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Protecting Yourself from Tax Theft

Well if you haven’t already done your taxes, today is the day. Post offices around the country and keeping their doors open until midnight so that tax payers can get their returns stamped in time to avoid any late payment penalties. If you haven’t done your taxes yet and don’t feel comfortable doing them yourself, it’s not too late to stop by any Check City location to have one of our tax professionals help you out. In the spirit of tax season we wanted to cover a topic that is new to a lot of people, but is definitely something you need to watch out for this tax season. It may come as a surprise to some, but as the world continues to move towards online services and tech, so do the criminals.

Last year one of the major street gangs in Miami was brought down for a crime that is sweeping the nation and bringing in billions of dollars for criminals that are able to successfully pull it off. But it was not a new drug or imported weapon that is making these gangs rich, it is our taxes.

Tax Theft is on the Rise

Tax return theft has become one of the major crimes of the past few years with the number of reported instances trippling since 2010. Every year, millions of Americans fall victim to these evolving criminals and have their tax returns stolen, exposing them to a grueling process of retribution and a seemingly endless road to recovery.

With the coming of the electronic age, criminals have successfully engineered a way to merge identity theft and tax theft to produce their ability to file fraudulent tax return claims in the names of their victims. With the understanding that a claim on a return of over $9,000 dollars will cause red flags in the IRS, criminals routinely target hundreds of individuals and file fraudulently tax returns in order to strike it rich.

The criminals and criminal organizations that enact these instances of tax fraud are extremely well versed in their crime and are very effective at its execution, which means that everyday people need to start doing more in order to protect themselves from the onslaught of tax return thieves. Luckily, there are several precautions and steps of safety that people can take to ensure that they are not one of the millions of victims this tax season.

Tips for Avoiding Tax Theft

First and foremost, the primary way in which criminals are able to pull off their tax return fraud is through securing individuals Social Security numbers and committing identity theft. So those who are able to protect their personal information are far less likely to fall victim to tax return thieves.

People should especially be cautious concerning their Social Security number, as this is the typical way in which a criminal will be able to steal a person’s identity. Keeping your Social Security card in your wallet is an extremely bad idea as a simple pick pocket could turn into a huge headache if the criminal uses your Social Security number to file a false tax return or access your bank account.

Know Your Tax Professional

Next, you will be able to protect yourself from all forms of tax fraud if you have a good and trustable relationship with the person who prepares your taxes. Walking into a random office and going over your personal and tax information with a stranger is opening yourself up for crime, so instead consider asking friends and relatives for suggestions on who they see to help file their taxes and go with someone you trust.

Beef Up Your Security

Finally, you can beef up your electronic security by adding access codes to all accounts and devices, as well as changing these codes and passwords regularly. By enacting a few of the above changes, you will be able to safely file and receive your tax return.

6 Ways Teenagers Can Start Their Own Businesses

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There’s a point when an allowance just isn’t cutting it anymore. Your teenaged children aren’t going to be able to survive on ten bucks a month (or however much it is) for very long.

If they want to go on dates and afford a car, they’ll need to get out there and start earning some real cash. And what better way than starting a mini-business?

Starting a business is vastly superior then simply getting a job at the burger joint down the street for minimum wage. First of all, your kids will be able to make their own hours, so they’ll still have the flexibility to focus on school and extracurricular activities.
And more importantly, starting a mini-business teaches your kids many valuable lessons about finance and self-promotion. They’ll learn how to put themselves out there, and how to start a money-making enterprise from scratch.

Starting a mini-business doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal. Here are 6 ways your teenagers can start earning money right in their own neighborhood:

Mow Lawns

Chances are you’ve already got a functioning lawn mower in the shed—have your child turn it into some steady income during the warmer months.
Here’s an added benefit of a lawn-mowing business: plenty of exercise!

Run Errands for the Elderly

Your child can learn a great lesson about serving those in need by running errands for the elderly people in your neighborhood. Your neighbors will be happy, because your teenager’s services wouldn’t cost as much as some of the more expensive services that they would normally have to pay for.

Snow Removal

In the dead of winter, some people just aren’t capable of shoveling their own walks. Others just aren’t so motivated to take care of it themselves. Your child can take advantage of this by offering their snow-shoveling services to the neighborhood!

