Top 3 Apps that will Help You Stay on the Right Financial Path for 2020

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

  • There are apps that will help support your financial goals and monitor both your spending and savings.
  • Mint is a budgeting tool that monitors and categorizes and updates any transactions that you may make.
  • Pocket Guard is another budgeting app that allows the user to connect to their bank accounts, which enables the app to track recurring expenses as well as everyday expenses.
  • YNAB teaches you how to manage your money and shows you where you are spending your money. 

For those that made the New Year’s resolution to create a financial goal and maintain it throughout the year, you may be starting to get to the point where it’s challenging to keep it up – especially if you find yourself falling back into old patterns.   You may start to be tempted to spend your money on frivolous items or to go out and splurge on drinks and restaurants. There is still time to correct these habits and get back on track. Luckily, there are apps that will help support your financial goals and monitor both your spending and savings.

Mint is a budgeting tool that monitors, categorizes and updates all your transactions. It also provides you information on how you’re spending your money. Users are able to create and set budgets and will be notified if they go over their budget. The app also provides free credit score updates and monitoring.

Pocket Guard is also a budgeting app. It allows the user to connect their bank accounts, which enables the app to track recurring expenses as well as everyday expenses. This app also tracks any deposits that are made into your account. Pocket Guard will analyze your recurring expenses and see if there is a better deal out there for you which could allow you to save money with each purchase.

YNAB teaches you how to manage your money and shows you how you spend your money. This app provides detailed reports that reflect your spending habits on a month-to-month basis, as well as how to correct the areas in which you’re spending too much. 

Whether you’re looking to create a budget or save more money in the long run, each of these apps will help you do so as well as maintain your new year’s goal. There are plenty of financial apps out there to help get you back on track and testing a few out would help you find what works best for you. 

If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

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10 Travel Hacks when You’re on a Budget

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

  • There are ways to travel and go on vacation without having to go broke. 
  • If you’re looking to travel but don’t want to spend the high prices, consider planning around off-peak travel times. 
  • Find a hotel that has additional amenities, saving you more money in the long run.
  • Staying at a hostel is probably one of the most cost-effective ways to travel. 
  • Try doing some sightseeing and look for iconic landscapes that you can’t find back home. 

As the season gets warmer, and with summer looming just around the corner, it’s time to start planning on where you want to go on vacation – and, inevitably, spend more money than usual. Typically, flight costs go up as the temperature does and hotels start to upcharge a bit more than they usually do. So what do you do if you’re on a budget but still want to vacation? Believe it or not, there are ways to travel and go on vacation without having to go broke. 

1. Plan Around Travel Time

Certain times of the year can cause flight and hotel prices to go up because of the surge in tourists that are visiting their location. If you’re looking to travel but don’t want to spend the high prices, consider planning around off-peak travel times. 

If you’re looking to get more bang for your buck, start looking at countries that fit into your budget based on the price of their merchandise and how affordable the country is overall.

2. Check to see if your hotel offers free breakfast

Traveling can become expensive very quickly.  If you’re looking to take a more economical route, consider looking for a hotel that serves their guests’ breakfast. Some hotels provide a few morning snacks while others have a full continental breakfast served to guests every morning. In the end, it might benefit you to find a hotel that has additional amenities, saving you more money in the long run.

3. Hostels may be the cheaper option

Staying at a hostel is probably one of the most cost-effective ways to travel. Not only are you getting the lowest price compared to hotels or rentals, but you’ll also be able to have the opportunity to connect with many other travelers from all around the world. No matter where you travel to, there is usually a hostel that can accommodate you.

4. Explore the town

Believe it or not, the best experiences are typically free. Try doing some sightseeing, like looking for iconic landscapes that you can’t find back home. You could also try looking for hiking trails that may lead to hidden treasures or views you never dreamed of. 

