Andre Sugars’ Three Simple Steps For Better Information Security Management

Andre Sugars’ Three Simple Steps For Better Information Security Management

Unless you're a Patriots fan, the Super Bowl sure was a snoozefest, eh? The snarky tweets were in full force, and there were many sad bettors who might want to check this out (unless, of course, they just want to let us handle it for them, which is always wise).

Even the commercials weren't very good. (I did like the Audi one, though.)

But all that aside, we're diving in STRONG with tax returns. I know it's early … but it pays (literally) to have us handle your return earlier rather than later.

(And though some of our South bay clients will be taking the standard deduction on their federal taxes for the first time, unfortunately many states do NOT offer such a generous deduction, and so itemization could still pay off significantly on your state taxes. Some states require that you choose one method for both federal and state, but it varies state by state. Either way, it's good to have a pro in your corner.)

In addition to tax saving strategies, one of our great efforts that we make on behalf of our South bay clients is in the area of financial security. Because the allure of "free" can be quite strong … whether it's "free tax preparation" (run away), to free food and free mobile apps.

Well, just because it doesn't cost money, doesn't actually mean it's free…

Andre Sugars' Three Simple Steps For Better Information Security Management

"Privacy isn't negotiable. It's the right of every American." – Jackie Speier

Today we are focusing on something unique from person to person: information security management as it relates to everyday technology.

In December 2018, The New York Times released a lengthy investigation which revealed an unnerving truth. Their findings center around mobile app companies who take "anonymous" information and use it to track individual data and whereabouts.

Have you ever knowingly or unknowingly agreed to let a company use the location services on your phone, never thinking about the ramifications? After all, society typically views apps as a way to "enhance" our lives in small ways (albeit to a fault … most apps distract us more than we'd like to admit).

There's a lot to unpack here, and two groups of people you could argue are in the right: producers who utilize cell phone records to grow their businesses, and consumers who are protective of their personal information.

But instead of diving into the ethical-conundrum such an investigation presents (it's a messy one), I want to give you a few tips to safeguard your technology use, and ways you can further protect your data.

1. Decide What's Permissible

The first thing you should do is check which apps are enabled to know your phone's location (often found in the "Settings" section of your phone).

In May 2018, the European Union's revolutionary General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) began enforcing stricter, more detailed requirements from companies who ask for your personal information. Those laws have not taken effect in the United States quite yet, but you better believe U.S.-based companies with large web presences started upping their privacy game after the GDPR went live.

However, if any or many of the apps you have on your phone ask for location services to aid the functionality of that app's ultimate aim or intent — maps, restaurants, shopping, weather etc. — you should determine how useful that feature has been for you in the past. If your location is something you don't find completely necessary, then turn it off to prevent that information being tracked (some apps, if given permission, will track even if the app is turned off).

2. "Who am I? 24601"

In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean's name was literally reduced to a number.

And for a lot of businesses, you truly are just a number to them. However, this should actually alleviate your current worries. Many companies that do enable tracking through their apps on your phone store information under ID numbers … not your actual name.

Unlike the GDPR, which empowers EU citizens to ask companies for and acquire data which relates to their activity, U.S. companies are not obligated to deal out such information. Rest assured, it's difficult for many companies to find your personal information filed under just another ID number. In short, they care more about the data than the person behind the data.

But if you would like to see the data stored about you, a site like mydatarequest.com will walk you through some simple steps to help download data from various companies.

3. Put the "Old School" Back in iOS

Remember the old days when there were only a few apps for your phone and most of them were mind-numbing games or various flashlights? Neither do we.

But now, with a plethora of options in any category of life, it's easy to become inundated with apps you don't need and seldom use. Look at this fresh new year as a chance to clean house and minimize the amount of companies who have access to your data.

And if you really want to go archaic, there is always the dumb-phone option. It may seem extreme, but if your profession does not require that you have a smartphone, resorting to a less high-tech mobile option might be your best bet in privatizing your information.

For many, findings from the Times' investigation were not shocking, but for others it can serve as a wake-up call. I hope these suggestions acted as something similar for you, as I care about your personal and financial information being protected.

You're definitely more than a number in my book. 🙂

Warmly,

 

Andre Sugars

(310) 327-1985

Champion Tax Service

 

The Trump Shutdown Is Over And Tax Filing Season Has Begun For South bay Taxpayers

The Trump Shutdown Is Over And Tax Filing Season Has Begun For South bay Taxpayers

Politics aside, I think we can all breathe just a little easier knowing that the federal government is no longer in shutdown mode.

And on top of that, this morning, as I write, the IRS has begun accepting filed tax returns. Which means, well … it's about to get real.

