Andre Sugars’ Three Big Tax Scams And How To Beware

Andre Sugars’ Three Big Tax Scams And How To Beware

Now we're cooking with gas.

After weeks of reports that refunds were down, last week's data from the IRS shows a new trend. Although overall quantity of refunds are down, now the average refund is up 1.9%. After so many headlines to the contrary, I suppose that qualifies as good, national tax news.

But here is the thing to remember about tax refunds:

That is YOUR money that you're "getting back".

Think of it like this: you go to a shop and buy something for $5. You hand the cashier a $10 bill. The cashier hands you back a $5 bill as change. Did you just get more money? Of course not; you paid more than the bill, so you got YOUR money back.

With taxes, many South bay people are doing this throughout the year, only backwards. You're paying the "cashier" (er, the IRS) all year long in withholding and estimated payments, and then you hope you've paid enough to cover the tab. If, at the end of the year, you had paid $10 for the $5 product, your $5 change is your refund.

Imagine this scenario now — you have a friend who buys the exact same product for the same price and, after all the payments all year long, he paid the cashier $100. WOW, he gets a $95 refund! That's way more than your $5. But did your friend "do better" than you did? Did he work the system to his advantage? Of course not. Quite the contrary.

A relentless focus on helping our South bay clients KEEP more of their money in their accounts is what drives our work. Yes, we believe that government needs funding, and yes, taxes are how that happens.

But our mission is that our clients would never fall victim to the confusion inherent within our tax system simply because they didn't know any better.

It's a great mission, and it drives our hearts and minds during this season. And we are grateful that you let us do it for YOU.

Now, speaking of falling victim…

Andre Sugars' Three Big Tax Scams And How To Beware

"Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy, of dishonesty." – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Around this time of year, scammers and fraudsters come out of the walls to take advantage of unsuspecting taxpayers.

Lest you think, "That would never happen to me," I want to provide you with some tax scams to look out for. It helps to know how scammers strike, and the more you know, the more friends you could help in the future.

Here are a few of the "usual suspects", and how they'll attempt to access your information and put a damper on your entire financial world.

1. Something's Phishy

Here is where they try to steal your info. Phishing is defined as "the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information".

If you receive an email saying it's from the IRS, DO NOT click that email. The IRS will never initiate contact about a bill or refund via email.

Similarly, if you receive a phone call "from the IRS", I want you to hang up the phone. If the IRS needs to communicate with you, they will first do so through postal mail.

2. Bad Tax Pros, Bad Charities

Unfortunately, some South bay tax professionals enter the business with the sole purpose of illegal dealings down the road. They want your information for their own financial gain, and it's important you do your research before working with them.

Do a thorough online search, read reviews, and ask them if they have referrals you could talk to about their services. (Speaking of which, a review from YOU on Google or other social platforms would always be nice!)

In addition, similar scammers exist in the (fake) charity world. They claim your donations are tax-free, only to solicit money from you with no real purpose behind their organization. Again, these days you can do a lot of online research on your own. But if you have any checks in your system, and don't have friends or family who would recommend the charity, it's probably best to stay away.

3. False Claims

First, please do not have anyone prepare your taxes who asks you to sign a blank return or charges fees based on a percentage of your refund. If they do, that's a big red flag.

Second, scammers often try to get taxpayers to falsely claim income so they can qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. This is best avoided with honesty, and not falsifying anything on your return that would affect the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit.

With honesty as your backbone, here's the summary of freedom from fraudulent activity:

  1. Have Your Guard Up: If anyone contacts you from the IRS, be wary of what they are trying to sell you. Always be skeptical.
  2. Triple-Check Your Sources: The internet is a vast, scary place (where most scammers reside), but there are also great resources (keyword searching through Google etc.) to utilize and find out if the organizations you're working with are frauds or the real deal.
  3. You Guessed It: Please feel free to reach out to us! Not only do we want to help you navigate tax season (all year round), we want to keep you far away from saboteurs. In that sense, view us like Tax Ghostbusters.