If you’re planning to travel, try to get the most out of your experience without having to hurt your wallet. Always make sure that you compare prices against other hotels and prepare an itinerary ahead of time to project what possible costs you may have to incur. Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive, and you can still have an enjoyable trip without breaking the bank.

If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

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Don’t Break the Bank this Valentine’s Day

  • With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it can become expensive to plan out activities for the holiday.
  • If you’re looking to save money, consider making dinner at home using fresh and/or seasonal ingredients.
  • Making a homemade gift is another alternative to purchasing roses or jewelry. Writing a love letter or creating something unique for your loved one might just be the extra effort to show that you care.
  • Preparing in advance for Valentine’s Day will allow you to splurge more without having to put a dent in your wallet. Make plans ahead of time to know how much you will need to save.

If you haven’t planned anything for Valentine’s Day yet and you’re on a budget, don’t start to panic just yet, as there are alternative options to make this Valentine’s Day memorable without having to break the bank. Most people associate this romantic holiday with dining out or giving extravagant presents as a declaration of one’s love, but don’t worry: there are still ways to show your love for your significant other while still staying on a budget. 

Romantic Dinner at home

If it slipped your mind and you forgot to make a reservation, or if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to spend additional cash for a fancy restaurant, don’t worry!  You can still have a delicious and romantic dinner without having to be concerned about how much the bill is coming out to. Making a home-cooked meal can be just as extravagant as a dinner at a fancy restaurant without having to shell out the same amount of cash. You can also check your local grocery stores to see what type of promotions or deals they’re having on their produce; more often than not, there’s a sale on some fresh, fancy foods. You can also stick to purchasing in-season vegetables and fruit as they are typically much cheaper than foods that are out of season. 

Homemade gifts

The cost of buying a Valentine’s gift can add up very quickly, especially if you’re buying multiple gifts. The price only goes up if you’re considering buying chocolates or flowers to go with it!  Although everyone loves to receive pricey gifts every once in a while, it isn’t necessary to actually spend the money on something that is already overpriced. Sometimes, the best gifts are the ones that you put the most thought and care into. Writing a letter or creating something by hand shows that you’ve taken the time to create something special and unique, and often can mean more to your significant other than something much more expensive.

Saving ahead of time

If you’re looking to splurge this upcoming holiday, start planning in advance how much you want to spend and what fits into your budget. Once you have an idea, you can start saving ahead of time to ensure that you won’t be caught off guard with any additional expenses. Just make sure that you have enough time to plan ahead and save extra cash, as restaurants typically start getting booked up the week before Valentine’s Day.

Whether you’re looking to save money this upcoming holiday or have a budget, it’s always a good idea to see what you can do to make the most out of Valentine’s day for you and your special someone. Valentine’s Day is about showing someone how much you care about them, there are many ways that you can do this without having to splurge. 

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

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Your Financial Diet for the New Year

With each new year inevitably comes the new year resolutions. For most, this is the time of the year we aspire to make big changes in our lives and create new goals to reach by year’s end. One of the most common resolutions that people make is about money: spend less and save more. Giving your finances a fresh start and taking a break from frivolous spending can be very beneficial to you – and give some breathing room to your bank account. This article details how to make your money a priority by starting towards new goals, making a budget and cutting out impractical spending that could affect the way that you save money.

Set goals

One of the first things you should do is to create goals for yourself for the new year. A good way to start is by writing down goals that are realistic and attainable for the year. Make sure that your goals are measurable so that you’re able to track your progress every month to ensure you’re staying on track to meet your objectives.  

Create a budget

Once you have decided what financial goals you want to focus on, it’s time to create a budget.  This will help to give yourself a visual representation of how you’re spending your money. You should start by figuring out how much income you make on a month-to-month basis. If you aren’t salaried or if you receive a commission as part of your compensation, and therefore don’t see a flat rate of pay each month, a good approach is to average out your income from the months prior to seeing what you earn on average. 

