Preparing to File Taxes: 5 Things You Can Do Now

by Jonyce Bullock, CPA

Your income tax obligation needs to be on your mind year-round. Here are some ways you can get a jump on your 2017 taxes.

Summer’s over. Kids are back in school. And soon, there’ll be only three months left in 2017. If you haven’t started thinking about how to minimize your income tax obligation for this year, there’s still time.

Whether you’re a small business or an individual taxpayer, year-round tax planning is more than just a way to make tax preparation an easier, faster process. By keeping taxes in mind as you go through every 12-month period, you’ll be able to see where you might take specific actions early that will have impact on what you end up owing. Make it a habit, and you’ll find that it just comes naturally to consider the tax implications of purchase and sales decisions.

Create a System

Effective tax planning requires more than just saving receipts and organizing tax-related documents in physical or digital file folders – though that’s a good start. Create a system in early January that you can maintain throughout the year (of course, a lot of your information will be stored in your accounting or personal finance application, if you use one). But you should be saving statements, receipts, sales forms – anything related to your income and expenses that will eventually feed into IRS forms or schedules.

Evaluate Your Expense-Tracking

Businesses: How do you—and your employees, if you have them—keep track of daily expenses? You may have forms like purchase orders and bills for the big ones, but you probably buy things on occasion that are just documented by paper receipts. How do you categorize and organize these so you won’t miss any when it’s time to complete a Schedule C? Is there a better way?

Do any of your employees make trips on behalf of your business? You may want to consider subscribing to an online service that automates the process of creating and approving expense reports. Read More

Paying for Child Care with Tax Advantageous Dollars

by Jonyce Bullock, CPA

Let’s face it – child care is expensive!  One of the conversations I see frequently on the AMW Facebook group is about how to find and pay for child care.  Finding and affording childcare can easily be the most stressful part of working while you have children.  I clearly remember the day my mother-in-law told me she could no longer watch my kids because she needed to care for my father-in-law who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  While I knew that she was doing what she needed to do, I was also having a panic attack.  It was the middle of tax season and I couldn’t afford to miss even a day of work while trying to find child care.  My next realization was that once I found child care, it may take all of my income to pay for it.

While I wish there was a magic wand that we could wave that would help each of us find the perfect child care solution; there is help with the financial side once you do find it in the form of tax credits and tax deductions to help offset the cost of child care for those that qualify.  Depending on your personal circumstances there are one or two options you can take advantage of; using a flexible spending account or claiming the dependent-care credit.  However, you can’t use the same expenses for both tax breaks so you will want to take some time to understand what works best for you. Read More

Career Day: Optometrist

Tell us a little about yourself and about your job?

My name is Jennifer Poole Wilcox. I grew up in South Carolina. Went to school at BYU Provo with an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education. I then went to Southern California College of Optometry in Southern California. School is four years beyond a Bachelors. At the time, there were approximately 16 schools. I was single leaving BYU and wanted some social life… thus So Cal.

There are ten optometrists in my family. I am the third generation eye doctor. However, I am the only female of the group.

What does your job entail?

My job entails seeing a variety of patients from infants to the elderly that have eye problems, from vision difficulties to injuries, to pink eye, and more. Every day is a new experience, new friends and situations. I love to listen and learn about the whole person, not just their eyes.

What drew you to optometry?

I went to optometry because I wanted a good mom job! Ha Ha. Really, it’s true. I wanted the flexibility to be at school events, after-school recitals, ball games, etc. My dad (also an eye doctor) seemed to be at all of our necessary events. I think that is why all four of us ended up in the same profession. It is a tough balance. I don’t think I balance it all well sometimes, but it works. I get to spend time with my kids! For me that’s what I need.

What skills/personal characteristics are important to have/develop?

For optometry, you need to enjoy being with people and having conversations.

What kind of job opportunities are there in your field?

There are corporate employee jobs, there are independent contractor jobs where you can work for another eye doctor, you can have your own practice or a partnership.

