Americans’ Biggest Retirement Fear: Running Out of Money

(Journal of Accountancy, By Lea Hart; Published October 2016)

As the 4 million people retiring this year think about the future, they fear outliving their money more than anything else.

Forty-one percent of CPA financial planners say running out of money is their clients’ top concern about retirement—including those clients who have a high net worth, according to a survey conducted recently by the AICPA.

“The elderly are living longer than their projected longevity and, as a result, are running out of money,” said Susan Tillery, CPA/PFS, chair of the AICPA’s PFS Credential Committee. “The fear of running out of money in retirement has always been present. However, we are at a demographic crossroads where the Baby Boomers, who hold the largest amount of retirement assets, are supporting both their parents and their children. This has amplified the fear.”

The AICPA PFP Trends Survey, an online survey of CPAs who are members of the AICPA Personal Financial Planning Section, also showed that 29% of planners say clients’ top concern is maintaining their current lifestyle and spending level, while 11% say their clients worry most about rising health care costs.

Personal financial planners can address their clients’ fears of outliving their savings by running a number of models “to determine the lowest rate of return at the least amount of risk needed to achieve the client’s goals,” said Tillery, who is also president and co-founder of Paraklete Financial Inc. Members of her practice, she said, run five models for each client, which helps instill confidence in the process and the results. She also recommends projecting models out to age 100 to give clients a better picture of what their finances might look like if they live for a very long time.

Though clients worry most about money early in retirement, after 10 or more years of retirement, health becomes their area of greatest concern. Forty-four percent of financial planners say that serious illness, including dementia and diminished capacity, is their clients’ top concern after 10 or more years of retirement. Twenty-eight percent said their clients’ No. 1 fear later in retirement was experiencing a sharp decline in the value of their investments, while 19% said clients were most concerned about moving out of their home to live in assisted care.

Compared to last year’s PFP Trends Survey, Tillery said, this year’s survey reveals “an increased awareness of diminished capacity and rising health care costs.”

Though clients have grown more concerned about cognitive decline, most aren’t planning for the possibility that they might experience diminished mental capacity in retirement. Just 18% of financial planners say clients are proactive about the issue, while over one-third (35%) say clients are thinking about it but haven’t decided on a course of action.

Members of the PFP Executive Committee have developed a Diminished Mental Capacity Checklist to help financial planners discuss the issue with clients. The committee’s recommendations for financial planners include:

  • Assessing who within the client’s circle of relatives, friends, and professionals would take action if needed, and set the necessary authorizations for each to talk to the other.
  • Reviewing clients’ estate planning documents.
  • Taking steps to mitigate the risk of elder abuse.
  • Discussing housing options with the client.

In addition, Tillery and Jean-Luc Bourdon, CPA/PFS, a member of the AICPA’s PFP Executive Committee, offer several suggestions as to how financial planners can best address clients’ concerns about diminished capacity:

Don’t assume anything. When it comes to dementia and diminished capacity, it’s important to ask questions, offer resources, and inform clients, said Bourdon, who is also a principal of BrightPath Wealth Planning LLC. It’s important not to assume that clients aren’t concerned or affected, or that someone else will address the issue with them. What’s more, don’t assume clients know what to do, or that a financial planner’s advice would be inappropriate or unwelcome to them, he said.

Address diminished capacity through proper estate planning. Ensure that clients have established the necessary powers of attorney, HIPAA and health care directives, and that they have a plan in place for cognitive care, Tillery said. Advisers should also discuss the possibility of implementing a trust-based estate plan with clients, which she believes is “necessary to properly address dementia and incapacity issues.”

Be proactive. Too often, Bourdon said, advisers and families only take steps to assist a person with diminished capacity “once the problem has become painfully obvious.” He stated, “Developing a protective structure around older clients should be done well before the blows come.” While having that conversation may be difficult, he said, the long-term benefits are worth the temporary discomfort. One tactic advisers can try, he said, is to explain that they have seen these life scenarios unfold in the past, and ask clients’ permission to assess what might be most helpful to them and their family.

