Author Archive for ClintM – Page 3

Maximum Child Benefits – Why You Should Not Put A Price Tag On Your Children!

A common question we get at JFTS is “How much is each child worth?”. We receive this from either current or expecting parents. What an awful question!

We know that parents do not mean “How much can I SELL my child for,” they mean “How much of a tax refund can I get for each child?”

First off, this is a loaded question. The theoretical “value” of each child depends on many factors ranging from your filing status to your income to how many children you have. The biggest child tax credits are: the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, Child Tax Credit and Adoption Credit.

Depending on your earned income and tax burden, these credits can be huge, to the tune of clients we have worked with who earned $15k/yr, had little to no tax with-held and still received a $5k+ refund. Some of these clients yell “JACKPOT!” as they are unlike most refunds where a client receives a check for the amount of taxes they overpaid the previous year, these clients are literally getting money back without paying in.

The question here is – “What is the cost of a child?” Recent studies have shown that raising a child from birth to age 18 in the US can cost anywhere from $200k-250k. This breaks down to a anywhere from $16,667/yr to $20,833/yr. Even if you are one of our “JACKPOT” cases, this cost far outweighs the tax benefits.

With this article we are not discouraging having children. It is only an eye-opener that having a child for the purposes of tax benefits is an awful “financial plan” and should be avoided. Have a child because you want to love and care for that child, not for a yearly paycheck, especially when the costs to raise that child properly far outweigh that paycheck.

Refund Anticipation Loans aka Legalized Loan Sharking

With tax season in full swing now we have been seeing plenty of ads claiming “don’t wait, get your refund now.”

Sounds great doesn’t it? I mean your refund is YOUR money, you paid it to the government, you should get it as soon as possible! Well the average turn around time from the IRS is about 7-10 business days when you do direct deposit and that’s not too bad considering they have been holding in the excess taxes you paid for the entire year.

The problem here is the companies that offer “Refund Anticipation Loans” also known as RAL’s.

In all the ads they sound like wholesome, goody-good companies that just want to get you your money faster, as in, on the spot instead of 7-10 days. However, they are no better than the shady “payday loan” or “car title loan” companies.

It is the same premise of “we’ll loan you money because you cannot wait another week, but in exchange we’ll charge you an unheard of interest rate, sometimes as much as 30%, for the privilege of getting your money today” that you see in the above mentioned companies. The reality though is it is not only the “fly-by-nights”, but that there are legitimate, nationwide tax businesses that are getting in on the action and actually depend on revenue from these high interest loans.

These “loan sharks” prey on the impulsive and irresponsible. Even worse is they never really let you know up front how much it costs to get your money now instead of waiting a few days or even a week. It is all buried in the fine print behind the smiling faces on the ads or the picture of the guy holding up hundreds of dollars he just got simply for getting his taxes done.

The worst aspect of all of these companies is that they are so intent on getting you in and out that most do not let you know up front that there is an added fee for this service. If they do, they usually mention it in passing after telling you how much your refund is going to be and instead ask questions like “what are you going to do with all that money?” In the end you don’t realize that you just paid $300 or more simply to get your money today instead of 7-10 days from now.

Our job as a professional tax service is to inform consumers of the risks of flashy guarantees that are nothing more than good ol’ “bait and switch” tactics. We mentioned a few in a previous article titled: Buyer Beware! Watch Out For All The “Free” and “Guarantees” In Tax Ads.

The difference here is that those ads are easier to see through as most people know that nothing is truly free(there’s always a catch) and that the only guarantees in life are “death and taxes”. For the RALs, the tax service, some of which are simply pay day or title loan offices posing as tax services, depends on a client that is just too excited or impatient to get their refund today that they overlook how much they are getting taken advantage of by taking out the RAL.

Before you make the mistake of going to one of those “loan sharks”, contact us for a FREE consultation and you can decide for yourself if we are the honest and direct tax service that you need.

Buyer Beware! Watch Out For All The “Free” and “Guarantees” In Tax Ads

As a growing tax business we realize that creative marketing is essential to the growth of our business. This tax season with a fully fledged marketing effort we are noticing more and more the ads of our competitors and frankly a lot of them make us sick!

First off, you see a lot of the “free” return offers. Sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s not!

And it’s not really anything special. You can go to and get the same “free” basic Federal tax return done for free. The difference here is that it is the old “bait and switch” where you are baited on the “free” product only to find out that there is an added cost.

