COVID-19 Stimulus Checks: Who Qualifies and What to Expect

The U.S. Government has already started sending stimulus payments to Americans from the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020. But there is still some confusion surrounding the details. Here are some things to know about the stimulus payments.

Income Requirements

The stimulus plan outlines that individuals will receive the following: $1,200 for individual tax payers with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000; $2,400 for married couples filing jointly with an adjusted gross income of up to $150,000, and $112,500 for heads of household. Additionally, families will receive $500 per qualifying child under the age of 17. Dependents over the age of 17 who are claimed under someone else’s tax return will not receive their own payment, which means that most college students won’t qualify to receive a check. If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is more than what’s outlined above, you’ll fall into the “phase out” category—the more your AGI increases, the more the stimulus amount granted decreases, specifically by $5 less for every $100 over the limits noted above. The total phase out amounts based on AGI are: $99,000 for single filers, $198,000 for married couples filing jointly, and $136,500 for heads of household. The AGI will be based on your 2019 tax return, or your 2018 tax return if you haven’t filed 2019 yet.

Disbursing Payments

Stimulus checks will be direct deposited into the bank account listed on your 2019 tax return (or 2018, if you have yet to file for 2019) beginning mid-April. The IRS will send a physical check to your most recent address on file if a bank account is not listed on either tax return. For those whose banking information has changed since then, the IRS is developing a web-based portal where individuals can provide their banking information to the IRS online to ensure that as many people as possible can take advantage of receiving a direct deposit rather than waiting for a check in the mail. This tool is expected to be available around April 17.

You will receive a notice of payment from the Treasury approximately two to three weeks after your payment has been disbursed, which will be sent to your last known address. The notice will include the method by which payment was delivered (direct deposit or check), the address where payment was sent, and a phone number to contact the IRS if, say, your banking information has changed but hasn’t been updated and therefore you did not receive the payment.

Back Taxes

As long as you meet the income guidelines, you should still receive a stimulus payment if you owe back taxes, even federal, state, and student loans. The one exception is for those who owe child support payments.

Who doesn’t Qualify?

In addition to high wage earners and college students, other individuals may be left out of receiving a stimulus check: senior citizens and disabled people who are claimed as dependents by someone else; non-resident immigrants, temporary workers, and immigrants who are in the country illegally (immigrants with green cards, H-1B, and H-2A work visas qualify to receive payment); unemployed high wage earners: those who earned more than $99,000 last year but are now unemployed will be eligible for a rebate on their 2020 tax returns if they earn below the phase-out limits this year; Too, parents of babies born in 2020 won’t receive their $500 payment for that child until next year.

Low Income Earners

Individuals who make less than $12,000 a year are not required to file taxes. If you fall into this category and haven’t filed taxes in the last two years, you are still eligible to receive a check, but there’s an extra step involved. First, if you receive social security benefits, you will automatically receive a stimulus check. But for the estimated 10 million Americans who fall into the “low income” wage earning bracket, don’t receive social security benefits, and haven’t filed taxes for the last two years, the IRS has set up a web portal that will allow you to register for a stimulus check. Visit IRS.gov and look for “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here”. The IRS has also partnered with TurboTax to set up a web page where individuals can answer a few questions and then choose to receive their payment via paper check or direct deposit.

How Could New FICO Scoring Affect You?

A new scoring model from Fair Isaac Corp., the company behind the FICO score, is set to be implemented later this year by Equifax and other major credit bureaus. The popular score is commonly used by lenders to determine your eligibility and interest rate for certain loans. Read on to find out if it could affect you.

Consumers in Debt

The new model, FICO 10, will start incorporating consumers’ debt levels into its tabulation, which could cause a decrease in score for some overextended consumers, particularly those who have both personal loans and rising debt. This change is speculated to create greater divide to scores in the 600s. If your score is in the 600s and you’re making payments on time and hacking away at debt, your score could increase. On the other hand, if you’re struggling to pay off debt and missing payments, your score could go down.