FAFSA Changes shocked girl

(Department of Education, Published August 2016)

There are two exciting changes coming to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA®) process this year.

1. The 2017–18 FAFSA will be available earlier.

You can file your 2017–18 FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2016, rather than beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. The earlier submission date will be a permanent change, enabling you to complete and submit a FAFSA as early as October 1 every year.

2. You’ll use earlier income and tax information.

Beginning with the 2017–18 FAFSA, you’ll be required to report income and tax info from an earlier tax year. For example, on the 2017–18 FAFSA, you—and your parent(s), as appropriate—will report your 2015 income and tax info, rather than your 2016 income and tax info.

We understand that some families’ income may have changed significantly since the 2015 tax year. If this is the case for you, you must complete the FAFSA with the info it asks for (2015). Then, after filing your FAFSA, contact the financial aid office at your school to explain your situation. The school has the ability to assess your situation and make adjustments to your FAFSA.

The following table provides a summary of key dates as we transition to using the early FAFSA submission timeframe and earlier tax information.

When a Student Is Attending College (School Year) When a Student Can Submit a FAFSA Which Year’s Income Tax Information Is Required
July 1, 2015–June 30, 2016 January 1, 2015–June 30, 2016 2014
July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017 January 1, 2016–June 30, 2017 2015
July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018 October 1, 2016–June 30, 2018 2015
July 1, 2018–June 30, 2019 October 1, 2017–June 30, 2019 2016

We know you probably have some questions. Here are some we’ve been hearing from students:

How will the changes benefit me?

You might find that the FAFSA process is easier than you expected.

  • From now on, the FAFSA will ask for older income and tax information that you will already have. This change means you won’t have to use estimates anymore, or log in later to update your FAFSA after you file taxes!
  • Because you’ll already have done your 2015 taxes by the time you fill out your 2017–18 FAFSA, you may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to automatically import your tax information into your FAFSA.
  • Having the FAFSA available three months earlier will give you more time to meet most deadlines (although some will be early, so fill out the FAFSA right away just in case) and to explore and understand your financial aid options.

Since the 2017–18 FAFSA asks for the same tax and income information as the 2016–17 FAFSA, will my 2016–17 FAFSA info automatically be carried over into my 2017–18 renewal FAFSA?

No. Too much could have changed since you filed your last FAFSA, and there’s no way to predict what might be different, so you’ll need to enter the information again. However, keep in mind that many people are eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically import their 2015 tax information into the FAFSA, making the process of reporting tax info quick and easy.


Do I have to update my 2017–18 FAFSA with my 2016 tax information after I file my 2016 taxes?

No. The 2017–18 FAFSA asks for 2015 tax info, and only 2015. Beginning October 1, you can fully submit the FAFSA in one sitting using your 2015 tax info. No updating necessary. (Hooray!)


But what if my family’s financial situation has changed since our 2015 taxes were filed? Can we report our 2016 tax information instead?

No. You must report your 2015 tax info on the 2017–18 FAFSA. You do not have the option to report your 2016 tax info. If your family has experienced a loss of income since the 2015 tax year, talk to the financial aid office at your school. They have the ability to assess your situation and make adjustments.

Note: The FAFSA asks for marital status as of the day you fill it out. So if you’re married now but weren’t in 2015 (and therefore didn’t file taxes as married), you’ll need to add your spouse’s income to your FAFSA.

Similarly, if you filed your 2015 taxes as married but you’re no longer married when you fill out the FAFSA, you’ll need to subtract your spouse’s income.


Since I’m required to report my 2015 tax information, do I also answer all the other questions on the FAFSA using information from 2015?

No. Here’s a guide for which year’s info you should use to answer the different types of questions on the FAFSA.


Will FAFSA deadlines be earlier since the application is launching earlier?

We expect that most state and school deadlines will remain approximately the same as in 2016–17. However, several states that offer first come, first served financial aid will change their deadlines from “as soon as possible after January 1” to “as soon as possible after October 1.” So, as always, it’s important that you check your state and school deadlines so that you don’t miss out on any aid. State deadlines are on fafsa.gov; school deadlines are on schools’ websites.


