During one of the worst times in recent history, scams should be the last thing we should be worrying about. But, the truth of the matter is that new scams surrounding the stimulus checks and government bailout programs for small businesses are starting to come to life daily, and are more powerful than ever before.
Almost all of us have been anxiously awaiting the financial relief checks since the approval of the COVID-19 Relief Bill was passed. When will they get here? Who will receive them? How much will you get? On top of all these questions its a sad fact to share that during this terrifying time when we should all be standing together, stronger parties are trying to take advantage of those who have been the most affected by this devastating pandemic. Following in the footsteps of our recent blog about social security scams, we wanted to do a followup blog on the very real reality and the possibility of scams and frauds appearing right now. They could look like the relief checks, the key to getting your check quicker, small business loans, loans to help out larger companies, and even promising the cure for the pandemic all in exchange for your personal information.
Waking up every day to the news right now is difficult. The unknowns are overwhelming and the lines to get toilet paper are still ridiculous. In this time that has brought so many of us together, it is almost impossible to think that yet another attack could be upon us. While many are still working or now working from home, the hauntingly large numbers of those who are now facing unemployment due to the coronavirus are staggering. This is leaving thousands upon thousands of people without a paycheck, unable to provide for their families or even pay their simple bills. Businesses, even if they are still operating on a very small level or have been forced to close or made the conscious decision to close, are also losing money by the day. When the news came that the stimulus package had been approved and relief checks would soon be on their way, a collective sigh of relief was felt among all of us. New small business loans and other relief options for companies are now in place as well. We all will slowly be getting back on our feet, in very small steps one way or another. But, while we wait for these checks, scammers could be and are now rearing their very ugly heads saying that they have your funds and to receive them you must supply them with very personal and private information. Let us stop you right now, and say that is NOT how the stimulus checks will be handled.
You, the American citizen, don't have to do anything or file any kind of paperwork or to receive your stimulus check. The economic impact payment will automatically be deposited into your bank account that was connected to your 2018 and 2019 tax returns. Even if you have received your tax returns in the past as a paper check, the IRS will still deposit the funds into the account they have on file for you automatically. They will also calculate the amount you need based on your income over your 2018 and 2019 tax returns and your personal need. You won't have to do any calculations or send in any kind of paperwork. The IRS will not be contacting you in any way. The IRS did just announce that they will be releasing a brand new website that will allow you to see the status of your stimulus check when it will arrive, and it will also allow you to check the bank account or it is headed to. If there is a problem with the bank account number, you will need to change that right away on the IRS website. The IRS is making updates to their website almost daily, so if you have any questions make sure you visit their website.
We hate that these scams and schemes are very real right now. Since they are, we wanted to make sure that you are on high alert. All of these warnings also apply to small businesses and companies receiving financial support during this time. Please take comfort in the fact that the Department of Justice is forming a legal and integrative response to deal with these frauds. The US Attorney General's office has also developed a special task force along with appointed COVID-19 fraud coordinators to help deal with this situation. Here in the Lowcountry and throughout the state of South Carolina, our District US Attorney Peter M. McCoy Jr has also stated that his office and the department of justice are making this type of fraud a priority.
Scary times can become scarier. But, we are here to help all of you through it. Stay alert, stay safe, and stay home. We will get through this Summerville, we know it!
Working In New Spaces
The coronavirus has changed the way we live our lives. It has changed our daily schedules, where and how we work, and has changed the face of education for our children. For parents working from home for the very first time while their children in school are also working from home, the landscape of living and working together has been altered. What does this mean for parents and their children and how can they be the most successful in these times of change?
So much has changed within the last few weeks since our last blog post about how small businesses and corporations need to operate during this time of crisis. It continues to change the work world so much, that we wanted to follow that blog up by discussing just how much COVID-19 is changing and affecting the lives of everyone in the working world down to the youngest of your family. One of the biggest reliefs and changes during this time is the 90-day deferment on taxes for everyone, allowing both individuals and corporations to pay and file their taxes on July 15th instead of April 15th. But, with that relief, comes a bit of a struggle. Many of us are working from home for the very first time and with children our children that are school-aged or younger. Going from the office to our home offices, kitchen tables, or couches has been a huge shift, especially if you're working alongside your son or daughter as they are virtually taking classes and sending in assignments in brand new ways themselves. Thankfully, you don't have to worry about your small business or corporation meeting tax deadlines for a few more months while you're getting adjusted. The biggest adjustment is working from home, being productive, and trying not to drive one another crazy!
