A Death In The Family | Brooklyn Covered

A Death in The Family

It finally happened.

My toaster, the first toaster I ever owned, died last week.

Requiem For A Toaster

“Old Toasty” was a black and silver Hamilton Beach / Proctor Silex Model 22208. Series B1699. Type T16. I purchased it back in 1980. Oh yes, 1980. And believe me, we enjoyed good toast. Man, could “Old Toasty” toast.

At least I’ll always have those happy memories of toast so perfectly tanned, all the beautiful people in South Beach cried with shame and jealously.

With no fear of skin cancer.

After all of those years, however, the electric cord and an interior filament finally gave out.  The resulting spitting sparks produced a sound and light show lasting about ten seconds, the likes of which I never want to witness again.

Your toaster died. Who cares?

You may think I’m being overly sentimental about a 30 year-old toaster going to the big scrap metal yard in the sky. Well, if you own a Brooklyn home, condo, or co-op, think again. Just like “Old Toasty,” every appliance and component in your home or building has an expected useful life. And, if you’re not careful, you could find yourself replacing them before their time. Which will result in unexpected costs for repairs, or  an increased monthly maintenance bill.

Think about this: Unless you’ve just purchased a brand-new home, everything in the home you own is already into it’s life expectancy. And if your home is over 80 years old (hello, Brooklyn) the time to plan for component replacement may be sooner than you care to think about.

I recently read  “Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components”,  produced in February, 2007 by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Bank of America. The results of this study were based on telephone surveys of people in the trades, home manufacturers, and researchers to learn how long parts of houses should  last. (You’ll find the full study on the National Association of Home Builders website, http://nahb.com)

Now, remember climate, quality of installation and other factors play a huge role in how long and well home components last. In my opinion, the most important facet in keeping a home in tip-top shape is to do just that – keep it in tip-top shape. Owning a home is not just about watching your big-screen TV’s, entertaining in your home theatres, and backyard barbeques. It’s also painting the house, making sure the landscaping continues to draw water away from the house, checking the roof for damage, and cleaning your gutters and leaders, just to name a few regular chores.

Take the Kink Out Of Your Hoses Before You Spring A Leak

It’s caulking around windows and door frames to create a greater level of energy efficiency in your home, thus saving valuable cooling and heating dollars. Making sure you clean lint filters in clothes dryers, and replacing the metal vent hose. Running the washing machine with just detergent and bleach to clean and disinfect it. Changing the old hoses with new metal-reinforced, high pressure hoses to decrease the risk of blown hoses and the floods which follow.

So, How Long Should Things Last?

Here’s a sample of the expected life of common home components:

  • Countertops:  Natural stone countertops should last about 20 years.
  • Faucets and fixtures have an average life expectancy of 15 years
  • A bathroom shower enclosure should last about 50 years.
  • Different roofing materials will vary greatly in expected life expectancy. Slate copper and clay or concrete roofs last longest – over 50 years. Asphalt shingles about 20 years and wood shakes about 30 years.
  • Aluminum windows should last about 15 to 20 years. I found it a bit shocking to learn wooden windows should last for upwards of 30 years!

Of course, without the proper maintenance like painting window frames and trimming trees so heavy branches don’t land on and crack roofs (yes, I’ve paid several claims for Spanish Tile roofs cracked by falling branches), any component will fail to live up to its expected useful life.

There’s Another Reason To Care

Take a moment and take out the homeowners insurance policy for your Brooklyn brownstone, brick, or frame home. When you look under exclusions, you’ll see losses caused by your failure to properly maintain your insured premises are excluded. This means the only way to repair the damage will depend on you taking money out of your own pocket.

So, if the brownstone or limestone on your exterior wall is chipped, call a company which specializes in this type of restoration. Water from the ruptured pipe in the wall creating a pool in the basement? Call the plumber.

And don’t wait. Do it right away.

You can also enroll in the Neighborhood Housing Services Home Maintenance course conducted at the Bedford-Stuyvesant office on Gates Avenue. There, you’ll learn how to do everything from fixing a leaky faucet to rebuilding a bathroom.* 

So, if you want your appliances and other home components to last as well and as long as “Old Toasty”, it’s time to really pay attention to their care and maintenance.

