Tax News

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.

civil engineer on phone
  • 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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Will Interest rates remain the same for the first quarter of 2020?

Couple discussing with the financial advisor

With tax season creeping upon us, some people may start to panic because they haven’t yet filed their tax return; some may even wait until the very last second before filing.  One of the reasons many Americans put off filing their taxes is because they know that they’re going to owe a tax liability and simply don’t want to deal with it. For those that have a balance with the IRS, they may have questions about whether or not they will accrue interest, how much interest they could accrue, how to avoid owing a balance, or how to prepare for next tax season. If you know that you’re going to owe the IRS at the end of the year, keep reading to find out how you’ll be affected and what you can do to prepare for the next tax season.

Interest rates

According to the IRS, if you end up owing a balance this tax season, interest rates will remain the same as last year for the first calendar quarter beginning January 1, 2020. Here are the interest rates that taxpayers can expect:

  • 5% for overpayments (4% in the case of a corporation).
  • 2.5% for the portion of a corporate overpayment exceeding $10,000.
  • 5% for underpayments.
  • 7% for large corporate underpayments. 

The Internal Revenue Codes determine their interest rates on a quarterly rate. These rates that have been announced this year are computed using the federal short-term rate and will be based on daily compounding.

How to avoid interest

If you have a tax liability, you can count on the IRS to notify
you of your balance due and what tax solutions they may have for you. In addition to what you owe, the IRS will tack on interest until your balance is paid in full. Some of the main reasons taxpayers
end up owing the IRS are:

  • Incorrect withholding amounts.
  • Failure to make estimated tax payments.
  • Underreporting income on their tax return.

So how can you avoid making the same mistakes listed above? The IRS provides tax relief help and encourages taxpayers that are W2 employees to do a paycheck checkup at least one time throughout the year to ensure they are withholding the correct amount to avoid any surprises like owing money come tax time. The IRS provides a withholding calculator for taxpayers to utilize when checking to ensure they’re on the right track. 

If you are a 1099 earner or even a W2 earner and you typically owe during tax time, it may be in your best interest to start making estimated tax payments quarterly. This will make it more likely that
when it’s time to file your taxes you won’t owe a liability, and will help you avoid any interest that would have been tacked onto your balance. IRS tax help for making your estimated tax payment can be found on their website

Another way to stop interest rates is by ensuring that you include all income on your tax return. Attempting to leave any income off your return could potentially lead to an audit, and if it’s found that income has been excluded, it could possibly lead to you owing a balance in addition to interest and penalties.

You can count on the IRS to continue adding interest to any tax balance that you owe. It is the taxpayer’s responsibility to ensure they don’t owe at the end of the year in order to avoid accruing any interest; this means making regular checks that your withholdings are accurate, making estimated tax payments if you know you will owe a balance when you file, and ensuring that you are reporting all income to the IRS to avoid having both penalties and interest. 

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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Has the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Benefited You?

On December 15, 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was filed. The act promised to reduce taxes on average for all income groups in 2018 and 2025, specifically the middle class. According to the Tax Policy Center, those who lived in higher-income households would receive a higher average tax cut, with the biggest portion of tax cuts going to taxpayers in the 95th and 99th percentile of the income distribution. In comparison to our current law, taxes would fall for all income groups in 2018, which would increase the overall average after-tax income by 2.2 percent. Just recently, President Trump has announced that he will further assist taxpayers by cutting taxes for the middle class as a bid for his reelection. With TCJA in place and a promise of further tax cuts, it brings up the question of whether or not the TCJA is effective, and if the passing of a new tax law that allows even more tax cuts would be effective for a higher percentage of American taxpayers.

The TCJA was meant to reduce taxes on average for all income groups in both 2018 and 2025. For most, the tax cuts are hardly even noticeable. It is estimated that the federal tax savings for the extremely wealthy are seeing savings of around $51,000 versus the rest of taxpayers that are seeing less than $1,000. 

One of the reasons why most taxpayers are not seeing as big of a refund is because they did not change their withholdings. If you did change your withholdings when the TCJA was implemented, you would see that the tax changes increased your standard deduction; specifically, the limit on the deductibility of state and local taxes. If you chose not to withhold the proper amount, your tax refund would appear to be smaller than what you probably expected.

