Tax Scams & Schemes

Posted by on Dec 3, 2018 in 401k, 403b, atuos, bank statements, Boomers. Millenials, cars, college planning, Consumer Tools, credit card statements, Deflation, Elder Care, estate planning, family finances, financial advice, financial planning, Fixed Income Investing, Inflation, insurance, Investing, IRA, IRS, Medicaid Planning, Medicaid Recovery, Medicare Planning, Retire Happy Now, Retirement, retirement, retirement calculator, retirement planning, sales, social security, tax returns, taxes, TSA | 0 comments

The “dirty dozen” favored by criminals & cheats.   Provided by Frederick Saide, Ph.D.   Year after year, criminals try to scam certain taxpayers. Year after year, certain taxpayers resort to schemes in an effort to put one over on the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.). These cons occur year-round, not just during tax season. In response to their frequency, the I.R.S. has listed the 12 biggest offenses – scams that you should recognize, schemes that warrant penalties and/or punishment.   Phishing. If you get an unsolicited email claiming to be from the I.R.S., it is a scam. The I.R.S. never reaches out via email, regardless of the situation. If such an email lands in your inbox, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. You should also be careful with sending personal information, including payroll or other financial information, via an email or website.1,2   Phone scams. Each year, criminals call taxpayers and allege that said taxpayers owe money to the I.R.S. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says that over the last five years, 12,000 victims have been identified, resulting in a cumulative loss of more than $63 million. Visual tricks can lend authenticity to the ruse: the caller ID may show a toll-free number. The caller may mention a phony I.R.S. employee badge number. New spins are constantly emerging, including threats of arrest, and even deportation.1,2   Identity theft. The I.R.S. warns that identity theft is a constant concern, but not just online. Thieves can steal your mail or rifle through your trash. While the I.R.S. has made headway in terms of identifying such scams when related to tax returns, and plays an active role in identifying lawbreakers, the best defense that remains is caution when your identity and information are concerned.1,2   Return preparer fraud. Almost 60% of American taxpayers use a professional tax preparer. Unfortunately, among the many honest professionals, there are also some con artists out there who aim to rip off personal information and grab phantom refunds, so be careful when making a selection.1,2   Fake charities. Some taxpayers claim that they are gathering funds for hurricane victims, an overseas relief effort, an outreach ministry, and so on. Be on the lookout for organizations that are using phony names to appear as legitimate charities. A specious charity may ask you for cash donations and/or your Social Security Number and banking information before offering a receipt.1,2   Inflated refund claims. In this scenario, the scammers do prepare and file 1040s, but they charge big fees up front or claim an exorbitant portion of your refund. The I.R.S. specifically warns against signing a blank return as well as preparers who charge based on the amount of your tax...

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Staying Out of Debt Once You Get Out of Debt

Posted by on Nov 19, 2018 in 401k, 403b, atuos, bank statements, Boomers. Millenials, cars, college planning, Consumer Tools, credit card statements, Deflation, estate planning, family finances, financial advice, financial planning, Fixed Income Investing, Inflation, insurance, Investing, IRA, Medicare Planning, Retire Happy Now, Retirement, retirement, retirement calculator, retirement planning, social security, TSA | 0 comments