What types of jobs have you had within your profession?

I have worked in almost all these positions, as have all my family members.

What is the best part of your job?

People can enjoy the best sense that we have been given. At first we learn to read, then we read to learn. If kids cant see, there is no reading . It makes a huge difference in the lives of those we touch.

What is the worst part of your job?

Dealing with insurance companies and restrictions stinks! Lots of red tape that can make a patient encounter more difficult.

What’s the work/family/life balance like?

Fabulous!!! I can see patients while my kids are in school and be home in the evening. I can also take time off to see them during school activities.

What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

We are not rich! While it is a good living and pays well, it is not as good as some other doctor positions. Online eye exams are not the same! We spend a lot of time learning how to help with your health. Not just glasses. (Even though that is important) Your health is our number one concern.

What opportunities have you had because of your education and profession?

I can work part time or full time depending on my situation. I can take my kids to work with me. I am teaching my kids how to work in an office. I can take the summer off, or at least part time. We have a conference at the beach! The kids play and I get credit for classes required for my license.

On a professional note, I think as a female, I have a better connection with some of my patients and definitely with children. It’s a huge advantage over my fellow male colleagues.

What stereotypes or criticisms have you faced as an educated Mormon woman with her own career?

I haven’t really noticed any. However, there are some folks that don’t know what my career is. I don’t usually make a big deal of it. My newest ward is extremely supportive. Lots of ladies come and bring their families to me. I feel like it is a great trust and honor.

What spiritual guidance have you felt as you have pursued your education and developed your career?

I was single when I started school. I met my husband after school. We got married older according to Mormon standards. I had my first child when I was 36 and my last child as I turned 41. If any stereotypes came, it was more my age and that I wasn’t married until later.

My spiritual guidance would be that I should complete SOMETHING that I enjoyed. Something that I could do if I never got married, or had to support a family. Something that made me enjoy life. I think that is my advice to all women!!!!

I also think that life works out for us however it works out. For me it was getting married a little older and being a little older mom. For others, its may mean having kids earlier then enjoying time later on! Whatever path you take….. it works! Make it work for you!

 

Entrepreneur Feature: Michelle, AZ Staging & Design

I’m Michelle Burrola, founder of AZ Staging and Design.

I transform homes, allowing them to sell for top dollar on their first day of listing. I take empty houses and make them come to life with staging and appeal to a wide audience. I also take occupied homes, EDIT and re-work them so buyers can see past the current lifestyle and belongings and see themselves living in the home. My technique and strategies get homes sold fast and for top dollar. When I walk into a home, I visualize its potential, asses weak spots, envision the home’s ideal design , and map out an attractive furniture layout. I create a space that is desirable – one that highlights the home’s best features by adding thoughtfully selected furniture, accessories, and custom art work. I then use my background in visual perception and psychology, along with my eye for design, to transform the space into a home where people can see their future and want to live!

I first felt the entrepreneurial itch after being home with my son for a year. It wasn’t the best timing, so I put the brain child of a staging business on the back burner. A year later, a friend asked me to stage their flip, it lit a fire within me and I took the leap of faith to create my own staging business.

I attended the University of Arizona for my psychology degree, then went on to grad school where I researched visual perception. I conducted experiments to better understand how people saw financial value in 3D images on a computer screen. That is basically what I do now. I stage homes and use professional photography to create listing photos that communicate to online shoppers: this listing is a must-see, must-have property. My end dream goal is to create a system that merges the science of psychology and choice with the process of curating design for others. It is tricky to pull a picture out of someone’s brain, see it for yourself and replicate it in the physical world. This is basically what an interior designer does. I would love to create a process that utilizes psychological profiling to help create design plans that truly fit the personality and lifestyle of my clients!

What is your best advice for other (LDS) women entrepreneurs?