Another reason why most taxpayers did not feel the effects of the TCJA is because it benefitted those in a higher income bracket. The decrease in corporate taxes increased corporations’ profits which caused a higher earned income for wealthy households. Those who benefitted from the TCJA have been corporations and taxpayer’s income that is a result of corporate profits. With Trump’s tax cuts largely benefitting the wealthiest class in America, it has not caused an imbalance between average households and those earning a corporate profit.

For most, it can be difficult to understand this 200-page act as it does extensively change the previous tax code. There are some important key takeaways that taxpayers should know before filing again:

  • The TCJA will impact tax filing up to 2025.
  • It changes the tax code for institutions and taxpayers. The new act focuses on cutting individual, corporate and estate tax rates.
  • Nearly everyone has been affected by the TCJA.

If you are a taxpayer that has not felt the benefits of the TCJA, it is important to understand the new tax laws and how it may affect your personal circumstances and help mitigate uncertainty in future tax planning and filing. If you are having difficulty understanding the current tax changes, you can always consult with a tax professional to assist you with your tax filings.

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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New Consumer Warning Issued by the IRS Talks of Recent Surge in e-mail Schemes for 2016 Tax Season

Tax season is once again in full swing, and while that thought alone can be frightening to some, the renewed threat of scammers that are popping up recently is even more alarming. While tax schemes and phishing attempts have long been an unfortunate risk to citizens trying to do the right thing and stay on the “good side” of the IRS, this tax year has already seen a dramatic increase in their nefarious existence.

IRSPhishingThe Internal Revenue Service just released a warning to citizens to beware of suspicious emails after already seeing an approximate 400% increase in these phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season alone. These emails are designed to fool taxpayers into thinking that they are official written communication coming directly from the IRS or other tax authority representatives, including tax software companies.

“This dramatic jump in these scams comes at the busiest time of tax season,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Watch out for fraudsters slipping these official-looking emails into inboxes, trying to confuse people at the very time they work on their taxes. We urge people not to click on these emails.”

This year’s steep increase in this fraudulent activity has officials very concerned. They are not only using the traditional phone and email methods of communicating with would-be victims, but are also now reaching people via text messaging. The messages appear to be legitimate and ask taxpayers to provide a wide variety of information. Some requests inquire about filing status, requests to verify PIN information, or verification of refund information, while others seek to confirm personal information or even order official transcripts.

So what do fraudsters do with this information?

They can actually use the stolen information to be able to file false tax returns, amongst other things. When an unknowing victim clicks on one of these emails, they are redirected to websites that look very legitimate and often imitate official web pages like one might find at IRS.gov or on other real websites. These fraudulent sites then ask for social security numbers and other personal information that thieves can use to file false income tax returns.

Many of these sites also contain malware, which can infect your computer and allow criminals to access your files or obtain additional information, such as passwords and logins, by tracking your keystrokes.

According to the official news release, the IRS has seen an increase in reported phishing and malware schemes, including:scam-alert

  • There were 1,026 incidents reported in January, up from 254 a year earlier.
  • The trend continued in February, nearly doubling the reported number of incidents compared to a year ago. In all, 363 incidents were reported from Feb. 1-16, compared to the 201 incidents reported for the entire month of February 2015.
  • This year’s 1,389 incidents have already topped the 2014 yearly total of 1,361, and they are halfway to matching the 2015 total of 2,748.

As the email scams increase, the IRS is working with other leaders in the tax industry to find a resolution for this issue.

“While more attention has focused on the continuing IRS phone scams, we are deeply worried this increase in email schemes threatens more taxpayers,” Koskinen said. “We continue to work cooperatively with our partners on this issue, and we have taken steps to strengthen our processing systems and fraud filters to watch for scam artists trying to use stolen information to file bogus tax returns.”Phishing_magnifying_glass_fi

One way the IRS, state revenue departments and other tax organizations are trying to protect taxpayers, is by providing them with as much knowledge of the situation as possible. Combining forces to form the “Taxes. Security. Together” campaign, they hope to educate consumers and help keep them away from these potential scammers that could cause financial devastation to many tax payers.

