Is Your Tax Preparer Going to Summer School?

This summer, people are heading to the beach or the mountains for a much-needed break. This July and August, approximately 11,000 tax professionals across the country will take a break, too, from preparing taxes. They’re going to Summer School, aka the annual IRS Nationwide Tax Forum. The IRS puts on the Tax Forum every summer to help tax pros keep up with tax rule changes and federal tax issues affecting their clients.

Why does this matter to you? Because you’d rather be at the beach instead of reading up on tax rules changes. You are responsible for all of the information on your income tax return, no matter who prepared it. Hiring a tax preparer who keeps up with all the tax rules lets you relax at the beach, soaking up the rays.

So, how do you find a qualified tax professional? It’s a good idea to get referrals and interview two or three preparers to feel confident that she or he is qualified and that you feel comfortable interacting with her or him. Also, you can feel confident that your tax return is prepared by a qualified tax preparer who keeps up with all the tax rule changes by following these four tips:

  1. Ask about professional credentials, such as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or an Enrolled Agent (EA). Credentialed return preparers are required to fulfill annual continuing education. The IRS maintains a Directory of Federal Return Preparers with their credentials and qualifications at https://irs.treasury.gov/rpo/rpo.jsf.
  2. Verify that the preparer has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and enters it on your return that is electronically filed with the IRS. Tax preparers who charge a fee are required to have a PTIN and to file returns electronically or submit a reason for paper filing with the return.
  3. Inquire about the tax preparer’s education and training, and how she or he keeps up with tax law changes and IRS processes. Tax pros who are not a CPA or EA should still get annual tax updates to keep up their knowledge. 
  4. Ask about service fees and get a cost estimate in writing. Avoid tax preparers who base fees on a percentage of the refund, or who want their fee paid by direct deposit from your refund. These are both unethical practices prohibited by IRS regulations.

Getting dependable tax services starts with selecting a qualified tax preparer who keeps up with tax rule changes and issues. Whether that person went to Summer School, aka the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum, or not, following these four tips will help you to get qualified tax help. 

Want to relax while you’re at the beach knowing that your tax pro is keeping up with tax rule changes? The IRS has help for you to find a tax preparer who might have gone to this year’s IRS Nationwide Tax Forum at https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional.

Building Business Credibility by Volunteering

Giving back to the community feels great. Americans have a strong tradition of giving back by volunteering for nonprofit organizations. Nationally, about 30% of us volunteer for a nonprofit. My community, the Washington, DC/Arlington/Alexandria area, tops those averages with 38.3% of residents giving over 148 million hours of service worth an estimated $3.5 billion.

Volunteering not only feels great, it can also build your business credibility. Which would your potential customers choose – a business that is not engaged in the community or your business, which is visibly giving back by sponsoring nonprofit events and allowing employees time to volunteer? The choice is obvious. Customers will choose your business every time because they already feel good about you.

Makes sense, but volunteering is an investment of time and money that needs to fit into the rest of your business. Think about these three ways that businesses can build their credibility by volunteering to see if it fits into your business:

  1. Visibility

Sponsoring a nonprofit event or connecting your team with on-site or virtual volunteer projects is one way to get the name of your business in front of more potential customers. Event sponsorship and volunteering are not free, but if you’re paying to get your business name out there, it may as well be linked with a worthy cause. 

  1. Credibility

When you are doing good, people will assume that you are good, or at least dependable and credible. Establishing your credibility as an honorable and trusted business through volunteering will make potential customers look at your business first when making a purchasing decision. 

  1. Employee Enrichment

More than ever before, employees want a job where they can feel good about what they are doing and contribute to a better future. While workers can certainly volunteer on their own time, businesses that provide opportunities to volunteer as a team increase employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

Customers prefer to give their money to businesses like yours, which are visibly giving back to their community. They already feel good about you. Volunteering is a money and time investment in your business that you need to carefully assess. Thinking through the ways you can build your business credibility will increase the likelihood that customers will choose your business over one that is not visibly giving back.