Find a mentor! Reach out to someone who is doing what you want to do and see if they will download information into your brain. Ask and learn as much as you possibly can from them! Also, try to gain the support and encouragement of your family! My husband works hard alongside me, doing the heavy lifting, literally! He loves to talk business strategy and tries to set me up for success with his support. My Dad is an outstanding support too! He helps me dream big and discusses strategy and marketing. Knowing he is rooting for me pushes me to work harder and smarter.

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

My favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur is the opportunity I have to work with other women who are also paving their paths in business. For example, I work with a local artist, Megan Speirs Mack. She creates custom artwork based on the design plan for our higher end homes. Her pieces are for sale, and this is a way for her to grow her portfolio and market herself. It has been such a rewarding partnership. It is so exciting to be a new business women and reach out to other women around me and see their talents marketed and their businesses growing! I really believe in women helping women. I am successful because I have an extensive network of supportive women alongside me, contributing their talents, encouragement and love.

What spiritual guidance have you had with developing and growing your business?

After my first stage, I realized I needed an assistant. The qualities I was hoping to find in an assistant were a mile long. I also needed someone who had a very flexible schedule and lived nearby. I started to panic about finding someone and worried about how I would pay that person.

Then a light came on. I thought of a lady in my ward. I had seen her post on Instagram some DIY projects. I reached out, and she joined me that week for a stage. She jumped in, worked hard, and contributed valuable suggestions. Now, with every stage that goes by, I am more certain that it was no coincidence that we are now working together. I consider it a match made in Heaven. Morgan Flores has been such a support and source of relief as an assistant and partner in staging.

Find Michelle and AZ Staging & Design on Instagram and Facebook.

Entrepreneur Feature: Sheila Sjolseth, Pennies of Time

 

“So, the boys and I are going to do an act of kindness every day,” sharing with my husband my new goal, I looked over at him.

He paused and returned my look, “That’s great! For how long?”

“For the rest of our lives.” I continued folding the laundry. Wow! Vocalizing it felt real and right.

After he didn’t respond for a moment, I glanced over. His face basically said, “Whaat?” and “Yeah, right,” all at the same time.

“Like EVERY day?” He clarified.

“Yes.” I answered simply.

I didn’t know it, yet, but that conversation sparked a movement that would grow into a worldwide nonprofit.

The Nonprofit: Pennies of Time. “It only takes a moment of time, a penny of time, to be kind.” At Pennies of Time, we provide the example and the support to teach and mentor families that all kids can be engaged in kindness and community service, even from their earliest years.

My name is Sheila Sjolseth, and I am the President and Founder of Pennies of Time. With my two boys, we bring to life acts of kindness and service projects that kids can do. We started serving daily with each other in 2012, when Big Brother and Little Brother were 5 and 3 years old. What started as a way to teach my kids empathy has transitioned to a way of life and a connection with thousands of other families.

In the daily adventures of serving with my young boys, I witnessed the awe-inspiring things that happen when kids serve others. As I wrote about what we did, other families started reaching out to me for ideas, for support, to help answer questions, and to share the triumphs that they are experiencing in their journey to raise kind kids. Because this daily act of serving others and talking about it started requiring more time than I could fit in while balancing my other areas of life, I turned to incorporating the work into a nonprofit. With this transition in 2014 and with the help of our Board of Directors, we’ve been able to help thousands of families more fully integrate kindness and serving others into their daily lifestyle without going crazy.

The path to this point didn’t start with the intent to be an entrepreneur or leader of a global movement. I earned my Bachelor of Science in Special Education from The University of Texas at Austin and a Masters of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Before having kids, I taught in a variety of settings from a classroom in small town Texas, to a child psychiatric unit in Chicago, to supporting education at a national level at the US Department of Education.

As an educator and professional with 20 years of experience in working with children and parents, I truly believe that teaching kids to be kind results in a happier family. My goal in this entrepreneurial endeavor: For families to choose to complete an act of kindness as often as they go to soccer practice or to the movies. “Let’s elevate the meaningful activities that we do as a family and lessen the activities that isolate us from one another.”