What should you do if you think you have received a phony or questionable email or text message from the IRS?

If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS e-services portal or an organization closely linked to the IRS, they are urged to report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

Recent email examples the IRS has seen include subject lines and underlying text referencing:

  • Numerous variations about people’s tax refund.
  • Update your filing details, which can include references to W-2.
  • Confirm your personal information.
  • Get my IP Pin.
  • Get my E-file Pin.
  • Order a transcript.
  • Complete your tax return information.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that the IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.

To learn more about this latest warning, you can visit their website or call the IRS if you feel you have been a victim of these very crafty and cunning criminals.

IRS Completes the “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2015

irs-says-phone-scams-continue-to-beThe Internal Revenue Service recently presented its list of the 2015 “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams with a warning to taxpayers about aggressive telephone scams continuing coast-to-coast. Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony storefronts and word of mouth via community groups and churches to seek victims. Scams are especially common during tax filing season, but can occur any time of the year.

“We are doing everything we can to help taxpayers avoid scams as the tax season continues,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Whether it’s a phone scam or scheme to steal a taxpayer’s identity, there are simple steps to take to help stop these con artists. We urge taxpayers to visit IRS.gov for more information and to be wary of these dozen tax scams.”

The list below represents the list of this year’s “Dirty Dozen” tax-related scams:

Phone Scams

Aggressive and threatening phone calls by scam artists posing as IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. There has been a surge of these scams — threatening arrest, deportation, license revocation and other adverse consequences. The IRS reminds taxpayers that the IRS will never solicit personal information by email or by phone calls not initiated by taxpayers.

Phishing

The IRS never sends taxpayers unsolicited emails or refunds. If you receive such a message; it is almost certainly a scam. Taxpayers should be wary of clicking links contained in strange emails and websites. They may be attempts to steal your personal information.

UntitledIdentity Theft

Attempts at identity theft are especially common during tax filing season. A common tactic is filing fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number. The IRS aggressively pursues identity theft attempts, but taxpayers must also practice due diligence in protecting their information.

Return Preparer Fraud

Return preparers are a vital part of the U.S. tax system. About 60% of taxpayers use tax professionals to prepare their returns. Although the vast majority of tax professionals provide honest high-quality service, dishonest preparers set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams. Taxpayers must be wary of such bad actors.

Offshore Tax Avoidance

Offshore_Tax_Evasion_1_.54d100778feac

As the recent string of successful enforcement actions against offshore tax cheats and the financial organizations that help them shows, it’s a losing bet to attempt to shelter income and assets offshore. Taxpayers are best served by taking advantage of the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) to get their federal income tax affairs in order.

Inflated Refund Claims

Taxpayers should be wary of preparers promising inflated refunds — especially before looking at their financial records, and refuse to sign blank returns. Taxpayers should also be wary of preparers who charge fees based on a percentage of the refund. For more information on selecting paid tax preparers, see the Choosing a Tax Professional page on IRS.gov.

Fake Charities173572251_Charity scam

Especially during the holiday season, taxpayers should be on guard against fake charitable organizations. Check out the group to ensure that hard-earned cash isn’t filtered into a sham operation BEFORE making a contribution. IRS.gov has tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations. Be especially wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations.

Hiding Income with Fake Documents

The mere suggestion by paid preparers that taxpayers should falsify to reduce tax bills or inflate tax refunds is a huge red flag. The IRS reminds taxpayers who might be tempted to allow paid preparers to cut corners that they are legally responsible their returns regardless of who prepares them.

Abusive Tax Shelters

While the vast majority of taxpayers voluntarily pay their fair share, the IRS is committed to stopping abusive tax shelters and prosecuting the people who create and sell them. Taxpayers should be wary for tax breaks that sound too good to be true. When in doubt, seek an independent opinion regarding questionable offers before making a commitment.

Falsifying Income to Claim Credits

Unscrupulous tax preparers sometimes persuade otherwise honest taxpayers to artificially inflate their income to erroneously claim tax credits. While taxpayers are entitled to take advantage of all legal tax breaks, avoiding questionable credits and deductions is the best policy in the long run. If the IRS discovers a discrepancy, the taxpayer is legally responsible, even if someone else preparedthe return.

