Steps to Getting A Financial Advisor in your 20s

Getting a financial advisor in your 20s is a responsible thing to do. At the every least, it means that you are serious about your finances. Finding one in your local area is not hard, especially with SmartAsset free matching tool, which can match you up to 3 financial advisors in under 5 minutes. However, you must also remember that a quality financial advisor does not come free. So, before deciding whether getting a financial advisor in your 20s makes financial sense, you first have to decide the cost to see a financial advisor.

What can a financial advisor do for you?

A financial advisor can help you set financial goals, such as saving for a house, getting married, buying a car, or retirement. They can help you avoid making costly mistakes, protect your assets, grow your savings, make more money, and help you feel more in control of your finances. So to help you get started, here are some of the steps you need to take before hiring one.

Need help with your money? Find a financial advisor near you with SmartAsset’s free matching tool.

1. Financial advice cost

What is the cost to see a financial advisor? For a lot of us, when we hear “financial advisors,” we automatically think that they only work with wealthy people or people with substantial assets. But financial advisors work with people with different financial positions. Granted they are not cheap, but a fee-only advisor will only charge you by the hour at a reasonable price – as little as $75 an hour.

Indeed, a normal rate for a fee-only advisor can be anywhere from $75 an hour $150 per hour. So, if you’re seriously thinking about getting a financial advisor in your 20s, a fee-only advisor is strongly recommended.

Good financial advisors can help you with your finance and maximize your savings. Take some time to shop around and choose a financial advisor that meets your specific needs.

2. Where to get financial advice?

Choosing a financial advisor is much like choosing a lawyer or a tax accountant. The most important thing is to shop around. So where to find the best financial advisors?

Finding a financial advisor you can trust, however, can be difficult. Given that there is a lot of information out there, it can be hard to determine which one will work in your best interest. Luckily, SmartAsset’s free matching tool has done the heavy lifting for you. Each of the financial advisor there, you with up to 3 financial advisors in your local area in just under 5 minutes.

3. Check them out

Once you are matched with a financial advisor, the next step is to do your own background on them. Again, SmartAsset’s free matching tool has already done that for you. But it doesn’t hurt to do your own digging. After all, it’s your money that’s on the line. You can check to see if their license are current. Check where they have worked, their qualifications, and training. Do they belong in any professional organizations? Have they published any articles recently?

Related: 5 Mistakes People Make When Hiring a Financial Advisor

4. Questions to ask your financial advisor

After you’re matched up with 3 financial advisors through SmartAsset’s free matching tool, the next step is to contact all three of them to interview them:

  • Experience: getting a financial advisor in your 20s means that you’re serious about your finances. So, you have to make sure you’re dealing with an experienced advisor — someone with experience on the kind of advice you’re seeking. For example, if you’re looking for advice on buying a house, they need to have experience on advising others on how to buy a house. So some good questions to ask are: Do you have the right experience to help me with my specific needs? Do you regularly advise people with the same situations? If not, you will need to find someone else.

5 Reasons You Need to Hire A Financial Consultant

  • Fees – as mentioned earlier, if you don’t have a lot of money and just started out, it’s best to work with a fee-only advisor. However, not all fee-only advisors are created equal; some charges more than others hourly. So a good question to ask is: how much will you charge me hourly?
  • Qualifications – asking whether they are qualified to advise is just important when considering getting a financial advisor in your 20s. So ask find about their educational background. Find out where they went to school, and what was their major. Are they also certified? Did they complete additional education? if so, in what field? Do they belong to any professional association? How often do they attend seminars, conferences in their field.
  • Their availability – Are they available when you need to consult with them? Do they respond to emails and phone calls in a timely manner? Do they explain financial topics to you in an easy-to-understand language?

If you’re satisfied with the answers to all of your questions, then you will feel more confident working with a financial advisor.

In sum, the key to getting a financial advisor in your 20s is to do your research so you don’t end up paying money for the wrong advice. You can find financial advisors in your area through SmartAsset’s Free matching tool.

  • Find a financial advisor – Use SmartAsset’s free matching tool to find a financial advisor in your area in less than 5 minutes. With free tool, you will get matched up to 3 financial advisors. All you have to do is to answer a few questions. Get started now.
  • You can also ask your friends and family for recommendations.
  • Follow our tips to find the best financial advisor for your needs.