Cyber Risk and Working from Home

Many people are still working from home. Some offices offer a hybrid work option, meaning that even more people are connecting to their employer’s systems remotely. But system security features that are in place at the office don’t always extend to workers’ homes. No small wonder that cyber risk is higher than ever before. 

Hackers know that remote workers often don’t have the same security set-up at home as they do at the office. But even when strong security protocols are in place, hackers can get in and data breaches happen. Why? Because human action has long been reported as one of the highest cyber risks. Temptation to fall for click bait – and trouble – seems to be even higher for people working at home in their jammies.

Cyber risk when working from home can leave employer’s systems vulnerable to hacks and malware. Employers can reduce cyber risk by providing remote support in these four IT control areas:

  1. Firewalls and Anti-Virus Software

Home workers should be required to install a firewall and anti-virus software. Firewalls protect against outside attacks and can be configured to block data from suspicious locations and allow relevant and necessary data through. Anti-virus software scans computer files and memory for patterns that may indicate the presence of malicious software.

  1. Program and System Updates

Home workers should download and install all program and system updates. Skipping updates and patches creates vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers and scammers. Workers should set up updates to be pushed automatically to their home computers and other devices to ensure they stay up-to-date.

  1. Passwords and Two-Factor Authentication

Home workers must use passwords for all system access and should be encouraged to use two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication means the user must enter username and password plus another step, such as entering a security code sent via text to a mobile phone. Passwords used at home should follow the same strength protocols as those used at the office.

  1. Phishing Emails

Home workers should be trained never to open an email from a suspicious source, click on a link in a suspicious email or open an attachment without scanning it first. Otherwise, your worker could be a victim of a phishing attack and your data could be compromised. Workers should not click on links in pop-up windows or follow links that offer anti-spyware software.

More working from home equals increased cyber risk because basic IT controls at the office don’t automatically extend to home, leaving systems vulnerable. Employers must train and support their home workers about these four essential IT control areas to reduce cyber fraud and protect business systems and data. Hackers are looking for workers at home in their jammies to tempt with click bait – don’t let that be you or your workers.

Filing Taxes When a Loved One Dies

That old joke about the two certainties of life – death and taxes – takes on a new meaning when a loved one dies and it’s tax filing time. Losing a loved one is stressful enough. Figuring out that loved one’s tax filing increases the stress for their surviving spouse or representative who is responsible for the final tax return.

Here are four things to know about filing a loved one’s final return:

  1. Filing Status and Due Date
  • The IRS considers someone married for the entire year in which their spouse died, as long as they do not remarry during that year.
  • A surviving spouse may use filing status of married filing jointly or married filing separately in the year of death. Surviving spouses with dependent children may be able to file as a Qualifying Widow(er) for two years after their spouse’s death.
  • The final return is due by the regular April tax date unless the surviving spouse or representative requests an extension to file.
  1. Filing the Final Return
  • On the final tax return, the surviving spouse or representative will note that the person has died to notify the IRS of the death.
  • The surviving spouse or representative should follow efile directions provided by the tax software. 
  • The filer should write the word deceased, the deceased person’s name, and the date of death across the top a paper return. The surviving spouse or representative must sign the return for the deceased taxpayer. The surviving spouse must also sign a joint return.
  • If there’s no appointed representative and no surviving spouse, the person in charge of the deceased person’s property must file and sign the return as “personal representative.”
  1. Documents to Include
  • Court-appointed representatives should attach a copy of the court document showing their appointment. A copy of the death certificate or other proof of death is not needed.
  • Representatives who aren’t court-appointed and are not the surviving spouse must include IRS Form 1310, Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Person to claim any refund.
  1. Paying Taxes Due
  • If tax is due, the filer should submit payment with the return or visit the payments page of IRS.gov for other payment options. 
  • Amounts due that cannot be paid immediately may qualify for a payment plan or installment agreement.

It’s stressful to learn about taxes while you are grieving. Being aware of these four tax-related topics after your loved one dies will help reduce your stress at an exceedingly challenging time. The IRS has more stress-reducing details at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/deceased-taxpayers-filing-the-final-returns-of-a-deceased-taxpayer.