Now, leaving aside the fact that the IRS will probably be dealing with the ramifications of the Trump shutdown for quite some time, we are all going to be busy around here at Team Champion Tax Service.

Which is why I wrote last week about the importance of filing early. Not procrastinating. Not putting this thing off…

Getting after it. Now.

I have a favor to ask of you for the week ahead, in my note below, but before I get to it, a word:

I want you to play the tape forward: it's the day before tax day, April 14th, and other South bay taxpayers around you are scrambling. My phone will be going wild of course, and my email inbox will overheat … but I'll take pleasure knowing you're enjoying the space that our services provide for you — sipping on something delicious and enjoying the turn of Spring.

How good will it feel to know you took care of business a month or two before? (Keep me in your thoughts when that time comes.)

This is why we're here! To help you process tax season. Shutdown or not.

Every year, tax season brings us dozens of gifts in the form of great individuals like you. We get to use skills that we're passionate about to help you handle something you … might not be passionate about.

And that's exactly as it should be. We understand you have unique gifts and passions yourself, and need to be active in your community and business, doing things that drive you. That's why we love what we do: we get to free you up to be your best self.

Often, our South bay clients acknowledge the mutual benefit that comes from such a relationship, and year after year that verbal affirmation keeps us going, so we encourage you to keep it coming. If we've helped you in the past, thank you for your generous feedback! It really means the world to us.

In addition, we can't express enough how grateful we are for your trust in us. We don't take that lightly.

Now, to help earn the trust of others as we grow our client base, we have one request of you…

Well, perhaps two.

If you have filed your taxes with us before, would you:

A) Write about how our team has helped you in the past? You can find us on Google, and we'd love to have your feedback!

https://goo.gl/maps/2Lg6XKFk5vs

If you haven't filed your taxes with us before…

Find us on that platform to read about client experiences in the past. The proof is in the internet-review-pudding. We'd love for you to be next in line.

https://goo.gl/maps/2Lg6XKFk5vs

(And if for some reason you weren't satisfied with our service, please write me back personally. I will do everything within my power to make it right, and will make it a priority, even this week.)

B) Would you forward this note to anyone you think would benefit from help with their taxes? Especially if it's someone you think would prefer to file with a personable touch.

You can let him or her know we are willing to review their tax return to make sure that everything was done right for them. They can call us anytime at (310) 327-1985 and mention you referred them. We're excited to hear from some of your friends and family!

So again…

Fast forward to a month or two from now, when you can relax, knowing that TODAY you took the steps toward financial responsibility for the good of you or your family, that you saved a bunch of money on your taxes, and (perhaps even better) that you didn't have to deal with the dirty tax details. At the end of the day … that's our job.

Lucky for you, we happen to love it. 🙂

With a grateful heart…

Warmly,

 

Andre Sugars

(310) 327-1985

Champion Tax Service

 

Four Reasons Why South bay Taxpayers Should File Taxes Early

Four Reasons Why South bay Taxpayers Should File Taxes Early

As of this writing, the federal government is STILL in its partial shutdown.

And 800,000+ people are affected — including a whole slew of IRS workers who have been called in, regardless of paychecks, because come Trump or high water: tax filing will indeed begin on January 28th, 2019.

So, we’re still buckling up around here, and meeting with South bay clients to get things lined up with as many legal, ethical deductions as possible so that YOU pay only what you should … and not a penny more.

And at least some of those IRS employees were responsible for the (very welcomed) announcement that the IRS will, in most cases, waive the tax underpayment penalty for any taxpayer who paid at least 85 percent of their total 2018 tax liability during the tax year. The normal threshold is 90%, so this might be a relief to some.

And it means that all of the ballyhoo (which we joined) that warned people to make sure their withholding was set up properly gets a little less loud.

But all of that said, it is still extremely wise to get your tax paperwork together as soon as humanly possible, well … because of four big reasons.

Three Reasons Why South bay Taxpayers Should File Taxes Early

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” – Abraham Lincoln

If you ever procrastinated in high school or college (is that even a question?), then you know the ramifications: sloppy work, late penalties and reduced grades/knowledge.

Why was it always “easier” to wait until the night before on certain projects, when you had so many days before to work and prepare?

In an age of distraction, it’s natural to occupy your time with meaningless tasks and time-wasting activities … and today we want to look at why you should make time to file taxes early this year.

Quicker refund? I.R.Yes.

As I mentioned above, tax filing officially begins on Monday, January 28th. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t start our prep work even before that date.

In fact, it might be obvious, but you WILL receive your tax refund (if you qualify for one) faster, the earlier you decide to file. So although the deadline to file your taxes is April 15, 2019, start making plans now to send in your paperwork.