Can I fill out the FAFSA before I submit my college applications?

Yes, you can fill out the FAFSA even before you’ve submitted your college applications. Add every school you’re considering to your FAFSA, even if you haven’t applied or been accepted yet. Even if you’re on the fence about applying to a particular school, add it. It will hold your place in line for financial aid in case you end up applying for admission at that school. You can always remove schools later if you decide not to apply (but you don’t have to).


Will I receive aid offers earlier if I apply earlier?

Not necessarily; some schools will make offers earlier while others won’t. If you’re applying to multiple schools or thinking of transferring to another school, you might want to look at the College Scorecard to compare costs at different schools while you wait for your aid offers to arrive. Note: You should be aware that the maximum Federal Pell Grant for 2017–18 might not be known until early 2017, so keep in mind that even if you do receive an aid offer early, it could change due to various factors.


Where can I get more information about—and help with—the FAFSA?

Visit StudentAid.gov/fafsa/filling-out; and remember, as you fill out your FAFSA atfafsa.gov, you can refer to help text for every question and (during certain times of day) chat online with a customer service representative.

Have questions about the new FAFSA deadline? Call us at 719-579-9090. We are here to help!

(Journal of Accountancy, By Sally P. Schreiber; Published September 2016)

The IRS notified tax practitioners and taxpayers who use many IRS e-services that it is strengthening the authentication process for identifying users and that the new, more stringent procedures will require existing users to re-register (Oct. 24 is the target date for the start of re-registration) (IRS website, “Important Update About Your e-Services Account” (9/22/16)).

Any current e-account holder is affected, which the IRS said includes:

  • Electronic return originators;
  • Return transmitters;
  • Large business taxpayers required to e-file;
  • Software developers;
  • Health care law insurance provider fee/branded prescription drug filers;
  • Health care law information return transmitters/issuers;
  • Reporting agents;
  • Not-for-profit (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE), and Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC)) users;
  • States that use Transcript Delivery Service; and
  • Income Verification Express Service (IVES) participants.

E-services account holders who use only the taxpayer identification number (TIN) matching program will also need to validate their identity but will have a streamlined process because they do not exchange sensitive data. (TIN matching allows payers reporting payments on Forms 1099 to check the payee’s TIN with the IRS before filing.)

Current users who return to their accounts on or after Oct. 24 will be required to update their account information through the IRS’s “Secure Access” process, which includes proving the user’s identity, verification using financial records, and mobile phone verification. Secure Access employs a two-factor authentication process, under which returning users, once they have successfully registered, must provide their credentials (username and password) and the security code sent to their mobile phone by text. These are the same procedures that already apply to the Get Transcript process and the identity protection personal identification number (IP PIN) process for identity theft victims.

This two-factor authentication process is intended to prevent cybercriminals from accessing the accounts when they obtain usernames and passwords through phishing.

Users who have already registered through Get Transcript will not have to re-register for these other services, but they will have to change their password when they return to the website. They should be aware that they will have the same username for their personal accounts, such as a Get Transcript account, as they do for e-services. To help users with the new authentication process, the IRS is hiring additional staff to assist at the e-Help Desk.

Greg Papineau, Director at BiggsKofford, was featured on the popular Green Apple Podcast. To listen to their interview, click here!

John Garrett, self-proclaimed Recovering CPA and creator of the Green Apple Podcast, interviewed Greg and captioned the following about their discussion:

Greg serves others to create stronger client relationships

Greg Papineau takes service to a whole new level, especially now that he’s a Deacon in the Catholic Church. He was first called to this in 2000 as a chaperone on his son’s World Youth Day visit to the Vatican. Since then, he’s been ordained and in his words, can “marry, bury and baptize”. And, oh yeah, he also happens to be the 1989 Colorado State Champion Cyclist.

In this episode, we talk about how the word “Deacon” is derived from a Greek word meaning “servant”. Greg is always thinking how he can be even more service oriented and also develop a personal interest in clients and coworkers. This leads to a cycling group that meets in the warmer months and team meetings starting where the new staff members tell everyone a little bit about their life outside of work.

