2018 Tax Refunds Have You Confused? Salvatore Candela Provides Clarity

Tax RefundsWe are cranking along with tax return preparation here at The TaxAdvocate Group, and there are some interesting things that you should know about from Tax Land (that wild, scintillating world that it is).

Look — it is our J-O-B to handle this junk so you don’t have to, which is why I make it a point to not be too tax-heavy in my notes to you. But this week, well, there’s just a few too many things to ignore.

Firstly, did you know the government “shut down” for a few hours Friday night? It was a function of the Congresspeople finally coming to a budget deal, and, well … it might mean some changes for YOU and many in Queens (and it might not).

Buried in the deal were a variety of tax credits that HAD been expired for 2017 taxes, but which were suddenly reinstated. If you want to get very, very wonky, you can see the full list right here (beginning at Section 40101) — but here are some high points:

  • above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses
  • mortgage insurance premiums treated as qualified residence interest
  • exclusion from gross income of discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness
  • credit for nonbusiness energy property
  • credit for residential energy property
  • credit for new qualified fuel cell motor vehicles
  • credit for alternative fuel vehicle refueling property
  • credit for 2-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles

Basically, Queens students, homeowners, and energy-savers got their breaks restored. If this affects you, we can amend your return if you would like to account for these breaks.

However, my suggestion is that we wait a bit to see how the IRS responds, because they don’t actually have full clarity about what they will be doing about them just yet. Shocking, I know.

But I don’t blame them, because this is pretty last-minute, even by Congressional standards.

Finally, I’m going to use my Note this week to clear up some confusion about tax refunds that have been the subject of a bunch of questions from Queens clients this year. Here’s what’s really happening…

2018 Tax Refunds Have You Confused? Salvatore Candela Provides Clarity
“The truth can be funny but it’s not funny to cover up the truth.” -Ryan Cooper

Fake news is something we’re used to handling around here at The TaxAdvocate Group — you know the drill: “My neighbor’s uncle has a friend who is an accountant and HE said that my support parakeet is 100% deductible — and can even be counted twice!”

Yes, well … isn’t that precious.

Aside from those kinds of silly examples, there is some definite confusion about certain tax refunds this tax filing season, and we’re here to clear it up for you. Enough confusion, that the IRS issued a release about it (which you can read right here). I’ll deal with a few of those points, as well as a few other questions that we’ve received right here:

Confusion #1: Refund Delays
No, not every refund is delayed. Yes, EITC and ACTC related returns (both are child tax credits) WILL have delayed refunds. For every other kind of return in which a refund is expected, the IRS says that refunds should go out within 21 business days of filing. More about that below.

But about those EITC and ACTC refunds — unless you got some sort of advance on your refund, those might even take a little longer than was promised. The IRS said they will begin processing those on February 15th, but those refunds won’t begin to hit bank accounts until 2/27 — and that’s for those who chose direct deposit, and for whom there are no other issues.

So, hang tight.

Confusion #2: Checking On Refund Status
Have you heard that if you order a tax transcript it will tell you when to expect your refund?

Or if you call the IRS help hotline or ask US to call on your behalf that you’ll get a definite refund delivery date?

Whoops, more fake news. These social-media touted refund inquiry workarounds won’t work.

The information on a tax transcript does not necessarily reflect the amount or timing of a refund.

And as for calling us about it, we have no additional ways to check your refund status, unfortunately.

And sure, you can call the IRS directly … but be prepared to wait on hold for a looong time, and to receive no further information.

The BEST place to check, always is “Where’s My Refund” on the IRS website, which is right here: https://www.irs.gov/refunds

Confusion #3: “Is The IRS Calling Me???”
Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Nope.

Full answer: The IRS does NOT initiate contact with taxpayers by phone, email, text messages or social media to request your personal, tax or financial information.

If you are contacted in one of these ways regarding your refund — either a caller saying you owe more or an email promising a bigger refund — the communication isn’t from the IRS, even if the caller or emailer says they are agents. They are crooks looking to assume your tax identity and take your money.