Combat Credit Card Spending

FICO 10 will give more consideration to how consumers have changed their payment history in the previous two years, benefitting individuals who are making progress in paying off debt and judging more harshly those who show increasing financial strain. Currently, credit card utilization, which is the percent of your available credit lines you’re using, accounts for 30% of your score, but it could become even more important in FICO 10. The goal is to keep your utilization as low as possible, so be sure to pay balances in full each month or at least keep the balances low. One option to paying off credit card debt is to consolidate it by taking out a personal loan, but this only works if you use that loan to pay off debt while refraining from piling new debt on your credit cards.

Create a Monthly Budget

Because delinquent payments will carry greater weight in the new model, it’s crucial to pay bills on time, so if missing payments is a habit or even an occasional slip-up, you’ll want to be more mindful of this. The best way to keep up with payments is to create a monthly budget. This will not only help with keeping payments at the forefront of your mind (and on your calendar), but you’ll have a better overall picture of your finances and whether or not you’re overspending. Also consider enrolling in autopay, with your loan or credit card payments automatically taken from your bank account at the same time each month.

Though banks and lenders decide which credit model they’ll use, Fair Isaac claims that FICO is used in 90% of all lending decisions, so take the next few months to make changes that will start cutting away at high interest rate debt and provide better overall financial wellness.

How to Prevent Tax Identity Theft

The start of a new year is a time for fresh starts and new goals, but it’s also the beginning of the oft-dreaded tax season, which means Tax identity thieves are on the lookout for information they can use in order to create fraudulent tax returns. Here are some tips to help protect yourself from tax identity theft during tax season.

File Early to Prevent Tax Identity Theft

Tax-related identity theft most commonly occurs from February to early March because thieves want to beat real taxpayers to the punch by filing fraudulent returns before legitimate ones. Because the IRS allows only one tax return per Social Security number per year, your best defense against identity theft is to file your taxes as early as possible.

Use E-File Instead of Postal Mail

An e-filed tax return arrives instantly at the IRS, which then sends back an acknowledgement receipt. At this point you’ll be notified if there’s any suspicious activity, such as possible identity theft. The quicker you know, the quicker you can deal with it. Before you e-file, however, be sure that your firewall, antivirus, and anti-spyware software are all up to date. If you do send your tax return in by post, think about taking it directly to the post office rather than letting it sit in your mailbox.

Don’t Fall for Scams

The IRS will not contact you by phone, email, or text to ask for personal or financial information. Never give out your Social Security number, passwords, PINs, and credit card or bank information to someone who reaches out via these channels. Official correspondence from the IRS is issued in the form of a letter and sent through the mail. However, scammers are getting increasingly clever, and sometimes phony links can look just like the real IRS website. If you ever have questions about the legitimacy of an IRS related query, your best bet is to call the IRS at 800-829-1040.

Protect Your Financial Accounts

Start by using a different password for each of your financial accounts, preferably one that combines letters, numbers, and special characters. It’s also wise to use a two-factor authentication when available, which requires you to verify your login—typically a code sent via call or text.

How to Report Tax Identity Theft

If you’re a victim of tax-related identity theft, you’ll find out when you try to file your return and learn that a return has already been filed with your Social Security number, or you’ll receive a letter from the IRS stating that a suspicious return using your Social Security number has been identified. If either of these happen, you should do the following:

  • Complete a paper return. As shocking as it is to learn that you’ve been the target of identity theft, you still need to file your tax return. In order to avoid tax penalties or late fees, submit a paper return by the filing deadline.
  • Go to IdentityTheft.gov to file a report with the FTC and IRS.
  • File an Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039). Fill out and attach this form to your paper return. It will make its way to the Identity Theft Victim Assistance Organization, which will work on your case. Be prepared to submit various forms of documentation proving your identity.
  • Contact the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit records. You should also consider asking them to freeze your credit in case the thief should try to open new credit accounts in your name.
  • Request a copy of the fraudulent return via Form 4506-F. Seeing the fraudulent return will help you determine the specifics of the theft, such as what family information has been compromised.
  • As a precaution, delete any stored credit card numbers from shopping sites and change saved passwords to online accounts.