And as always, we will guide you through the tax filing process — we are on top of every detail that will get you your refund as soon as possible.

Avoid unnecessary penalties

We love helping South bay people like you take care of business, so that you don’t receive penalties or unwanted interest rates for missing a deadline.

Unfortunately, those who file their taxes after the deadline receive penalties simply for being lazy and disorganized more than anything.

If you typically wait until April to act, and have gotten away with cutting it close until now, let us help you get into the habit of filing early so you can rest easy come springtime.

Let us be your laziness remedy.

The biggest reason: Avoid the risk of fraud

Your information online is at an ever-increasing risk of theft (a great reason to regularly change your passwords and make them at least somewhat intricate … come on, people). And if someone somehow gets a hold of your Social Security number, they wouldn’t be far from acquiring all the info necessary to file a tax return under your name illegally.

The sooner YOUR returns are filed means the less risk for someone to hack your information, and take YOUR money. Identity theft is the last thing we want to see happen to you, but if it does happen please contact us immediately and we will walk you through the next steps.

This is a time of year that it’s worth checking your credit report for any fraudulent activity from any of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

And as I always tell you: 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 through phone or traditional mailed correspondence. No IRS representative will ask for immediate payment via phone call. Let us handle your correspondence with the IRS on your behalf.

So in the spirit of the new year and making changes to better your future, let us help you set a new yearly trend: turning in your homework early so you don’t get bad grades.

If you have any questions please feel free to shoot me back an email through the email us button at the top of the page.

 

Warmly,

 

Andre Sugars

(310) 327-1985

Champion Tax Service

 

Understanding Your South bay Airbnb And Taxes

As of this writing, the federal government is still in a "partial shutdown", and things are starting to fray around the edges, even for those whose paychecks aren't being affected. Already, it's the longest in history.

Which, for a media starving for any kind of controversy … well, no doubt you've already heard about it.

Who knows … by the time you get this, things could be back to "normal" (is that word even operative these days?), but here's one thing that won't stop during this shutdown, however long it lasts: your taxes.

That's right, the IRS confirmed last week that they will remain operational during the shutdown, your taxes will STILL be due this year (including your estimated ones, if that applies to you), and the official start of tax filing begins on January 28th. But refunds might yet be affected. We'll keep you posted.

All this shutdown business aside, but while we're still on the subject of taxes, I have been meaning to write on this topic for some time now, as more and more of our South bay clients are affected by it.

I'm talking about Airbnb, VRBO and the like. Because if you're not careful, you could be creating for yourself a tax and financial headache.

Understanding Your South bay Airbnb And Taxes

"Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny space you occupy in the world." -Gustav Flaubert

Have you ever wondered why vacation rental home services like Airbnb or VRBO are so popular? It's not because of refrigerators stocked with free food. Trust me … I check (every time). Not surprisingly, the reason for their surge in popularity is demand.

There are many reasons why that's the case, too many to go into here. Needless to say, the model works.

And one of the reasons it works is because it works for the hosts.

So, let's take a look at a few things you need to consider before you start making side income through renting out your home…

14: The Goldilocks Number

13 is too few, 15 is too many … but 14 days is just right, and here's why:

If you rent out a dwelling unit (a residence you live at longer than 14 days/year or at least 10% of the days you rent it to others at a fair rental price) through an online service, and the amount of days rented out equals 14 or less, you don't have to report any of the rental income (but nor can you deduct expenses as rental expenses). This same 14-day rule applies the same if you only rent out one room of your dwelling unit. Not paying tax on a couple weeks worth of vacation rental income is a sweet deal, all while putting a roof over someone's head.

The 14-day-and-under rule is a great option if the area where you live hosts a major event or two throughout the year that brings in the masses. But if hosting an increased amount of visitors (for an increased amount of income … and taxes) doesn't phase you, then book away to 15 days and beyond.

If the IRS comes knocking at your door because you didn't include the income on your return, all you'll need to do is prove the income was within the 14-day rule. You're all set.

Record Everything … In Detail

If you have never started a business, but like the thought of doing so one day … running a short-term vacation rental can be your training wheels. Keeping detailed notes and records of the days you rent out the space is an important aspect of this decision (tracking whether you remain under, or exceed the 14-day rule).

If you do end up taking the plunge to rent out your South bay home beyond that 14-day period, then, you have the opportunity to deduct ordinary and necessary expenses. Towels, toiletries, ten-dollar bottles of wine to greet your guests upon arrival: all can be deducted from your rental income.

The more detailed you are at keeping records for this "bed and breakfast" business, the less you need to worry about scrounging up proof for the IRS.

Important to Note: If you don't fill out a W-9 form that most vacation rental sites require at the beginning of operation, you are subject to lose 28% of your rental income.