Greg Papineau works as the Director of Audit & Assurance for BiggsKofford, PC. He’s also the lead for the Firm’s Physician Group Services and Non-profit Services. Prior to joining BiggsKofford, he was a Controller in the banking industry after spending a few years at a different public accounting firm.

He has a Bachelor of Science, Accounting from Central Washington University.”

 

To hear their podcast, click here!

books-and-brews-event-1

Economic Snapshot 

What to Expect from Our Local and State Economy

Guest Speaker
 
Tatiana Bailey, Ph.D.
Director, Southern Colorado Economic Forum

 

What We’ll Discuss:  
  • National Economy Overview- Major Indicators & What They Mean 
  • Residential and Commercial Real Estate Markets
  • What Sectors Are Growing in Our Region
  • Specific Job Openings in the Colorado Springs MSA
  • The National and Local Labor Markets
  • Forum Sneak Preview: Colorado Springs: Going for the Gold

 

  
Join us for the tenth year of one of our most popular sessions. We will preview the 20th Annual 
UCCS Economic Forum, which is October 14, 2016. Register for the forum at  http://www.uccseconomicforum.com/
 
 
Thursday, September 8, 2016
7:30 – 9:00 a.m.
Cheyenne Mountain Resort 
3225 Broadmoor Valley Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80906 

Colorado voters have a momentous choice to make about their health care this fall. Amendment 69 would create ColoradoCare, a revolutionary system to pay for health care. It’s a response to concerns that the current system costs too much and fails to provide for everyone’s health needs. ColoradoCare would resemble some systems in Canada and Europe, where every resident has health coverage financed by taxes instead of private insurance premiums, but would be a first for an American state. To read more, click here.

If you have questions about ColoradoCare, BiggsKofford is here to help. Give us a call at (719) 579-9090.

(Colorado Health Institute; Published August 2016)

ColoradoCare, the proposed universal health care system on November’s ballot, would struggle to bring in enough revenue to cover its costs, according to an independent financial analysis released by the Colorado Health Institute.

The Colorado Health Institute is a nonpartisan source of independent and objective health information, data and analysis. The new study finds that:

  • ColoradoCare would nearly break even in its first year, but would slide into ever-increasing deficits in future years without additional tax increases.
  • On the plus side for ColoradoCare, it would be able to reach its goal of saving money in the health care system by cutting billions of dollars in administrative costs and insurance company profits. That money could be reallocated to provide health insurance to the 6.7 percent of Coloradans who remain uninsured, making Colorado the first state to achieve universal coverage.
  • However, the revenues for ColoradoCare — primarily from a new 10 percent income tax — wouldn’t be able to keep up with increasing health care costs, resulting in red ink each year of its first decade.

The analysis finds that ColoradoCare would face the same financial dilemma as the current health care system — the inability to tame rising health care costs. That would create a structural problem.

Although savings on administrative costs would grow over time, those savings would be overwhelmed by the increasing cost of health care, which is projected to grow faster than tax revenue. This is crucial because taxes would account for roughly two-thirds of ColoradoCare’s projected funding.

This is the second in a series of independent analyses by the Colorado Health Institute of Amendment 69, the proposed constitutional amendment that would create ColoradoCare. The first installment, published in April, focused on how ColoradoCare would work and posed key questions about its structure, financing and governance.

Michele Lueck, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Institute, said that these analyses of ColoradoCare fulfill an important part of the organization’s mission of bringing evidence-based information and rigorous analysis to key health care policy discussions.

“By mission and by charge, we do not take positions on legislative choices, policy options or proposed constitutional amendments,” she said. “Our job is to shed light on the issues, bring in disciplined analysis, often where there isn’t any, and allow educated voters and policymakers to make informed choices on matters of health and health care.”

An infographic detailing how the Colorado Health Institute conducted the analysis is available here.

Have questions about ColoradoCare? Give us a call at (719) 579-9090. We are here for you.

Angela_Lindblad 4x5BiggsKofford, P.C., announces the promotion of Angela Lindblad, CPA, to Manager, in the firm’s tax department.  Lindblad joined the firm in January 2012.