As COVID-19 changes the guidelines on how to work, we wanted to break it down to the individuals affected by these huge changes and to share some tips and suggestions on how to successfully make this transition productive both to your company and to your well being. Without the latter, your work and productivity could suffer. So, let's get to work!
Every family, personal work space, and your job at hand is unique and different. Through this unknown time, you'll have to find what works best for you. These suggestions might be the perfect solution to your learning curve, or they might be the complete opposite. Take these as stepping stones, and continue to see what works for you and your family. In the end, whatever works for your family is the right way. There is no right or wrong way, there will just need to be a lot of trial and error until you reach a comfortable level of living. Hopefully, by then, life will be back to normal, or as close to it as possible!
One of the most consistent things we have seen to be successful for working parents and their children is to stay on schedule. The key is to create a schedule for this new way of living and to stick to it. This applies to both parent and child. All of this will depend on how old your child is and what their needs are, but living as consistently to your life before moving home is very important. Begin by waking up at the same time, get ready and dressed for the day, and eat breakfast at the same time. The temptation to sleep in, stay in the same PJs for days and eat whatever whenever is going to be a huge temptation. Don't fall into that trap! We aren't saying you need to get dressed to the nines or dress your children for picture day. The key is to change out of your PJs every morning and into another outfit that makes both you and your kids feel productive and normal as possible. Then, we recommend creating a schedule for your students for the whole day, not just during school hours. This will help them stay adjusted to their normal school day, stay on top of their expectations of getting homework done and studying completed, and allocate their free time. This way their grades don't drop while they are spending all of their time watching TV, playing video games, or on their phones. Keep them on a schedule that will create your workday too, one that allows you to stay close to your schedule too. For our parents with young children, keep them on a schedule as much as possible and one that is as close to what they have been living with. Take advantage of nap time, quiet playtime, and lunchtime as your work hours. You might need to get a little creative, and that's ok!
It will be very important to sit your family down and talk about what's happening in the world and what these changes mean for everyone. The situation will change expectations, free time, and it will also mean spending all of your time together during work and play hours. You will also need to communicate with your boss, employees, and colleagues that they might need to be more flexible because of your new work situation with your children. Express that your children could walk into a work call or video meeting at any time, and you might need to get up and leave to answer an emergency or a baby crying at any time. If anything, mention this often so it is never a surprise and not something that is forgotten by anyone. This is also the time to set boundaries with your kids. This might mean allowing them more TV, video game, and screen time to give you more space and time to get work done. If that is the case, explain to them that this extra free time is a treat and that everything will return to normal once work and school go back to their normal schedule. Set boundaries, especially for your school-aged children, and let them know when they can come into your work space, and when they can only come in when it is an absolute emergency.
During this crazy time, create a system that allows you to work and allows you to still be a family. Take breaks together from work and school to exercise together, take a car ride, or walk the dog together while still practicing social distancing. When work and school are over for the day, make sure they are over for the day. Separate work from play with the whole family, unless you have to finish a job or a project. Keeping regular dinner hours, family game or movie nights, and beyond are very important. Spending time together as a family is very needed. But, allotting yourself adult time is very important as well. It is also important to parent as a team and juggle these new schedule changes and learning curves together. Share the normal household tasks like you never have before. Switch places creating the daily schedule, serving as a teacher for the day, and even switch giving your partner the night off. Allow your partner to not have to worry about household chores or the necessary grocery trip if they're slammed with work, and let them repay the favor to you when you're swamped with work. You can even switch shifts throughout the day, whatever works for you!
This is an unknown time full of uncharted territory. Maintaining a sense of balance, normality, and regularity is the key to staying productive as a business owner and the head of a successful family. It may seem impossible at first, but keep working. You will figure out what works best for you. Remember to stay smart, keep following the WHO guidelines, and to wash your hands!
The Unspoken Threat of Tax Season
Now that Tax Season is officially here, there are so many things on your plate and that of your Tax Preparer. But did you know that there is a very scary potential danger lurking behind the dark doors of the internet that could ruin your life simply by getting access to your tax documents?
Happy February! We are in full swing of Tax Season here in Summerville and have been thoroughly enjoying helping our clients get their taxes prepared and sent off. The IRS has been accepting online tax submissions for over two weeks now, and we are ready for the very busy weeks ahead of us. We are here to help you with all of your tax needs in Summerville, so please don't hesitate to reach out and connect with us so we can help you file appropriately and on time!