The next step is to determine what your spending habits are.  Some expenses are the same every month, such as your mortgage/rent or car payment, while other expenses vary month to month such as your utilities or groceries; you can take the average from your prior months to determine how much you can expect to spend. 

Get rid of the excess spending

After you’ve created a budget, it’s time to take a look at what you’re spending every month – and figuring out what expenses you can do without. A great way to look at where your money is going is by checking your bank statements. It may surprise you, but once you review your expenses, you’ll begin to realize how many times you’ve gone out to eat, went shopping for clothes or splurged a little extra at your favorite coffee shop. Once you are able to identify your impractical expenses, you can be more mindful of them so you can focus on putting more money in your savings. 

The new year allows you to press the restart button on any bad habits that you had previously and this includes how you are spending your money. If you’re looking to refresh your finances, make sure to make attainable money goals, make a budget to ensure that you stay on track and review your expenses regularly to avoid overspending. 

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

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Setting Financial Goals for the New Year

The new year is the one time of year when everyone reevaluates their life goals and vow to make big changes in their lives. Typically, you’ll see people going back to the gym to reach their goal weight or decide that this is going to be the year that they’re going to travel the world. While any aspiration you set for yourself is a great start, some of the best resolutions are the ones with objectives that will help you move up into the dream position that you’ve always wanted or even buy that house you’ve had your eye on for a while. Here are a few simple tips to get you on the right track for both advancing your career opportunities and saving more money in the bank.

Look for growth opportunities

More and more companies are looking to create growth for employees internally. If you’re looking for a way to earn more money and gain a new set of skills, you may not have to look too far. You can start by looking at job listings that your company is hiring for, if you see something that interests you and you feel you’re more than capable of handling the position, talk to your recruiting team or even the manager of the department that you are interested in. Alternatively, you can also look at positions at other companies and apply.

Create a budget

With the new year comes new ambitions, which means it may be time to economize your budget for the year. Creating a budget means that you set limits on how much you are spending every month to ensure that you don’t overspend and cut into your savings goals. Typically, a budget requires you limit what your spending on necessary items you need throughout the month. For example, if you are going grocery shopping, stick to the basics that you will need; don’t spend frivolously on snacks and sweets just because you’re craving them at that moment. Avoid eating out consistently throughout the month and save it more for a special occasion. If you are looking to splurge, you can always allot a certain amount of money to spending on personal items throughout the month.

Build your savings

Having a cushion to land on if you fall onto hard times, or if you need cash right away in order to respond to an unexpected emergency, is exactly the reason millions of Americans open up a saving’s account.  If you don’t have one yet, then the new year is the perfect time to start. Whether you’re building your savings to invest in a house, vehicle, school, etc., it’s vital to have a savings account as a backup to ensure that you’re able to get out of a financial bind quickly.

Cancel old subscriptions

Make sure to review your monthly bank statements; you may be surprised to find you are paying for services that you no longer use or thought you had canceled long ago. Be on the lookout for subscriptions or gym services that are automatically being deducted from your bank account. You could potentially save yourself some money.

You don’t have to get a financial rut in the new year, with just a few simple changes you can get off to the right start and reach your financial goals. Looking for career opportunities, starting a budget, opening up a savings account or getting rid of old subscriptions could help you move in the right direction and provide you with a better outlook on your financial future.

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

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What to do if you need more money for the Holiday Season

This holiday season is all about giving back to family and friends. It can become very expensive with all the gifts and food that you’re purchasing during this time, leaving both you and your wallet financially exhausted. Before you start becoming concerned about how you’ll get through the holidays, keep in mind that there are ways to prepare yourself mentally and financially. Below are a few ways to start preparing for the next holiday season without breaking the bank.

Start saving ahead of time

Not saving for the holidays can wreak havoc on your bank account and leave you in financial hardship. There are ways to prepare for the holiday season ahead of time to help you avoid going broke. One
way you can prepare is by saving up your change from the entire year. Believe it or not, your change will add up and could potentially cover the cost for several gifts you plan on purchasing. 