And don’t worry, we have another toaster. And yes, it’s another Proctor Silex.

Always have a backup.

“Old Toasty” is dead. Long live “Old Toasty.”

* To learn more about NHS’s Home Maintenance Course, call the Bedford-Stuyvesant NHS office at 718-919-2100, or go to their website, http://nhsnyc.org/en/find-an-nhs-near-you/bedford-stuyvesant .

Ten Reasons For A New Tax Preparer Review | Brooklyn Covered

You must remember your preparer possesses extremely sensitive information about you. Your Social Security Number, date of birth, your checking or saving account numbers, and employment and income information should be maintained in a secure site, safe from the dangers of identity theft. If your preparer relocates each year, you must ask them what precautions thy take to protect the information in your file. Find out who else has access to the information in your files and if so, for what purpose.

Make A Promise, Keep A Promise…

Let’s review why reasons one, two and three from last’s week’s post should make you really consider finding a new and competent Income Tax Preparer this year.

Reason Number One:

Back in 1991, I met an AT & T field technician referred to me by one of his co-workers for income tax preparation services. When the young man came to the office, he asked me to review a letter he’d received from the Audit Division of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

First, let me tell you, it’s never good to get a letter from either them or the Internal Revenue Service.

The letter explained his tax preparer, a well-known Enrolled Agent, had pleaded guilty to charges of preparing fraudulent income tax returns. So she would avoid incarceration, she agreed to cooperate fully with the state taxing authorities during their investigation. She also agreed to relinquish her status as an Enrolled Agent, and gave up her ability to ever prepare income taxes again.

How did she cooperate? “Here are the keys to the office. These are the keys to the file cabinets. Here are the worksheets  I developed using fraudulent entries to generate the largest (though fraudulent) tax refunds possible for my clients.”

How simple was that?

Just to give you an idea of the scope of her transgressions, the Audit Department audited his New York State income taxes going back ten (10) years for this particular taxpayer. ( Yes I know, they say you only have to keep seven (7) years of income tax returns. There is, however, no statute of limitations for fraud.)

The amount he owed all by himself? Over $7,800.00.

And this was only what he owed New York State. He hadn’t been audited by the Internal Revenue Service yet.

And yes, each state and the IRS do share information about taxpayers.

And he wasn’t alone in his financial pain. She alone prepared the income tax returns for over 300 folks just like him.

Why Did She Do It?

She felt great pressure.

  1. The pressure of having to constantly justify her fees.
  2. The pressure of competition posed by other fraudulent income tax preparers trying to horn into her business with their own promises of large refunds.

 What were the lies she told? Taking large deductions on Schedule A for ‘work clothing’ purchases and maintenance costs.

Here’s a tax tip: If the clothing you wear to work can be worn anywhere else besides your job, you can deduct neither the cost of the clothing, nor its maintenance costs.

Who Qualifies?

So who can usually deduct uniform expenses? Police Officers, Firefighters, Sanitation workers and certain, specifically uniformed Transit Authority workers. Also, any article of clothing worn at work emblazoned with the name of the firm, and perhaps their name also.

Nothing you wear to church or your backyard barbecue.

What Else Did She Do?

She counseled married clients with children, to show different addresses so they’d qualify to file as Heads of Households, instead of Married Filing Jointly.*

Let’s Get to Reason Number 2

Your income tax preparer should be of stable character in all ways, including their business office.

Now, I am myself in the process of relocating my office (Gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan was right when he said “The rent is too damn high.”) I have, however, occupied the same storefront since January, 1999.

You must remember your preparer possesses extremely sensitive information about you. Your Social Security Number, date of birth, your checking or saving account numbers, and employment and income information should be maintained in a secure site, safe from the dangers of identity theft. If your preparer relocates each year, you must ask them what precautions thy take to protect  the information in your file.  Find out who else has access to the information in your files and if so, for what purpose.

Make sure your preparer provides you with four (4) critical documents to review and sign. 

