Monthly Archives: December 2015

   Avoid Identity Theft: Tips to Protect Yourself Online

The Internal Revenue Service and your Dallas CPA urge you to be safe online and remind you to take important steps to help protect yourself against identity theft.

Scammers, hackers and identity thieves are looking to steal your personal information – and your money. But there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourself, like keeping your computer software up-to-date and giving out your personal information only when you have a good reason. Here are some best practices you can follow to protect your tax and financial information:

1. Understand and Use Security Software. Security software helps protect your computer against the digital threats which are prevalent online. Generally, your operating system will include security software or you can access free security software from well-known companies or Internet providers. Other options may have an annual licensing fee and offer more features. Microsoft Essentials is great for PC users. Kaspersky is what we use at our office, considered one of the best paid anti-virus software. Pro-tip: AVG is not recommended- it will slow your computer down!

Essential tools include a firewall, virus/malware protection and file encryption if you keep sensitive financial/tax documents on your computer. Security suites often come with firewall, anti-virus and anti-spam, parental controls and privacy protection. File encryption to protect your saved documents may have to be purchased separately. Do not buy security software offered as an unexpected pop-up ad on your computer or email! It’s likely from a scammer.

2. Allow Security Software to Update Automatically. Set your security software to update automatically. Malware – malicious software – evolves constantly and your security software suite is updated routinely to keep pace.

3. Look for the “S” for encrypted “https” websites. When shopping or banking online, always look to see that the site uses encryption to protect your information. Look for https at the beginning of the web address. The “s” is for secure. Unencrypted sites begin with an http address. Additionally, make sure the https carries through on all pages, especially the payment page.

4. Use Strong Passwords and PIN numbers. This is the single easiest thing you can do to protect against identity theft. Use passwords of at least 10 to 12 characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use your name, birthdate or common words. Don’t use the same password for several accounts. Keep your password list in a secure place or use a password manager. Don’t share your password with anyone. Calls, texts or emails pretending to be from legitimate companies or the IRS asking you to update your accounts or seeking personal financial information are generally scams.

5. Secure your wireless network. A wireless network sends a signal through the air that allows you to connect to the Internet. If your home or business wi-fi is unsecured it also allows any computer within range to access your wireless and steal information from your computer. Criminals also can use your wireless to send spam or commit crimes that would be traced back to your account. Always encrypt your wireless. Generally, you must turn on this feature and create a password.

6. Be cautious when using public wireless networks. Public wi-fi hotspots are convenient but often not secure. Tax or financial Information you send though websites or mobile apps may be accessed by someone else. If a public Wi-Fi hotspot does not require a password, it probably is not secure. If you are transmitting sensitive information, look for the “s” in https in the website address to ensure that the information will be secure.

7. Avoid phishing attempts. Never reply to emails, texts or pop-up messages asking for your personal, tax or financial information. One common trick by criminals is to impersonate a business such as your financial institution, tax software provider or the IRS, asking you to update your account and providing a link. Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust. Go directly to the organization’s website. Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through unsecured channels.

8. Use 2-step verification. Many websites now offer 2-step verification as an option in order to access your account online. For example, you enter your login username and password, and before loading up your account, you are required to send an authentication code to your phone via text that you must enter on the webpage. This can help deter against hackers who try to access your account from another location. Without the second passcode, they are unable to login. While this adds an additional step to your login, it also adds peace of mind that your account cannot be accessed by an identity thief.

Protecting yourself against identity theft is vital in this day and age of aggressive cyber attacks. Luckily, there are simple steps you can take, which will soon become second nature.

   The 5 Most Common Payroll Mistakes by New Businesses

There are payroll mistakes that benefit employees, as well as those that benefit employers. But either way, a mistake is a mistake.

If you come across any type of mistake, such as overpaying or underpaying employees, it is imperative to act fast, discuss the situation with your workers, and provide a remedy that will allow both parties to put this in the past.

Most established companies have a payroll service in place. This allows them to take care of every last detail, regardless of how big or small, with less concern about making a payroll mistake.

New companies are not always as fortunate. Since they are just getting up and running, they are more prone to make a mistake. Below are the most common payroll mistakes committed by new companies:

  • Overpayment or underpayment. It can be tricky to pay each employee the proper amount, especially when dealing with different worker classifications and work schedules.
  • Failing to accurately account for and pay the necessary taxes.
  • Misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor. The IRS can help you avoid this mistake.
  • Not including gifts and bonuses on employees’ annual W-2. Remember that holiday bonus you gave the sales team? What about the gift cards you handed out to your customer service reps? It may not sound like a big deal, but the fair value must be reported.
  • Ignoring a garnishment request. You don’t want to deal with this as a new business owner, but you aren’t given the option. If you receive a garnishment request, such as by the IRS, make sure you comply. You don’t have a choice.

New companies have a lot on their plate, which is one of the reasons why they are more likely to make payroll mistakes. Don’t fall prey to one of the situations above. Instead, know your obligation as an employer and do whatever it takes to implement the appropriate payroll system. Gurian CPA Firm can ensure you and your company are in compliance. Contact us today for more information.