Rake Leaves

Your teenagers can capitalize on the autumn months by raking leaves in your neighborhood, and raking in the profits while they’re at it!

Dog Walker

Not everyone has the time to take Rex for a walk every day. Dogs need plenty of exercise to stay healthy, and your teenagers will be a huge benefit to the community’s canine population if they offer themselves up as professional dog walkers.

Walking dogs has the potential to be quite profitable, too, since you can walk 4 or 5 at a time.

Wash Cars

Where do most people take their cars to get washed? Usually some mega-chain or automatic wash. Wouldn’t it be better to pay some kids in the neighborhood to wash your car, rather than giving that money to some giant car wash chain.

Lessons Your Kids Will Remember for the Rest of Their Lives

Getting a job at a fast food restaurant is always an option, but what is your child going to learn from that besides how to punch a time card?

The benefits your teenagers will get from creating their own mini-business will carry over into their adult lives. They’ll develop a great work ethic and the financial skills necessary to be successful in whatever careers they ultimately choose.

Most Frequent Tax Mistakes

We all know that your greatest fear is to wake up and find an ugly man from the IRS hovering over you just ready to make your life a living nightmare. If this is something that you definitely don’t want to happen the listen up! Tax laws can be like rocket science in complexity and everyone can make mistakes. Here are some tax mistakes that the tax experts at Check City see a lot of people make when they try to do their taxes on their own.

Unemployment Benefits

You may have been out of a job for that year but you might still be getting unemployment benefits. If this is you, you still need to be paying taxes on your income. The IRS considers it wage income and that is just the way it goes.

Divorce

This may have been an even worse year for you as you had to end your marriage. You may get a good settlement with regular checks coming in from your ex but if you forget to pay taxes on them, you are wrong! If it is just child support money, it isn’t taxable. The thing that you need to pay taxes on is the alimony. If you are the one paying the alimony, there is some good news! Those checks are all tax deductible.

Debt forgiveness

You may have been told that your credit card bill has been cut in half. Well congratulations! You now have much less worrying to do, but before you start doing your victory dance, make sure you have your taxes in order. That’s right! To the IRS, you just earned some money, so make sure you are paying taxes on it. This is not always true as some have received debt forgiveness that is not taxable.

Prizes

Hurray, you just won $10,000! What are you going to do next? Before you say, “Im going to Disneyland” you should probably put some of that aside for taxes because when you win so does Uncle Sam. Winnings are considered another form of income and this isn’t just in reference to cash prizes either. You will have to pay taxes on any property you win based off market value.

Social Security

You might be saying to yourself right now, “you are kidding me right! I paid social security taxes for years as I slaved away at my job and this is what I get in return, more taxes?!” Before you strain your milk you need to know that this is not required of everyone. If your sole income is from social security then it is tax deductible. If you have another income on the side though, you may end up paying as much as 85% on all of those government checks. That is just the way the cookie crumbles.

Make sure you are keeping all of your ducks in a row and understand what needs to be taxed and what you don’t have to pay taxes on. As the old sage once said “knowledge is power, especially when you are dealing with the IRS”. Keep things in order and get on top of it all by starting your taxes early this year!

Do Not Leave Thousands of Dollars on the Table This Tax Season

1 in 5 eligible people fail to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is like leaving thousands of dollars on the table!

The federal government has been siphoning money out of your paychecks all year long. It’s up to you to fight for as much of that cash as you can. You hunt down all the deductions and credits you can find—if there’s any way you can reduce your taxable income (legally, or course), you’ll find it.

Yet millions of people are just letting the IRS keep the money that they rightfully deserve back. In fact, 1 in 5 people miss the biggest tax credit of them all: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

You’re entitled to some of your money back, and that’s what getting a fat tax refund is about. The EITC could single-handedly double or triple your refund, so don’t let it slip away if you can help it.

Get a bigger refund with the EITC

The EITC could translate into quite a big chunk of change. It’s been helping ease the tax burden of working class families for quite a while: the EITC first started back in 1975.
In 2013, the average credit was $2,200, but for this year it could be worth as much as $6,143! With the EITC, it’s even possible to get a larger refund than the amount that’s already been withheld from your wages.

How much money can I get back with the EITC?