The additional costs in these so-called “free” products add up quickly. For example the retail software products and nationwide tax chains charge extra to do State returns. These are included in your price quote from JFTS. If you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is what most early-season filers depend on to get a large refund, there is an extra cost. Again, this is included in your JFTS quote. Next thing you know “free” return has ballooned into a $400+ bill for just a basic return with a few additional credits claimed, like the couple in this video.

Where our marketing differs, is our free consultation is a product with value. To consult with a tax professional, especially a CPA, usually costs upwards of $150/hr. At JFTS we don’t believe in charging for advice, so we offer free consultations as a way to build trust with our potential clients so YOU can decide whether our services are right for you.

Now that we’ve discussed price, on to the other aspect of marketing that bothers us “no audit guarantees.” You see this in both the software products and nationwide companies, however, what’s the value in the guarantee when it only guarantees you from mistakes that THEY make? For software it protects you from calculations made by the software and not errors made when you input your data. These errors, despite all the “roadmaps” and “guidance” functions are easy to make, even for trained professionals. This is why our Tax Patriots are given extensive training every year on the professional grade software we use as it changes year by year. How many at-home tax preparers are provided training on how to use their software? NONE. Even worse, is most at-home preparers think that browsing the instruction manual or doing a quick Google search will yield the results they need, only to find out when they get audited that they did something wrong.

With the store-fronts, the audit guarantees are just as useless. At JFTS we make no such guarantees, we only guarantee that we will do our best to get your taxes done right the FIRST time and if you are audited then you have the information and guidance you need to protect yourself. The reality is that there are “red flag” audits where the IRS will choose a given subject, such as last year’s “red flag”, The First Time Homebuyer Credit. Then there are “selective” audits where the IRS will just choose random returns. For the selective audits it is usually a “marekt research” or “training” audit. With a “market research” audit they take a big business in a new industry and try to make an example of them. For a “training” audit, this is where auditors in training are given a list of returns and audit whoever they want so that they can get practice and experience.

The biggest protection against an audit is having a full consultation with a tax professional. With the store-front model they are given a standard interview format and in the heart of the tax season it is very easy to cut corners. The next thing you know you are being audited on an item that your preparer never interviewed you on, whether it was a credit/deduction due-diligence question or not asking the right questions to find out about all of your taxable income. Again, this is why the initial consultation from a JFTS Tax Patriot is essential and a “one-size fits one” approach is the ultimate value add in our services.

Bottom line: Don’t fall for “free” return preparation or “no-audit” guarantee offers!

Here at JFTS all we promise is to give you a professional level of service at a fair price and don’t believe in the false promises of “free” preparation or “no-audit” guarantees.

Your Deductions – What’s Missing?

After reading an article titled “10 Most Overlooked Tax Deductions” from Investopedia I felt it was my duty as a professional to make sense of this.

Despite all the tax services and software claiming maximum refunds and the most comprehensive review there are still many deductions that are overlooked. Even worse, there are improper deductions taken as a result of either preparer inexperience or user input error that lead to the worst possible scenario- an audit!

Keep in mind for the 2010 Tax Return practically all of these deductions are only available if you file a Schedule A for Itemized Deductions instead of taking the Standard Deduction for your chosen filing status. In addition, most of these deductions have thresholds, which means that they need to meet a certain percent of your Adjusted Gross Income(AGI) before they can be deductible.

So on to the 10 most overlooked deductions, which are:

1. Selling Your Home

While the profit from your home sale can be taxable, the expenses incurred can be deductible from real-estate brokers’ fees to closing costs. In addition, any real estate taxes paid during the year of sale are deductible on that year’s tax return.

2. New Car Sales Tax

For a new vehicle purchased up until Jan 1st 2010 there is still a possibility of deducting the sales tax in addition to any state or local taxes paid if the sales tax was paid any time in 2010.

If the vehicle was purchased after Jan 1st 2010 you might be able to deduct the sales tax in lieu of state and local taxes paid. Check with one of our Tax Patriots to make sure which deduction is more beneficial for you.

3. Car Registration Fees(based on the value of the vehicle)

In our home state of Arizona the annual registration of a vehicle is dependent on the price of the vehicle. The portion of this fee that is based on the price is what the IRS calls “Personal Property Tax” and can be deducted on Schedule A.

4. Non-Cash Charitable Contributions

We donate a lot to the local Goodwill. These donations can be deductible, but only if we have an appraisal of the items donated if the value is over $500. In addition to the value of items being donated, the actual appraisal fees can be deductible.

