in the world.

Among the most impressive services Canadians receive is universal healthcare, including up to 18 months of subsidized parental leave when children are born, and free nondeductible heath care. Education is another area where Canadians score with their tax dollars.

Access to high-quality education is much easier and the cost of tuition to attend the best universities and colleges is also less expensive in Canada. Thus, according to the OECD, Canadians generally enjoy a higher quality of life, in large part because of the services they receive from taxes.

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Tax Relief Courtesy of Hurricane Harvey

While Hurricane Harvey continues to devastate the Gulf Coast, Texans can expect to receive a little extra relief this upcoming tax year from Uncle Sam. Taxpayers in the federally declared disaster area have the option of claiming disaster-related casualty losses for either the year that the event occurred or the year prior. This means that those whose homes were affected by wind or flood damage can deduct the damages from either this year or the last year’s tax returns. In many cases, amending last year’s returns results in an immediate tax refund which can be then used to live on or begin repairs. However, the option of amending last year’s return may not be for everyone since the IRS does have two rules that must be followed for casualty claims. The first is that the amount of damage claimed must first be deducted by $100. Then the total casualty losses must be reduced by 10% of your adjusted gross income.If you qualify for writing off a loss the process is fairly simple. First, you will need the proper forms. These are the long Form 1040, Form 4684 to determine and report your casualty loss and Schedule A to  itemize your loss deduction. If you are planning on amending your 2016 return you will need to use Form 1040X instead of the long Form 1040. You will then need to determine how the damages incurred have affected your property’s fair market value. This is done through determining how much your property is worth immediately prior to the disaster and comparing it to what it is worth immediately after the disaster. The latter part of this will need to be through a professional appraiser. The difference between these two amounts is your loss from casualty. You can then utilize Form 4684 to determine the deductible amount of your casualty loss.

If you have insurance on your property you must first file a claim to use the damage as a casualty loss. Any money that you receive from the insurance company must then be deducted from the casualty loss amount. All insurance payments must be used to repair, or replace your property or any excess could be counted as a taxable gain to you.

Throughout all of this remember to keep documentation of everything! While the IRS may give disaster victims some leeway, they do require that casualty losses be substantiated and supported.  This will also be of great value to you if you ever get audited in the future.

Consult with your tax advisor to determine which option would be best for you and your family.

For more on how to claim your casualty losses (click here).

 

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Are Up to Date on Your Taxes for Your Side Job?

<p>The saying goes: “Don’t quit your day job.” Millions of Americans take that advice to heart, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t investigating other avenues for making additional money. There are all kinds of side jobs, from small hobbies to night jobs, or gigs on the weekend. The number of different side jobs is endless, but what about the tax implications?
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If you have a “side job” or something you do to make a little extra cash in addition to your regular job, you need to understand all the taxes involved. Even if you aren’t making a lot of money from your extra endeavor you still have to keep track of it.
The IRS counts any income you have and you are responsible to report it.   Another thing to keep in mind is that income from a side business is not all the same. For example, if you earn money from a hobby you can claim deductions, but they cannot be higher than your income.
On the other hand, when your side gig is more than just a hobby you can claim deductions, as well as carry losses from other years, either backward or forward. No matter which type of side income you claim be sure to keep track of detailed records. You might also need to pay estimated tax payments so you don’t get a surprise bill at the end of the tax season.
Lastly, if you are making money from a side job and it starts to get more complicated, then it’s always a good idea to visit with a tax professional for help.
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Trade Secrets and How to Protect Them

Trade Secrets and How to Protect Them

A trade secret is a type of intellectual property distinguished from three others, namely copyrights, trademarks, and patents.

Advantages of a Trade Secret

  1. No time limit like patents and copyrights
  2. No requirement for public disclosure
  3. No requirement to file with the government

Trade secrets bring value to the company because they are not known to others, particularly competitors, in your market place. To maintain trade secrets, you must make reasonable efforts to protect them. You should have a program for maintaining secrecy, including:

  1. A provision in your employee handbook requiring employees to refrain from disclosing trade secrets
  2. Physical access controls
  3. Passwords
  4. Sign-in sheets
  5. Confidentiality rubber stamps
  6. Non-disclosure agreements with staff and employees as well as potential joint business ventures

Trade secrets can include:

Technical or nontechnical data

Formulas

Compilations

Programs

Devices

Drawings

Processes

Financial data

Price lists

Business and marketing plans

Software codes

Manufacturing techniques and other methods

Customer or prospective customer lists

 

The last one is a huge issue, especially when employees leave with a list of customers with the intention to set up a competing practice.

Customer lists can’t be considered trade secrets if they are simply copied from the yellow pages. They must be developed. They often evolve over time and include critical info, e.g., the contact person, the nature of the company, etc.

Disparate elements — you can have various formulas, none of which is a trade secret in itself, but when brought together, they can be part of a formula that does constitute a trade secret.

The economic value of a trade secret can be actual or potential. The Google algorithm is an example of what was at one time a potential trade secret. The algorithm was developed by students while in college. Although they had developed a method to search the internet, they had no idea at that time how to turn it into a business. Had someone had stolen their algorithm, it would have been protected as a potentially valuable trade secret.