Lindblad is a graduate from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. Lindblad earned her CPA certificate in January of 2015. In addition to accounting, Lindblad enjoys spending time with her family, hiking and reading.

“Angie demonstrates the firm values of personalized service,” said Deborah Helton, Director at BiggsKofford. “It is great to have employees like her contribute to our firm’s growth.”

Founded in 1982, Colorado Springs-based BiggsKofford currently employs more than 25 people. BiggsKofford offers integrated business solutions, including tax, accounting, merger and acquisitions consulting, business valuation and litigation support. BiggsKofford has expanded its services to meet the changing needs of over 500 business owners and entrepreneurs in Colorado’s Front Range.

Media, contact Jenn Watton at (719) 579-9090 for more information.

The IRS has announced that it is working to correct erroneous failure-to-file penalty notices triggered by a programming error. The error caused some monthly and daily deposits of payroll taxes that were made timely by April 18, but after April 15, to be considered as paid late even though April 15 was a federally observed legal holiday in the District of Columbia (Emancipation Day).

Erroneous failure-to-deposit penalties will be remedied. the IRS says that, in some instances, taxpayers were assessed failure-to-deposit penalties as a result of a programming error that treated some monthly and daily deposits of payroll taxes that were made timely by April 18, but after April 15, as paid late. The IRS says it is working to resolve the issue and correct the erroneous penalty assessments in the near future. No taxpayer action is required at this time. Those affected will receive correspondence when the issue is resolved.

If you have questions regarding the penalty notices, BiggsKofford is here to help. Call us at 719-579-9090 or send us an email to info@biggskofford.com.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently released the final rules pertaining to overtime regulations in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The final rules raise the salary threshold from $455 a week ($23,660 for a full-year worker) to $913 a week ($47,476 for a full-year worker) effective December 1, 2016.

Neither the FLSA nor the DOL’s regulations provide an exemption from overtime requirements for nonprofit organizations. Further, while ministers are exempt from the FLSA, non-ministerial church staff are not exempt from this new overtime rule simply because they are employed by a church. However, there are limited exemptions under the “enterprise coverage” and “individual coverage” rules that may apply to some organizations.

Generally, hourly workers, workers with regular workweeks of 40 or fewer hours, workers who fail the “duties test” (because they should already be treated as hourly workers), highly compensated workers (those making in excess of $134,004 annually), and workers that meet one or more of the “enterprise coverage” and “individual coverage” exemptions will not be affected by the new rules.

Here are some points to emphasize:

  • A worker, exempt or non-exempt, can be paid a salary and still be subject to overtime rules
  • Even a worker that qualifies under the executive, administrative, or professional exemption must be paid overtime if his or her compensation is less than $913 a week ($47,476 a year), beginning December 1, 2016
  • Overtime for this purpose is considered to be any hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week

The bottom line is that effective December 1, 2016, most salaried workers making less than $47,476 per year (or $913 per week) must be paid overtime for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

Many options for complying with the new salary threshold are available to organizations. These options include:

  • Raise salaries above the overtime threshold ($47,476 per year)
  • Pay overtime above a salary for hours worked in excess of 40 hours during the week
  • Evaluate and realign employee workload to eliminate overtime
  • Adjust employees’ base pay downward and pay overtime

For questions, call BiggsKofford at 719-579-9090 or email Greg Papineau at gpapineau@biggskofford.com.

hammond_smallBiggsKofford, one of the leading certified public accounting and business consulting firms in Colorado, announced today the promotion of Braden Hammond, CPA/ABV to Director. Hammond joins the firm’s team of seven directors: Chris Blees, Kurt Kofford, Greg Gandy, Greg Papineau, Michael McDevitt, Deborah Helton, and Austin Buckett.

Hammond joined BiggsKofford in 2001 and has a passion for the technical aspects of auditing and accounting. He understands that, rather than merely providing a historical report, an audit can help a move a company to its next level of success. In 2006, he was promoted to Manager and has continued to dedicate his hard work and leadership skills to the firm.