Articles related to “getting a financial advisor in your 20s:”

  • How to Choose A Financial Advisor
  • 5 Signs You Need A Financial Advisor
  • 5 Mistakes People Make When Hiring A Financial Advisor

Thinking of getting financial advice in your 20s? Talk to the Right Financial Advisor.

You can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your saving goals and get your debt under control. Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

The post Steps to Getting A Financial Advisor in your 20s appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

What Is the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax?

Woman works on her tax returnsEstate planning can help you pass on assets to your heirs while potentially minimizing taxes. When gifting assets, it’s important to consider when and how the generation-skipping tax transfer (GSTT) may apply. Also called the generation-skipping tax, this federal tax can apply when a grandparent leaves assets to a grandchild while skipping over their parents in the line of inheritance. It can also be triggered when leaving assets to someone who’s at least 37.5 years younger than you. If you’re considering “skipping” any of your heirs when passing on assets, it’s important to understand what that means from a tax perspective and how to fill out the requisite form. A financial advisor can also give you valuable guidance on how best to pass along your estate to your beneficiaries.

Generation-Skipping Tax, Definition

The Internal Revenue Code imposes both gift and estate taxes on transfers of assets above certain limits. For 2020, you can exclude gifts of up to $15,000 per person from the gift tax, with the limit doubling for married couples who file a joint return. Estate tax applies to estates larger than $11,580,000 for 2020, increasing to $11,700,000 in 2021. Again, these exemption limits double for married couples filing a joint return.

The gift tax rate can be as high as 40%, while the estate tax also maxes out at 40%. The IRS uses the generation-skipping transfer tax to collect its share of any wealth that moves across families when assets aren’t passed directly from parent to child. Assets subject to the generation-skipping tax are taxed at a flat 40% rate.

This tax can apply to both direct transfers of assets to your chosen beneficiaries as well as assets passed through a trust. A trust can be subject to the GSTT if all the beneficiaries of the trust are considered to be skip persons who have a direct interest in the trust.

How Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Works

Generation-skipping tax rules cover the transfer of assets to people who at least one generation apart. A common scenario where the GSTT can apply is the transfer of assets from a grandparent to a grandchild when one or both of the grandchild’s parents are still alive. If you’re transferring assets to a grandchild because your child has predeceased you, then the transfer tax wouldn’t apply.

The generation-skipping tax is a separate tax from the estate tax and it applies alongside it. Similar to estate tax, this tax kicks in when an estate’s value exceeds the annual exemption limits. The 40% GSTT would be applied to any transfers of assets above the exempt amount, in addition to the regular 40% estate tax.

This is how the IRS covers its bases in collecting taxes on wealth as it moves from one person to another. If you were to pass your estate from your child, who then passes it to their child then no GSTT would apply. The IRS could simply collect estate taxes from each successive generation. But if you skip your child and leave assets to your grandchild instead, that removes a link from the taxation chain. The GSTT essentially allows the IRS to replace that link.

You do have the ability to take advantage of lifetime estate and gift tax exemption limits, which can help to offset how much is owed for the generation-skipping tax. But any unused portion of the exemption counted toward the generation-skipping tax is lost when you die.

How to Avoid Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax

Accountant prepares a tax return

If you’d like to minimize estate and gift taxes as much as possible, talking to a financial advisor can be a good place to start. An advisor who’s well-versed in gift and estate taxes can help you create a plan for transferring assets. For example, that plan might include gifting assets to your grandchildren or another generation-skipping person annually, rather than at the end of your life. Remember, you can gift up to $15,000 per person each year without incurring gift tax, or up to $30,000 per person if you’re married and file a joint return. You’d just need to keep the lifetime exemption limits in mind when scheduling gifts.

You could also make payments on behalf of a beneficiary to avoid tax. Say you want to help your granddaughter with college costs, for example. Any direct payments you make to the school to cover tuition would generally be tax-free. The same is true for direct payments made to healthcare providers if you’re paying medical expenses on behalf of someone else.

Setting up a trust may be another option worth exploring to minimize generation-skipping taxes. A generation-skipping trust allows you to transfer assets to the trust and pay estate taxes at the time of the transfer. The assets you put into the trust have to remain there during the skipped generation’s lifetime. Once they pass away, the assets in the trust could be passed on tax-free to the next generation.