As you reduce your liabilities, embrace the behaviors that may improve your balance sheet.   Provided by Frederick Saide, Ph.D.     Paying off a major debt produces a sense of relief. You can celebrate a financial milestone; you can “pay yourself first” to greater degree and direct more money toward your dreams and your financial future rather than your creditors.   Once you get out of excessive consumer debt, the last thing you want to do is fall right back in. What steps can you take to reduce that possibility, and what missteps should you avoid making?   Step one: save money. So often, an unexpected event can put you in debt: an auto breakdown, a job loss, a trip to the emergency room or a hospital stay. If you earmark $50 or $100 a month (or even $20 a month) for an emergency fund, you can create a pool of money that may help you deal with the financial impact of such crises. Every dollar you save for these events is a dollar you do not have to borrow through a credit card or a personal loan at burdensome interest rates.      Step two: budget. Think about a 50/30/20 household budget: you assign half of your income for essentials like housing payments and food, 30% to discretionary purchases like shopping, eating out, and entertainment, and 20% to savings and/or paying down whatever minor debts you must incur from month to month.   Step three: buy things with an eye on value. Do you really need a new car that will require financing, one that will rapidly depreciate as soon as you drive it off the lot? A late-model used car might be a much better purchase. Similarly, could you save money by eating in more often or bringing a lunch to work? You could find some very nice goods at very cheap prices by shopping at thrift stores or online used marketplaces. These are all smart consumer steps, net positives for your financial picture.   You should also be aware of some potential missteps that could lead you right back into significant debt, or negatively impact your credit rating. Some of them may be taken consciously, others unconsciously.   Misstep one: spending freely once you are free of debt. If you get rid of consumer debt, but retain the spending mentality that drove you into it, your financial progress may be short-lived. If the experience of getting into (and getting out of) debt does not change that mindset, then you risk racking up serious debt again.   Misstep two: living without adequate health, auto, or disability insurance. Sometimes people are forced to assume large debts as a direct...

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When You Retire Without Enough What Happens?

Posted by on Nov 5, 2018 in 401k, 403b, bank statements, Boomers. Millenials, cars, college planning, credit card statements, Deflation, Elder Care, estate planning, family finances, financial advice, financial planning, Fixed Income Investing, Inflation, insurance, Investing, IRA, IRS, Medicaid Planning, Medicaid Recovery, Medicare Planning, Retire Happy Now, Retirement, retirement, retirement calculator, retirement planning, sales, social security, tax returns, taxes, TSA | 0 comments

Start your “second act” with inadequate assets, and your vision of the future may be revised.   Provided by Frederick Saide, Ph.D.     How much have you saved for retirement? Are you on pace to amass a retirement fund of $1 million by age 65? More than a few retirement counselors urge pre-retirees to strive for that goal. If you have $1 million in invested assets when you retire, you can withdraw 4% a year from your retirement funds and receive $40,000 in annual income to go along with Social Security benefits (in ballpark terms, about $30,000 per year for someone retiring from a long career). If your investment portfolio is properly diversified, you may be able to do this for 25-30 years without delving into assets elsewhere.1 Perhaps you are 20-25 years away from retiring. Factoring in inflation and medical costs, maybe you would prefer $80,000 in annual income plus Social Security at the time you retire. Strictly adhering to the 4% rule, you will need to save $2 million in retirement funds to satisfy that preference.1 There are many variables in retirement planning, but there are also two realities that are hard to dismiss. One, retiring with $1 million in invested assets may suffice in 2018, but not in the 2030s or 2040s, given how even moderate inflation whittles away purchasing power over time. Two, most Americans are saving too little for retirement: about 5% of their pay, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Fifteen percent is a better goal.1 Fifteen percent? Really? Yes. Imagine a 30-year-old earning $40,000 annually who starts saving for retirement. She gets 3.8% raises each year until age 67; her investment portfolio earns 6% a year during that time frame. At a 5% savings rate, she would have close to $424,000 in her retirement account 37 years later; at a 15% savings rate, she would have about $1.3 million by age 67. From boosting her savings rate 10%, she ends up with three times as much in retirement assets.1  Now, what if you save too little for retirement? That implies some degree of compromise to your lifestyle, your dreams, or both. You may have seen your parents, grandparents, or neighbors make such compromises. There is the 75-year-old who takes any job he can, no matter how unsatisfying or awkward, because he realizes he is within a few years of outliving his money. There is the small business owner entering her sixties with little or no savings (and no exit strategy) who doggedly resolves to work until she dies. Perhaps you have seen the widow in her seventies who moves in with her son and his spouse out...