“Braden is an extremely valuable member of the BiggsKofford team,” said Chris Blees, Managing Partner. “He has the entrepreneurial spirit that all BiggsKofford Directors have.”

Founded in 1982, Colorado Springs-based BiggsKofford currently employs more than 25 professionals. BiggsKofford offers integrated business solutions, including tax, accounting, merger and acquisitions consulting, business valuation and litigation support.

BiggsKofford has expanded its services to meet the changing needs of over 500 business owners and entrepreneurs in Colorado’s Front Range.

Media, contact Jenn Watton at (719) 579-9090 for more information.

(Journal of Accountancy By: Sally P. Schreiber; Published March 1, 2016)

Payroll and human resources departments should beware of an email phishing scheme in which cybercriminals pose as company executives (including CEOs) and ask for confidential employee information, such as Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, and employees’ Social Security numbers, address, date of birth, and salary, the IRS warned on Tuesday. Once this information has been stolen, it can be used to commit a number of crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns to obtain refunds.

“This is a new twist on an old scheme using the cover of the tax season and W-2 filings to try tricking people into sharing personal data. Now the criminals are focusing their schemes on company payroll departments,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a prepared statement. The fraudulent emails use what is called “spoofing,” which makes it appear the messages are from company executives, and often contain the name of the company’s CEO. Payroll departments are warned not to respond to these emails without being sure of who they are sending this information to.

The IRS says its Criminal Investigation division is reviewing several cases in which this latest variation on phishing has tricked people into supplying confidential employee information to cybercriminals.

The IRS recently reported detecting a 400% surge in email phishing schemes and malware attacks this tax season. It reminded taxpayers to be vigilant in protecting their personal information. Phishing schemes recently made the IRS’s annual “dirty dozen” list of top tax scams (see prior coverage here).

If you have questions about any of these scams, BiggsKofford is here to help. Call us at 719-579-9090 or send us an email to info@biggskofford.com.

(Journal of Accountancy By: Paul Bonner; Published February 26, 2016)

Another 390,000 taxpayer accounts have been identified as potentially accessed by thieves that hacked into the IRS’s “Get Transcript” online application, the IRS said Friday, bringing the total number of accounts affected to approximately 724,000.

The breach was discovered last May, when the IRS initially identified possible unauthorized access of about 114,000 taxpayer accounts. Then, last August, the IRS revised that figure to 334,000. The application on the IRS website, launched in January 2014, was intended to allow taxpayers to more easily obtain records of their prior tax filings. It has remained suspended since the data breach was first discovered.

Friday’s revelation of the additional accounts potentially breached was the result of a nine-month investigation by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. In addition, the investigation revealed hackers had targeted another 295,000 taxpayer transcripts but failed to gain access to them.

As in the previous discoveries, the IRS said it will notify taxpayers whose accounts may have been accessed, allowing them to request identity protection personal identification numbers for more secure tax filings, offering free credit report fraud monitoring for a year, and more closely scrutinizing returns with those Social Security numbers.

The latest revelation also comes just days after the IRS also revealed that it had discovered and stopped an attempted attack on its e-filing personal identification number (PIN) system in January. No personal taxpayer data were compromised in that attempted breach, the IRS said.

We hope this information is helpful. If you would like more details about the hacks, please do not hesitate to call Greg Gandy or Michael McDevitt at 719-579-9090.

(Journal of Accountancy By: Sally P. Schreiber; Published February 17, 2016)

Every year, the IRS releases a list of what it calls the worst tax scams of the year. Beginning Feb. 1 and ending on Feb. 17, the IRS issued a news release each day highlighting a scam. These “dirty dozen” scams can be encountered at any time of year, but the IRS reports that they peak during tax season.

1. Identity theft

According to the IRS, the No. 1 scam this year is tax-related identity theft, which the IRS defines as when someone uses a taxpayer’s stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund (IR-2016-12). Although the IRS has introduced more effective screening and detection systems that are designed to detect identity theft before it issues a refund, the Service admitted that it is still a major problem. To fight the problem more effectively, over the past year, the IRS has participated in a Security Summit initiative in partnership with states and the tax-preparation industry to try to improve security for taxpayers. The participants share information of fraudulent schemes that have been detected this filing season to provide increased protection. More than 20 data elements are used, unknown to taxpayers, to verify tax return information.

