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Regulators Stop Fraud with Whistleblowers Payments

Organizations are vulnerable to fraud, especially smaller organizations and nonprofits that have lower staffing levels and technology investments. Fraud losses are estimated total about 5% every year. That’s a lot of lost revenue or donations!

Federal regulators, like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), focus on large-dollar fraud committed at public companies that usually involve mid- or high-level management. Some frauds go on for years, perpetrated by insiders who know the organization and its controls well enough to circumvent them.

In 2011, the SEC established a Whistleblower Program to provide incentives to whistleblowers to report federal securities law violations. Individuals who provide information that leads to a successful SEC enforcement action resulting in sanctions greater than $1 million are eligible for a monetary award. Whistleblowers may be an employee, an insider such as a consultant, or an outsider of the company. 

Since its inception, the Whistleblower Program has fined wrongdoers more than $1.7 billion, and the SEC has awarded more than $60 million to whistleblowers. Since the whistleblower rules took effect in 2011, the SEC has received more than 22,000 whistleblower tips. The annual number of tips submitted internationally has grown 75 percent since 2012.

Two fraud categories that tend to come up on the “Whistleblower Hit List” most often are Corruption and Financial Statement Reporting. Those tend to be large-dollar schemes perpetrated by senior-level members of an organization. Here’s a little information about each category to help you to recognize it, just in case:

Corruption

Corruption often involves senior management with authority over essential elements of an organization, like sales and operations. About 70 percent of corruption cases are perpetrated by someone who misused her or his authority to gain direct or indirect benefit. Examples include bribery, kick-backs and conflicts of interest.

Financial Statement Reporting

Financial statement fraud is less common, but is usually the most costly. The median reported cost is a whopping $800,000. This type of fraud is commonly perpetrated by middle or senior managers whose income is based on meeting projected financial targets.
The SEC Whistleblower Program is one way to tamp down on corporate fraud. With the monetary rewards increasing, reports to the SEC’s Whistleblower Program are likely to grow. Let’s hope that this upward trend dissuades fraudsters from corrupt practices altogether.

Impacts of the 2017 Tax Act on Individuals

Pretty soon, it will be time to think about pulling together your W-2s, investment statements, and other documents to prepare your 2018 income tax returns. Are you ready? Even if you usually have an easy time getting ready to prepare your income tax returns, your experience could be more challenging this year because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December 2017.

Many articles have been written describing the new tax law. The IRS website is packed with explanations and links that interpret the tax law changes. But how do you know which changes impact you and how to prepare? One option is to attend a workshop given by a qualified tax professional who has educated herself on all the tax law updates and their impacts.

You’ll have an opportunity to hear about the latest tax law changes that impact individuals and their families at my upcoming workshop. It will be at the Arlington Central Public Library in Arlington, VA on Wednesday, February 13, 2019, from 7:00 – 8:30 PM. I’ve been studying up on the changes you’ll see on your 2018 returns. Bring your questions and test me!

Register at this link: https://arlingtonva.libcal.com/event/4740642

So what can you expect if you attend my workshop? Here’s a taste:

  • A description of redesigned federal tax forms
  • Overview of lower individual income tax rates
  • Elimination of personal exemptions
  • Limits on state and local tax deductions
  • Limits on interest deduction for mortgage indebtedness
  • Elimination of most miscellaneous itemized deductions

Wow, that’s quite a list!

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law in December 2017 impacts almost every U.S. household. How big that impact will be depends on your family situation, income, and location. For some, those changes will be dramatic. Things could get even more dramatic if you don’t understand how those changes impact you. Are you ready? Have questions? Get them answered on February 13th at the Arlington Central Public Library.

Higher Standard Mileage Rates for 2019

Using your vehicle for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes could still qualify you for a tax deduction. As usual, deductibility depends on your particular situation. So, if you qualify, how much is that deduction worth? Again, it depends.

One option is to take the standard mileage tax deduction, which is determined each year by the Internal Revenue Service, based on IRS data about the cost of operating and maintaining a vehicle. A “vehicle” includes passenger cars, vans, pickups or panel trucks.

The IRS recently issued the new standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating a vehicle for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes. Beginning on January 1, 2019, the standard mileage rates for the use of a vehicle will be:
 

  • 58 cents per mile driven for business use, up 3.5 cents from the rate for 2018,
  • 20 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, up 2 cents from the rate for 2018, and
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations. The charitable rate is set by statute and remains unchanged.

Sounds great, right? Those mileage rates can really add up. Just remember that there are limitations and exclusions, some of which got stricter under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Under these limitations, taxpayers cannot:

  • Claim a miscellaneous itemized deduction for unreimbursed employee travel expenses.
  • Claim a deduction for moving expenses, except members of the Armed Forces on active duty moving under orders to a permanent change of station.
  • Use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle.
  • Use the business standard mileage rate for more than four vehicles simultaneously.

