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Identity Theft: IRS Policy Change and Prevention Tips

23/11/15 4:35 pm | Comments (0) | Posted By:

Identity theft can be a devastating experience that can turn a person’s life upside down. In an effort to combat identity theft and financial crimes in general, the IRS Criminal Investigation examines possible criminal violations of the Internal Revenue Code and related financial crimes, including fraud related to identity theft. Each year, the Criminal Investigation gathers and releases statistics on the number of investigations initiated, prosecution recommendations, indictments or informations, and convictions as well as the incarceration rate and average number of months sentenced to serve. For the fiscal year ending September 2015, there were 3,853 investigations initiated, 3,289 prosecution recommendations, 3,208 indictments or informations, and 2,879 convictions. For identity theft investigations in particular, the statistics were as follows: 776 investigations initiated, 774 prosecution recommendations, 732 indictments or informations, and 790 sentencings. The incarceration rate for identity theft related crimes was 84.6% and the average number of months sentenced to serve was 38.

To help victims of identity theft resolve their cases, the IRS recently changed its former policy of refusing to provide copies of fraudulently filed tax returns. Recognizing a victim’s need to figure out just what personal financial information was stolen and how it was used, the IRS now allows taxpayers to acquire copies of tax returns filed fraudulently under their social security numbers. In order to request a copy of a fraudulent return, however, there are strict requirements that need to be met. One of the requirements is that the victim’s name and social security number must be listed as the primary or secondary taxpayer on the return; dependents cannot make requests. In addition, the underlying fraud case must have been settled by the IRS at the time of request. Finally, the copy of the fraudulent return will be redacted to conceal any information that might be related to additional possible victims. For more information on requesting copies of fraudulent returns, go to the IRS website.

There are many things you can do to protect yourself against identity theft. Here are some helpful tips that are listed on the IRS website:

  • Store your social security card and any other document that displays your social security number in a safe place.
  • Be cautious about disclosing your social security number and only share it when contact is initiated by you and it is absolutely necessary.
  • Examine your credit report every twelve months.
  • Inspect your Social Security Administration earnings statement every twelve months.
  • Ensure that any personal financial information on your computer is secure. This includes using firewalls, anti-spam and anti-virus software, and updating security patches. In addition, it is crucial to have strong passwords and change them on a regular basis.

 

Nevada Museum of Art – Tahoe Exhibit

12/11/15 10:55 am | Comments (0) | Posted By:

I recently had a chance to visit the Nevada Museum of Art’s Lake Tahoe exhibit and I have to say, I was blown away by the number of historical art pieces the museum had on display depicting Lake Tahoe during a time that few people today can remember. The museum suggests guests start off on the third floor in order to begin with the earliest paintings working your way towards the present time. I highly suggest taking the museum up on this suggestion as it allows you to view the changes that have taken place in the Lake Tahoe Basin since the late 1800’s. While the art on display does not go back much further than the 1800’s, most changes in that area did not really occur until the twentieth century and thus it does not take away from the historical representation of the changes that have occurred in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Starting on the third floor guests are introduced to some of the early paintings depicting the beauty of Lake Tahoe. Artists on this floor include Thomas Hill, John C. Fremont, Mark Twain, John Muir and many more. Not only does the gallery give you a visual representation through the paintings of these artists, but the museum has explanations of what was going on in the painting, as well as, during that particular time period. These explanations present a logical flow to the exhibit which, if you take the suggested route, allows the visitor to fully understand the changes that took place around our beloved lake. Another great representation on the third floor is that of the Washoe Indians basketry which showed amazing woven baskets from the early Nevada years. The detail in some of the baskets is remarkable and they have held up to the test of time as they still look as though they are in excellent condition.

The second floor introduces guests to the time that the museum has dubbed as the rise of the resort. This level depicts the vast changes that Lake Tahoe underwent during the twentieth century, and even includes a thirty minute documentary explaining what went on during this period. Artists on this level include Frank Lloyd Wright, Maynard Dixon, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, as well as others. It still amazes me that structures built during this period can still be visited today and that these structures have remained despite the harsh winters that often occur in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The first floor of the museum has a few of the items depicted in the exhibit for sale in the gift shop where if you really would like to take the exhibit home with you, you can purchase a few of the Washoe Indian baskets to bring the past home with you. This exhibit has been executed very well and I will definitely be returning one more time, at least, before the exhibit changes in mid January.

 

Got spare change? You too, can have an investment account

29/10/15 8:29 am | Comments (0) | Posted By:

A month or so ago, while on Facebook a sponsored ad came up on my news feed for Acorns, an investment app that allows you to open an account via your smartphone and in essence, invests your spare change.I was curious so clicked on it and was introduced to a whole new world of robo investing applications that I apparently had missed hearing about when they were first introduced.

For many millennials like myself, investing can seem daunting, and most don’t have the initial large deposits that are required with traditional investment companies in order to use the services of a financial advisor. Our money is going to other things like weddings, starting a family, paying off student loans, mortgages, and hopefully also contributing to a retirement account.