This strategy requires some planning and some patience on the part of the generation that stands to inherit. But the upside is that members of the skipped generation and the generation that follows can benefit from any income the assets in the trust generates in the meantime. Trusts can also yield another benefit, in that they can offer asset protection against creditors who may file legal claims against you or your estate.

Another type of trust you might consider is a dynasty trust. This type of trust can allow you to pass assets on to future generations without triggering estate, gift or generation-skipping taxes. The caveat is that these are designed to be long-term trusts.

You can name your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and subsequent generations as beneficiaries and the transfer of assets to the trust is irrevocable. That means once you place the assets in the trust, you won’t be able to take them back out again so it’s important to understand the implications before creating this type of trust.

The Bottom Line

Man works on his tax returns

The generation-skipping tax could take a significant bite out of the assets you’re able to leave behind to grandchildren or another eligible person. If you’re considering using this type of trust to pass on assets or you’re interested in exploring other ways to transfer assets while minimizing taxes, it’s wise to consult an estate planning lawyer or tax attorney first.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to your financial advisor about how to best shape your estate plan to minimize taxation. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect with professional advisors in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations for advisors online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Creating a trust can yield some advantages in your estate plan. In addition to helping you minimize tax liability, the assets in a trust are not subject to probate. That’s different from assets you leave behind in a will.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/ljubaphoto, ©iStock.com/baona, ©iStock.com/svetikd

The post What Is the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

[YMMV] American Express Blue Business Plus 30,000 Points Signup Bonus With $5,000 Spend Pre-approval Offer

Update 2/9/21: More people targeted. Hat tip to MtM

The Offer

Direct link to offer (keep in mind, this won’t work for everyone)

  • Some people are getting a pre-approval offer on the American Express Blue Business Plus card with a signup bonus of 30,000 points after $5,000 in spend within the first three months of card ownership.

Card Details

  • 2x Membership Rewards points on all purchases for the first $50,000 per calendar year
  • 1x Membership Rewards points on all other purchases
  • No annual fee
  • No lifetime language
  • 0% APR for first 15 months

Our Verdict

Not sure how widely available this offer is, likely very targeted. Lately they had a weird $300-credits signup bonus, but the standard has been either zero or 10,000 points since launch. We have seen targeted offers as high as 25,000 before, but never 30,000.

It’s not necessarily the best offer as you can technically get a referral from someone who will earn up to 30,000 points, in addition to the 10,000 points signup offer the new cardmember gets. That said, this is quite a good deal given the potential tax implications of referral bonuses whereas signup bonuses are not taxable. 

If you have any questions about American Express cards, read this first as it addresses the common questions.

Hat tip to manageroftheyear

Post history:

  • Update 12/9/20: More targeted. Hat tip to reader Bob
  • Update 11/17/20: More people targeted

Source: doctorofcredit.com

What Does Having a Derogatory Public Record on My Credit Report Mean

I Found a Judgment on My Credit Report. Now What?

Since the National Consumer Assistance Plan went into effect in 2017, public records must meet strict requirements in order to appear on consumer credit reports. Civil judgments and tax liens do not meet these new requirements, so they were removed from credit reports. At this point, the only derogatory public record that should appear on your credit report is bankruptcy. If a tax lien or civil judgment still appears on your credit report, you should dispute that record with the credit reporting agencies.

How Much Do Public Records Affect Credit Scores?

Bankruptcy can cause a FICO score to drop by 200 points or more. A filing may lower credit scores for seven to 10 years and be difficult to remove from a credit report unless any information is inaccurate.

The decision to exclude other public records slightly increased FICO scores for many consumers and resulted in increases of 20 to 40 points in some cases.

Bankruptcies and Your Credit Report

Bankruptcies are the one public record that are still included on your credit report. In most cases, they will remain on your report for seven to 10 years.

You can dispute an inaccurate report of bankruptcy or one being reported beyond the statute of limitations. Review your report for any inaccuracies and contact the credit bureaus to dispute inaccuracies if need be. If a credit bureau claims to have court verification of a bankruptcy, you should send a procedural letter to determine how they verified the public record on credit report. Follow up with the courts to determine whether the bankruptcy was actually verified.