5. Miles Driven For Charity/Volunteer Events

The value of your time is not deductible. Any cash spent for volunteering purposes as well as transportation costs, however, can be deductible. Mileage, parking and tolls might be deductible as well as any public transportation costs incurred.

6. Laundry/Dry-Cleaning Costs for Business Trips

Most business travelers only keep receipts for the major items like air travel and hotel stays, however, staying dressed and pressed for your business meetings can also be a deductible expense. So keep those dry cleaning receipts, but remember, these are only for expenses that your employer does not cover or reimburse.

7. Shipping/Baggage Costs for Business Purposes

On top of laundry, if there are any documents you have to ship or if you have to pay those dreaded baggage fees, don’t worry, they can be deductible.

8. Business Phone/Internet Use During Business Trips

If you don’t have a smart phone or you are traveling abroad and need to pay extra to use a phone or internet connection these expenses can be deductible. If you hate paying $2/min for a local call and $5/min for long-distance, keep those receipts for tax time to get a break on your taxes.

9. Medical Insurance Premiums

Most employees have premiums taken out of their check before taxes are calculated. If this is not the case or you just pay your own then you might have a deduction. Medical expenses are the highest threshold at 7.5% of your AGI so you need to have a pretty sizable expense before you can deduct, but chances are with the cost of health insurance that you will benefit come tax time.

10. Medical Mileage/Transportation Costs

Not only are your surgeries, doctor visits and prescription costs potential deductions, but so too is your transportation for medical purposes. Keep a mileage log or receipts for any public transportation or air travel necessary for medical services performed within the US so you can write it off at tax time.

Bottom line, after looking at these items I know as a professional and most readers probably know that “if it seems deductible, chances are it is worth keeping the receipt”. Just keep in mind that there are thresholds and limits, thus it is essential to talk to a Tax Patriot to figure out how much of your 2010 expenses are deductible and how you can plan for tax year 2011 to get the best tax advantage for your common expenses.

Top 10 Tax Tips 2011 – All you need to be prepared!

Tax season 2011 is here and we are all awaiting those important documents in our mailbox any day now. Meanwhile, here are the Top 10 Tax Tips directly from the IRS to ensure a smooth and easy experience in getting your taxes done:

1.     Get Your Records Ready

Gather up all your records to support filing your taxes: receipts for expenses, donations, rentals, businesses, canceled checks and all other necessary paperwork you have to support deductions you could claim on your return.

2.     Watch for Your Income DocumentsBe on the lookout in the mailbox for your expected W-2s and 1099s(1099-MISC for contract labor and 1099-G for unemployment income). In addition, if you had any investments such as stocks, mutual funds or even an interest bearing savings account, look out for your 1099-DIV and 1099-INT. You need those in order to file your return.

3.     Schedule Your AppointmentContact one of our Tax Patriots and make an appointment ahead of time to avoid rushing and the crowds.

4.     Try E-FilingEvery return done by us is transmitted using the safe, secure, and fast new IRS E-File method which saves you the hassle and time and gets you your refund weeks faster than mailing it in. If you owe taxes, there are many payment options available to you. If you are getting a refund with E-File and Direct Deposit, you can get your refund in as little as 10 days.

5.     Consider All Your OptionsYou can try to prepare and file your own return. With all of today’s fast pace changes, going to a tax preparer is always a safer choice. Have one of our Tax Patriots analyze your situation and suggest the best outcome for you as well as help you plan ahead for the future.

6.     Go for Direct DepositDirect Deposit is a much faster and more secure way to get your money straight into your bank account. No paper checks, no standing in line, faster turn-around and rest easy! In addition, if you are strapped for cash you can elect to have your preparation fees debited from your refund.

7.     Visit the IRS Website OftenThe official IRS website is always the best resource for all the latest information and all the necessary tools to help you make this process easier. You can find anything you need there: forms, publications, instructions, frequently asked questions and lots of free advice.

8.     Read Up on Pub 17Publication 17 is the IRS comprehensive guide to help the taxpayers prepare well to file their returns.

9.     Always Double, Triple CheckReview all your information and return several times before filing it in the IRS system. Don’t rush into sending in incomplete information as that will only lengthen the process and delay your refund. Double-check everything until you’re confident enough to send it in. Most common errors are in Social Security Numbers and wrong math. Check those again.

10. Don’t PanicRemain calm throughout the preparation and filing process.  If you have any problems or questions you can always contact one of our Tax Patriots or the IRS directly or toll-free at 800-829-1040.