Our company, along with many others like us, are in the busiest times of their work year. Tax season can bring the fear of making sure your tax documents are filled out appropriately and on time along with the need of avoiding any penalties and accruing penalties. But the fear of online security attacks on CPA's and Tax Preparers also needs to be added to the list of worries and concerns for everyone this tax season. Cyber crime has sadly become one of the largest and most expensive forms of crimes globally. Banks, shipping companies, medical corporations, and even dating sites have become victims of cyber attacks, causing the leak of some of the most private and personal information that someone can get their hands on to use against the company or to steal someone's identity. It looks like CPA's and Tax Preparer's are starting to inch their way further up the list of those who are attacked most frequently, especially the deeper we head into Tax Season. The reality that Tax Preparers are some of the most attacked and targeted because of the very high profile data they are in charge of is becoming all too familiar. Cyber crime is running rampant through the streets of the internet, and during tax season, the level of crime and danger has become catastrophic.
Why specifically are these cyber criminals going after your CPA's and Tax Preparers? Think about the kinds of information they are privy to and have stored on their hard drives. They have years worth of bank account numbers, social security numbers, years of previous tax returns, your Employee Identification numbers, and plenty of other documents that could lead to your whole life being stolen if taken into the wrong hands. This kind of information is the forbidden candy store that is off-limits to any prying eyes, making it even more appealing to cyber criminals. This kind of information can also be very lucrative for the criminal, as they can use it for blackmail, something they can sell, or simply ruining your credit and stealing your identity. Thankfully this is where the Financial Services Act of 1999 comes into the picture to save you and your Tax Preparers state of mind. This act legally obligated any Tax Preparer to provide protection for their clients' digital documents.
Cyber criminals know that tax season is the most stressful, busy, and difficult times of the year for any Tax Preparer, and they will take advantage of that. As much as we hope this would be common knowledge to our fellow tax preparers, there are still some out there who are not as aware or not as prepared as they should be. Even if cyber attacks have never been an issue for your company or your tax preparer before, that doesn't mean they couldn't be attacked in the future. One of the biggest issues with cyber criminals now is that they are becoming smarter and more dangerous as time goes by. They are starting to figure out how to break in quicker, stronger, and in ways they never have before. Now, many of these attacks can go unnoticed for long periods or go under the radar without ever being caught. No matter the size of a Tax Preparation company, it will be at risk and can still be targeted. To a cyber criminal, any information they can steal is a good opportunity for them, and a horrible loss for you.
We understand how difficult this time of year is for anyone involved in preparing taxes, we are doing it right alongside you. But we could not stress enough that it is past time to take your IT protection seriously. Make sure you are constantly up to date with the programs you use to keep your digital files protected and consider working with a company whose sole job it is to keep you safe from things some software can't even detect. It might seem like overkill, but when it comes to your client's personal information and your reputation as a company, you can't put a price on that! For those looking into working with a Tax Preparation company, make sure to ask about the company's IT security. Do your research and see what protection they have provided their clients. Make sure their track record is strong, and that you feel confident in the protection they offer. Don't be afraid to ask about their security measures. you're handing over your personal information and it needs to stay this way. If they can't provide this information, then they might not be the company for you. We understand that asking these types of questions might be the last thing on your mind during tax season, but asking them and getting a positive response is just as important as filing your tax documents by April 15th!
Be smart this tax season and take your protection seriously. Make sure you are prepared for whatever might come your way. Until next time, we are Pathways Consulting and we are are here for all of your tax needs here in Summerville!
The Easy Failings of Bookkeeping
Running a business is hard, anyone can acknowledge that. Today, one of the biggest downfalls of any company is its bookkeeping. Simple mistakes and errors can not only make the running of the business difficult but it can also be its downfall. Try and avoid these easy bookkeeping mistakes to make your business run smoothly.
Bookkeeping is something that all businesses, big or small, have to do. The pen to paper bookkeeping for many is a thing of the past thanks to amazing online programs and applications, like Quickbooks, that do a lot of the hard work for you. For some, making and keeping a note of everything by pen and paper is still preferred. But your bookkeeping and how you handle it is just as uniquely personal as your business model and strategy. But the biggest factor, however you decide to do your bookkeeping, is to avoid some of the most simple and common mistakes out there. Today we will be discussing how to avoid these common mistakes to keep your small business working smoothly no matter what!
The First Steps
When it comes to the point where your small business can grow and expand, that is so exciting! But it's so easy to overlook the important steps of your full bookkeeping to successfully make those steps. Many new business owners will just do the bookkeeping themselves. They rush the process, they don't account enough time or attention to the process, and completely mess up a good chunk of all of it by doing so. Our first recommendation is to work with a professional. If you don't want one full time or on staff, at least learn from them how to properly do everything that needs to be done. Take more classes, attend seminars, or even bend the ear of professional bookkeepers. Or hire someone like us at Hoods, who can help you understand Quickbooks and how to properly use it for your company! Most importantly when you sit down to do your bookkeeping, take your time and breathe.