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Excessive Claims for Fuel Tax Credits

Unlike the mileage tax credit, the fuel tax credit is generally limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming. Consequently, the credit is not available to most taxpayers. Nonetheless, the IRS routinely encounters unscrupulous preparers who have enticed sizable groups of taxpayers to erroneously claim fuel tax credits to inflate their refunds.

Frivolous Tax Arguments

Taxpayers are entitled to present legitimate disputes about tax liabilities. However, despite routinely being thrown out of court, there are unscrupulous taxpayers who insist on making outlandish claims to avoid paying taxes they rightfully owe. The IRS reminds taxpayers who are tempted to file frivolous returns that the penalty for doing so is $5,000. Additional information about tax scams is available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube and Tumblr, where people can search “scam” to find scam-related posts.

Tax Scams: Just Don’t Do Ittax-fraud

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest for taxpayers, as well as possible criminal prosecution. Taxpayers should also remember that they are legally responsible for the content of their tax returns even if they are prepared by someone else. The IRS Criminal Investigation division works closely with the Department of Justice to prosecute criminals who perpetrate tax scams.

IRS e-File Crash May Delay Some Refunds

If you’re planning to file your federal income tax returns in the hope of receiving an early refund, you might have to wait a day or two longer to receive your money. A hardware failure knocked several IRS.gov services offline February 3, 2016. According to a statement on the IRS.gov website, delays resulting from the outage are expected to be slight, and the agency still anticipates thatit will be able to process most refunds within normal time lines. The message that appeared on the IRS webpage read as follows:

statementThe outage itself was brief. As of February 4, the IRS.gov website displayed the following message on its Modernized e-File (MeF) Status Page: “The Modernized e-File Production and Assurance Testing Systems are now operational. Please resume sending federal and state submissions, sending state acknowledgements and retrieving federal and state acknowledgements. We thank you for your patience and apologize for the inconvenience.”

During the outage, taxpayers were instructed to continue to file their returns electronically through their e-file providers. However, providers were instructed to hold the returns rather than forward them to the IRS. The “Where’s My Refund?” service was also affected by the outage, but was also back online as of February 4.

freefileThis year, the IRS launched a new version of its FreeFile system, along with expanding eligibility to taxpayers earning $62,000 or less annually, an increase of $2,000 over the limit for last year’s returns. The system includes additional safeguards put into place to prevent a repeat of the embarrassing data breach in 2015, which exposed the information of more than 300,000 taxpayers nationwide.

The previous data breach was blamed on Russian hackers. However, a statement issued on the IRS website on Feb 3 did not name a source for the most recent crash, stating instead “the IRS is still assessing the scope of the outage.”

Taxpayers whose returns were filed before the February 3 outage were not affected, and should not re-file their returns.

ACA Increases Penalties for Uninsured Americans

Millions of previously uninsured Americans have obtained health insurance coverage, thanks to the Affordable Care Act – commonly known as Obamacare. However, many individuals and households remain uninsured. Many of those taxpayers face significant financial penalties from the IRS for failing to obtain insurance under the individual mandate of the ACA – unless they can claim an exemption.AffordableCareAct

The Penalty Wasn’t Really $95 

During 2014, the first year health insurance coverage was required under the ACA, many individuals chose to remain uninsured. They figured that paying $95 as a penalty for failing to obtain and maintain coverage would be far less expensive than the premium for any policy they could obtain. Many people experienced sticker shock when they realized how large their penalties would be.

That’s because the penalty for 2014 wasn’t $95. The actual penalty was $95 for each adult age 18 or over plus $47.50 for each child under 18, with a maximum penalty of $285 — or 1% of the total household income above the threshold for filing federal tax returns, whichever was larger. The maximum penalty for all households was capped at the national annual cost of an individual bronze tier insurance plan in 2014, which was $2,448, regardless of income and household size.

For example, the penalty for a single taxpayer who earned $45,000 in 2014 and remained uninsured for the entire year would be $348.50. That’s the result of subtracting the minimum income for being required to file a federal income tax return ($10,150 in 2014) from $45,000, for a result of $34,850, and then multiplying that figure by 1%. Ouch.