Governing Law:

Historically, trade secrets were the subject of common law, which looks at:

  1. Extent known outside the company or by employees. The more widely known, the less likely it is to be a trade secret.
  2. Measures taken to guard secrecy
  3. Value to company and competitors
  4. Time, effort, money, and difficulty to develop. However, courts today are giving less weight to these if the idea is a good one and conveyed in secrecy.

Uniform Trade Secrets Act — Adopted by 47 states. Misappropriation occurs when a trade secret is acquired by improper means or comes into your possession and you knew it was a secret, e.g., information provided by a new employee.

Federal Economic Espionage Act — U.S can prosecute as a criminal act. The concern is the outflow of business information.

Some famous trade secrets:

Formula for Coca Cola

Recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken

Formula for Smith’s Cough Drops

Formula for WD-40

Google algorithm

Remedies:

Injunction — For example, when an employee leaves the company with valuable trade secrets and joins a competitor, the company may be able to obtain an injunction to prevent him or her from disclosing them.

Compensatory damages — These are actual damages to the complaining party. Liquidated damages may be provided for in the non-disclosure agreement.

Punitive damages — If there is willful misappropriation, there may be a doubling or tripling of the amount of actual damages.

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You Must Give Up These 5 Things to Be Debt Free

No matter who you are, almost everyone carries some debt. According to some recent statistics from ValuePenguin.com, the total U.S. consumer debt is $3.4 trillion. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of all American households have some level of credit card debt, while the average household in the country has debt of $5,700.

Essentially, the country runs on debt. Of course, no one wants to get into debt, but once there, most people have a very difficult time climbing out of that dark hole. The good news is, it’s not impossible. It’s not easy, either, but if you’re willing to make some changes, you can live debt-free. If you’re ready to give some things up then read on.

Everyone loves to eat out, but if you want to get rid of your debt you have to start eating at home. The reason is obvious. The more of your budget you spend on eating out, the less you will have to put towards your debt. In fact, it’s likely your debt will increase.

Stop being a social media junkie. On the surface this might not make a lot of sense, but if you consider it carefully, it’s sound advice. People who constantly check up on their friends on social media tend to want to keep up with everything that’s going on, including having the latest trending items that everyone is talking about. That means more money out the door and more debt in your pocket.

You have to be honest with yourself, which means you can’t live in denial anymore. Admit you have a problem with debt and push forward to fix it.

While it’s good to establish other financial goals, if you’re in debt it is very difficult to achieve such goals. Thus, it’s often better to give up your other financial goals in order to first pay off your debt. When your debt is gone you can start focusing on those other dreams.

The bottom line is that you must be willing to sacrifice if you want to get out of the red and live debt-free.

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Give These New Hobbies a Try in 2017 

Are you looking for something new to try this year? You better get going because the year is practically half over. If you’re tired of all the old, run-of-the-mill hobbies and you want a new adventure to pass some time, then there are several options you should give a try. Make some time to try more than one and see which one you like best. You might end up finding a new hobby that you will enjoy for many years to come.

If you like to get crafty then give embroidery a try. You can unleash your creative side and come up with some new décor for your home at the same time. Along those same lines, why not try cross-stitching as well? Another hobby you might like if you enjoying being crafty is making paper flowers. They won’t rot and they add more beauty to the world.

Have you ever wanted to learn an instrument? Why not give the ukulele a try? It’s usually much easier to learn than a guitar and it will come in handy on your next trip to an island paradise or on a rainy day when you’re stuck inside.

Yoga is another great new hobby to experience. Learn to master the practice of this ancient form of meditation and exercise. You’ll feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically!

Perhaps you like art but don’t give it much time. You could always take an art class, or just make more time to visit art galleries and museums to appreciate some of the finer things in life. There are endless new hobbies to try this year. Pick something and see if you can discover your new favorite pastime!

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Simple Ways to Build a Better Tax Plan

Does it seem possible that more than two months have already passed since the 2017 tax season ended? That means the 2018 tax season is not that far away, and now is a good time to make your tax plan for this year’s return.

Tax plans come in all shapes and sizes because no two taxpayers have the exact same situation. However, there are a few common tips that can help any taxpayer prepare his or her next tax return, especially if they want to save a little more on taxes.

  • Tax Harvesting – We’ve discussed tax harvesting before, but it never hurts to repeat sound advice. This is a great way to reduce your tax hit by selling off investments that have a loss. This will help offset any gains you have and ease your tax burden.
  • IRA Contributions – While you can wait all the way util April of next year to contribute to your IRA, you don’t have to. Plus, whatever you add to your Roth IRA will be tax-free income when it comes time to withdraw it.
  • Maximize Long-Term Gains – If you happen to be in the 15 percent tax bracket, you get to enjoy your long-term investment gains tax-free. Therefore, take the time to study and estimate your future investment taxes and look for chances to save each year.

These are just a few of the tips you can implement in your 2107 tax plan, or any other year, to help get prepared and save some money. Please feel free to speak with our tax experts at GROCO for more help.

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