〉 Learn more about when and why you should file bankruptcy and how doing so will affect your credit.

Civil Judgments and Your Credit Report

Civil judgments result when a creditor sues you for an outstanding debt and wins. That creditor then has more avenues for pursuing payment: they may now satisfy delinquent or outstanding debt through wage garnishment or by seizing funds from checking or savings accounts.

Judgments are no longer factored into credit scores, though they are still public record and can still impact your ability to qualify for credit or loans. Lenders may still check to see whether any outstanding judgments against a potential borrower exist. You should pay legitimate judgments and dispute inaccurate judgments to ensure these do not affect your finances unduly.

〉 Learn more about how to deal with civil judgments.

If a civil judgment is still on your credit report, file a dispute with the appropriate credit reporting agencies to have it removed.

Tax Liens and Your Credit Report

Tax liens are filed by the IRS when you don’t pay your taxes. A lien is automatically filed when you owe more than $10,000. When the IRS files a tax lien against you, it essentially gives the agency first dibs on any payment you receive from selling or liquidating your assets to pay your debts.

While tax liens are no longer reported on credit reports, they can significantly impact your financial situation in ways that indirectly affect your credit score.

〉 Learn more about tax liens.

If a tax lien is being reported on your credit report, file a dispute.

How to Deal with Derogatory Public Records

Although judgments and tax liens are no longer filed on credit reports or factored into credit scores, these penalties can undermine your financial standing. If a derogatory public record is filed against you‚ you should monitor the effects on your credit and ensure that information pertaining to your filing is accurate.

Check your reports regularly to ensure they are fair, accurate and up-to-date. You can watch for changes by getting your free Credit Report Card and credit score monitoring from Credit.com.

〉Sign up now!

The post What Does Having a Derogatory Public Record on My Credit Report Mean appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

9 Ways to Recover from Overspending During the Holidays

The post 9 Ways to Recover from Overspending During the Holidays appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

The packages have been opened. The kids are loving their new toys.  You are enjoying your coffee one morning and reading your mail when you see them…

THE BILLS! Yikes!

It seems you went a little over your budget. It was fun and the joy you brought to your kids’ faces was worth it.

However, now you need to find a way to recover from overspending during the holidays. It is not fun, but is necessary. Here are nine steps you can take to recover from any spending mistakes you made during the holiday shopping season.

1. Put the credit cards on ice – literally

The first thing you need to do is stop spending.  You need to put the credit cards away. Take them out of your wallet and put them in the safe.

Or, if you want to make sure you really do not use them – freeze them in a block of ice! That way, if you do feel the pull to shop, it will take time to thaw out and the urge to spend my pass by then.

2. Calculate the damage

You can’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to seeing the damage done to your budget. Face it head-on.

Total every receipt and credit card statement to find how much was spent. While it may be painful to see the balance due, it is necessary.

When you see that figure in writing, it helps you know what you are facing and where you may need to cut back.

3. Review the budget

 Once you know the amount you need to pay off you also need to review (or create) your monthly budget.   That means including those new monthly payments to the credit card companies.

Make sure your budget is balanced, in that you are not spending more than you take in each month.

4. Create a repayment plan

Up next, you have to create an exit strategy – which will be to pay off those credit card bills. Grab the statements for each and then list them by including the balance and the interest rate.

You may be tempted to pay the highest balance first (which is what I recommend when it comess to getting out of debt). However, when it comes to this debt you just incurred, I recommend starting with the highest interest rate first.

By eliminating that bill quickly, you are reducing the amount of interest you will pay to the credit card company. There is no need to pay them any more than you need to!

Once the first card is paid in full, roll the monthly payment amount into the payment for the next card. Repeat until they are all paid in full.

You’ll not only pay them off quickly but also minimize the total interest paid as well!

5. Reduce your spending

When you have bills to pay it means you need look at the budget to find areas where you can cut back.

It may mean cutting cable or eliminating dining out. You may need to cancel the subscription to the gym or find frugal date night options.

Be willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains as the sooner you can eliminate these bills, the better.

6. Use your bonuses

If you are fortunate enough to get a holiday bonus don’t blow it on what you want. Use that to pay off your holiday bills.

