How to Navigate Charitable Contributions and Tax Deductions

We all know the saying, “It’s better to give than to receive.” Giving makes us feel good, right? And we usually don’t think about what’s in it for us.

But, what about charitable giving? Depending on the amount of your charitable contributions, you could be in for a sizable tax benefit. As a matter of fact, if you factor your charitable donations into your budget, it will allow you to be more generous and lead to strategies that could improve your financial planning long term.

With tax season in full swing, let’s take a look at some benefits of charitable giving and what can be deducted.

That Altruistic Feeling

Whether we donate to them or not, we all have causes near and dear to our heart. If you’re an animal lover, ASPCA commercials probably tug at your heartstrings. If helping kids is where your passion lies, then charities like St. Jude’s and Shriner’s Hospital probably resonate with you. Regardless of where your loyalties lie, we all love the feeling of helping other people. Scientific studies have even shown that charitable giving activates pleasure centers in the brain.

Tax Benefits

Charitable donation deductions actually allow you to lower the amount of taxable income. Of course, you can’t donate to just any organization. In order for donations or gifts to qualify, they have to be recognized tax-exempt organizations. Typically – religious organizations, veterans’ organizations, and community organizations qualify as being tax-exempt.

Have you made any donations to state, federal, or local government for public purposes, such as to rehab a public park? You can deduct those donations. You can also deduct any expenses you incur as a volunteer for a qualified organization or if you donate a qualified vehicle.

What Does this Mean for You?

Let’s be honest. Taxes, deductions, and tax law can be overwhelming and difficult to understand if you don’t speak that language. It’s always a good idea to sit down with a qualified financial planner to come up with a plan for donating to charities. Your financial planner can help you figure out what types of donations will work for you and your future plans. They can also help you find organizations that share the same goals and ideals as you. Also, if you want to make charitable giving a recurring activity this year, look at setting aside money in a First Financial Special Savings Account.+ That way, you can save smaller amounts at a time to make it easier to give back instead of one lump sum all at once.

No matter which way you decide to give or which charity you choose to give to, giving back to organizations that do good – feels good. Additional information about charitable giving and tax deductions can be found in this article from the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union.* If you have other questions about charitable giving and how it may impact you this tax season, contact the Financial Advisors located at First Financial or click here.

*Securities sold, advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution to make securities available to members. Not NCUA/NCUSIF/FDIC insured, May Lose Value, No Financial Institution Guarantee. Not a deposit of any financial institution. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

 +A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the program. Click here to view full Rewards First program details. 

How to Prepare for Tax Season

We’re in the midst of prime tax season. Have you filed your taxes yet? If not, or if you are unsure of how to be best prepared – keep reading! Being organized can help you reach your financial goals as well as make the filing process easier for both you and your tax professional.

What items should you bring with you when you have your taxes done?

  • A valid photo ID
  • A social security card or verification letter, or individual TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number) for all family members.
  • W-2 forms for all jobs worked the previous year
  • Form 1099-G for unemployment compensation, if applicable
  • Any childcare provider information from the previous year paid (name, address, tax ID number, and total paid).
  • A copy of last year’s state and federal tax returns
  • Any banking/mortgage interest statements, federal loan documents, retirement statements, and organizations you made charitable donations to with the amount donated.
  • Form 1095-A, B, or C and any affordable health care statements or health insurance exemption certificates.
  • Bank account information and a voided check (for receiving your return via direct deposit).

If you are married and filing jointly with your spouse, you will want to make sure you and your spouse are both present at the appointment so you can each sign your joint return. Depending upon your individual financial situation, there may be other documents you will need to bring with you. If you have questions about other items you think you may need to bring to your annual tax appointment, contact your tax preparer in advance.

How do you make the most of your tax return?

  • If you are getting a return back, it’s a good idea to have it deposited to your bank account with direct deposit. There is no cost to do so, it arrives faster than a check, and will be right there in your bank account for when you need it.
  • It’s always a good idea to save for the future – every little bit helps!
  • Do you have outstanding revolving credit card debt? Pay it down with this year’s tax return.
  • Another good use of your tax return is to save for retirement in an IRA account.