Also remember that you always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using your vehicle instead of using the standard mileage rates. You have to track your mileage for each vehicle no matter which method you use. Compare the standard mileage calculation to the actual cost. You can select whichever option results in a higher deduction.

Taking vehicle deductions involves a lot of tracking, but the effort can be worth it. Those deductions can really add up, especially with the new standard mileage rates issued by the IRS for 2019 to operate a vehicle for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Year End Reflections and Plans for 2019

Year end is the perfect time to reflect on and celebrate accomplishments made during 2018. Yes, year-end is time to enjoy your success. It’s also a great time to plan for the accomplishments you want to achieve in 2019. Whether you are expanding or launching something new, setting objectives is your starting point.

First, identify a few specific areas of your organization you’d like to change or improve in 2019. Want higher profits, cash flow or client base? Need a new employee or system? No change or improvement will happen without a plan to get it done, starting with clear and detailed objectives.

Follow these three tips for objectives that give you a head start toward the finish line:

Gather the Numbers

Quantify all the applicable aspects of your objective. This task will require some research

and could entail making estimates and assumptions. For example, how much profit or client growth do you want to achieve? Can you express that growth as a dollar amount and as a percentage? How much would a new system or employee cost? How much of that cost would be one-time and how much would be ongoing? The more numbers you can nail down or estimate, the better.

Be Realistic

Keep market conditions and your resource capacity in mind when setting growth objectives. It’s important to be realistic in order to ensure that your objectives are achievable. Setting unrealistic objectives is not only discouraging, it can result in allocating resources – aka time and money – on activities that are unlikely to succeed. Better to target those resources on realistic, achievable objectives.

Adjust As Needed

No matter how well you research, estimate and focus on the achievable, any view of future events is imperfect. Market conditions and other factors that you depended on when setting your objectives could change. Periodically assess progress on meeting your objectives. Are you on track? Why or why not? Based on those answers, you may need to make some adjustments to the objectives that you set at the beginning of the year.

Year end is the perfect time to reflect on and celebrate the year’s accomplishments and to plan for the objectives you want to set for next year. Identify specific things you’d like to change, set detailed and clear objectives, and you’ll have a great head start to improve your organization in 2019.

Last Minute Tax Tips for 2018

Less than two weeks left to go before the year ends. Wow! You meant to do some tax planning for 2018. Is it too late now? Believe it or not, there’s still time to implement some planning moves that can improve your tax situation for 2018 and the future.

Here are four last minute tax tips you can jump on and still enjoy the holidays:

Make HSA contributions

If you are an eligible individual under the health savings account (HSA) rules for December 2018, you are treated as having been eligible for the entire year and can make a full year’s deductible contribution for 2018. The maximum contribution provides a deduction of $3,450 for individual coverage and $6,900 for family coverage. Taxpayers age 55 or older also get an additional $1,000 catch-up amount.

Nail down stock losses 

Consider realizing losses for stock you planned to divest anyway. Those losses can offset gains from other stock or investment asset sales. Losses that exceed gains may be deducted up to $3,000, $1,500 for married taxpayers filing separately.

Apply a bunching strategy to deductible contributions and/or payments of medical expenses 

Beginning in 2018, many taxpayers who claimed itemized deductions in prior years will no longer benefit from doing so because the standard deduction has been increased and many itemized deductions have been cut back or abolished. A bunching strategy can help you get around these new limits — by accelerating or deferring discretionary medical expenses and/or charitable contributions into the year where they will do some tax good.

Use IRAs to make charitable gifts 

If you are age 70½ or older, own IRAs, and are thinking of making a charitable gift, consider arranging for the gift to be made by way of a qualified charitable contribution, a direct transfer from the IRA trustee to the charitable organization, up to $100,000. The transferred amount isn’t included in gross income or allowed as a deduction on your tax return. A qualified charitable contribution before year end is a particularly good idea for retired taxpayers who do not need all of their as-yet undistributed required minimum distribution (RMD) for living expenses.

Yes, it’s late in the year for tax planning, but not entirely too late. Implementing one or more of these last minute tax tips will improve your tax situation for 2018 and future years. Makes the holidays even merrier, doesn’t it?

Do I Need to Keep That?

It happened again last week. A tax client e-mailed me to ask for a copy of her 2016 income tax returns. She was refinancing her home and the lender had asked for two years of tax information. As required, I had sent a file copy of her tax returns after they were electronically filed. She apparently did not save it.

I was happy to send her another copy. But what were her options if I was not available to help? What if she had prepared her own returns and not kept a copy? Is this really a big deal?

The short answer is “yes”. Taxpayers should keep a copy of their past tax returns and supporting documents for at least three years. Taxpayers claiming certain securities or debt losses should keep their tax returns and documents for at least seven years.