If you don’t get a bonus then use any of that Christmas cash you received for your bills! Look ahead to see if any other money will be coming your way such as birthday money or a tax refund. Earmark that to pay off your holiday spending.

7. Get a side-hustle

If you need to tackle your balances then a side-hustle may be the solution – even if temporary. Look around the house for items to sell. If you are a teacher, consider tutoring students.

Every penny earned can be money used to put towards that holiday spending.

8. Build your savings

You don’t want to find yourself in this same situation again next year. It is not a fun cycle of rinse and repeat.

The holidays come at the same time each year. It is not a surprise or an unplanned expense.  You need to plan for it.

Review the total spent this year and divide that by 12. Focus on saving that amount each month, all year long, and you’ll be able to pay CASH next year and not even use the credit cards.

9. Save using the coin challenge

One simple way to save money for holiday shopping is to switch to a cash budget. Then, save the change and any “leftover” money each pay period.

For example, if you budget $300 for groceries and spend only $270, don’t blow that left-over $30…put it back for the holidays!

The same premise works with change. If the total is $7.49, hand over $8 and put $0.51 into your savings jar.

Saving doesn’t have to be hard

Simple tricks can help you quickly build your savings!

It is easy to spend too much during the holidays but with some smart strategies, you can get your budget back on track.

The post 9 Ways to Recover from Overspending During the Holidays appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

7 Things to Know Before Taking a Work From Home Tax Deduction

If you’re one of the millions of workers whose home is now doubling as office space due to COVID-19, you may be wondering whether that means a sweet deduction at tax time. Hold up, though: The IRS has strict rules about taking the home office deduction — and they changed drastically under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which passed in late 2017.

7 Essential Rules for Claiming a Work From Home Tax Deduction

Thinking about claiming a home office deduction on your tax return? Follow these tips to avoid raising any eyebrows at the IRS.

1. You can’t claim it if you’re a regular employee, even if your company is requiring you to work from home due to COVID-19.

If you’re employed by a company and you work from home, you can’t deduct home office space from your taxes. This applies whether you’re a permanent remote worker or if your office is temporarily closed because of the pandemic. The rule of thumb is that if you’re a W-2 employee, you’re not eligible.

This wasn’t always the case, though. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended the deduction for miscellaneous unreimbursed employee business expenses, which allowed you to claim a home office if you worked from home for the convenience of your employer, provided that you itemized your tax deductions. The law nearly doubled the standard deduction. As a result, many people who once saved money by itemizing now have a lower tax bill when they take the standard deduction.

2. If you have a regular job but you also have self-employment income, you can qualify.

If you’re self-employed — whether you own a business or you’re a freelancer, gig worker or independent contractor — you probably can take the deduction, even if you’re also a full-time employee of a company you don’t own. It doesn’t matter if you work from home at that full-time job or work from an office, as long as you meet the other criteria that we’ll discuss shortly.

You’re only allowed to deduct the gross income you earn from self-employment, though. That means if you earned $1,000 from your side hustle plus a $50,000 salary from your regular job that you do remotely, $1,000 is the most you can deduct.

3. It needs to be a separate space that you use exclusively for business.

The IRS requires that you have a space that you use “exclusively and regularly” for business purposes. If you have an extra bedroom and you use it solely as your office space, you’re allowed to deduct the space — and that space alone. So if your house is 1,000 square feet and the home office is 200 square feet, you’re allowed to deduct 20% of your home expenses.

But if that home office also doubles as a guest bedroom, it wouldn’t qualify. Same goes for if you’re using that space to do your day job. The IRS takes the word “exclusively” pretty seriously here when it says you need to use the space exclusively for your business purposes.

To avoid running afoul of the rules, be cautious about what you keep in your home office. Photos, posters and other decorations are fine. But if you move your gaming console, exercise equipment or a TV into your office, that’s probably not. Even mixing professional books with personal books could technically cross the line.

4. You don’t need a separate room.

There needs to be a clear division between your home office space and your personal space. That doesn’t mean you have to have an entire room that you use as an office to take the deduction, though. Suppose you have a desk area in that extra bedroom. You can still claim a portion of the room as long as there’s a marker between your office space and the rest of the room.