Pennies of Time provides ideas, inspiration, and examples of acts of kindness that kids can do as well as the expertise of how to engage with nonprofits in our communities that are not “kid” or “family friendly.” Our 100% volunteer organization stays active through mentoring families, presenting at conferences and PTA events, providing workshops, and through teaching classes on our online platform The Kindness Academy.

Right now, our Virtual Kindness Summer Camp is going on, and we are having a splendid time engaging with families across the world to infuse kindness into their lives!

Five years have passed since that initial conversation with my husband. I turned to him last week and asked him about it.

“How crazy did you think I was when I said EVERY day?” I asked my husband.

“Well, I didn’t know how you were going to do it. I mean, we didn’t really see many people actually including young kids in service in a way that was more than having them along for the ride. After you guys left a thank you note for the mailman that day, I thought that would be it. I didn’t know how or where you were going to find ideas. At the same time, I did know that if anyone could figure it out, that it would be you.”

He then ended with, “I could not have guessed how much of a transformation would occur with this daily focus on kindness! That change has brought such great joy into our home. I am grateful for that crazy day and idea you were inspired to follow.”

 

 

What was the biggest surprise in the process of building your nonprofit?

One of the biggest surprises for me, maybe not for others, has come from the negative attitudes from adults on kids being kind and helping others. I didn’t expect everyone to love the concept. I didn’t expect that our messaging would resonate with everyone. We don’t need it to. BUT, what I really didn’t expect was the negative attitudes around the idea that we can raise kind kids and we can see great things when they are involved with community service. That wasn’t just surprising for me that was shocking! At the same time, I learned from their perspectives, which is always key in moving any work forward.

What do you wish you had known from the beginning?

I wished I had known how to fundraise and how much grit this process would take. I get the comment so often: “But, you are a nonprofit. You don’t need money or need to make money.” Being a nonprofit doesn’t mean that we don’t need money or need to make a profit. In order to be self-sustaining and exist for the tomorrow, we need profitability in the skeleton of our strategy and operations so that we have the necessary capital to move forward and develop new programs and services. Fundraising is hard, hard work, and any time we are focused on fundraising, we aren’t spending time helping families. Further, fundraising is very capricious. Some years are better than others, and the environment around us affects this. Grit. I have developed more grit than I thought possible. For me, having grit is more than just the idea of sticking it out. I have to actively seek it out and keep it in my bag of tools. Worthwhile endeavors, particularly ones that blaze new paths, require grit to get through the hard seasons. Just because the going gets rough is not a signal to stop. Would have loved a booster shot of grit at the beginning! (wish such a thing was possible!)

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

I think that my biggest failure is a lack of acceptance that failures are part of the process. Intellectually, I would say I understood and accepted that as true. But, when the failures really happened, I struggled with it emotionally. I am pretty hard on myself, have a high level of expectations for myself, and although high expectations are great to have, it is more important to recognize what is reasonable. As you start ventures, you are going to be drinking out of the firehose. Often times, the blast of the water will sting, your best plans will be washed out, and it will seem too much. It is humanly impossible to get it perfect every time. So, learning to accept the times when it didn’t go “just right” as points of ways to grow has been my biggest area of development. Failures or things not going “just right” will happen. Learning to have joy and seeking ways to laugh in those moments . . . those points are when I know I am embracing that failures will happen. It is part of the rollercoaster ride of our experience.

What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?

Time is one of the biggest sacrifices, for sure. In order to get the nonprofit started and sustained as we grow the organization, there are also financial sacrifices that are made. Though, I would say that the most surprising sacrifice is the willingness to learn anything. I mean anything and everything. Getting Pennies of Time up and off the ground meant that I needed to take the time and learn html, website development, social media ins and outs, marketing, graphic development, public relations, fundraising, and so much more. Never in my life have I had to learn so much in such a short amount of time. Some of the things I learn I really enjoy. Others, not so much. As odd as it sounds, learning to do stuff that I don’t enjoy is a sacrifice for me. In the end, as with most sacrifices, all of it has been necessary and fruitful.