Here are five tips about prior-year tax records:

  1. Save time – Keeping copies of prior year tax returns saves time. Often, prior-year tax information is needed to file a current year tax return or to answer questions from the IRS.
  2. Validate identity – Taxpayers using tax filing software for the first time may need their adjusted gross income (AGI) amount from their prior year’s tax return to verify their identity. Learn more at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.
  3. Order a transcript – A tax transcript that summarizes tax return information and includes AGI can be ordered for free from the IRS. Transcripts are available for the current tax return, plus the past three tax years. Plan ahead, though, because delivery typically takes five to 10 days from the time the IRS receives the request.
  4. Get an actual tax return copy – This option costs $50 per copy and requires taxpayers to complete and mail Form 4506 to the appropriate IRS office listed on the form.
  5. Verify tax payments – Good news! You don’t need a transcript or return copy to find out if you owe the IRS. Taxpayers can verify payments or amounts owed in the last 18 months. Just click on this link – view their tax account.

The bottom line is simple. Save time and aggravation by keeping prior-year tax information. Most taxpayers should keep tax returns and supporting documents for at least three years, seven years for taxpayers with securities transactions or losses. Keeping these records yourself prevents all the time and effort to get them from your tax preparer or the IRS.

Children and Dependents under the New Tax Law

One of the news headlines about the 2017 Tax Cuts and jobs Act was the elimination of personal exemptions, which took away a $4,050 tax deduction for each taxpayer, spouse and qualified dependent. Families with several children were pretty unhappy to hear about losing that hefty tax deduction, and even unhappier to wait for the IRS regulations to understand how this change would impact their tax bill.

Well, the wait is over. In November 2018, the IRS issued notices and regulations to clarify the new tax law regarding the Child Tax Credit, the Additional Child Tax Credit, and the new Credit for Other Dependents. Here are the details you’ll need to understand for your 2018 income tax return:

  • Child Tax Credit

Beginning in 2018, you may able to claim the Child Tax Credit if you have a qualifying child under the age of 17 and meet other qualifications, like the tests for support and residency. The maximum amount for the Child Tax Credit is $2,000 per qualifying child. Each qualifying child must have a Social Security Number issued by the Social Security Administration before the tax return due date, including extensions.

  • Additional Child Tax Credit

Qualifying taxpayers may take up to $1,400 of an Additional Child Tax Credit for each qualifying child under the age of 17. This credit is refundable, meaning that the credit may give you a refund even if you don’t owe any federal taxes.

  • Credit for Other Dependents

Dependents who can’t be claimed for the Child Tax Credit may still qualify for the Credit for Other Dependents of up to $500. Examples include children 17 years of age or older or parents for whom you provide 50% or more of financial support. This credit is non-refundable, meaning that it can only be used to offset tax liability. No refund is provided if taxes are not due or the credit is greater than the taxes due.

Not sure if your dependents qualify you for the Child Tax Credit, the Additional Child Tax Credit, or Credit for Other Dependents? The IRS has you covered. Use their Interactive Tax Assistant to see if you’re eligible.

Will You Owe Tax Penalties for 2018?

Tax withholding tables and tax rates changed in February 2018, due to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Doing a “Paycheck Checkup” was promoted by the IRS and in the news all year to help taxpayers avoid an expensive surprise when filing their 2018 income tax returns in 2019. You’ve been meaning to Checkup on your Paycheck, but it’s already late November.

Will you have to pay a tax penalty if you owe? Maybe not…

To avoid a penalty for 2018, your tax paid or withheld must total 90% of your 2018 tax liability, or 100% of your 2017 tax liability, whichever is lower. Since 2010, the number of taxpayers assessed underpayment penalties and interest has increased by 40%, from 7.2 million a year to 10 million. Interest on unpaid amounts is calculated based on IRS rates, and accrues daily until the amount due is paid. That really adds up!

Here are four ways to avoid tax penalties:

  1. Increase tax withholdings from wages for the rest of the year by submitting a new IRS Form W-4 and a new state withholding authorization with your employer. Reducing the number of exemptions that you claim increases the amount of tax withheld. Don’t overdo it! Avoid over withholding and giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan until you get your 2018 refund.
  2. Pay estimated taxes if you expect to owe at least $1,000, after tax withholdings and refundable credits. Estimated tax payments are normally due on April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15 of the following year, unless the due date falls on a weekend or holiday. Paying amounts due stops the clock on 2018 interest accruals for those balances.
  3. Taxpayers who receive income unevenly during the year can make estimated tax payments as funds are earned or received. That means if most of your income comes in during the last few months of the year, you can make lower estimated tax payments earlier in the year and higher payment amounts later in the year.
  4. Exceptions to the penalty and special rules apply to some groups of taxpayers, such as farmers, fishermen, casualty and disaster victims, those who recently became disabled or retired. Do your homework to see if you belong in one of these categories.

 

Think that the IRS loves to charge penalties? No! They want to help taxpayers avoid penalties. Tools are available for a Paycheck Checkup at https://www.irs.gov/paycheck-checkup.