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No, That Is Not the I.R.S. Calling

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in 401k, 403b, atuos, bank statements, Boomers. Millenials, cars, college planning, Consumer Tools, credit card statements, Elder Care, estate planning, family finances, financial advice, financial planning, Fixed Income Investing, insurance, Investing, IRA, IRS, Retire Happy Now, Retirement, retirement, retirement calculator, retirement planning, sales, social security, tax returns, taxes, TSA | 0 comments

Watch out for crooks impersonating I.R.S. agents (and financial industry professionals).   Provided by Frederick Saide, Ph.D.     Do you know how the Internal Revenue Service contacts taxpayers to resolve a problem? The first step is almost always to send a letter through the U.S. Postal Service to the taxpayer.1   It is very rare for the I.R.S. to make the first contact through a call or a personal visit. This happens in two circumstances: when taxes are notably delinquent or overdue or when the agency feels an audit or criminal investigation is necessary. Furthermore, the I.R.S. does not send initial requests for taxpayer information via email or social media.1     Now that you know all of this, you should also know about some of the phone scams being perpetrated by criminals claiming to be the I.R.S. (or representatives of investment firms).   Scam #1: “You owe back taxes. Pay them immediately, or you will be arrested.” Here, someone calls you posing as an I.R.S. agent, claiming that you owe thousands of dollars in federal taxes. If the caller does not reach you in person, a voice mail message conveys the same threat, urging you to call back quickly.1   Can this terrible (fake) problem be solved? Yes, perhaps with the help of your Social Security number. Or, maybe with some specific information about your checking account, maybe even your online banking password. Or, they may tell you that this will all go away if you wire the money to an account or buy a pre-paid debit card. These are all efforts to steal your money.   This is over-the-phone extortion, plain and simple. The demand for immediate payment gives it away. The I.R.S. does not call up taxpayers and threaten them with arrest if they cannot pay back taxes by midnight. The preferred method of notification is to send a bill, with instructions to pay the amount owed to the U.S. Treasury (never some third party).1   Sometimes the phone number on your caller I.D. may appear to be legitimate because more sophisticated crooks have found ways to manipulate caller I.D. systems. Asking for a callback number is not enough. The crook may readily supply you with a number to call, and when you dial it someone may pick up immediately and claim to be a representative of the I.R.S., but it’s likely a co-conspirator – someone else assisting in the scam. For reference, the I.R.S. tax help line for individuals is 1-800-829-1040. Another telltale sign; if you ever call the real I.R.S., you probably wouldn’t speak to a live person so quickly – hold times can be long.1   Scam #2: “This is a special offer to...

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Why Did Treasury Yields Jump?

Posted by on Oct 15, 2018 in 401k, 403b, atuos, bank statements, Boomers. Millenials, cars, college planning, Consumer Tools, credit card statements, Deflation, Elder Care, estate planning, family finances, financial advice, financial planning, Fixed Income Investing, Inflation, insurance, Investing, IRA, Medicare Planning, Retire Happy Now, Retirement, retirement, retirement calculator, retirement planning, sales, social security, tax returns, taxes, TSA | 0 comments