We exist to come alongside you and serve…

Warmly,

 

Andre Sugars

(310) 327-1985

Champion Tax Service

 

IRS Form 4852: Champion Tax Service Explains the Substitute for the W-2

IRS Form 4852: Champion Tax Service Explains the Substitute for the W-2

 

Word on the tax professional "street" is that tax filing numbers are down across the board so far. That is from data released by software providers (though this year, of all years, I simply don't understand why somebody would use software), as well as overall numbers from the IRS, AND those who are using a professional.

It seems that many South bay taxpayers are a little skittish about all of these changes.

And with further news rolling around the newsfeeds that some are seeing lower refunds than they might have expected, well … it seems that this tax season has been a little rocky for the industry.

But that being the case on a broad level, we at Team Champion Tax Service are in the midst of one of the best tax seasons we've ever experienced. From a bunch of wonderful new South bay clients, to the gratification we've experienced from helping long standing clients keep MORE than they thought was possible … well, suffice to say that we love what we get to do.

So thank you for your referrals, and for continuing to trust us as you have been. And if you haven't gotten started on it yet … well, having a pro in your corner can make a big difference. So take advantage! Shoot us an email or give us a call: (310) 327-1985. We'll walk you through whatever you need.

And speaking of what you might need, we've received a couple of questions about what happens if you haven't received a W-2 yet. So I thought I'd take a moment to answer that for you…

IRS Form 4852: Champion Tax Service Explains the Substitute for the W-2

"Sometimes, disaster can inspire ingenuity." – Michael Arden

If you work, or have worked, for somebody else, you know a W-2 form is essential when filing your taxes. Without it, you're stepping into the batter's box without a bat.

This particular service form summarizes your annual income, benefits and taxes.

But if you have yet to receive your W-2 from a current or past employer, I want you to first contact them and ask why the delay. If you receive little response, or an unhelpful one, please consider these three important steps. You might need to implement one or all three of them in an effort to obtain the document and get on with your filing.

If none of these three options work, please reach out to me immediately. We can discuss the next best steps you can take moving forward.

Reach out to the IRS

The good part is that the IRS has made an effort to streamline their customer service questions through a toll-free number: (800) 829-1040. Calling this number is your first step toward receiving a substitute W-2 which you'll need ASAP.

The bad part in dialing this number is the automated process it will walk you through (and the potentially long wait time). But if it's a matter of receiving such an important document, enduring the process is a solid option. In addition, before you call, make sure you have these documents/details on hand:

– SSN

– Employer's name, address and phone

– Dates you had or have been employed

– Estimate of wages you earned from the previous year

We can help you with this.

Fill One of These Out Instead

If you're low on patience with the IRS, and your employer has yet to deliver your W-2, there are a couple more forms you could fill out.

Form 4852 is a "create your own" W-2 form, and you can use some of the information you prepared for the IRS, and therefore have on hand, to fill it out.

If the thought of creating a substitute W-2 makes you wary, you could request a filing extension using Form 4868, which will give you an extra six months to file your taxes. And if an extra six months is not enough to receive a W-2 from your boss, then you might have other issues to resolve in addition to filing taxes on time.

We can also help you with this.

Correct Any Mistakes

Sometimes, after completing the custom W-2 using Form 4852, taxpayers will send that form into the IRS, only to receive their actual W-2 days later. Use the real W-2 to double-check the information you wrote down on your 4852.

And if, for instance, you forgot to mark down a bonus you had received (in addition to your income from the year before), I don't want you to panic.

Form 1040X isn't as intimidating as it sounds. It will help you record the changes necessary to your W-2, which the IRS will fix after you mail it in.

Again, if you complete these steps or have further questions, please give me a call. Trying to file your taxes without a W-2 is not a happy feeling … but you're not alone.

I commend any effort you take to resolve this issue on your own, but don't hesitate to reach out for help. Talking with people like you is why I love my job.

Warmly,

 

Andre Sugars

(310) 327-1985

Champion Tax Service

 

Andre Sugars’ Second Key To Wealth Building

Andre Sugars’ Second Key To Wealth Building

Believe it or not, we have less than two months before federal taxes are due.

Yikes.

We have been meeting with so many South bay clients (including a fair number of new ones, thanks to YOUR referrals — keep them coming!), finding so many wonderful ways to help people save on their taxes, that it hardly seems possible that there could be, well, more.

But there is.