Pro Tip

An easy way to separate your home office from your personal space, courtesy of TurboTax Intuit: Mark it with duct tape.

5. The space needs to be your principal place of business.

To deduct your home office, it needs to be your principal place of business. But that doesn’t mean you have to conduct all your business activities in the space. If you’re a handyman and you get paid to fix things at other people’s houses, but you handle the bulk of your paperwork, billing and phone calls in your home office, that’s allowed.

There are some exceptions if you operate a day care center or you store inventory. If either of these scenarios apply, check out the IRS rules.

6. Mortgage and rent aren’t the only expenses you can deduct. 

If you use 20% of your home as an office, you can deduct 20% of your mortgage or rent. But that’s not all you can deduct. You’re also allowed to deduct expenses like real estate taxes, homeowner insurance and utilities, though in this example, you’d only be allowed to deduct 20% of any of these expenses.

Be careful here, though. You can only deduct expenses for the part of the home you use for business purposes. So using the example above, if you pay someone to mow your lawn or you’re painting your kitchen, you don’t get to deduct 20% of the expenses.

You’ll also need to account for depreciation if you own the home. That can get complicated. Consider consulting with a tax professional in this situation. If you sell your home for a profit, you’ll owe capital gains taxes on the depreciation. Whenever you’re claiming deductions, it’s essential to keep good records so you can provide them to the IRS if necessary.

If you don’t want to deal with extensive record-keeping or deducting depreciation, the IRS offers a simplified option: You can take a deduction of $5 per square foot, up to a maximum of 300 square feet. This method will probably result in a smaller deduction, but it’s less complicated than the regular method.

FROM THE TAXES FORUM
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See more in Taxes or ask a money question

7. Relax. You probably won’t get audited if you follow the rules.

The home office deduction has a notorious reputation as an audit trigger, but it’s mostly undeserved. Deducting your home office expenses is perfectly legal, provided that you follow the IRS guidelines. A more likely audit trigger: You deduct a huge amount of expenses relative to the income you report, regardless of whether they’re related to a home office.

It’s essential to be ready in case you are audited, though. Make sure you can provide a copy of your mortgage or lease, insurance policies, tax records, utility bills, etc., so you can prove your deductions were warranted. You’ll also want to take pictures and be prepared to provide a diagram of your setup to the IRS if necessary.

As always, consult with a tax adviser if you’re not sure whether the expense you’re deducting is allowable. It’s best to shell out a little extra money now to avoid the headache of an audit later.

The Penny Hoarder Shop is always stocked with great deals, including technology, subscriptions, courses, kitchenware and more. Check it out today!

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

3 Tax Scams You Need to Watch Out For

Becoming a victim of tax scam

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), there was a 400% increase in phishing and malware incidents during the 2016 tax season. And tax scams extend far beyond email and malware to include phone scams, identity theft and more.  While the April 15 filing deadline still feels far away, as Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Scammers use multiple ploys and tactics to lure unsuspecting victims in. The IRS publishes an annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams. Sadly, while some of those scams lure people into getting ripped off, others lure people into unwittingly committing tax fraud by falling victim to fake charities, shady tax preparers and false claims on their tax returns.

The most important things you can do to keep yourself scam-free and protected this—and any—tax year are to:

  • Be wary—if it seems too good to be true, it probably is
  • Educate yourself on the most common risks out there
  • File your taxes as early as possible

When you file your taxes as early as possible, you can just politely decline scammer and you can protect yourself from taxpayer identity theft. Tax-related identity theft is primarily aimed at someone posing as you stealing your tax refund. Scammers are creative, sophisticated, persistent and move fast once they have your information in hand. Armed with your Social Security number, date of birth and other pieces of your personally-identifiable information, they can rob you. If you’ve been the victim of a data breach—learn the warning signs—your information is likely available on the dark web. With your information, all a scam artist has to do is log in to a motel’s Wi-Fi network, fill out a fraudulent tax return online and walk away with a refund that could be and should have been yours.

What Is a Tax Scam?