That is why I was intrigued with Acorns, which links to your bank account and invests your spare change from purchases you make every day (essentially, rounding up every purchase to the nearest dollar). There is no minimum deposit and the investment fees are a $1/month for accounts under $5,000 and .25% for accounts over $5,000. However, students and anyone under 24 can invest for free on accounts of any size.

I then came across another investment app called Betterment. Betterment allows you to set up retirement accounts while Acorns does not. Betterment chooses your portfolio for you automatically based on one of the 5 general investment goals you select. Similar to Acorns, you need no initial minimum deposit. The fees are $3 a month, or .35% with a minimum auto deposit of $100 a month. The fees drop to .25% once you exceed $10,000.

Wealthfront is another investment app I looked into that also supports retirement accounts, but does require a minimum account balance of $500. However, there are no annual fees for accounts up to $10,000.

There are many other robo investment companies out there, some with apps, some available via website only. They all utilize similar investment theories for their automated investment guidance based on what you select as your goal or risk profile, which may or may not earn you more than a traditional financial advisor or yourself if you have the skills and time to manage your own investments. Investorjunkie.com provides some great reviews on many of the ones available if you want to give robo investing a try.

 

An Eventful Couple of Weeks for Tesla

22/10/15 10:53 am | Comments (0) | Posted By:

 

The past couple of weeks have produced some interesting headlines for Tesla, with headlines from the last couple of days even driving the price of Tesla’s stock down. On Tuesday, October 20, 2015, Consumer Reports released results from its Annual Auto Reliability Survey which forecasted Tesla’s Model S as likely to have a worse-than-average overall problem rate. This also meant the Model S did not receive Consumer Reports’ recommended designation. This loss of recommended status drove Tesla’s stock price down as much as 11% on Tuesday. There is nuance in Consumer Reports’ write-up of the Model S, though. While there was an assortment of complaints and potential reliability problems listed for the Model S, there was also high satisfaction among the 1,400 survey responses with 97% of owners saying the would definitely buy the car again. Anecdotally, if you read the comments on the Consumer Reports article you will find many a self-proclaimed Tesla owner saying they are quite happy with what they bought.

Then on Wednesday, October 21, 2015, news stories started popping up that Tesla’s recent over-the-air update that brought autopilot to many of its cars is causing close calls for some Tesla owners. Or rather, Tesla owners are causing their own close calls by not fully understanding that this autopilot function is still in beta and is not supposed to be used with your hands off the wheel. This update didn’t turn the Model S into a self-driving car. Hopefully no one injures himself or herself in the pursuit of curiosity.

Lastly, Tesla and the Reno Gazette-Journal (RGJ) are in a potentially interesting legal situation with a mix of he said, she said going on. On October 9, an incident occurred out at the Gigafactory where two RGJ employees were caught allegedly trespassing on Tesla owned property, a scuffle of some sort ensued and one of the RGJ employees was arrested by the Storey County Sheriff’s Department. Interestingly, on October 13, Tesla released its version of events which placed all the blame on the RGJ employees (maybe rightfully so) and stated that the security guards responding were injured by the RGJ employees. Then, on October 19, a lawyer for the RGJ, Scott Glogovac, sent a letter to Tesla claiming “[t]his portrayal is scandalous and could not be further from the truth.” Glogovac claims the security guards rammed the RGJ vehicle with an ATV, smashed a window, cut a seatbelt and dragged an RGJ employee from the vehicle. Maybe the RGJ employees weren’t the only ones at fault. Who knows where the truth lies, but this may be an interesting local event to follow.

 

 

 

Year-End Tax Planning – Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

01/10/15 11:33 am | Comments (0) | Posted By:

Now is the time to think about year-end tax planning strategies. While no significant change in tax rates is expected for 2016, there are still year-shifting maneuvers that could be employed if you expect to be in either a higher or lower tax bracket for 2016.

For instance, if you anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year, you should consider delaying sale of assets producing gains, deferring any year-end bonuses and pushing out collection of outstanding accounts receivable. At the same time you should look at accelerating deductions into the current year by prepaying property taxes or January’s mortgage. You might also try to bunch medical and dental expenses into the current year if you expect them to exceed the adjusted gross income floor limitation for both years. Moving future charitable contributions into the current year as well as converting stock losses by selling before year-end should be considered.

On the other hand, if you expect to be in a higher bracket in 2016, the above strategies should be employed in reverse. Accelerate those income items over which you have control into the current year while pushing out deductible expenses until next year.

Again this year, one must keep an eye on the impact of the net investment income tax, which applies if the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds threshold amounts. Those threshold amounts are $250,000 for married filing jointly (and surviving spouses), $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for all others. The tax is 3.8% on the lesser of net investment income or the amount by which your MAGI exceeds the threshold amounts. To mitigate the impact of this tax one might consider moving income producing investments into tax-exempt bonds, thus lowering MAGI. Since the investment income tax applies to income from passive activities, you should explore whether any steps could be taken to reclassify such income as non-passive.

And, as always, you should make the maximum contributions allowable to retirement plans, especially if your employer makes a matching contribution.

 

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