First, the Consent to Use Information and the Consent to Disclose Information forms. These forms are required by Section 7216 of the Internal Revenue Service code when the preparer of the income tax return offers other services to their clients. Without these documents, the preparer is legally enjoined from sharing the clients’ information with any other business entity.

Next, your preparer must give you a copy their firms’, Privacy Policy Statement, outlining what methods they will use to protect your information.

Lastly, your preparer, if they have a lick of good sense, will require you to review and sign a Tax Preparation Engagement Agreement.

No, it doesn’t mean you’re getting engaged. It outlines both the responsibilities of the taxpayer to provide all information the preparer enters into their income tax return. This means no fraudulent entries. It also covers areas relating to audits, privacy policy, fees, your copy of your return, preparation method and other services your preparer may offer you. (An example of this form is available on my website at www.insuremeeg.com/2011_Engagement_Agreement.html)

Are We There Yet?

We finally come to Reason Number 3. PTIN  and  NYPTRIN are not fancy acronyms for foreign cars. The first is the IRS’s Preparer Tax Identification Number. The second refers to New York State’s New York Tax Preparer Identification Number.

Who Must Have These Numbers?

Basically, any tax return preparer who prepares a substantial part of any return for compensation.  Ask your preparer what their numbers are. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, ask the preparer to give you your file, collect your paperwork, and leave the office as quickly as possible.

While PTINS have been around since 1999, New York State first required preparers to register in 2009 (and pay an annual  fee of $100.00 for the privilege. The IRS charges a fee of $64.95).

Why Did New York State and The IRS Do This? 

At last count, the United States Treasury determined there was a 315 billion dollar tax collection shortfall in 1985, 265 billion of which was directly attributable to taxpayers’ failure to file, and filing fraudulent returns. This new system will enable them to better identify and prosecute those abusing the system by flooding it with fraudulent returns. On the other, to catch those who prepare returns and fail or refuse to sign them. Why do they refuse? So they don’t have to declare the income. In fact, they often fail to  file their own income tax returns.

On several occasion last filing season, clients, thinking they’d save money, went to other preparers, only to be told the preparer had a “…problem with their New York State software. So tell you what, I’ll prepare and charge you for preparing your Federal return and you can go anywhere to get the NYS return done.”

Not with me. Sorry. I don’t do sloppy seconds.

Never have, never will.

No matter what, the federal return must always be done first. Many federal calculations then flow to the state return.

You come to my office and you’ll pay for both, because I must prepare both.  I wound up telling those clients to return to the other preparers and get their money back. And their files, too.

And You Thought This Was Going To Be Easy?

Next week we’ll review reasons numbers 4, 5 and 6. Until next time, wait for those w-2’s with bated breath.

Questions? Feel free to email me at eustace@brooklyncovered.com

* We’ll cover the subject of filing status in a future post.

Ten Reasons For A New Tax Preparer Review | Brooklyn Covered

You must remember your preparer possesses extremely sensitive information about you. Your Social Security Number, date of birth, your checking or saving account numbers, and employment and income information should be maintained in a secure site, safe from the dangers of identity theft. If your preparer relocates each year, you must ask them what precautions thy take to protect the information in your file. Find out who else has access to the information in your files and if so, for what purpose.

Make A Promise, Keep A Promise…

Let’s review why reasons one, two and three from last’s week’s post should make you really consider finding a new and competent Income Tax Preparer this year.

Reason Number One:

Back in 1991, I met an AT & T field technician referred to me by one of his co-workers for income tax preparation services. When the young man came to the office, he asked me to review a letter he’d received from the Audit Division of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

First, let me tell you, it’s never good to get a letter from either them or the Internal Revenue Service.

The letter explained his tax preparer, a well-known Enrolled Agent, had pleaded guilty to charges of preparing fraudulent income tax returns. So she would avoid incarceration, she agreed to cooperate fully with the state taxing authorities during their investigation. She also agreed to relinquish her status as an Enrolled Agent, and gave up her ability to ever prepare income taxes again.