The amount you get back is based on your income and number of dependents. The more eligible children or dependents you can claim (up to 3), the bigger the credit. For example, here are the maximum credit amounts for:

  • A family with 3 qualifying dependents: $6,143
  • A family with 2 qualifying dependents: $5,460
  • A family with 1 qualifying dependent: $3,305
  • A family with no dependents: $496

That kind of money could make a huge difference in the lives of millions of Americans, if they only know how to get it.

Am I eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit?

If you are married, you have to file jointly to be eligible for the EITC, but a single person can be eligible as well. Your earned income and adjusted gross income must be lower than the following:

  • $46,997 ($52,427 married filing jointly) with 3 dependents
  • $43,756 ($49,186 married filing jointly) with 2 dependents
  • $38,511 ($43,941 married filing jointly) with 1 dependent
  • $14,590 ($20,020 married filing jointly) with no dependents

How can I make sure I’m eligible?

The IRS has made a point of going after fraudulent claims for the EITC, so you need to be certain that your income is correctly reported and that your children qualify as dependents. The IRS’s website, www.irs.gov, provides a helpful tool called the EITC Assistant which can help you determine your eligibility.

The best way to make sure you’re eligible for the EITC is to meet with a tax professional. Don’t be afraid to claim this fat tax credit! Call Check City today and find out how our tax professionals can help you get the biggest refund possible!

How to Save Big On Your Next Move

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We all know what it’s like preparing to move—it always takes much more time and effort than you previously thought, and winds up costing a lot more, too.

Don’t let your moving costs balloon out of control. Try these easy tips that will help keep the costs down, and make the whole process easier.

Create a Moving Budget

You’ve got to start out with a game plan, otherwise the price of your move is bound to get out of control. Start by writing down what you’re willing to spend, and then jot down what you think your expenses will be. If the two don’t match, try to compromise by either raising your budget, or cutting out some of the expenses.
Hold onto your receipts, and try to stay on budget throughout your move. Once unforeseen expenses come up, you’ll need to adjust the budget to make room.

Find Free Moving Boxes

Free boxes are all over the place, you just need to know where to look. One place to start is

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online classified ads—people put up ads for free boxes all the time.

You can always go to stores that would usually throw away their boxes. A secret treasure trove of free boxes is your local liquor store—not only will they likely give you their old boxes for free, but they have the absolute sturdiest boxes around (they’re reinforced to hold those heavy liquor bottles).

Save on Moving Companies

Not everyone has the motivation or time to move everything themselves. For many of us, it’s simply not an option.
So you hire a moving company, which can get extremely expensive. Many companies will offer to move everything you own “shelf-to-shelf,” which is by far the most expensive, though convenient, option. Basically it means they’ll pack up all your stuff for you, and then unpack it all at your new place. For those of us looking to save money on moving, this is hardly the best option.

Do the Packing Yourself

Save yourself a huge chunk of cash by packing everything yourself. Then you can let the pros pack up your fragile and bulky items—the big screen TVs, pianos, etc.

Always pack carefully—if something you packed yourself is damaged, it’s very unlikely that insurance will cover it.

Always Get Moving Insurance

It’s a pretty safe bet that at lease something will be damaged, especially if it’s a very big move. Even if you’re extra careful, do you really want to take the risk of damaging your valuables and not having insurance to cover them?

When it comes down to it, all your budgeting and planning to lower costs will be wiped out if anything gets damaged on the road. There are a few options when it comes to insuring your move—insure the total value of everything, or insure your boxes by the pound.

Have a Garage Sale

Why do you have so much stuff, anyway? If you can somehow reduce the total amount of things you’re moving, then it’s guaranteed to lower the cost of the move. Plus, you’ll have some extra cash in your wallet. Here’s some information on how to guarantee success for your yard sale.

A move can be expensive if you’re not careful—if you don’t watch what you spend and budget accordingly in real life, well, that can get expensive, too.

Facing Spring Cleaning

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As we emerge from the shelter of our homes into a bright and colorful spring, we start to realize how dank and (dare we say) dirty our houses have become. No doubt the time to purge the closets of their garbage and to scrub those kitchen floors has come.

But with it comes the horror of working hard, indoors, while the sun invites is brightly to come out and play. If you need a little help getting started, here are a handful of things to do to make the process more bearable:

Get Yourself Disgusted

One of the most effective cleaning jump-starters is your personal feelings of disgust. If you need a little motivation to get the cleaning started, try poking around the back of your fridge or looking for something in the depths of your closet.