Alright then. Glad we’ve cleared all of that up.

And in all seriousness: remember that we are in your corner. We’re here to help, and love to serve our Queens clients, so whatever advice you need, we’re just an email or phone call away.

To your family’s financial and emotional peace …


Salvatore Candela
(718) 894-5954

The TaxAdvocate Group

5 Tips To Think More Clearly About Financial Decisions For Queens Taxpayers

Financial DecisionsDespite that title, it has, in fact, been a relatively smooth first week of tax filing here at The TaxAdvocate Group. Queens clients have been streaming through our doors, and we’ve been enjoying our little mini-reunion with so many longtime friends.

Now, there’s plenty to say about that Super Bowl, the advertisements (apparently, they’re all Tide ads), the halftime show, etc. But I’ll let others weigh in there. I’m a Queens tax professional after all.

But, given what happened with the stock market on Monday, I feel that I should make these quick financial points (which is closer to my area of expertise):

1) The Dow is not the economy. Good or bad.
2) Saving is almost always better than spending.
3) Fretting about the ups and downs of one market indicator will make you very tired. Don’t play that game.

Moving on, and somewhat relatedly, I posted a recent Note about retirement mistakes, and it stirred up some email responses, as well as conversation with clients in-person.

But it made me realize that in order to think clearly about retirement, taxes, or any kind of financial decision we need to be blunt with … ourselves.

That’s a difficult task, even for the best of us. But I have thoughts for you.

5 Tips To Think More Clearly About Financial Decisions For Queens Taxpayers
“Where you grew up has no bearing on where you decide you are going to be today.” – Dan Kennedy

Working with my Queens clients’ finances over the years has given me a bit of a crash course in human behavior. Often, I’m floored by the generosity I see displayed by many Queens clients — even those without significant means.

Other times … well, I think that we all could use the reminder that our human flaws show up very clearly in our family’s finances. The fact is that we ALL deceive ourselves, from time to time, about what’s really happening within our wallets.

This habit of self-deception threatens our financial stability. Instead of spending $10, we spend $30. Instead of recognizing that we *want* that new shirt, car, or fine dinner at a restaurant, we lie to ourselves until we are convinced that, for one reason or another, we *need* that new shirt, car, or fine dinner. The massive credit crunch a decade ago can partly be blamed on a nation full of people who convinced themselves that a $800,000 home was necessary — even though a $350,000 home was more than sufficient. We must learn to live within our income … and this sometimes means that we must stop lying.

So, I’ve compiled a short list of ideas on how to stop lying to ourselves, and to instead face the truth when making purchase decisions.

1. Have (and stick to) a budget. Is this purchase in my budget? For example, your family budgets a certain amount each month to spend on clothing. You’ve agreed that this amount is sufficient to meet your needs. So you set this amount before facing a purchase decision. If during the month you want to exceed the budget because Kohl’s is having a fantastic sale, then you are now lying to yourselves. You aren’t saving money by exceeding your budget during a sale. In fact, now you have to dip into savings to pay for your overspending.

2. Set a per-purchase spending limit. A wise man said, “The four most caring words for those we love are, ‘We can’t afford it.'” Take some time with your spouse to set what I call a “What I can spend without having to ask my spouse if it’s okay” spending limit. Some spouses have decided that neither one of them is allowed to spend more than $100 at any given time without calling and asking the other one if it’s okay (this does not apply to groceries). Let me tell you right now, these limits have stopped many from making a lot of unnecessary purchases.

3. Replace bad habits with enjoyable, inexpensive activities. Shopping or overspending is a habit that we have likely formed over years. Since our brains are programmed to react in a certain way in specific situations, any change is met by resistance. The existing habit is simply more comfortable and natural. To help change your behavior, replace the bad habit with another activity.

For example, instead of going to a Queens mall to pass time, go to a local park with a soccer ball and spend some time with family or friends. Start or re-start a hobby. Your new hobby might even be a low-cost home business in which you make money!