More, that is. Perhaps you, could give us a call ((310) 327-1985) or shoot me back an email through the email button at the top of the page if you need to get the process rolling, and we'll help you get started right.

BTW, last week brought news that the federal government took in about 1% LESS taxes overall in 2018 than the previous year — but that within those figures, there was actually a slight UPTICK in personal income taxes brought in (which represents a new record for income tax revenue by the way). The lower number reflects slightly less overall tax revenue.

Make of that what you will.

But one thing is certain … as the federal government sees its revenue go down (even as its spending goes up, they will be looking for more ways, not less, to fix that problem. And one way you can avoid that happening to you is by having somebody in your corner helping you take every legal and ethical deduction possible. I wonder who that could be?

But moving on, and speaking of MORE … last week I brought you the first key to building real wealth: delayed gratification. Today, I write about a corollary to this…

Andre Sugars' Second Key To Wealth Building

"You must gain control over your money or the lack of it will forever control you." – Dave Ramsey

Do you have a book or a movie you come back to on a regular basis? By "regular", I mean maybe once or twice a year. The content is so good, you can't let years go by without revisiting it.

I hope some of these topics that I share offer you something similar: timeless financial wisdom so that you and your family are put into a position to thrive.

But what is "thriving" … for you?

Only you can answer that. Do you like to travel? Drive fancy cars? Pursue education? Go see shows? Sporting events? Perhaps thriving for you is more laid-back. Creating space for yourself to rest, read and relax after the daily grind.

Here's a piece of advice sure to help you thrive regardless of your income: live below your means.

Practiced to Save

In short, living ABOVE your means is spending more than you earn. It's obviously not rational — but why do so many of us do it? Spending money on that vacation, car or special thing (what you THINK is thriving) is actually driving you into financial despair — no matter how good it feels in the moment.

All of those fun and worthwhile pursuits can truly be great things, and are made much more beneficial when you save up the money to actually pay for them. This kind of delayed gratification is not what a culture bent on the "quick fix" wants to hear, but you will be better for it in the long run.

One of the best ways to save money and live below your means is to store away top-line cash with each paycheck you receive. That way, a chunk of money is outside the realm of temptation to spend each week.

"One day at a time" is the name of the living-below-your-means game. And to win at that game, creating (and actually adhering to) an effective budget is the playbook you have to follow.

Practiced to Invest

Some people hear the term "diversify your assets" and immediately check out of the conversation. That's a shame, because a definition of terms can go a long way here.

Assets are what happen when you make your money work FOR you — not the other way around. If opening a brokerage account, or navigating the stock market in general, has ever seemed foreign to you, that's okay. But the sooner you learn about smart ways to invest, the greater return you will see in 5-10 years … a timeframe that will lapse quicker than you think.

Living below your means also pertains to purchasing a home. What would it look like to spend money on a "less-than-ideal" home, not worry about an excessive mortgage, and fix the home up to create greater value over time? It might be the perfect time to take a look at the South bay real estate market.

Living below your means is the first step toward using additional funds to invest. That's where wealth building beings.

Practiced to Give

Now I have a little exercise for you (bear with me here): clench your fist and hold it out in front of you.

Is that how you hold on to your money? Again, a question only you can answer.

When you live below your means, you then make it possible to give money to charity or to those truly in need. This is where we examine a different kind of posture — unclenching our fists — so that we experience a different kind of wealth building.

A wealth that leads to legacy.

How do you want to be remembered in life? Not to get too morbid, but the money you have the day before you die will need to go somewhere the day after you die. Fact.

Part of your legacy is built on generational, financial impact. You can begin saving for impact today. All it takes is a little planning, patience and preparation.

That's a story worth revisiting year after year.

Warmly,

 

Andre Sugars

(310) 327-1985

Champion Tax Service

 

Andre Sugars’ First Key To Building Wealth

Andre Sugars’ First Key To Building Wealth

Not only are we entering into the thick of tax season, but based on our political situation, we could be staring at another federal government shutdown on Friday.

Which means, well … we don’t know exactly what it will mean except that God bless you if you are trying to get help directly from the IRS these days. Not only are they still recovering from the PREVIOUS shutdown, but the day after Presidents’ Day happens to be their busiest day of the year, every year — and it just so happens to fall right at the beginning of the potential shutdown.