If you’re not the type to carry cash in your pocket that could give you change, you can always sell unwanted items that you’ve been holding on to. You can hold a garage sale, or you even sell your items on an eCommerce marketplace like eBay. This is an easy way to make money and clean out your home at the same time!

Look for Black Friday deals

With the holidays around the corner, nearly all department stores are preparing to put their products on sale. Typically stores will release their Black Friday deals in advance so you can review what items you want to purchase at a bargain price. Waiting for items to go on a discount is the best way to get some of the newest products for cheap.

If you have a really tight budget, you can also make homemade gifts. This will seem more like a personal gesture to someone as opposed to just purchasing a gift card and it will seem much more refreshing since everyone will be shopping for the latest tech on the market. 

Take on a seasonal job

If you plan on making the holidays an extravagant affair by buying the latest gifts for friends and family but don’t want to put a dent in your savings, consider taking a part-time seasonal job. This could help boost your holiday budget and give you the ability to spend more money on gifts. Seasonal jobs are typically flexible with the hours they assign so they can work around your schedule. This means that you can request to work just a few hours or ask for more hours so you can build a larger budget for yourself. 

With the holidays approaching, it can become very easy to get caught up in all the holiday shopping and spending. You don’t have to go broke buying presents for friends and family and there are solutions to getting everything on everyone’s wish list and not having to deplete your savings. To avoid curbing your spending, you can start saving in advance as well as look at what deals or sales will be coming up so you can save some cash while buying the most current item. Finally, if you’re wanting to splurge this holiday season but don’t have the cash on hand to do so, consider taking up a seasonal job for the holidays. All the money you earn can go towards the gifts you’ve been wanting to buy all year. 

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

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What is Tax Evasion and How can it Affect You?

For some, it can be a terrifying ordeal to file your tax return, especially if you forget to include vital information when filing. It is important for taxpayers to double-check whatever they have placed on their return in order to avoid the IRS further looking into your tax return. The IRS will flag a taxpayer’s return if they notice that the income reported in inaccurate, if there are too many credits and deductions placed on the return, or if a taxpayer has not filed a required tax return. Although the IRS does not pursue many tax evasion cases, it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to ensure they are filing correctly to avoid the IRS investigating them – and finding something that can send them to jail. If you still have questions on what should be included in your tax return and how to properly file, here are some ways to avoid the IRS coming after you.

The IRS will usually start off with an audit process rather than taking immediate action against a taxpayer. During the audit process, the IRS will review the tax return(s) filed by a taxpayer to see what errors were knowingly made. If the IRS sees that a taxpayer has repeatedly made the same mistakes on several of their tax returns, such as not fully disclosing large amounts of income they had been receiving throughout multiple years, it could be seen as tax evasion. If a taxpayer continuously makes false statements and hides records like bank statements from an IRS auditor, it could potentially lead to criminal prosecution.

To avoid running into trouble with the IRS, specifically avoiding an audit, or being charged with tax evasion it is important to understand what you should include on your tax return. Whatever income you are earning needs to be included on your tax return. This means that if you have a full-time job as well as a side job, you must report both sources of income. If you also meet the filing requirements, you must file your tax return with the IRS. Avoiding filing a return for multiple years could be considered tax evasion by the IRS. This could also lead to the IRS looking further into the unfiled years and file a tax return on your behalf, which could cause any owed liability to increase on top of the penalties and interest you accrue for not filing in the first place. 

Understanding the IRS as well as their rules will help you navigate the tax filing system put into place. It is up to every taxpayer to keep themselves informed on any tax changes that may occur throughout the year and to also be transparent on their tax return by disclosing any information that may be vital for the IRS to know. If you are unsure of how to file and need further assistance, you can ask the advice of a tax attorney or a tax relief company that can provide you with the necessary assistance you need in order to get compliant with the IRS.

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

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What Should You do if You Owe the IRS Money?