This might be obvious, but it still needs to be said. You have to budget for your small business or the outcome could be a disaster! You raised and created the fund to create the company in the first place. So you know that your bank account doesn't have unlimited spending for the year or years to come. You need to plan how the money of the company will be spent, or in other words, what will your budget be. A budget will help you track your accounts and records, any issues can be corrected quickly, you can plan for any emergencies, keep the company running, and pay your employees. In 2018 alone, 61% of small businesses didn't create a budget. How scary is that? A lot of young companies don't have a full appreciation of what a budget can do for the company itself. Without one there is no way to evaluate the performance or even the goals for the company. You also can't continue to develop the business without one, and you can't see any growth either.
One of the most important steps in bookkeeping is the reconciliation of your books. This is making sure all of the bank accounts, credit cards, and all the reports match and you have proof to show that they do. This is a huge step when it comes to paying your taxes based on how much the company made, how much was spent, and how much was paid to the employees. These factors will all factor in how much you owe the IRS come tax season. Not doing this properly can lead to over or underpaying your taxes. This might have you re-doing your taxes, owing more, and possibly accruing late fees. Not to mention the hours spent on the phone and in front of your computer to fix these issues. You can also become a victim of fraud, have bank withdrawals that were not authorized, several other bank errors, and the disappearance of money you can't account for.
It Doesn't Mix
Many small businesses start in garages or home offices. Some of the greatest companies of all time have started this way. But don't make the mistake of mixing your home and business bills, expenses, or taxes. Make sure you know exactly how to write off business expense items and what they are before doing so. The IRS is very well versed in what you can and cannot call business expenses from your home, so don't try and fool them. Even if you make an honest mistake, it can still hurt you come tax time. Separate your credit cards, your living space from your workspace, your landlines, and cell phones. Keep meticulous records of expenses and receipts, mileage, and time. Don't muddy or blur the lines between home expenses and business expenses. This will make your life and dealing with the IRS much simpler!
There are a lot of small moving parts to bookkeeping, but all of them have to be well oiled to keep the machine running. Don't rush, make sure you know what you're doing, and never be afraid to ask for help. We are here to offer you the best tax services for your business and to help you do your bookkeeping with Quickbooks. Don't let your small business become prey to these easy mistakes. Take the time to educate yourself and keep your bookkeeping focused and accounted for.
For some companies it's a choice and for other's a necessity. We are going to be discussing the benefits of estimated quarterly taxes, and why it might be one of the best ways to tackle your taxes head-on.
We have talked about how to prepare for your taxes, where to get help to prepare your taxes, how to save money for your taxes, and the best ways to do so. Now it's up to you to decide how you will file your taxes. Paying once a year vs. quarterly is just as unique as your financial situation and your company. The choice on how to pay for your taxes depends on your preference and financial situation. It's very common to wait until the end of the fiscal year and fill out the tax forms and pay for everything by April 15th. But, for others, this isn't an option or is the worst option for them personally. For this group of people, their best option is to pay estimated quarterly taxes. So, instead of paying in one large chunk, you pay four small chunks throughout the year. It might sound intimidating and more of a hassle than its worth. But you might be surprised to find that it's more beneficial than you think!
So, who does estimated quarterly taxes benefit? By IRS ruling, you have to file your taxes quarterly if you are expected to owe over $1000 in taxes for the current year or you expect your withholdings and refundable credit to be less than 90% of the tax shown on your current tax return or 100% of the tax shown on last year's return. Sounds a little harsh, right? But for a lot of businesses and even those who are self-employed, there are many benefits to filing taxes this way. Contracted persons or independent contractors and people who receive dividend income or real estate and rental income receive all of their pay upfront and no taxes are taken out of this pay. But that doesn't mean taxes won't be taken out of this pay. These persons are the perfect candidates to pay quarterly taxes instead of paying on a giant lump sum at the end of the year. They can live well off of their earnings, but a lot of the time one giant tax bill is more than this type of lifestyle can afford. If you cut it up into four smaller payments, it is much easier to handle.
These lists are heavy. Even though the list of Pros is much longer than that of the Cons, the shorter list might outweigh its component. But however you decide to pay your taxes, or how they are dictated that you must pay, just be very smart in preparing. Stay educated, stay prepared, stay organized, and stay alert. In this case, with so many moving parts, having someone do your taxes for you just might be the best way to go. We are here to help you no matter what. Until next time, prep well!
The Pathways Team