A look at the early October selloff of U.S. government bonds.   Provided by Frederick Saide, Ph.D.      Investors raised eyebrows in early October as long-dated Treasury yields soared. On Tuesday, October 2, the yield of the 10-year note was at 3.05%. The next day, it hit 3.15%. A day later, 3.19%. What was behind this quick rise, and this sprint from Treasuries toward riskier assets? You can credit several factors.1   One, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell made an attention-getting comment. On October 3, he expressed that the central bank’s monetary policy is “a long way from neutral.” In other words, interest rates (in his view) are nowhere near the point where the Fed needs to stop increasing them. Bond investors found his remark plenty hawkish.2   Two, great data keeps emerging. The Institute for Supply Management’s service sector purchasing manager index hit an all-time high of 61.6 in September. (It should be noted that this index has only been around for a decade.) ADP’s latest payrolls report found that private companies added 230,000 net new jobs last month, a terrific gain vaulting above the 168,000 noted in August. Additionally, initial unemployment claims were near a 49-year low when October started. These indicators signaled an economy running on all cylinders. Further affirming its health, Amazon.com announced it would boost its minimum wage to $15 an hour, giving some of its workers nearly a 30% raise.3   Three, you have the influence of the Fed thinning its securities portfolio. It has been reducing its bond holdings since last fall and is now doing so by $50 billion per month (compared to $40 billion per month last quarter).2      Four, NAFTA could be replaced. Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. have agreed to a preliminary trilateral trade pact designed to supplant the North American Free Trade Agreement. Wall Street applauded that news as October began, which whetted investor appetite for stocks and lessened it for bonds.4     What is the impact of these soaring yields? When 10-year, 20-year, and 30-year Treasury yields rise abruptly, the takeaway is that investors believe the economy is booming and inflation pressure is increasing. Meaning, more interest rate hikes are ahead.   As long-dated Treasury yields escalate, the housing market could feel the impact. Mortgage rates track the path of the 10-year note, and when the 10-year note yield rises, they move north in response. Higher mortgage rates would further decelerate the pace of home buying, which has been slowing.4   When the yield on the 10-year note reached its highest level in more than seven years on October 4, Wall Street grew a bit worried. The Nasdaq Composite fell 145.57, the Dow Jones Industrial...

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Underappreciated Options for Building Retirement Savings

Posted by on Aug 26, 2018 in 401k, 403b, atuos, bank statements, Boomers. Millenials, cars, college planning, Consumer Tools, credit card statements, Deflation, Elder Care, estate planning, family finances, financial advice, financial planning, Fixed Income Investing, Inflation, insurance, Investing, IRA, IRS, Medicaid Planning, Medicaid Recovery, Medicare Planning, Retire Happy Now, Retirement, retirement, retirement calculator, retirement planning, sales, social security, tax returns, taxes, TSA | 0 comments

More people ought to know about them.   Provided by Frederick Saide, Ph.D.   There are a number of well-known retirement savings vehicles, used by millions. Are there other, relatively obscure retirement savings accounts worthy of attention? Are there prospective benefits for retirement savers that remain under the radar?   The answer to both questions is yes. Consider these potential routes toward greater retirement savings.     Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). People enrolled in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) commonly open HSAs for their stated purpose: to create a pool of money that can be applied to health care expenses. One big perk: HSA contributions are tax deductible. Another, underappreciated perk deserves more publicity: the federal government permits the funds within HSAs to grow tax free. Just ahead, you will see why that is important to remember.1,2   While 96% of HSA owners hold their HSA funds in cash, others are investing a percentage of their HSA money. Tax-free growth is nothing to sneeze at: an HSA owner who directs 100% of the maximum $3,450 yearly account contribution into investments returning just 4% annually could have an HSA holding more than $200,000 in 30 years. Prior to age 65, withdrawals from HSAs are tax free if they are used for qualified medical expenses. After that, withdrawals from HSAs may be used for any purpose (i.e., for retirement income), although they do become fully taxable.1,2   In 2018, an individual can direct $3,450 into an HSA; a family, $6,900. Additional catch-up contributions are allowed for HSA owners aged 55 and older.1,2   “Backdoor” Roth IRAs. Some people make too much money to open a Roth IRA. That does not mean they are barred from having one. Anyone can convert all or part of a traditional IRA to a Roth, and pre-retirees with high incomes and low retirement savings occasionally do. Why? A Roth IRA offers the potential for future tax-free withdrawals. Roth IRA owners also never have to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). A Roth conversion is typically a taxable event, and it cannot be undone. The IRA owner may enter a higher tax bracket in the year of the conversion, so anyone considering this should speak with a tax professional beforehand.3       Cash value life insurance. Permanent life insurance policies often have the capability to build cash value over time, and high-income households sometimes purchase them with the goal of achieving more tax efficiency and using that cash value to supplement their retirement incomes. Cash value accounts within these policies are designed to earn interest and grow, tax deferred. Withdrawals lower the cash value of the policy, but are untaxed up to the total amount of premiums you have paid....

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