Having a tax liability with the IRS can be stressful to deal with.  It may even sound easier to avoid your debt altogether. For some taxpayers, paying back your balance to the IRS can prove to be difficult, especially if you don’t have the means to do so. You may feel as though you are backed up against a wall and that there is no hope to help resolve your current situation.  However, there are solutions to keep yourself compliant and out of collections with the IRS so you don’t have to live in constant fear that the IRS is coming after you. The IRS offers solutions for those having difficulty paying their balances in full.

Setting up a Payment Plan

It is important to first understand how much you owe. You can verify the amount owed by referring to your tax returns or by directly contacting the IRS to discuss your balance, including any tacked-on penalties and fees.  The IRS will provide you with a 433F form to fill out your income and expenses. When completing the form, be sure to exclude non-allowable expenses, such as credit card payments, pet-related expenses, or magazine subscriptions.  The IRS typically accepts payment agreements if your balance is under $10,000 and the proposed payment will pay the balance in full.  Your agreement is also required to include any accrued interest and/or penalties.

The IRS Offers Hardship Options

For those who are either unable to pay back their tax liability in full with the IRS or don’t have the ability to be on a monthly payment plan due to financial difficulty, the IRS offers hardship options. The IRS has two options available to those who need temporary relief. The first is a Currently Non Collectable agreement. The IRS will review your income, expenses, and assets to see if you are earning very little to no income. Another hardship option the IRS provides is the Partial Pay agreement. This agreement is similar to a regular installment agreement where you would make monthly payments to the IRS. However, with this agreement, you are only paying back part of the taxes you owe over time. The IRS will review this agreement approximately every two years to see if your financial income has changed. If your income has changed or you have started a new job, the IRS will send you a notice informing you that your income reflects that you have the ability to pay and request that you set up a payment plan with them. If you are attempting to request a hardship agreement with the IRS, they will request the following:

  • Last three months’ worth of bank statements 
  • Proof of income for the last three months
  • The market value for all assets
  • A list of everything that a taxpayer may own (Retirement savings, bank accounts, all sources of income, real estate property, vehicle statements, life insurance policies, etc.)

Request for an Extension 

If you do have the ability to pay your balance in full but need some time to get the money together, the IRS will allow you to request a one-time extension. You can request up to 120 days to pay your tax balance in full. It is important to keep in mind that the IRS will apply a 0.5% penalty per month for the unpaid balance and will only allow you to make this extension once. If you do miss the extension date, you will fall back into collections.

The IRS offers an array of options to ensure that you stay compliant and out of collections. If you are having difficulty paying your full tax balance to the IRS right away, it is important to know your options and what you can do to protect yourself. If you are unsure of what to do, you can always speak to a tax relief company such as Optima Tax Relief or the IRS to get a better understanding of what works best for you. 

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

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529 Plans: Facts and Tax Benefits

If you are a grandparent, opening a 529 plan with a grandchild as a beneficiary can have both direct and indirect tax benefits for you while providing a valuable benefit for your grandchild. Best of all, you shouldn’t hear any protests about how you’re spoiling your grandson or granddaughter again. Still, watch out for pitfalls associated with 529 plans imposed by the Internal Revenue Service and by individual states that can potentially ruin your gift.

Types of 529 Plans

There are two types of 529 plans: prepaid tuition and savings account assistance. Both types of plans are administered by individual states. Unlike in-state tuition rates, there are no residency restrictions imposed for purchasing either type of 529 plan. You or your grandchild can live in any state or even in two different states. You can also change beneficiaries for 529 plans as long as the new beneficiary is part of the same family. So when Jeanine finishes college, you can make her brother Billy the new beneficiary. However, some states place age restrictions on beneficiaries, which may be an issue if you intend to fund a plan for a grown grandchild.

Prepaid tuition plans provide funds that can be applied to pay tuition for colleges and universities located within the state. The growth rate for a prepaid tuition plan is pegged to the tuition rate of the particular educational institution to which it is linked.