A tax scam is a ploy intended to steal your information and/or your money. It can take several forms. The IRS’s “Dirty Dozen” for 2018 includes these scams:

  • Phishing scams, using fake emails or websites to steal personal information.
  • Phone scams where callers pretend to be IRS agents to steal your information or money.
  • Identity theft scams where identity thieves try and steal your personally identifiable information.
  • Return preparer fraud where a dishonest tax preparer submits a fraudulent return for you or steals your identity.
  • Fake charities where unqualified groups get you to donate money that isn’t actually deductible on your tax return.
  • Inflated refund claim scams where a dishonest tax preparer promises a high refund.
  • Excessive claims for business credits where you or a dishonest tax preparer promises a high refund for claiming credits you aren’t owed, such as the full tax credit.
  • Falsely padding deductions Taxpayers where you or a dishonest tax prepare reports more for expenses or deductions than really occurred.
  • Falsifying income to claim credits where a dishonest tax preparer cons you into claiming income you didn’t earn in order to qualify for tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Frivolous tax arguments where a scam artist gets you to make fake claims to avoid paying taxes.
  • Abusive tax shelters where a scammer sells you on a shelter as a way to avoid paying taxes.
  • Offshore tax avoidance where a scammer convinces you to put your money offshore to hide it as a source of taxable income that you have to pay taxes on.

It’s important to know that if you fall victim, you may not just be the victim. You may also be a criminal and held accountable legally and financially for filing an incorrect return.

A new scam recently hit the wires too. For this one, scammers email employees asking for copies of their W-2s. People who fall victim end up having their names, addresses, Social Security numbers and income sold online. The emails look very valid but aren’t If you see this or other emails that stink like “phish,” email the IRS at phishing@irs.gov

1. Phishing

Phishing uses a fake email or website to get you to share your personally-identifiable information. They often look valid. Know that the IRS will never contact you by email regarding your tax return or bill.

Phishing emails take many forms. They typically target getting enough of your personally identifiable information to commit fraud in your name, making you a victim of identity theft if you take the bait.

Phishing emails may also contain a link that places malware on your computer. These programs can do a variety of things—none of them good—ranging from recruiting your machine into a botnet distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to placing a keystroke recorder on your computer to access bank, credit union, credit card and brokerage accounts to gathering all the personally identifiable information on your hard drive.

Here’s what you need to know: The IRS will never send you an email to initiate any business with you. Did you hear that? NEVER. If you receive an email from the IRS, delete it. End of story. Oh, and it will never initiate contact by way of phone call either.

That said, there are other sources of email that may have the look and feel of a legitimate communication that are tied to other kinds of tax scams and fraudulent refunds. And not all scams are emailed though. A lot of scammers will call. The IRS offers 5 way to identify tax scam phone calls.

2. Criminal Tax Preparation Scams

Not all tax professionals are the same and you must vet anyone you’re thinking about using well before handing over a shred of your personally identifying information. Get at least three references and check online if there are any reviews before calling them. Also, consider using the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has any complaints against them.

Here’s why: At tax-prep time, offices that are actually fronts for criminal identity theft pop up around the country in strip malls and other properties and then promptly disappear a few days later. Make sure the one you choose is legit!

3. Shady Tax Preparation

Phishing emails aren’t always aimed at stealing your personally identifiable information or planting malware on your computer. They may be simply aimed at getting your attention and business through enticing—and fraudulent—offers of a really big tax refund. While these tax preparers may get you a big refund, it could well be based on false information.

Be on the lookout for questions about business expenses that you didn’t make, especially watching out for signals from your tax preparer that you’re giving him or her a figure that is “too low.”

If you are using a preparer and something doesn’t seem right, ask questions—either directly from the preparer or by calling the IRS. The IRS operates the Tax Payer Advocate Service that can help answer your requests. The service’s phone may be unavailable during a government shutdown, but the website is always available.

Other soft-cons of shady tax preparation include inflated deductions, claiming tax credits that you’re not entitled to and declaring charitable donations you didn’t make. Bottom line: If you cheat—intentionally or unintentionally—chances are you’ll get caught. So make sure you play by the rules and follow the instructions or work with a preparer who does. Yes, the instructions are complicated. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to get honest help if you need it.

As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Tax season is stressful without the threat of tax-related identity theft and other scams. It’s important to be vigilant, because, to quote Yogi all over again, “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

This article was originally published February 28, 2017, and has been updated by a different author.

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Source: credit.com