Income Tax Returns Aren’t Toilet Paper

“When did the preparation of income taxes become a commodity item carrying the same importance as a roll of toilet paper? What’s next, buy computer time and prepare your return yourself? The business of preparing income taxes is an important calling, and your choice of an income tax preparer should neither be based solely on how big a refund they promise to get you, (which is illegal, by the way), nor by how little they charge. Instead, ask your preparer the following questions:”

Income tax returns are not toilet paper.

Today, while driving through my home city of Brooklyn, NY, I passed the office of a national income tax preparation franchise. They had a sign outside their office that read, “$50.00 off your income tax return today!!”

Get Your Toilet Paper Here!

When did the preparation of income taxes become a commodity item carrying the same importance as a roll of toilet paper? What’s next, buy computer time and prepare your return yourself? The business of preparing income taxes is an important calling, and your choice of an income tax preparer should neither be based solely on how big a refund they promise to get you, (which is illegal, by the way), nor by how little they charge. Instead, ask your preparer the following questions:
  • How many CPE classes did you attend last year?
  • Which, if any, professional organizations do they belong to?
  • What percentage of the returns you prepare are audited each year?
  • Do they have a Federal PTIN?
  • Do they have a New York State Tax Preparer Certificate of Registration?
  • If they must relocate their office, how will they inform you of their new address?
  • For how many years have they prepared income taxes?
  • Are they aware of the EITC Due Diligence rules?
  • Will you sign my income tax return?
  • What is their Privacy Policy regarding the protection of your personal information?
  • Do they make up their own itemized deductions so you will receive a larger refund?
  • How many times have they been cited for filing fraudulent income tax returns?

Bottom line, stop worrying about today’s sale on income tax preparation. I’d be more concerned about the skills and professional manner of who is preparing my return.

In addition to providing his clients and seminar attendees (many of whom become his clients), with insurance and income tax strategies and solutions, Eustace L. Greaves Jr.,  also prepares income tax returns for over 150 of his clients annually. To contact Eustace L. Greaves Jr., about his insurance and income tax services, feel free to call him at 718-783-2722, or by email to Eustace@insuremeeg.com.

Charitable Giving Rules | Eustace Greaves Jr.

The average tither or charitable donor making their gifts using checks or cash will find themselves facing massive tax penalties at audit if the charity receiving the gift fails to comply with one of the simplest charitable giving rules.

Why You Should Know The Charitable Giving Rules 

The average tither or charitable donor making their gifts using checks or cash will find themselves facing massive tax penalties at audit if the charity receiving the gift fails to comply with one of the simplest charitable giving rules.

Know The Substantiation Rules Or Suffer The Loss.

Whether you tithe for church, or make charitable donations to other local charities, you must know be aware of the need to substantiate your charitable donations, especially for those gifts in excess of $250.00. While most taxpayers keep copies of their cancelled checks used for their gifts, it is not always enough. Again, for gifts in excess of $250.00, the taxpayer should request and receive a letter acknowledging their charitable contribution (s)  from their church or other charitable organization. This letter, like many I’ve seen from clients while preparing their income tax returns this year, must be on the charity’s letterhead. The date on the letter must precede the date the taxpayer files their return (more on this later). The letter must clearly state the amount donated whether the gift was given in one lump sum, or over the course of the year. Several churches provided a weekly accounting of their member’s giving in their charitable giving letters. Most even included an enlightening Bible verse.

While all of these are great, and required, most of the acknowledgement letters I’ve seen this year fail to include a key requirement of the charitable giving rules.

One Of The Charitable Giving Rules Should Wake You Up At 3 AM

Out of the 32 clients with itemizable charitable gifts this year, only three had the most important line on their receipts or letters of thanks. What’s the line?

The simple statement which reads, “No goods or services were provided by the organization in return for the contribution.”

What’s that you say? I must be kidding, you say?

I am not kidding.

No matter what shape or form your letter of acknowledgement may take, when it lacks a statement clearly stating the gift was given for no reason other than the desire to give, you are actually unable to legally take the deduction for the cash or checks you donated. Your letter is in violation of IRS regulations.

How Would The IRS Find Out?

Several new clients were referred to me this year. One such client had the temerity to tell me it was no big deal, there was no way the IRS could ever check everyone’s charitable giving letters. So I told this client the story about the Durden case (Durden, T. C. Memo 2012-140).

In this case, the taxpayers entered charitable deductions on their Schedule A totaling $25,171. Most of these deductions were made by check to their church. Included in their records were their cancelled checks and an acknowledgement letter from the church.

At audit, the IRS disallowed their deduction because their letter lacked, that’s right,  you guessed it, a statement verifying neither goods nor services were given in exchange for their donations.

So, they went back to their church and got a second letter containing the required statement. They thought just getting another letter, in the proper format, would solve all of their problems.

Wrong.

The IRS rejected the second letter. Why? It did not meet the contemporaneous requirement. In order to meet this requirement, the letter had to have been received by the taxpayer by the earlier of the date their return was filed, or the return’s due date, including any legal extensions. The Tax Court agreed with the IRS. The deduction was disallowed. The taxpayers were slapped with additional taxes, penalties, and interest.


So, of course my new client says “Man, that’s no big deal. One family? That’s nothing.”

Sure. Unless you were also a member of their church who itemized their charitable donations on their Schedule A. See, the IRS knew just where to look.

Look, I don’t go fishing to show off my newest lures. I want to eat fish. I’m going to the lake, stream, or part of the shore where those babies are biting.

It only takes one return for the taxing authorities to discover new reasons to open further investigation.

The $100 Bomb.

If you think you only have to worry if you give small amounts, well, you should know me better by now. You know I’ve got another true story for you.

Several tax seasons ago, a good client of mine asked me include a donation she’d made to a friend’s church. She’d gone to hear the friend sing at a special church service, and her spirit was so moved by her melodious tones, she dropped $100.00, in cash, into the Special Offering plate.

And believe me. I know this lady. When she says she gave $100.00, well, it’s gospel.

Now, she gave me the church’s name, but lacked written proof she’d donated the $100.  At my suggestion, she went back to the church in an attempt to secure an acknowledgement letter from the church for her generous gift prior to our filing her return. She decided to include the $100.00 in her return. Meanwhile, her continued attempts to receive the acknowledgement letter met with futility.

Several months later, (nowadays, with electronic filing, it doesn’t take long for those letters to arrive at your door), she received a letter from the IRS requesting proof of the gift. This was the only item in her entire return the IRS wanted verification for. Unable to comply with their request, the deduction was disallowed, and she had to pay additional tax, penalties and interest.

On a $100.00 cash donation.

The moral of the story? Making donations by check or money order isn’t sinful. Doing so will save you additional taxes at audit. Take a few minutes to review your charitable giving letters to make sure they are in compliance with the law. If they aren’t, request a corrected letter, again bearing a date prior to the date you file your income tax return. I would also suggest the church or charitable organization provide corrected letters to each and every donor. It’s the decent thing to do.

Charitable giving rules, like many IRS rules, aren’t always as easy as they may appear. Take a few minutes to learn more about the charitable giving rules for cash and checks, and clothing, boats, stocks and the like, by reading IRS Publication 526 and Publication 1771.

Happy Filing.

Eustace Greaves, Jr. creates order out of client’s financial chaos using insurance, income tax planning and preparation, and sometimes, just good old divine guidance. Send him your questions, and quote requests to eustace@insuremeeg.com. And whatever you do, don’t let his clients know he wrote this post when he’s supposed to be working on their returns and insurance quotes. That’s a check even his body can’t cash.

 

 

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.