Penalty Increases for 2015 and 2016

afforadable-care-act-penaltiesIndividual mandate penalties for 2015 are even higher, increasing to $325 per adult plus $162.50 per child, for a maximum of $975 – or 2% of household income, whichever is larger. As in 2014, the maximum penalty for all households has been capped at the 2015 national annual cost of an individual bronze tier plan.

Remaining uninsured in 2016 will take an even bigger financial bite out of taxpayers’ pocketbooks. The penalty has been set for a hefty $695 per adult and $347.50 per child, with a maximum per household of $2,085 dollars. As an alternative, the penalty will be 2.5% of household income, with a maximum of the average annual premium of an individual Bronze tier health insurance plan sold through the marketplace. Taxpayers will pay whichever calculation results in the higher penalty.

Exemptions to the Individual Mandate Penalty

Taxpayers hoping to avoid the individual mandate penalty by obtaining health insurance coverage late in the year will most likely only be able to reduce the penalty rather than eliminate it. However, there are a number of exemptions based on personal circumstances and financial hardships that allow some taxpayers to avoid the penalty. To claim total or partial exemptions, taxpayers must file an application with Healthcare.gov. Taxpayers whose applications are approved receive an Electronic Confirmation Number (ECN) to claim the exemption on their federal income tax returns.

Personal Exemptionsexempt-tax-penalty

The list below represents an overview of personal exemptions to the individual mandate penalty. A full list of exemptions is available at Healthcare.gov.Unaffordable Coverage: Lowest-price Marketplace plans exceed 9.5% of adjusted gross income, or employer-provided healthcare plans exceed 8% of AGI.

  • Low Income: Individuals or households with incomes below the minimum threshold for filing federal income tax returns are automatically exempt.
  • Short Coverage Gap: Gaps in coverage of less than three consecutive months are exempt. Taxpayers who purchased coverage anytime during open enrollment in 2014 are also exempt; even they remained uninsured until May 1.
  • Religious Conscience: This exemption is administered through the Social Security Administration.
  • Health Care Sharing Ministry: Members of recognized health care sharing ministries are also exempt.
  • Citizens Living Abroad: U.S. citizens who reside abroad at least 330 days during a 12 month period are exempt.
  • Participants in AmeriCorps State and National, VISTA, or NCCC: Participants with short term program provided coverage or self-funded coverage are exempt.
  • Undocumented: Undocumented residents are not eligible to purchase insurance through the exchanges and are exempt from the penalty.affordable-care-act
  • Incarcerated: Incarcerated individuals are exempt.
  • Native Americans: Members of federally recognized tribes are exempt.

Hardship Exemptions

For most hardship exemptions, taxpayers must file supporting documentation; others are automatic. Some taxpayers who qualify for hardship exemptions may be allowed to purchase catastrophic health insurance policies; others may qualify for a special enrollment period outside of open enrollment. The list below briefly describes hardship exemptions along with required documentation. A complete description of hardship exemptions and relevant forms are available through Healthcare.gov.

hardship

Dealing with Penalties Now – and Avoiding Future Penalties

maxresdefaultThe best way to avoid the individual mandate penalty is to obtain health insurance coverage – either through the Marketplace, an employer or another health insurance plan that meets the minimum guidelines for the ACA. Many taxpayers who obtain insurance through the Marketplace are eligible for tax subsidies that significantly reduce premium payments or provide refundable tax credits. Other taxpayers will qualify for an additional cost-sharing subsidy that can be applied to Silver tier plans to lower the overall cost of deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

Individuals who have questions about their eligibility for tax credits, the individual mandate or any penalties they might owe can obtain assistance through Healthcare.gov.   Specially trained Navigators can also assist individuals one-on-one, either in person or over the phone, with selecting appropriate coverage. Taxpayers facing large individual mandate penalties should consult with an accountant or with an attorney specializing in tax law.