How did she cooperate? “Here are the keys to the office. These are the keys to the file cabinets. Here are the worksheets  I developed using fraudulent entries to generate the largest (though fraudulent) tax refunds possible for my clients.”

How simple was that?

Just to give you an idea of the scope of her transgressions, the Audit Department audited his New York State income taxes going back ten (10) years for this particular taxpayer. ( Yes I know, they say you only have to keep seven (7) years of income tax returns. There is, however, no statute of limitations for fraud.)

The amount he owed all by himself? Over $7,800.00.

And this was only what he owed New York State. He hadn’t been audited by the Internal Revenue Service yet.

And yes, each state and the IRS do share information about taxpayers.

And he wasn’t alone in his financial pain. She alone prepared the income tax returns for over 300 folks just like him.

Why Did She Do It?

She felt great pressure.

  1. The pressure of having to constantly justify her fees.
  2. The pressure of competition posed by other fraudulent income tax preparers trying to horn into her business with their own promises of large refunds.

 What were the lies she told? Taking large deductions on Schedule A for ‘work clothing’ purchases and maintenance costs.

Here’s a tax tip: If the clothing you wear to work can be worn anywhere else besides your job, you can deduct neither the cost of the clothing, nor its maintenance costs.

Who Qualifies?

So who can usually deduct uniform expenses? Police Officers, Firefighters, Sanitation workers and certain, specifically uniformed Transit Authority workers. Also, any article of clothing worn at work emblazoned with the name of the firm, and perhaps their name also.

Nothing you wear to church or your backyard barbecue.

What Else Did She Do?

She counseled married clients with children, to show different addresses so they’d qualify to file as Heads of Households, instead of Married Filing Jointly.*

Let’s Get to Reason Number 2

Your income tax preparer should be of stable character in all ways, including their business office.

Now, I am myself in the process of relocating my office (Gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan was right when he said “The rent is too damn high.”) I have, however, occupied the same storefront since January, 1999.

You must remember your preparer possesses extremely sensitive information about you. Your Social Security Number, date of birth, your checking or saving account numbers, and employment and income information should be maintained in a secure site, safe from the dangers of identity theft. If your preparer relocates each year, you must ask them what precautions thy take to protect  the information in your file.  Find out who else has access to the information in your files and if so, for what purpose.

Make sure your preparer provides you with four (4) critical documents to review and sign. 

First, the Consent to Use Information and the Consent to Disclose Information forms. These forms are required by Section 7216 of the Internal Revenue Service code when the preparer of the income tax return offers other services to their clients. Without these documents, the preparer is legally enjoined from sharing the clients’ information with any other business entity.

Next, your preparer must give you a copy their firms’, Privacy Policy Statement, outlining what methods they will use to protect your information.

Lastly, your preparer, if they have a lick of good sense, will require you to review and sign a Tax Preparation Engagement Agreement.

No, it doesn’t mean you’re getting engaged. It outlines both the responsibilities of the taxpayer to provide all information the preparer enters into their income tax return. This means no fraudulent entries. It also covers areas relating to audits, privacy policy, fees, your copy of your return, preparation method and other services your preparer may offer you. (An example of this form is available on my website at www.insuremeeg.com/2011_Engagement_Agreement.html)

Are We There Yet?

We finally come to Reason Number 3. PTIN  and  NYPTRIN are not fancy acronyms for foreign cars. The first is the IRS’s Preparer Tax Identification Number. The second refers to New York State’s New York Tax Preparer Identification Number.

Who Must Have These Numbers?

Basically, any tax return preparer who prepares a substantial part of any return for compensation.  Ask your preparer what their numbers are. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, ask the preparer to give you your file, collect your paperwork, and leave the office as quickly as possible.

While PTINS have been around since 1999, New York State first required preparers to register in 2009 (and pay an annual  fee of $100.00 for the privilege. The IRS charges a fee of $64.95).

Why Did New York State and The IRS Do This? 

At last count, the United States Treasury determined there was a 315 billion dollar tax collection shortfall in 1985, 265 billion of which was directly attributable to taxpayers’ failure to file, and filing fraudulent returns. This new system will enable them to better identify and prosecute those abusing the system by flooding it with fraudulent returns. On the other, to catch those who prepare returns and fail or refuse to sign them. Why do they refuse? So they don’t have to declare the income. In fact, they often fail to  file their own income tax returns.