Follow Pennies of Time on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

 

The Student Record: Sydney, Masters in Educational Leadership

Name: Sydney B. Donaldson

School/University: Northern Arizona University

City/Location: Flagstaff, AZ (however, it’s an online program. I’m located in Tucson, AZ)

Major/Field of Study: Master of Education, Educational Leadership

Marital status/children?: Married for 8 years, with one child (a two-year-old)

What led you to the program that you are currently pursuing or have completed? Why did you select this major or field of study? Please tell us about any experiences that inspired you to pursue this area of study.

Growing up, my dad was a college textbook sales representative and editor, so we visited lots of college campuses across the United States. I was always amazed by the unique energy felt on college campuses. My parents placed a heavy emphasis on going to college and obtaining a degree. It was expected. My dad and I began looking at potential colleges when I was in 8th grade. I was taught that a college education is exciting and wonderful and fulfilling.

My first job out of college was at a university, and I quickly fell in love with working in higher education. I want to build a career out of helping students achieve their dreams of a college education, so I enrolled in a Master of Education program that focuses on educational leadership in higher education. I graduate in two months!

What feedback did you receive from friends, families or acquaintances about your schooling?

My family has been nothing but supportive and encouraging. Friends think it’s an amazing accomplishment. I didn’t initially tell colleagues about my full-time student status – I didn’t want to give them any idea that I was slacking at my job because of my schoolwork. I recently told my supervisor that I’ve been working on a graduate degree for the past year, and she is amazed that I have been able to work full time, take care of a little one at home in the evenings, AND pursue a graduate degree.

When I started my program, I committed to being fully present with my two-year-old daughter while she is awake. My degree is online which gives me incredible flexibility to work full time and be present with my family. I have completed this degree 100% during lunch breaks and after my little one goes to sleep. Some nights I don’t get into bed until one in the morning, but it’s important to me to be fully present with my daughter for the few hours I see her after I come home from work.

My parents are very encouraging parents and they are proud of this accomplishment. My mom is the only one in our immediate family who has a Master’s degree, and I am excited to have this in common with her. My mom passed away about a month ago from cancer. (To say my year has been a very busy and challenging one is an understatement!) As well, my husband has been an incredible support. He believes in me and pushes me to achieve. As cheesy as this sentiment is, he is the wind beneath my wings.

What advice would you give to a student pursuing a similar course of study?

Higher education is evolving. Forget what you think you know about the “traditional student.” Thirty-eight percent of today’s college student population is over 25 years old; they’re likely to also have a family, a full-time job, caretaking responsibilities, and other personal obligations. And this percentage is projected to grow over the next five years. If you think you don’t fit the mold of the traditional college student, think again. Universities and colleges are aware of the changing student population and are developing student services to address the needs of this changing group. I am fiercely passionate about access to education for all, and I want others to know that the right program for your unique circumstances likely exists. A more educated society is a better one. Go get that degree!

Specific to my field, it’s an exciting time to be involved in higher education. Many colleges really are striving to create a campus ethos that embodies social entrepreneurial thinking. Some of the great challenges of today’s society begins with solving issues through formulating ideas on college campuses.

Any program of study is going to be easier if you have the passion for that field of research. I was lucky in that every course I took directly impacted my day-to-day work – and it impacted it very positively. I am a better employee because of my program.

What did you learn about yourself when you became a student?

I didn’t realize just how positively my schoolwork would impact my job. The two go hand-in-hand: I apply what I learn in class to my job as an academic advisor, and I use my job as motivation for continuing with my academic research and studies. I work full time and I am so proud of myself for balancing full-time employment with full-time education. I am also very fortunate to receive generous education benefits because of my employment at a university. I would like to think that I would take advantage of education regardless of access to funding, but I am fortunate that I never had to make that decision.