   Year End Tax Tips for Businesses

The National Society of Accountants is offering some year end tax tips for businesses.

Consider several general strategies, such as use of traditional timing techniques for income and deductions and the role of the tax extenders, as well as strategies targeted to your particular business. As in past years, planning is uncertain because of the Affordable Care Act and the expiration of many popular but temporary tax breaks.

Filing Changes
Recent legislation changed filing deadlines for some entity tax returns for 2016: Partnership tax returns will be due on March 15, not April 15 (for calendar year partnerships), and c-corporation returns will be due on April 15, not March 15 (for calendar year C Corporations). Returns for s-corporation will continue to be due on March 15.

Expensing and Bonus Depreciation
Many businesses use enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing as a key component of year-end tax planning. Sec. 179 property is generally defined as new or used depreciable tangible property purchased for use in a trade or business. Software was also recently included, as was qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property and qualified retail improvement property.

(Congress has not renewed the enhancements to Sec. 179 expensing for 2015, but they likely will be renewed. Year-end planning should reflect both the likely extension and the possibility of no extension.)

Similarly, bonus depreciation has been a valuable incentive for many businesses. Fifty percent bonus depreciation generally expired after 2014 (with limited exceptions for certain types of property).

Qualified property for bonus depreciation must be depreciable under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) and have a recovery period of 20 years or less for a wide variety of assets.

Year-end placed-in-service strategies can provide an almost immediate cash discount for qualifying purchases.

Although you should factor a bonus-depreciation election into year-end strategy, you don’t have to make a final decision on the matter until you file a tax return. Also, bonus depreciation isn’t mandatory: you might want to elect out of bonus depreciation to spread depreciation deductions more evenly across future years.

Another potentially useful strategy involves maximizing benefits under Sec. 179 by expensing property that doesn’t qualify for bonus depreciation, such as used property, and property with a long MACRS depreciation period.

Section 199 Deduction
Year-end planning benefits from the release of guidance on the Code Sec. 199 domestic production activities deduction is an often under-utilized potential break. The guidance provides many examples of what business activities qualify; recent Internal Revenue Service guidance highlights manufacturing, construction, oil-related work, film production, agriculture, and many other pursuits.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit
If your business is considering expanding payrolls before 2015 ends, take a look at the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). (Although the WOTC, under current law, expired after 2014, Congress is expected to renew the WOTC for 2015 and possibly for 2016).

Generally, the WOTC rewards employers that hire individuals from certain groups, including veterans, families receiving certain government benefits, and individuals who receive supplemental Social Security Income or long-term family assistance. The credit is generally equal to 40 percent of the qualified worker’s first-year wages up to $6,000 ($3,000 for summer youths and $12,000, $14,000, or $24,000 for certain qualified veterans). For long-term family-aid recipients, the credit is equal to 40 percent of the first $10,000 in qualified first-year wages and half of the first $10,000 of qualified second-year wages.

Repair-Capitalization Rules
Currently, a de minimis safe harbor under the so-called “repair regs” allows you to deduct certain items costing $5,000 or less that are deductible in accordance with your company’s accounting policy reflected on your applicable financial statement (AFS). IRS regulations also provide a $2,500 de minimis safe harbor threshold if you don’t have an AFS.

Routine Service Contracts
If you’re an accrual-basis taxpayer (meaning you have a right to receive income as soon as you earn it), you have a new tool for planning. The IRS has provided a safe harbor under which accrual-basis taxpayers may treat economic performance as occurring on a ratable basis for ratable service contracts—perhaps particularly useful in connection with your regular services that extend into 2016. If your business meets the safe harbor for ratable service contracts, you may be able take a full deduction in the current tax year for certain 2015 payments even though you may not perform the services until next year.

Affordable Care Act
For large businesses, the ACA imposes many new requirements, including the employer shared responsibility provision (also known as the employer mandate). Small businesses, although generally exempt from this mandate, need to review how they deliver employee health insurance.

Many small businesses have provided a health benefit to employees through a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA). Following passage of the ACA, the IRS described certain types of HRAs as employer payment plans – therefore subject to the ACA’s market reforms, including the prohibition on annual limits for essential health benefits and the requirement to provide certain preventive care without cost sharing. Failure to comply with these reforms triggers excise taxes under Code Sec. 4980D.

Pending legislation in Congress would allow small employers (that is, those with fewer than 50 full-time and full-time equivalent employees) to have stand-alone HRAs and reimburse expenses without violating the ACA’s market reforms.

Small employers also should review the Code Sec. 45R credit. If your business has no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees, you may qualify for a special tax credit to help offset your costs of employee health insurance. You must pay average annual wages of no more than $50,000 per employee (indexed for inflation) and maintain a qualifying health care insurance arrangement. (Generally, health insurance for employees must be obtained through the Small Business Health Options Program, part of the Health Insurance Marketplace.)

To discuss your business’ tax filing needs and planning, contact us to schedule a consultation with a Dallas CPA.