Go the Extra Mile

Vacation rental services charge a service fee to their paying customers — you might have noticed this at checkout if you've ever booked online. When companies like Airbnb send hosts (potentially you!) their 1099 form which includes the amount of service fees accrued in addition to rental income for the year, hosts have the opportunity to deduct the host service fees if they rented out their space more than 14 days during the year.

And while you are in the business of serving others by opening your space, we encourage you to be the hostess with the mostest and offer amenities like breakfast and toiletries. Why? Because it's nice. ALSO, because the IRS might treat you as self-employed if you do.

Self-employment means paying self-employment taxes in addition to income tax. But there are a host of other benefits to be had from having your own "business", with other tax implications, etc. But that is an article for another day. 🙂

Lastly, in your quest to make a little extra income this year and serve travelers from all over, let us remind you that life is more than earning 5-star reviews … it's mostly about walking into a room with hot coffee provided. We trust you'll make that happen. 🙂

I hope this helps. There are additional tax rules to be aware of, and we can help you apply the available deductions in the most tax-advantageous way possible.

 

Warmly,

 

Andre Sugars

(310) 327-1985

Champion Tax Service

 

I’d Like to Talk About Your Business…

I’d Like to Talk About Your Business…

Andre Sugars here, your tax and accounting professional. I know that we haven’t posted much before, but starting this week I’m hoping that you and I can have a conversation about your business.

You and I both see the headlines. Questionable government decisions, taxes sure to rise in the next few years (whether or not it will really help the economy) your clients and customers are feeling a new pinch, and, well… overall the deck is stacked against small businesses like yours and mine. Right there in your neighborhood, I know that businesses could use a “shot in the arm”.

Not Just “Tax Tips”…

As I look over business tax returns and the books of our clients and associates, I often find ways to help the bottom line with little-known tax savings, etc.

But I also see that if I could help “fix” sales, marketing, management and leadership problems for my clients it would go a long way to help. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I’ll pass along what I’ve seen work for me, and for other clients like you.

And, I’ll be frank…if I can help your business THRIVE during these economic times with my advice, it helps MY business. I like keeping my clients doing well, because it means that our services will be paid for! And as our clients grow their businesses, their need for our services also grows. It’s a true “win, win.”

But the problem is that there’s a lot of confusion out there about how to grow your business right-with cost-effective, powerful strategies which cut through the clutter and create sales. There’s a ton of so-called “experts” out there, and they often give conflicting advice.

I know your business. Because we deal with clients like you all the time, I’ve got a leg up on all those “gurus”, since I’m right there in the trenches with you.

So starting this week, we’ll be sending you notes and tips on a weekly basis-offering “Real World” Business Strategy (which you can use) and guidance for increasing sales, improving leadership, and all-around business growth and development. And I hope you’ll forgive me if I lay aside “accountant-jargon” and give it to you straight!

Here we go…

Andre Sugars’s

“Real World” Business Strategy

First Steps in This Economy / Getting To Know You

In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss both general concepts and specific strategies…but now, in this first week, here’s a good start (plus a question for you):

The fastest way to fix financial problems in your business is to fix the sales problem. Yes, I know-everybody’s business is “different”, but I’ve seen it across almost every business category: Make more sales and a host of problems disappear.

(Now for some of you, I know that your increasing marginal costs are making your sales less powerful, but we’ll address that in the future.)

So how do you do that? Well, there’s obviously a bunch of good answers to that question-but for a quick surge there’s three lists to get ahold of right now.

1) Existing Clients

2) “Lost” Clients

3) Targeted Prospects

The first one might be obvious, but I’m continually amazed at how many businesses don’t maintain good records of their current customers. These are the easiest folks to sell to again. They’ve already indicated interest in your business, and have demonstrated it with their wallet. Go back to them this week with a promotion just for them, and the results will be better than any other list.

“But what if I don’t have a list?”

Good question, and if that’s the case: start one now. Whether it’s by giving an incentive at the point-of-sale or client meeting to have them provide you their details, or if it just means hiring a high school kid to compile all the data for you-this list is your most important asset in your business.

I’ll address the other two groups in the weeks ahead, as well as creative strategies for going after your existing customers, but I’ll leave you with this request:

Help Us Help Your Business!

Would you take a moment to drop us a line with one of the following?

A) Let us know what kind of service you’d like to see us provide for you and your business in the future, which we are not currently providing you.

Or

B) Would you write me a quick note about how well we’ve already served you? Businesses like yours are looking for a good tax professional-and we’ve found that what business owners really want to know is what others say about us, not what we say about ourselves. Your note would really help!

We’ll be back again next week!

Andre Sugars

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