4. Make sure that the reason you tell yourself you are making the purchase and the *actual* reason you are making the purchase are the same. Ask yourself, “Why am I really making this purchase?” Am I buying this dress for my wife because I love her and want to show my appreciation, or am I trying to prove to her and the world that I am a good provider? We lie to ourselves to cover our true motives. If the real reason you are making a purchase isn’t in line with your principles and budget, then don’t buy it.

5. Take stock of, and enjoy, everything that you already have! Develop gratitude for what you already have in your life. Purchasing new things is often a sign of ingratitude for what life has already afforded us … or a sign that we feel deficient in some area.

Overcoming bad habits and addictions is a process that requires concerted effort. Face each day one at a time, and stop lying to yourself! Don’t believe the story you’ve created in your mind that justifies unnecessary and financially harmful purchases.

To your family’s financial and emotional peace …


Salvatore Candela
(718) 894-5954

The TaxAdvocate Group

Five Common Retirement Strategy Mistakes We’ve Seen in Queens

Retirement StrategyThe IRS just began receiving tax returns this week, and we are cranking and grooving along, finding all kinds of savings on behalf of our Queens clients … as well as chomping at the bit to help them on THIS year’s taxes.

Truly, the more I take a look at this tax reform bill, the more I see opportunities for legal, ethical “loopholes” that might make an enormous difference on taxes. Especially for business owners.

Which, by the way, means that if you have ever had a hankering to start your own Queens business, this is a GREAT year to do so — even if it’s just a side hustle.

More about all of that in future Notes.

Right now, we are focused like a laser beam on 2017 taxes, and making sure that our internal and external communication protocols are working as we envisioned them. And we’re excited about all of the new clients that we’ve already heard from (thank you for your continued referrals)!

I do hope you understand, because of the busyness of this season, that we make every effort to respond to your emails and phone calls as soon as humanly possible. But if our response time is slightly longer this time of year, please remember that we are working hard to serve a variety of Queens clients — none of whom are “more important” than any other — but all of whom deserve our utmost attention to detail.

Already, we’re wading through piles of financial statements and account details for our clients, and I had the idea to write a short missive to you about retirement strategy. Perhaps it’s only because it pulls me out of the world of Schedule A’s and IRS forms, but more importantly it’s because I wanted to encourage you to have a clear strategy in place when it comes to saving for your sunset years.

Specifically, I’d like to see you avoid some mistakes I’ve seen a few clients make over the years. Most of which can be fixed with a good retirement strategy, but all of which are much easier to handle when you can see them coming in advance.

#TheMoreYouKnow …

Five Common Retirement Strategy Mistakes We’ve Seen in Queens
“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” -Albert Einstein

One or two mistakes in handling your retirement money could mean paying a stiff penalty as you grow older. I’d genuinely like to see you avoid these — some of them merely mental, and some of them with more significant consequences.

Are you making any of them?

1. Obsessing about market losses. 
Focus on your long-term needs, not the daily ups and downs of the Dow Jones Average (or the, ahem, Bitcoin prices). Catastrophic events and long-term health care needs can cause as much damage to your nest egg as a shaky market.

2. Forgetting about inflation and taxes. 
Your retirement savings may be a lot smaller than you think when you start factoring in the rate of inflation and the taxes you’ll have to pay when you start drawing out of it. We can help you with those calculations, and they should absolutely be understood.

3. Not saving in the last years before retirement. 
Just because you’ve got just a handful of years left before you retire doesn’t mean you should go ahead and buy that new Lexus. Some people in Queens are able to build up substantial savings in their last five years of work because they get serious about saving and investing.

4. Believing you can withdraw more than you really can. 
If you rely on “average” annual returns on your investments to determine just how much you can withdraw, you could be drawing down your retirement fund faster than you should. Average returns are seldom steady. A safe rule of thumb: Count on a 3 percent rate of withdrawal.