Throughout my program, I learned that there is a time and a season for everything. Right now, it is my season to pursue education and work full time. Although it is a commandment given to me, it is not yet my season to work on genealogy, for example, or even my season to work out. (I wish it was never my season to be folding laundry, but that’s one task I have to do, despite my very busy season of life!) I am grateful for access to the Holy Spirit which confirms to me what season of life I need to be in.

I also learned that education is one way that my Bucket of Joy is filled. I feel energized and invigorated by gaining a formal education, and I feel my happiness reserves are filled when I engage in an academic setting. Arguably, being in any educational program can take time away from family, social obligations, callings, and the like, but I believe I am my best self when I participate in things that fill me with joy. I cannot give others joy if my own Bucket of Joy is empty. Women should not feel selfish by gaining an education. You are bettering yourself and making yourself happy! That’s something to celebrate!

What do you most enjoy about school?

Being in school fills me with so much pride and accomplishment. It’s a great feeling to have – to be proud of yourself! I enjoy many things about school, but I enjoy most how accomplished I feel as a student while managing professional and personal obligations.

What are your current or future plans for employment or future schooling?

I love what I do professionally and I do not see myself making a major job change in the near future. But I do hope to grow in higher education administration. I want to be a leader in higher ed. I want to help all students realize their potential and pursue a college degree. I want to ensure that student services exist to serve the at-risk or underrepresented populations, especially students with children or adult caretaker responsibilities, students with disabilities, transfer students, veterans, and refugees.

I plan on pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership. I’m not sure when it will be my season to do this, but I’m ready to begin when it’s time. In the meantime, I am looking forward to a summer of going to bed at a reasonable hour. And maybe taking a few naps.

Entrepreneur Feature: Kristy, Educational Technology

My name is Kristy Sevy.  I am a mom, wife, hair fanatic, and founder/CEO of FuzePlay (an EdTech company).  I have a background in Piano Pedagogy and Marriage Family Therapy.

I entered the startup world a little over a year ago when I decided to build FuzePlay! I didn’t have a background tech or business, but worked hard to develop the competence needed to run a company and develop a technical platform.

FuzePlay is an EdTech company that shows kids (and adults!) how stuff works. Our technology and toy platforms focus on making high level STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art, math) products that anyone can understand! Our main product is Zubi Flyer, a hackable frisbee that teaches coding in a fun and simple way: 1, 2, 3, | Build Hack Play.
I also launched a rad volunteer program this past year called STEAM Parents! In the initial phases of my startup I would visit schools and teach a simple circuit class; this was one way that I validated my ideas. As I posted on social media I started to get contacted by moms who were interested in volunteering at their child’s classroom. Parents were feeling the same pressures as I had been in regards to their children’s education, and wanted to help fill the gaps! So I replicated my process for teaching the simple circuit class in a way that any parent could teach. FuzePlay sends the lesson plan and all the materials for free! Moms have loved being able to bring something cool into their child’s classroom; not to mention it gives moms who aren’t so into the PTA (myself included) a way to contribute! We are accepting new volunteers now, so if anyone is interested, send me an email!

www.fuzeplay.io  Ig: @FuzePlay, @kristy_sevy; Twitter: @fuzeinteractive, @sevykristy; Read More

Are You Protecting Yourself from Tax Identity Theft?

By Jonyce Bullock, CPA

About two years ago the topic of identity theft became personal. I was aware identity theft happened; I had several clients who’d had their identities stolen, and I had attended hours of trainings on how to protect yourself from identity theft. However, on a certain level, I was in denial that this was something that could happen to me. After all, I had credit monitoring—I was fine!

Then one day I grabbed the mail on the way into my home and was casually flipping through all the junk, about to throw the entire stack away, when I noticed a letter addressed to me from Golden Valley Lending. My initial reaction was that it was just another piece of junk mail, but there was something about it that made me decide to go ahead and open it up. Inside was a not-so-nice letter explaining that I had defaulted on my payday loan and that they were going to commence collection efforts. My reaction at that point was still that this must be a scam, someone trying to get me to pay them. Like I said, I had credit monitoring—this couldn’t be real!