Yikes.

The good news is that working with a South bay tax professional provides you options.

Not only do you not have to deal directly with the IRS (we do that for you), but if something did come up requiring their input, we have a “Practitioner Priority Line” that isn’t available to those poor blokes who try to go it alone with off-the-shelf software.

Furthermore, last week’s filing numbers data (compared to the previous year at this point) indicates that a lot of people are biding their time to get started on their taxes.

Let’s not have that be you. We’re here and we’re ready to get cranking on your behalf.

(And, of course, your friends’ behalf too: have I mentioned that referral clients are our favorite kind of clients? Please feel free to send your friends our way … despite how busy we are, we make a point to make room for friends referred by our clients.)

This week, I’m putting on my “financial coach” hat to encourage you to perhaps approach your finances in new light. Many of our South bay clients have many of these principles pretty well nailed, but this might push you further into a more profitable direction…

Andre Sugars’ First Key To Building Wealth

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” -Aristotle

There is no shortage of financial advice out there – online of course, or from your second-cousin, Karl. But not all advice (especially from Cousin Karl) is valid for everyone.

The good news about having us in your corner, of course, is that I can answer questions about your specific situation that you’re going through. So if you have anything pressing, please do give me a call and I’d be glad to help. (310) 327-1985

But for all the advice out there, a few guiding principles undergird anything that is worthwhile — and today we discuss one of those: delayed gratification and how it will earn you greater wealth. Now I’m not guaranteeing you a lifetime of riches … I’m simply stating the fact if you can be patient, it will pay off in the end. Here’s how you should begin…

Kick Debt to the Curb

Although some debt can be useful when buying a house or in certain business situations, it often represents a reduction of cash flow. Consider ways you can eliminate any existing debt, and methods which would enable more cash spending. It takes a little extra effort, but ridding yourself of debt is typically the first step toward building wealth.

A new TV might be fun today, but what if you took that money you were going to spend and put it toward debt-freedom? Choosing this option ensures the TV will come someday … and we guarantee it will be bigger and better when you’re financially ready.

Thousands of Small Decisions. Not a Few Big Ones.

This is where financially-based delayed gratification is tough. And it feeds off the TV example.

What would it look like, instead of saving 6-10% of your annual income, to save 20%, 35% or even 50% of your income? Think of your wealth after saving for 10+ years?

You might be thinking, “How is that fun for anyone now?” But I’d argue that it can actually be a lot more fun. Why? It means creativity can take place. Instead of going out to eat at a fancy South bay restaurant, make dinner from home and go eat somewhere scenic in town for a picnic (where there’s nobody to tip). That’s one example among thousands, of how living below your means helps you save for the future.

The Power to Invest

If you are new to investing, or are thinking about investing in the near-future, I usually like to recommend an undervalued (and therefore likely to grow) blue chip stock (not likely to collapse), with a history of above-average dividend yields (steady cash flow).

Start there. Let’s not worry about boiling the ocean just yet.

And if you don’t know much about investing, that’s OK! This is part of the delayed gratification piece as well. It takes time to research and converse with trusted sources. I’d love to chat about this topic, and point you in the right direction toward strategic investing.

Play the Tape Forward

This bit of advice is not as “practical” per se, but it’s still incredibly valuable in terms of entering the right state of mind to build wealth.

With every purchase you make from here on out, I want you to play the tape forward in your mind, and think about how that purchase will affect your life. Every little purchase (a smoothie) all the way to the big ones (a week-long trip to Europe) will have an affect on your financial health. Am I saying to not have a good time?

Quite the opposite.

I want you to have the best time in life (eventually 🙂 ), while setting yourself up to help others and make a healthy financial impact on the world.

I went this long without mentioning the marshmallow test, but come on, people … we’re talking about two marshmallows or one. It’s as simple as that.

If you have any other methods you recommend to delay financial gratification, I would love to hear them from you, and to pass them on to others who are making strides in this area of life. It is worth it, one million times over. Feel free to email me anytime.

Warmly,

 

Andre Sugars

(310) 327-1985

Champion Tax Service

 

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

 

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