WHO SHOULD PREPARE MY TAXES?

If you read my last blog on Getting Organized for Tax Time,  you remember that over 150,000,000 Americans will file a tax return this year. Tax preparers and software vendors will dominate advertising space over the next few months. They want to convince you that using their product or service will net you the largest refund, or make filing your taxes easy. Recent ads suggest that you would have to be an idiot to not be able to figure out how to file your return. To top it off, most products even advertise Free filing.

To get a better feel for “Free” tax filing, I logged on to a number of online tax services and found that “Free” is only for the very simplest of returns 1040EZ/A. Once on their website you generally find that they offer other, not so free, products that “Maximize” deductions or guarantee accuracy. (Understand that they guarantee the accuracy of the calculations that their software provides and not the accuracy of your input.) Many online products offer audit defense insurance at a price that is just as expensive as the tax filing fee. I suggest that you weigh your risk of audit and the likelihood that changes could be made against the additional cost of defense insurance before clicking that box.

If after preparing your returns online you are still anxious, don’t feel alone. Each year I have a handful of clients who ask me to check over their self-filed returns. The majority need some tweaking, not because the people are not smart but because they do not understand the tax code and do not know what the outcome should look like. They check a box here or there and click “Next” without really understanding the underlying tax code. If this fits your description, I suggest that you schedule an appointment with a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) or professional tax preparer.

By professional, I mean someone who is credentialed as an Attorney, CPA or EA. These people have passed rigorous exams to practice before the IRS and have annual education requirements to give them a better understanding of the tax code. Never engage a person to prepare your return who guarantees you a refund or who is not willing to sign it.

How do you find a professional that will be a good fit for you? Do a little homework before scheduling an appointment; visit a few websites, ask your attorney, banker or investment advisor who they suggest. Finally, set up an appointment to make sure that the relationship will be a good fit for you. A good preparer should have years of experience with your personal situation and be willing to give you an estimate of their fees before you make a commitment.

A good professional understands your personal situation and the tax code, and should be able to help you to pay the lowest amount of tax allowed under the law without sleepless nights worrying about the IRS.

Jamie Boulette, CPA has 30 years of tax experience and is managing director of Perry, Fitts, Boulette & Fitton CPAs with offices in Bath and Oakland. He can be reached at jboulette@pfbf.com or 207-873-1603.

WHAT DO SUPER BOWL SUNDAY AND TAX RETURNS HAVE IN COMMON?

Other than the time of year they occur, the one shining answer is Fantasy Football Leagues. The popularity of these leagues have forced the IRS and Certified Public Accountants all over the United States to begin asking the question: Are my winnings from these online leagues taxable?

What is Fantasy Football?

Fantasy Football is defined to work in such a way that, according to the NFL, “You decide what type of league you want to participate in, acquire a roster of players (either through a draft or through auto pick assignment), then set your lineup each week during the season and watch as touchdowns, field goals, yards gained, sacks, interceptions and much, much more generate fantasy points for or against your team. Whether you win or lose and climb or fall on the leader board all depends on how well you maximize the talent on your roster each week.”

How Does This Affect My Taxes?

Just like any other sort of income, a determination must be made as to the taxability of such income. Unfortunately, the IRS has not ruled specifically on the treatment of Fantasy Football winnings, but there are options that fall under the treatment of online game-playing tournaments (IRS Letter Ruling 200532025).

What Are The Options?

There are three methods defined by the above mentioned IRS letter ruling and they are as follows:

Option #1: The Gross Method: This method would require the league administrator to report total winnings for the year on a form 1099-MISC when the player wins more than $600.

Option #2: The Net Method: This method requires everything from the Gross Method, but then subtracts any entrance fees paid for the winning contests only, creating a net amount that would be reported on the 1099-MISC. if over $600.

Option #3: The Cumulative Net Method: Taking it one step further from the net method, this method allows all entrance fees to be deducted from the winnings, regardless of winning that contest. If this amount is still over the $600, it will be reported on form 1099-MISC.
What Should You Do Next?

If you feel that this applies to your Fantasy Football League activities, please give Jessica Marin, CPA a call at Perry, Fitts, Boulette & Fitton CPAs and we will help you determine the best way to report on your tax return.

Getting Organized for Tax Time

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin.

Though Mr. Franklin understood clearly that paying taxes was a certainty, he could not have imagined just how complex tax filing would become.  The U.S. tax code is a daunting 75,000 pages and I suspect that the 150,000,000 Americans that file tax returns rely heavily on professional preparers or tax preparation software to get it right.

This year we know with certainty that April 19th will mark the end of tax season.  That is correct, April 19th for Maine and Massachusetts residents.  April 15th falls on a Friday which is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in DC.  Monday, April 18th is Patriots’ Day, with holiday status in Maine and Massachusetts, so you procrastinators get an extra four days to file.

I know that it is early February, but what else have you to do on these cold dark nights other than to gather your tax information?  I recommend that you get started this weekend.  Begin by looking over last year’s return or tax organizer.  If you are like 80,000,000 Americans and have a professional preparer, make some notes for him/her on any changes that that might have taken place during the year.  Be sure to note, address changes, marriage or divorce, kids going off to college, job changes, real estate sales or home improvements, to name a few.  If you have provided bank account information for direct deposit or automatic tax payment, be sure to communicate any changes in banking information.  Remember, your tax professional may have a great understanding of the code but how it is applied can change, if your personal circumstances change.

Finally, it is important to organize your information.  Sometimes the most challenging part is to get clients to open their mail.  All of those envelopes stamped Important Tax Information should be opened and reviewed for accuracy.  Round up the W-2s, 1099s, Social Security statements, health care forms, college tuition information and mortgage interest.  Review your checking account for charitable contributions, estimated tax payments, excise taxes and medical expenses.  If you squirreled this important information to an ultra-safe place but can’t remember where that place is, most tax forms are readily available on line.

For many the real challenge of Tax Time is just facing the fact that preparing them is inevitable and best done early. Regardless of how well versed your tax professional is, it is not possible for them to correctly prepare your return unless you provide all of the necessary information.  Thus, I encourage you to get organized and start today.

Jamie Boulette has 30 years of tax experience and is the Managing Director of Perry, Fitts, Boulette & Fitton CPAs (PFBF CPAs) with locations in Oakland and Bath.