 

If you have questions on tax identity theft or would like to discuss your 2019 tax return, please feel free to email me at dkittell@mkrcpas.com or call 317.549.3091.

The Best Apps and Platforms for Controlling Business Expenses

As a small business owner, the more you can stay organized, improve daily operations, control business expenses, and generally make life as an entrepreneur run a little more smoothly, the more proficient and prolific your business will become. Below are some top-rated apps and programs available to help you manage your business’s financial situation.

Mint

Though it’s intended mainly for individual users, this financial tracking app is effective for businesses too. Aside from tracking bills and cash flow, Mint also has Quicken MyBusiness, a tool for small businesses that helps categorize expenses, and gives you up-front information for tax filing.

QuickBooks

With the ability to connect to your bank account, PayPal, Square, credit cards, and more, you can use QuickBooks to track sales and expenses, view financial statements, pay employees and vendors, track unpaid invoices, maximize tax deductions, and more. With QuickBooks Online, you can access QuickBooks on both iOS and Android phones and tablets.

FreshBooks

For businesses and freelancers alike, cloud-based FreshBooks helps you create personalized invoices, with an option to automatically bill clients for recurring invoices, and generate customizable business reports, such as profit and loss statements. You can also automate tasks like organizing expenses and receipts, tracking your time, and following up with clients.

Wave

Created for businesses with nine or fewer employees, Wave is an accounting software platform that has the ability to track sales and expenses; manage invoices, customer payments, and payroll; scan receipts; and generate accounting reports. With Wave’s free apps for iOS and Android, you can send invoices on the go, and get notified when an invoice is viewed, becomes due, or gets paid. Also available through the platform is a free personal finance software to help small-business owners manage their finances in one place.

Truebill

Once you connect your accounts to the Truebill app, it will generate a report of where your money is going, categorizing and charting subscriptions and expenses. An added bonus with Truebill is a feature that compares your bills and subscriptions to average service levels, and with your initiation, will call providers and negotiate on your behalf.

Xero

Intended for small and mid-sized businesses, this accounting app (accessible by both desktop and mobile platforms) can handle payments and expenses, asset management, bank account reconciliation, invoicing and purchase orders, sales tax calculations, and multi-currency accounting.

PlanGuru

If you’re looking for a forecasting program to help with strategic planning and analysis, PlanGuru might be a good fit. It’s pricey, with business plans starting at $99 per month, but with an analytics dashboard, Excel add-on, a budget and forecasting platform, and training, it might be worth the cost to keep business spending in check.

Expensify

This simple expense tracker uses multiple platforms to keep tabs on expenses and mileage by reading and importing expenses from linked bank accounts and credit cards. And with the ability to scan and upload receipts, expenses can easily be submitted to employers.

InDinero

This bookkeeping service halts the need to invest in big bookkeepers and implements tax services for small businesses. It also helps with forecasting by syncing with bank accounts and credit cards to predict future cash flow determined by current trends and previous expenses.

IRS Warns of Continued Phone Scams During Tax Season

Although taxpayers should always be on the lookout for scammers and fraudulent activity, tax season is a time to be especially wary of unknown emails or phone calls. Aggressive phone scams where criminals call posed as IRS officials are extremely common and are a part of the “Dirty Dozen” list of tax-related scams targeting taxpayers. The Dirty Dozen is a list compiled annually by the IRS citing common recent scams taxpayers should be aware of.

How do these scams work? Frauds will make unsolicited calls claiming to be from the IRS and demanding individuals pay counterfeit tax bills. They may also send phishing emails or leave “urgent” phone messages with requests to call back immediately if you do not pick up. If successful, scammers will persuade their victims to send them cash either via prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Phone scammers often threaten their victims with deportation, arrest or driver’s license repeal in an attempt to bully taxpayers into sending the money.  