I spent the next several months unraveling what had happened, and I learned quite a bit in the process. Someone had obtained my personal information and had applied for eighteen online payday loans with Indian Tribe lenders. I learned that by doing so, this person bypassed the entire credit monitoring process, as these lenders don’t actually report to the credit bureaus. I also learned that the most likely next step for whoever had applied for these loans was to steal my tax identity.

Another annual income tax deadline has come and gone. Maybe you had to pay, but perhaps you were owed a refund. If the latter is true, did you receive it?

A lot of taxpayers didn’t, because hackers swooped in and stole their sensitive tax-related information. Tax identity theft is a serious problem, despite the IRS’s efforts to stop it.

But there are steps you can take to keep from being a victim, some of which are simply a matter of common sense. For example, consider the security of any wireless network you use when you’re working on your taxes. Don’t ever do so on a public network, and make sure your home or office wireless is password protected.

Offline Risks                 

You don’t have to be online to be at risk for tax identity theft. Hackers can grab your personal information in other ways. For example, do you ever carry your tax-related papers back and forth to work or some other location? Know where they are at all times; don’t ever leave them lying around where someone can copy your Social Security number and other details. 

Always be aware of your surroundings. If there are other people around when you’re working on your taxes—if you’re in a coffee shop or library, for example—make sure no one is reading over your shoulder.

Phone calls can be risky. A good rule of thumb is to never provide someone who calls you with any sensitive personal data—unless you can verify it was a call you were expecting, like one from your bank or a medical office. When you place a call to a legitimate number, it’s generally okay.

Other Traps

You’d think that a call from the IRS would be safe. In reality, the IRS doesn’t ask for personal information over the phone. They send letters through the U.S. Mail. If you ever get a phone call from someone who claims to be from the agency and is demanding some sort of payment immediately, hang up. This is a popular phone scam. You can always contact the IRS directly to see if there is some sort of issue.

Don’t make a practice of carrying your Social Security card with you. Keep it in a safe place unless you absolutely need it away from home for some reason. Also:

  • File your return early to keep a hacker from getting in line for your refund in front of you.
  • Reduce your refund by adjusting your withholdings at work. It’s nice to get that big payment after you file, but couldn’t you use that money throughout the year?
  • Request direct deposit of your refund. That way, no one can steal your check out of your mailbox or somehow re-route a paper payment.

Online Thieves

Be especially careful if you’re preparing your taxes on a website. Before you even begin, investigate the publisher’s security protocols to ensure that your very sensitive tax-related data will be treated with great care. Also, update any applications that will be involved, including your browser and antivirus/antimalware tools. 

The IRS will never send you an email out of the blue asking you to click a link or download an attachment or fill in fields to update personal information. In fact, it’s a good idea to avoid taking those actions ever unless you’re expecting an email and can verify the sender’s address.

Finally, use a very strong, unique password—one you don’t use anywhere else. You’re probably tired of hearing that piece of advice, but it’s absolutely critical when you’re working with a tax preparation application.

Take Action Quickly

It’s possible to get stung by a tax identity thief even if you’re being careful. If it happens to you, you’ll need to complete and submit IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, and watch for responses from the agency. Contact your credit bureaus and financial institutions to apprise them of the situation. Tax identity thieves sometimes try to open new credit cards, for example. You should also file a report with the FTC

Completing this affidavit was the final piece of recovering control of my identity. Once I filed this form with the IRS, I was assigned a PIN to use when I e-filed my tax return. The IRS would not accept a return using my personal information without this PIN.

Recovering from tax identity theft isn’t a quick process or an easy one. However, taking these precautions will go a long way in prevention. If you are a victim of tax identity theft, be assured that there is help available!

 

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