Data Breach: Tax-Related Information for Taxpayers

A data breach is the intentional or unintentional release or theft of secure information. It can be the improper disposal of personally identifiable information in the trash or a sophisticated cyber-attack on corporate computers by criminals. It can affect companies large or small.  The one common link is the victim, the person whose identity, financial or personal information has been compromised.

data-breachWhat You Should Know About Data Breaches

Tax-related identity theft is when someone uses your Social Security number to file a false tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. Your tax account is most at risk if the data breach involves both your SSN and financial data, such as wages.

The Internal Revenue Service is committed to working with taxpayers to ensure that all tax accounts remain secure.  The IRS stops the vast majority of fraudulent tax returns.  If fraud is suspected, the IRS will contact you via mail with instructions.  However, some unfortunate taxpayers may discover they have been victimized by a data breach when they attempt to file electronically and have their returns rejected by the IRS as duplicates.

It’s important to note that not every data breach results in identity theft, and not every identity theft is tax-related identity theft.  Data breaches involving just credit card numbers, health records without SSNs or even driver’s  license numbers, while certainly serious, will not affect your federal or state tax return.

What to Do If You Are the Victim of a Data Breach

Determine what type of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) has been lost or stolen. It is important to know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps. For example, a stolen credit card number will not affect your IRS tax account.  Regardless of the nature of the breach, you should stay in touch with the company that lost your data. Companies sometimes offer special services, such as credit monitoring services, to assist victims. In addition, you should take the following steps recommended by the Federal Trade Commission.

  • File a police report
  • File a complaint with the FTC
  • Notify at least one of the three major credit bureaus in writing — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion —  (preferably all three) to place a fraud alert on your credit file
  • Close any accounts opened without your permission

If you received IRS correspondence or your e-file tax return was rejected as a duplicate, take these additional steps with the IRS:

  • Submit an IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit
  • File your tax return (most likely by paper) and attach Form 14039
  • Watch for any follow-up correspondence from the IRS and respond quickly.

Who Should File Form 14039?

Form 14039 — Identity Theft Affidavit should be used if your Social Security number has been compromised and IRS has informed you that you may be a victim of identity theft tax fraud or your e-file return was rejected as a duplicate. The fillable form is available at IRS.gov. Follow the instructions exactly. You can fax or mail it or submit it with your paper tax return if you have been prevented from filing because someone else has already filed a return using your SSN. You only need to file the form once. After the form is processed, you will receive a special number to use in place of your Social Security number to file your federal income tax returns.  This number can be used with electronic filing — but should only be used with your federal tax returns, not with your state tax returns.

70 Foreign Countries Agree To Share Tax Information With IRS

The Internal Revenue Service recently received a significant boost in its quest to collect the dues which it is rightfully owed. In an important bit of IRS Tax News, 77,000 foreign financial institutions in nearly 70 countries agreed to share tax information with the IRS. This historic announcement marks a milestone in the agency’s quest to combat international tax evasion.

As part of the agreement, banks and investment funds agreed to share information with the IRS about American citizens who own accounts at their institutions. The participating institutions include banks from Switzerland, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands, each of which has a reputation for being tax havens. As of March 2015, these institutions began sharing names, account numbers and balances for U.S. account holders with the IRS.

Surprisingly, 515 Russian institutions are part of the agreement. This inclusion is despite the fact that these institutions were required to apply directly to the IRS to be part of the agreement because of halted communications stemming from the Ukraine conflict. The number of cooperating institutions is expected to rise in the coming weeks.

irs-logoWhat It Means for You

Honest taxpayers are unlikely to be directly impacted by this agreement. After all, tax evasion is illegal. Nonetheless, the agreement could have significant indirect consequences for all U.S. taxpayers. Specifically, this agreement should free up IRS employees investigating tax evasion internationally, providing more resources to seek out domestic instances of tax fraud. The knock-on effect result in more closely examined tax returns and more frequent audits. That said, honest taxpayers have little to fear, especially those with incomes under $200,000.

On the other hand, this news seems to signal the beginning of a commitment by the IRS to work more closely with foreign institutions regarding international tax issues. In an increasingly globalized world, more of today’s workforce completes assignments for international employers and clients. Anyone who has ever worked with or for a foreign company understands the hoops taxpayers must jump through come tax time. But with continued international cooperation, these hoops could diminish. That’s good news.