To further convince their victims, criminals can modify the caller ID number to appear like the IRS or another federal agency and use IRS employee titles and fake badge numbers to make the call appear official.  Frauds may also refer to the victim’s name, address or other personal information to persuade individuals of their legitimacy. Since October of 2013, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has been made aware of 12,716 individuals who, due to phone scams, have paid over $63 million collectively.

The IRS also wants to remind taxpayers that while aggressive and threatening phone calls will always be a strategy used by scammers, especially during tax season, criminals do change their tactics and employ versions of this scam year round.

As a continued reminder, below are strategies frauds will use that the IRS will never use:

  1. Call via phone to demand payment using a specific payment method such as wire transfer. The IRS will mail a bill first if taxes are owed.
  2. Order that taxes be paid without allowing taxpayers to appeal or question what is owed.
  3. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  4. Threaten to include local police or other law enforcement for lack of payment.
  5. Call regarding a refund.

If you receive a call and think you may owe taxes, hang up immediately and call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040. If you know you do not owe taxes or are unsure, do not provide any information over the phone. Hang up and report the call the the TIGTA as well as the Federal Trade Commission. The TIGTA can be reached by phone at 800-366-4484 or on their website on the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting page. To contact the Federal Trade Commission, go to FTC.gov and visit the FTC Complaint Assistant page and include IRS Telephone Scam in your notes.

IRS Warns Against W-2 Email Scam

In the midst of identity scams and credit card hacking, the IRS has warned against another scam, this time targeted at businesses and employers. There is a growing W-2 email scam threatening sensitive tax information and the IRS wants to alert payroll and human resources officials so they can be on their guard.

A simple email beginning with a casual greeting has quickly become one of the most dangerous phishing attacks. Hundreds of employers fell victim to the scheme last year, which left thousands of employees vulnerable to tax-related identity theft.

Since there have been significant improvements made in curbing stolen identity refund fraud, criminals are now seeking more advanced personal information in order to fraudulently file a return. W-2’s contain a wealth of detailed taxpayer income and withholding information, which is exactly what frauds are searching for and why they are targeting employers to acquire such information.

The scam has only grown larger in recent years, attacking a variety of businesses, from public universities and hospitals to charities and small businesses. The IRS wants to educate employees and employers, particularly payroll and HR associates who are often targeted first, to hopefully limit the number of successful attacks.

The scammer will likely spoof the email of someone high up in the organization or business, sending an email to someone with W-2 access using a subject line similar to “review” or “request.” The “request” will likely be a list of all the employees and their W-2 forms, potentially even specifying the file format. Since the employee believes they are corresponding with an executive of some sort, they may send the information without question, meaning weeks could go by before it is even evident they have been scammed. This gives frauds plenty of time to file numerous fake returns.

Because this scam poses such a major tax threat at both the local and state level, the IRS has set up a specific reporting process to alert the proper individuals, which is outlined briefly below:

  • Email dataloss@irs.gov to notify the IRS of a W-2 data loss and provide contact information. Type “W2 Data Loss” into the subject line so that the email can be routed properly and do not attach any employee personally identifiable information.
  • Email the Federation of Tax Administrators at StateAlert@taxadmin.org to get state specific information on reporting victim information.
  • Businesses or payroll service providers should file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov). They may be asked to file a report with local law enforcement as well.
  • Notify employees so they are able to take protective steps against identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission website, www.identitytheft.gov, provides guidance on steps employees should take.
  • Forward the scam email to phishing@irs.gov.


Beyond just educating employees, payroll officials and HR associates about the scam, employers are encouraged to set up policies or practices to avoid being hacked. Suggested policies include requiring verbal communication before sending sensitive information digitally, or requiring two or more individuals to receive and review any sensitive W-2 information before it can be sent out. The IRS is fighting diligently to protect taxpayers and lower the number of tax-related scams, so employers are encouraged to be on the defense as well and safeguard their own tax paying employees.



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