On several occasion last filing season, clients, thinking they’d save money, went to other preparers, only to be told the preparer had a “…problem with their New York State software. So tell you what, I’ll prepare and charge you for preparing your Federal return and you can go anywhere to get the NYS return done.”

Not with me. Sorry. I don’t do sloppy seconds.

Never have, never will.

No matter what, the federal return must always be done first. Many federal calculations then flow to the state return.

You come to my office and you’ll pay for both, because I must prepare both.  I wound up telling those clients to return to the other preparers and get their money back. And their files, too.

And You Thought This Was Going To Be Easy?

Next week we’ll review reasons numbers 4, 5 and 6. Until next time, wait for those w-2’s with bated breath.

Questions? Feel free to email me at eustace@brooklyncovered.com

* We’ll cover the subject of filing status in a future post.

10 Top Reasons It’s Time For You To Get A New Income Tax Preparer

So I thought this an opportune time to review my “10 Top Reasons It’s Time For You To Get A New Income Tax Preparer,” list. Then, in my next post, we’ll review why any of these reasons could definitely be a reason for a great deal less holiday joy for years to come.

Ah, the holidays, the holidays…

The leftover Thanksgiving turkey still rumbles in your gut and Black Friday is, for the merchants at least, just a happy memory. We’ve trimmed the Christmas tree, hung the lights, and kept spiking the eggnog.  Then, we took the tree apart and stored the decorations until next years. And now, one special thought begins to fill the minds of people everywhere…

…Income tax filing season is here!

So I thought this an opportune time to review my “10 Top Reasons It’s Time For You To Get A New Income Tax Preparer,” list. Then, in the next three (3) or four (4) posts, we’ll learn why any of these reasons could definitely cause a great deal less holiday joy for years to come.

Let’s just hope there aren’t too many of you already on a first-name basis with an IRA auditor because of your current tax advisor.

Reason number 10:

You own and live in a two-family home. Your tenant pays you $12,000.00 in annual rent, and you have use of 75% of the house. Your preparer, knowing you need a big refund, depreciates the house at 100% and shows only $6,000.00 in rental income for the entire year on your return.

Reason number 9:

You haven’t been to church, any church, in the last 20 years. Yet each and every year, your preparer says you can claim $10,000. For worshiping at a Church named Church.

Reason number 8:

You receive certified, return receipted correspondence from the IRS. When you show it to your preparer, she smiles and tells you not to worry, they just want to make sure you received your thank you note.

Reason number 7:

You’re a receptionist at a medical center. You earn $30,000 each year. Even though you never leave your desk, wear everyday clothes to work, and haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for 20 years, your preparer gives you generous itemized deductions of $9,000.00 for uniforms, $3,000.00 for educational seminars, and $2,000.00 for business-related travel on a Schedule A. Oh, and he reminds you your twice-monthly hair and nail appointments are deductible too.

Reason number 6:

Lost your 1099 Int’s and Div’s? “No worries”, says your preparer. “The IRS doesn’t worry about interest or dividends under $75.”

Reason number 5:

Your return shows three (3) brand-new dependents you’ve never met.

Reason number 4:

Your preparer guarantees you everyone qualifies for the Earned Income Tax Credit. “You earned an income last year, didn’t you?”

Reason number 3:

You ask your preparer if they have a PTIN and an NYPTRIN. He tells you he prefers to drive domestic vehicles.

Reason number 2:

Your preparer relocates each year. Luckily you find them. Again. (See Reason number 8, above)

And now the number one reason “Why It’s Time For You To Get A New Income Tax Preparer,” is:

Your preparer assures you he or she, “Knows how to get you the biggest refund you’ve ever received.”

 The next post will deal with reasons one (1) , two (2) and three (3).

Hey, who said we were going in order.

Until next time, start gathering and itemizing those receipts.

Peace and Blessings,

BrooklynCovered