However the situation plays out, it bears monitoring. For now, all we know is that despite recent foreign political challenges, the U.S. government and its agencies – including the IRS – are willing to work with their international counterparts on lowering financial crimes. That’s even more good news.

IRS Hacked, 104,000 Taxpayers Impacted and Nearly $50 million Stolen: What Should You Do to Protect Yourself?

The IRS announced on Tuesday (5/26/2015) that identity thieves had attempted to access the accounts of 200,000 taxpayers through the IRS’s “Get Transcript” online application. The scary part is that the IRS has admitted that more than 104,000 of those attempts were successful. The hackers’ operation started in February and ran through mid-May. All in all, the IRS was tricked into sending nearly $50 million in refunds for fraudulent returns.

The IRS has started an investigation in the breach and has temporarily closed down the “Get Transcript” application, a service that allows taxpayers gain access to their information. Taxpayers who need access to old tax returns to apply for mortgage or college loans can now request them by snail mail.

irs_data_breachThe IRS is notifying the 200,000 taxpayers whose accounts were tampered with that their Social Security numbers and other personal financial information is in the hands of hackers. It is also offering complimentary credit monitoring to the 104,000 whose “Get Transcript” accounts were accessed to ensure their private information is not used by criminals to fill in bogus bank loans and credit card applications.

This is by no means the first time the IRS has been the victim of online crime. According to a report published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in January 2015, identity thieves cheated the IRS out of $5.8 billion in falsely claimed refunds during 2013 alone.

Who Stole from the IRS?
According to Peter Roskam, Illinois republican and chairman of a House subcommittee that supervises the IRS, the IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said to him in a telephone call that the theft originated from within Russia. The IRS’s investigation is still ongoing and IRS officials have neither confirmed nor denied Roskam’s statement.

John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, did say to the press that he was confident they weren’t dealing with amateurs. “These actually are organized crime syndicates that not only we but everybody in the financial industry are dealing with.”

How Did Identity Thieves Steal $50 Million from Taxpayers?
When you think of hackers stealing money from big corporations or government agencies you probably have the image of shady programmers strong-arming the security protocols of their victims’ servers with their sophisticated code; but this isn’t what happened here. Strictly speaking the IRS wasn’t hacked. The identity thieves didn’t need to hack their way into the IRS, because they had all the answers to the IRS’s identification confirmation questions.

As Peter Roskam put it, the identity thieves “went into the front door of the IRS and unlocked it with the key.” The hackers had already obtained personal information on taxpayers, such as their date of birth, address and Social Security information, from previous hacking heists. With that information thieves were able to clear the IRS’s multi-step authentication process, including several personal verification questions that usually only the taxpayer can answer.

What Should You Do?
First, don’t panic. Your personal information is already out there. A motivated hacker can easily obtain it for a few dollars. But this doesn’t mean you should sit on your hands. Consumers can, and should, make things harder for criminals. You could compare it to your home’s front door. No matter how much you spend on security, a professional burglar could break in, but that doesn’t mean you should leave the door open or that you shouldn’t invest in a decent security system.

Here are four things you can do right now to protect yourself after the IRS breach:

1.) Change your passwords again. This is an obvious but often overlooked measure after major breaches. Don’t use your name or words that can be found in a dictionary. The first thing hackers do is use programs that test every word in the dictionary. Instead, create your own secret codes by using anagrams or substituting letters from common words with numbers.

2.) Turn on multi-level authentication. Only use sites that offer you the option of confirming access by receiving a one-time code either via a phone message or email.

3.) Lie on security questions. With the advent of social networks and our propensity to over-share, most security questions are easy to hack. Finding out where someone went to high-school or their mother’s maiden name just isn’t that difficult anymore. Instead of offering truthful answers, provide a second password as your answer. This will make it much harder for hackers to guess your security answers.

4.) Monitor your credit. There are no fail proof security measures against identity theft. You can try to make it harder for criminals but the chances are you will fall victim to identity thieves sooner or later. You can minimize the damage of these attacks by regularly monitoring your credit by scanning your credit history with the three major credit reporting agencies.