If you have additional questions, it’s a good idea to consult with your tax professional during your appointment. Staying organized and prepared is the best way to get through tax season, and should you receive a return – saving the money for a rainy day, your financial future, or to pay off debt is never a bad idea. Happy filing!

Article Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

4 Ways to Identify a Tax Scam

Tax filing season is of course a busy time of year. It’s also a busy time of year for scammers. According to a recent Federal Trade Commission report, of the $1.48 billion total reported fraud, consumers lost nearly $488 million to imposter scams in 2018. Fraud schemes range from debt collector calls or emails claiming you haven’t paid your taxes, to someone posing as an official from the IRS or local law enforcement agency threatening arrest, suspension of your driver’s license or some other penalty if you don’t immediately wire funds to pay your taxes. The scams have become increasingly sophisticated and hard to detect.

Here is what you need to know about the IRS and tax scams:

The first contact from the IRS is through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media channels. Even if they call you to set up appointments or discuss an audit, you would first receive notification by mail. Only after mailing an official notification of an audit can an auditor/tax examiner follow up by phone. Forward any suspicious emails to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. Alleged IRS or tax debt collection calls should be reported to (800) 366-4484. 

Payments to the IRS are only payable to the United State Treasury. They do not accept payment in the form of prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers.

IRS agents will NEVER demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or dispute the amount they say you owe. They must advise you of your rights as a taxpayer. They CANNOT threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement agencies to have you arrested for not paying your taxes. The IRS also has zero authority to revoke your driver’s license, business license, or immigration status.

If an IRS representative calls or comes to a home or business unannounced to collect a tax debt or as part of an investigation, they will always provide two forms of official credentials: a pocket commission and an HSPD-12 card. You have a right to see the credentials and can call the IRS to verify the identity/information on the representative’s HSPD-12 card.

The moral of the story: be aware, do your research, and don’t become a victim of a tax scam this tax filing season!

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for Financialfeed.com

 

Let the Taxpayer Beware: Learn to Spot 6 Common Tax Scams

Now that your W2s and miscellaneous tax documents have arrived, tax season is officially in full swing. While it’s easy to get lost in optimistic daydreams about your tax refund and all you’re planning to do with it, it’s important to remember that scam artists are probably dreaming about what they could do with your refund as well.

After reaching an all-time high of more than 700,000 cases in 2015, tax refund fraud has been declining thanks to significant enforcement efforts by federal, state, and private agencies. While these statistics are encouraging, they also highlight the ongoing need for caution and vigilance. So, before you file your 2018 taxes or pay someone to file for you, we want to remind you about six of the most common tax-related scams happening today.

Phishing Emails 

This one is relatively easy to spot. Why’s that, you ask? Because the IRS doesn’t initiate communication with taxpayers via email. So, if you see an email from the IRS pop up in your inbox—even one that looks remarkably official, don’t open it. For good measure, go ahead and mark it as spam before deleting it. Emails of this type have only one goal: to trick you into clicking a fraudulent hyperlink or responding with sensitive personal information.

Phishing 2.0

In 2018, the IRS reported a new twist on traditional phishing scams. In the new approach, fraudsters hacked the systems of legitimate tax professionals, stole tax returns containing personal details, and then deposited funds directly into taxpayer bank accounts. After those deposits hit the bank, the criminals posed as the IRS or collection agencies and contacted account holders demanding a resolution to the error. The goal of these scams is not to simply regain the money deposited “in error,” but to get the victim to share account details that can be used to access the account at another time. If you find yourself with an unexpected deposit in your bank account, the IRS offers helpful instructions here.

Phone scams 

Though they come via phone call, these scams are essentially the same as phishing emails. The difference lies in the fact that con artists can spoof IRS phone numbers in an attempt to convince unsuspecting people to answer the call. Once the phone call is underway, the person on the other end claims to be an IRS agent and tries to get the individual to confirm private account details in an attempt to “resolve the situation.” If they don’t get the results they’re hoping for, the fraudsters may even follow-up with phone calls where they impersonate law enforcement officials and threaten legal action. To avoid accidentally divulging personal details, it’s best to ignore these calls completely. Just as the IRS doesn’t initially contact taxpayers by email, they also don’t initiate official communication by phone either.