5. Not planning for a long life. 
Despite the dramatic rise in life expectancy in recent decades, many people still underestimate how long they’ll live. If you’re not thinking about longevity, you could tap out your savings much faster than you should. Look at the figures and add in at least a few extra years as you make your plans.

And lastly, remember this: We’re in your corner, no matter what mistakes you might make.

To your family’s financial and emotional peace…


Salvatore Candela
(718) 894-5954

The TaxAdvocate Group

Are DIY Taxes Truly Free For Queens TaxPayers?

DIY TaxesIf you watched any football over the weekend, you probably saw this year’s version of the popular tax software maker* touting “free taxes” or some such. Not only was the commercial fairly disturbing (it involves impalement of a person played as a joke), but the underlying message also leaves a little to be desired.

*Name of said software maker withheld for reasons of mercy and not piling on.

The tagline is: at least your taxes are free.

Yes, my writing this week’s Note could easily be seen as self-serving, but that doesn’t keep it from being true. Free doesn’t always mean “free”.

Falling prey to the siren song of “free DIY taxes” is not a good reason to use a particular tax solution. Firstly, we should note that the commercial refers to the filing fees — not the price of the software. How do you think they can afford fancy (albeit disturbing) commercials?

But there are other issues with using these kinds of softwares.

Do you remember when even the former Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, testified about tax irregularities in his own personal returns? Do you remember what DIDN’T help him find those irregularities?

Tax Software. (Link to a brief clip of his testimony before the Senate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKVxGlkPRlo#t=130)

And he’s not alone. But there’s a good way to fix that problem…

… and a BIG incentive to do so, by the way, at the end of my Note.

Are DIY Taxes Truly Free For Queens TaxPayers?
“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” -Will Rogers

Did you know that we accountants like to joke to one another about how good these online software programs are for our business? Firstly, they are not as “easy to use” as claimed, and secondly … they cost you an arm and a leg.

You might think they’re cheap. And on the surface, you might be right (though, in the last few years, a $1 Billion class action lawsuit was filed in the federal court in Philadelphia alleging gross misstatement of fees and deceptive standards of the federal “FreeFile” program … so even on the surface, it wasn’t always cheap).

But I’m not referring to the money for the service itself.

Using those programs can end up leaving hundreds, or even thousands of your dollars in the coffers of Uncle Sam … even if you follow all of their instructions to a tee. I see it all the time — frustrated Queens clients bringing in their prior year’s tax return, astonished at all the “hidden money” my staff and I are able to find for them.

Even worse…

Choosing the wrong method, or forms, in filing your taxes can place you directly in the crosshairs for an audit.

Even if you don’t owe a ton of back taxes, you still don’t want your record to show some IRS agent that there has been a discrepancy of some kind in the past, so that red flags begin to fly, and then more bureaucratic people start looking through all of your past tax filings and current income holdings … basically taking your social security number, and poking around in your private life.

They can do a lot of things you won’t want them to do. However, if you keep a clean slate (no IRS correspondence with you, related to filing your taxes incorrectly), the opportunities for them to mess with your personal stuff will be limited.

Here’s another reason why this is so important … now more than ever. New government regulations in 2018, delays in Congressional action (SHUTDOWNS), and issues with adjusting to the tax reform bill are creating a mess in the tax industry… you don’t want to be left at the mercy of a piece of software, or a poorly-trained temp in a corporate tax prep “store”.

Yes, it can be seductive to “go it alone” … to trust a piece of software to point out possible deductions. To trust your work to poorly-trained preparers in a big box office. To protect against your chances of audits through online chat room support or hourly employees.

But it can be a big trap.

Just ask the former Treasury Secretary.

So, let’s get your financial paperwork in the hands of someone who cares.

To your family’s financial and emotional peace…


Salvatore Candela
(718) 894-5954

The TaxAdvocate Group

Common Sense Taxpayer Information Security for The TaxAdvocate Group Clients

Information SecurityWe’re gearing up for tax season around here, already beginning to help certain Queens clients get their returns ready for filing (yes, this early) when the IRS begins allowing receipt of electronically-filed returns on the 29th of this month.