In addition, the IRS urged taxpayers to protect their own information so it is harder for thieves to breach the IRS’s security systems. These efforts at taxpayer education include the Taxes. Security. Together. campaign to help taxpayers avoid the data breaches that make it easier for them to become victims.

2. Phone scams

The second scam this year is phone scams, in which criminals call, impersonating the IRS (IR-2016-14). Many times, they disguise the number they are calling from so it appears to be the IRS or another agency calling, and they may threaten arrest, deportation, or license revocation. The scammers sometimes use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate and use the victim’s name, address, and other personal information, which makes the call sound official.

To protect themselves, the IRS says, taxpayers should be aware the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, call about taxes owed without first having mailed a bill, call to demand payment without the opportunity to question or appeal, require use of a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, or threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to arrest a taxpayer for not paying.

3. Phishing

Another scam that continues to appear high on the list is “phishing,” in which taxpayers get unsolicited emails seeking financial or personal information. A taxpayer who receives a suspicious email should send it to phishing@irs.gov. “The IRS won’t send you an email about a bill or refund out of the blue,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen (IR-2016-15). Scam emails can also infect a computer with malware without the taxpayer’s knowing it, often enabling the criminals to access sensitive files or track keyboard strokes, exposing login information.

4. Return preparer fraud

Return preparer fraud involves “dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers” (IR-2016-16). The IRS warned taxpayers to be wary of “unscrupulous preparers who prey on unsuspecting taxpayers with outlandish promises of overly large refunds,” which is why the IRS says this scam makes it onto the list every year.

“Choose your tax return preparer carefully because you entrust them with your private financial information that needs to be protected,” Koskinen said. The IRS provides a number of tips for taxpayers to choose competent preparers, including checking what the preparer’s credentials are, making sure the preparer will be available after filing season, and ensuring that the taxpayer’s refund is deposited into the taxpayer’s account, not the preparer’s. The IRS recommends avoiding preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund or promise larger refunds than other preparers.

5. Hiding money or income offshore

Hiding money or income offshore, which is a major focus of IRS enforcement efforts, is the next tax scam the IRS addressed (IR-2016-17). “Our continued enforcement actions should discourage anyone from trying to illegally hide money and income offshore,” Koskinen said. As the IRS explained, there are legitimate reasons that taxpayers have foreign accounts, but these accounts trigger reporting requirements. The IRS offers a number of programs, including the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, for taxpayers to come into compliance with these requirements. The IRS noted that the heightened reporting required under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which went into effect in 2015, makes it even harder for taxpayers to conceal assets overseas.

6. Inflated refund claims

Another scam that is closely related to return preparer fraud is inflated refund claims, in which unscrupulous preparers set up shop to lure unsuspecting taxpayers (IR-2016-18). “Be wary of tax preparers that tout outlandish refunds based on federal benefits or tax credits you’ve never heard of or weren’t eligible to claim in the past,” Koskinen said.

Inflated refund claims often involve claims for tax credits that taxpayers are not entitled to, such as education credits, the earned income tax credit (EITC), or the American opportunity tax credit. The IRS reminds taxpayers that they are responsible for what is on their return, even if someone else prepares it, and they can be assessed penalties and interest as well as additional tax.

7. Fake charities

Next on the list is fake charities. Taxpayers are cautioned to check the Exempt Organizations Select Check on the IRS’s website to determine whether a charity is bona fide and qualifies for deductible contributions (IR-2016-20). Legitimate charities should be willing to give donors their employer identification numbers, which can then be used to check whether the charities are qualified on the IRS website. Fake charities often use names similar to well-known organizations and may set up fake websites. They also can be used for identity theft purposes. When large-scale natural disasters occur, these fraudulent organizations tend to increase, the IRS reports, and it warns that taxpayers should not make any contributions without checking first.