Refund Theft 

This type of scam takes place at the intersection of identity theft and financial fraud. Using a variety of tactics, criminals obtain taxpayer social security numbers and file fraudulent tax returns in their name—often claiming substantial refunds. Since this happens without the knowledge of the victim, it only comes to light when their legitimate tax return is rejected due to a previous return already filed under the same social security number. While the IRS is committed to resolving these issues when they happen, the process can be long and tedious. To safeguard yourself against tax refund theft, IRS officials recommend obtaining an Identity Protection PIN, also known as an IP PIN. Instructions for securing a PIN can be found on the official IRS website.

Shady Tax Prep Services

Since an estimated 79 million Americans use paid tax preparation services, there are considerable opportunities for dishonest preparers to abuse the system. One of the most common scams involves a preparer illegally inflating an individual’s refund and collecting a percentage of the taxpayer’s refund instead of a flat fee. Many times, the problem isn’t identified until after the refund has been issued and the preparer’s fee has been collected. In these scams, the preparer is long gone by the time that the problem is identified, and the taxpayer is responsible for handling the audit on their own. While the practice of a tax preparer charging a percentage of refund isn’t technically illegal, you’re better off avoiding this type of arrangement and opting for a flat-fee service instead.

Public Wi-Fi Scammers

It seems like this one should go without saying, but we could all use a reminder from time to time. The public Wi-Fi at coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores can be great for hopping online to browse social media, but it’s terrible for filing your taxes. Not only can these unsecured networks be accessed by almost anyone, but dishonest scammers can also set up hot spots that look like the establishment’s Wi-Fi and intercept logins, passwords, and personal information. So, if you’re filing taxes electronically this year (and considering the fact that approximately 90% of taxpayers filed electronically in 2018, you probably are), do yourself a favor: file at home from your personal computer and your secure Internet connection.

As with most financial scams, these can be simple to sidestep as long as you know the signs to look for. If you observe questionable practices, want to read up more on tax season scams, or have additional tax-related concerns, you can find more information and helpful instructions here on the official IRS website.

If you are receiving a federal or state tax refund this year and want to make the most of your money, contact us here at First Financial Federal Credit Union. Our financial specialists can help you assess your financial situation and show you all the beneficial programs and products available to you as a credit union member. Call, email, or stop by a branch today!

Don’t Make These Tax Filing Mistakes

From math errors to missing Social Security Numbers to forms that aren’t signed, there are plenty of common tax mistakes that taxpayers can make when filing their returns. These mistakes can lead to delays in processing returns and issuing refunds. If serious enough, they might even lead to an IRS audit. Fortunately though, the IRS does allow do-overs. You can usually file an amended return if you realize that you’ve made a mistake. But that’s the problem — you might not realize you’ve made a mistake. Brush up on the following tax fails before you file, so you can avoid making the same errors this tax season.

Waiting Until the Last Minute to File

Although plenty of people put off doing their taxes, waiting until the last minute to file a tax return can backfire.  Do you really want to be scrambling to make the tax filing deadline (April 15th)? In a rush to file, you may forget to actually pay your taxes if you owe – which can result in a late payment penalty from the IRS (0.5% of taxes owed each month the payment is late). File as early as possible and avoid this headache altogether.

Forgetting to Pay Taxes on a Cashed-Out IRA

Did you cash out IRA money last year or plan to roll one over and then never did? If you forget to do this, the amount that has been cashed out is taxable. You also need to report any IRA changes on your tax return. If you forget to do this, it could result in a tax audit. And once that happens, everything will be checked with a fine tooth comb. The moral of the story: don’t forget to report any retirement account changes you made in the last year.