And while we have been doing so, we have heard some things I wanted to tell you about …

You see, there is a lot of buzz flying around the tax professional community in recent days about a series of criminals who are posing as potential clients for unsuspecting tax firms around the country, trying to gain access to the data within a tax firm’s files. The fraudsters reach out, “looking for tax help”, and eventually sucker in the overly-hungry (and under-cautious) tax pro into clicking on a link or opening a document purporting to be their tax data.

Fortunately for us (and for you), we’ve already set procedures in to place that would make it very difficult for something like that to get through. We gladly will take on new Queens clients and referrals, but we have security protocols for handling our Queens clients’ data for a reason!

But that’s not the problem that concerns you…

You see, there are some other stories going around tax industry circles that would definitely interest you, if you heard them.

What am I referring to?

The horror stories for regular Queens taxpayers whose identity DOES get taken by a fraudster, whether or not the source is from an unsuspecting (other) tax professional. I’ll spare you the harrowing details, but suffice to say that the IRS has not (yet) proven itself very “nimble” in dealing with taxpayers whose data gets compromised by fraud.

And I’d say that’s putting it very generously.

In short, you do not want to get caught on the bad end of taxpayer fraud (i.e., when someone steals your data to file a false return and fraudulently obtain refund dollars from the IRS).

One of the best ways you can prevent this from happening is to file your returns with us as soon as humanly possible in the season.

But there are other smart ways you can protect yourself, and that’s the subject for today’s Note…

Common Sense Taxpayer Information Security for The TaxAdvocate Group Clients
“We all yearn for what we have lost. But sometimes, we forget what we have.” -Mitch Albom

We’re all seeing the cultural consequences for when people seem to lose their sense of decorum and decency when handling themselves online.

But the other side of the problem is that people also seem to lose their common sense about their own extremely sensitive financial data.

My first point today is this: use your common sense. If your gut is telling you something seems fishy, then it likely is phishy. Don’t take the bait!

With that as a base point, here are some other simple security precautions I’d like to see each of our Queens clients take (even those who aren’t “tech savvy”) …

1) As I already mentioned, the best place to start is to file early to lessen the window of opportunity for a criminal to file first. Even if you’re not good with a computer, you can do that.

2) If, for some odd reason, you do NOT choose to use our services this year, I urge you: thoroughly research any paid preparer or tax-preparation software. Scammers love to set up fake websites and software downloads solely designed to trick consumers into providing their personal information. If you haven’t already heard of it, don’t use it. And also: ask potential Queens tax preparers to explain how they file and what steps they take to protect customer information. Information security must be at the top of your checklist over the next few months.

3) Do not use public Wi-Fi to send us your sensitive data. There are many good reasons for this, but the takeaway for our purposes here: wait until you are on a secure network to send us your data.

4) Do NOT respond to any emails or text messages from anyone who says they’re with the IRS, as the organization typically makes first contact with individuals via phone or traditional mailed correspondence. No IRS representative ever will ask for immediate payment via phone. Let us handle your correspondence with the fine folks at the IRS on your behalf!

5) Residents of Florida, Georgia or the District of Columbia can choose to get an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN), which is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers that helps prevent the misuse of their Social Security number on fraudulent federal income tax returns. Eventually, they should be expanding this program for other states, but if you happen to have tax interests there, it’s a good idea to take advantage.

If the worst happens, and crooks do manage to steal your tax identity, we are here to help. But it’s also a good idea to check your credit report for any additional fraudulent activity. You can get copies of your credit reports directly from each of the three major credit bureaus: ExperianTransUnion and Equifax.

The IRS also wants to know about any and all tax scam attempts, so it can get the word out early and prevent or limit any potential damage. Send a copy of any phishing email to the tax agency at phishing@irs.gov.

We’re here to help. Let me know if you have any questions.


Salvatore Candela
(718) 894-5954

The TaxAdvocate Group

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