If the tuition at a particular school quadruples by the time the beneficiary is ready to attend, the value of the 529 plan quadruples as well.

Financial aid assistance plans provide cash benefits that the beneficiary can use for qualified expenses at eligible financial institutions. Eligible educational expenses include all the usual suspects – tuition, fees, room and board. In addition, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (commonly called the stimulus), computer equipment, software, peripherals and the cost of Internet access also count as eligible educational expenses. So, purchasing accounting software for finance major is totally OK. That Wii Fit game console on the other hand, not so much, unless the beneficiary is majoring in physical therapy.

Both types of plans are administered by individual states. Unlike in-state tuition rates, there are no residency restrictions imposed for purchasing either type of 529 plan. You or your grandchild can live in any state or even in two different states. You can also change beneficiaries for 529 plans as long as the new beneficiary is part of the same family. So when Jeanine finishes college, you can make her brother Billy the new beneficiary. However, some states place age restrictions on beneficiaries, which may be an issue if you intend to fund a plan for a grown grandchild.

Establishing and Funding a 529 Plan

As a grandparent, you may fund a separate 529 plan and contribute as much as $14,000 (for 2013) to each 529 plan fund without incurring gift taxes. You and your spouse can contribute up to $28,000 in a 529 plan for each grandchild without incurring gift taxes. As an alternative, you an fund up to $65,000 (or $130,000 for married couples) in the first year of a five-year period without incurring the gift tax, as long as there are no other gifts made to that particular beneficiary within the same five-year window. If the cost to attend a particular educational institution is lower than the limit set by the IRS, though, you can only fund the plan to meet the lower amount.

State Tax Benefits and Federal Estate Tax Benefits

Some states allow grandparents to deduct contributions to 529 plans from their state income tax returns. Inquire with a plan administrator for the details. However, a prominent myth is that federal income taxes are also deductible. This is absolutely NOT true. But grandparents do receive indirect tax breaks from contributing to 529 plans – so long as the funds are used for qualified educational expenses by the beneficiary.

There are also no capital gains taxes on earnings. Plus, each contribution reduces the value of your estate, which may result in lower or no gift taxes for your heirs. But if the funds are use for non-qualified expenses, the owners of the funds are hit with income taxes plus a penalty of 10 percent on any investment gains.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Instead of braving the crowds trying to find that elusive gadget that happens to be the “it” gift this year, give the gift that keeps on giving – to you as well as your grandchildren. Even if you start off with a small cash gift now, by the time your grandchild is ready for college, he or she will have a tidy sum stashed away with no adverse affect on financial aid eligibility. You will save wear and tear on your nerves while providing a gift that can truly change your grandchild’s life for the better.

Photo: New York Times

IRS to Employers: Hire Veterans by Dec. 31 and Save on Taxes

If you plan to hire soon, consider hiring veterans. If you do, you may be able to claim the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit worth thousands of dollars.

You must act soon. The WOTC is available to employers that hire qualified veterans before the new year.

Here are six key facts about the WOTC:

  1. Hiring Deadline. Employers hiring qualified veterans before Jan. 1, 2014, may be able to claim the WOTC. The credit was set to expire at the end of 2012. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 extended it for one year.
  2. Maximum Credit. The tax credit limit is $9,600 per worker for employers that operate a taxable business. The limit for tax-exempt employers is $6,240 per worker.
  3. Credit Factors. The credit amount depends on a number of factors. They include the length of time a veteran was unemployed, the number of hours worked and the amount of the wages paid during the first year of employment.
  4. Disabled Veterans. Employers hiring veterans with service-related disabilities may be eligible for the maximum tax credit.
  5. State Certification. Employers must file Form 8850, Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit, with their state workforce agency. They must file the form within 28 days after the qualified veteran starts work. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s WOTC website.
  6. E-file. Some states accept Form 8850 electronically.