Mailing the Tax Check to the Wrong Agency

If you owe taxes or have a situation in which you have to pay taxes on an employee during the year (you hired a nanny to watch your children and are paying taxes on the nanny’s wages), be sure your payment is going to the right place. Failure to do this can again result in late fees and a giant headache. The same goes for electronic payments. Double check the mailing address and then check again.

Not Knowing the Filing Deadline for Businesses

Are you an S corporation? Typically, an S corporation business must file a return by the 15th day of the third month — not the fourth month, according to the IRS. Failure to file by the correct deadline could result in a file penalty fine of $450.

Not Making Estimated Tax Payments

Because self-employed workers don’t have employers to withhold taxes from their paycheck for them, they have to make estimated tax payments to the IRS throughout the year.  A good habit to get into here if this pertains to you, is to set aside money each month and try to estimate as accurately as you can – should you owe more on taxes when you file.

Forgetting to Make Tax Payments

This is a pretty straightforward one – don’t forget to make your tax payments if you owe this year. And if you are self-employed, don’t forget to send in your estimated tax payments. If you are required to send in estimated tax payments and you forget, you could receive an underpayment penalty fee.

Trying to DIY Tricky Tax Returns

If your tax situation is simple enough to file the 1040 form, you don’t need to hire a professional to prepare your return. But if you don’t have a simple tax situation and have multiple sources of income, own a home (or two), have investments, a military pension, etc. – it might be a good idea to let a professional handle filing your return for you.  A tax accountant can help you identify expenses you hadn’t previously been claiming as deductions, which can ultimately lower your tax bill. They’ll also look at your withholding with you, and see if it can be adjusted if you always seem to owe the IRS money come tax time each year. Sure – you’re going to have to pay for this service, but if you have a complicated tax return it will probably end up saving you money (and aggravation) in the long run.

More sound advice: it’s best to prepare for tax season all throughout the year. As you collect receipts, paperwork, statements, and so forth during the year – put them in a file and take them out and go over them right at the start of each new year. This way you stay on top of any changes that come up throughout the year, and aren’t digging for items at the last minute. Be prepared and organized, and filing your taxes each year will become second nature.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston for Gobankingrates.com

Important Member Alert: Tax Season Phishing Scams

It’s tax filing season, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state tax agencies have issued warnings related to a recent increase in sophisticated phishing emails. The emails appear to come from the IRS and demand a payment or threaten to seize tax refunds as a result of non-payment.

What is phishing? Phishing is a tactic cyber criminals use to collect an individual’s online banking, credit card, or other identifying account information. Once received, the cyber criminals can use your information and make transactions as you.

The tax refund season is the time of year in which the majority of tax related scams occur and there is increased vulnerability. This year, the IRS has reported a 60% increase in phishing emails attempting to steal taxpayer funds and tax-related information.

Phishing emails can be hard to detect. Often, intimidation tactics and urgent requests are commonly used by cyber criminals. The emails sent in a phishing attempt will appear to come from a trusted source, using a spoofed or compromised email address. Phishing emails usually contain stolen logos and often include hyperlinks to malicious websites, or contain attachments that are embedded with malware or viruses.

Targeted tax time victims have reported that their emails contained the following:

  • An email originating from IRS Online
  • Contained an attachment titled “Tax Account Transcript”
  • A subject line using the phrase “Tax Transcript”

In addition to email phishing scams, similar phone scams have also been reported. A common phishing phone attempt involved a caller claiming to be from the IRS and threatening victims with a lawsuit or arrest if a tax payment isn’t made immediately with a debit card.

To reduce your risk of falling victim to a phishing scam:

  • Remember that the IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email, text, or social media network to request personal or financial information.
  • The IRS also will never call a taxpayer and threaten a lawsuit or arrest.
  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from an unknown or suspicious source. Even if the email appears to be from someone you know, subtle variations will be present in the sender’s email address (for example: JohnSmith1@abc.com instead of JohnSmithI@abc.com).
  • Another red flag for email recipients includes grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Legitimate professional organizations and agencies typically do not contain such errors in their communications.
  • For more information on preventing and reporting tax scams to the IRS, click here.

Article Source: CUNA Risk Alert, December 2018