8. Falsely padding deductions

No. 8 on the list is falsely padding deductions (IR-2016-21), which consists of deceitfully inflating deductions or expenses on the return to pay less tax or receive a bigger refund. This item is new to the dirty dozen list this year. The IRS warns taxpayers that they should “think twice” before overstating their charitable contribution expenses or padding their business expenses, as well as avoid claiming credits they are not entitled to, such as the EITC and the child tax credit. Taxpayers who do this may be subject to substantial penalties and may, in some cases, face criminal prosecution.

9. Excessive claims for business credits

The next item on the list, excessive claims for business credits, expands on last year’s “excessive claims for fuel credits” (IR-2016-22). This scam involves two specific false claims for credits: fraudulent claims for refunds of fuel excise tax and bogus claims for the research tax credit. The IRS says that its refund fraud filters are stopping a number of fraudulent fuel excise tax refunds this year.

10. Falsifying income to claim tax credits

Tenth on the list is falsifying income to claim tax credits (IR-2016-23). This usually involves falsely claiming higher earned income to qualify for the EITC, which is a refundable credit. Unscrupulous preparers often do this to get taxpayers larger refunds than they are entitled to. Even when taxpayers are unaware of these false claims, they are, as the IRS reminds again, responsible for what is on their tax return. They can be subject to significant penalties, interest, and possibly prosecution.

11. Abusive tax shelters

No. 11 is participating in abusive tax shelters (IR-2016-25). Abusive tax shelters are defined as schemes using multiple flowthrough entities to evade taxes. They often use limited liability companies, limited liability partnerships, international business companies, foreign financial accounts, offshore credit or debit cards, and multilayer transactions to conceal who owns the income or assets.

The IRS also mentions the misuse of trusts and captive insurance companies among the types of transactions taxpayers should avoid. As in some of the other scams, the IRS warns that participating in these transactions can result in significant penalties and interest and “possible criminal prosecution.” According to Koskinen, “These schemes can end up costing taxpayers more in back taxes, penalties, and interest than they saved in the first place.”

12. Frivolous tax arguments

The final “scam” is frivolous tax arguments, which the IRS warns taxpayers not to be talked into (IR-2016-27). Announcing the release today of the 2016 version of its webpage, “The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments,” the IRS explained how the courts and the IRS have treated these arguments, which involve claims such as that the only employees subject to income tax are employees of the federal government or that only foreign income is taxable. “Taxpayers should avoid unscrupulous promoters of false tax-avoidance arguments because taxpayers end up paying what they owe plus potential penalties and interest mandated by law,” Koskinen said. The IRS reminded taxpayers that they would automatically be subject to the $5,000 penalty for frivolous tax positions.

If you have any questions regarding this, please to not hesitate to contact Greg Gandy or Mike McDevitt at (719) 579-9090.

(Journal of Accountancy By: Sally P. Schreiber; Published February 10, 2016)

The IRS revealed on Tuesday that it discovered and stopped an automated cyberattack on its e-filing personal identification number (PIN) system last month. According to the IRS, the cybercriminals used information stolen “elsewhere outside the IRS” to generate e-file PINs for stolen Social Security numbers (SSNs). E-file PINs are used by some taxpayers to electronically file their tax returns.

Although no personal taxpayer data were compromised or disclosed by the breach, the IRS noted that the cybercriminals succeeded in using 101,000 SSNs to access e-file PINs (out of 464,000 attempts).

The IRS is notifying the affected taxpayers and placing tax return identity theft markers on their accounts. It is also continuing to closely monitor the Electronic Filing PIN application against further breaches.

The IRS also said it is working with other agencies and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to assess the problem and has shared information with Security Summit state and industry partners. It said the breach was not related to last week’s e-filing shutdown.

The news follows closely on last summer’s announcement that a breach of the IRS Get Transcript system resulted in the theft of some 334,000 taxpayers’ tax data (see prior coverage here).

If you have any questions regarding the IRS hack, please contact us at 719-579-9090. If you have been notified that your identity has been breached, please read here.