Turn the mess into your enemy and prepare for war. You will not let the grunge and garbage overpower your home!

Pick a Day

Some people like to get everything done in one, swift shot. If that sounds like you, pick any day that works for you. Plan to work all day, but give yourself perks to look forward to (like delivery pizza for lunch and a movie outing at the end of the day).

If, on the other hand, you work better at the spur of the moment, warn your family members that when the mood strikes – you’ll be cleaning. It could be at 2

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in the afternoon, 9 at night, or first thing in the morning. Realize that taking spring cleaning one hour at a time (or 15 minutes at a time) is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Just don’t start any project that you can’t finish in one, spontaneous go.

Brighten the Mood

Next, do everything you can to brighten the mood. This means lights (preferably sunlight), music, and perhaps even some company! Just because you’re cleaning, it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. You may roll your eyes at this, but really – an attitude adjustment can make a world of difference.

Blast your favorite music, take short dance breaks, play basketball with the garbage can/pile, and have fun telling stories, talking, or watching the TV while you work. Try to not let these things distract you too much, but better to take more time cleaning and be happy about it, than be miserable for the whole thing.

Admire Your Work

But before you run off to your fun movie night or whatever you have planned after cleaning, take a moment to admire your work. Check out the massive pile of garbage you are getting rid of and roll around on your squeaky-clean floors. Stand back and admire the organized closet and enjoy the spotless walls.

The more pride you take in your work, the better you’ll feel about yourself, the time you spent, and your accomplishments. It will also motivate you to keep things clean, so that next spring, you won’t have to work quite so hard. Not to mention you get to keep a clean house all year round!

So, don’t let spring cleaning intimidate you! This is your chance to restore order to the chaotic universe that is your home.

The Rise of the Workout Apps

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In our previous posts we’ve discussed how you can track your financial fitness with the help of apps for your phone or tablet. In today’s post we’re going to cover some ways that you can track your physical fitness with the help of apps for your phone or tablet.

If you’re the type of person that is always on the run, picking up your morning coffee, off to work, then meetings, and then picking up your kids from the daycare just in time to start working on dinner, you just don’t have the time to work out. This can be frustrating when you are trying to lose weight or diet. That’s why technology has decided to make your life easier by creating a few apps that can help you with your diet or exercise.

Count Your Steps

If you really don’t have any extra time to exercise, you can at least measure how much you are getting done in a day. This app will count how many steps you’ve taken in a day and how many calories that means you have burned off. This will help you with your diet in deciding what you should and should not eat.

Counting Calories

When you are eating on the go, you might not be sure how many calories are in the food that you’re eating. MyFitnessPal.com will now allow you to look up restaurants and their foods and how many calories or grams of fat are in them. This will help you measure your intake and allow you to work the rest of your intake for the day into your diet. Weight Watches also has an app that will tell you how many “points” something is that you eat if you measure your meals by that instead of calories.

Workouts

Let’s face it – no one can afford those workout videos that you only watch once anyway. But of course, there’s a (free) app for that. If you’re looking for some short and simple workouts that you can do anywhere, there are many different app workouts available for download. Anything from ab, cardio, and arm workouts to even butt workouts have been very popular recently.

Map Your Route

If you do have time for a run or jog every day, you may be interested in mapping it out. This will tell you the exact locations and distance of where you run, how long it took you to run it, and what your average speed is. It will even keep in consideration your break times.

Food Diary

If you have trouble actually keeping track of all those calories and points you know you’re eating, you need an app that will be able to do it for you. Fill in the blanks of what you ate and the app will do all the math for you. You can find anything from fast food meals and home cooked meals to small snacks like “five carrots.”
With apps like these, you don’t have to waste any time wondering how much you can eat, how much you’ve eaten, how much you need to work out, or how much you have worked out. All these questions and more can easily be answered with just an app or two that can be downloaded onto your smart phone for free. Search for the fitness app that is best for you today.

Before You Use the Mint App

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News about the Mint app has been buzzing for quite some time now, and though it is an extremely popular finance app, there are still plenty of people who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet. This scoop into the inner workings of the Mint app should help you make a smart decision to ensure that your finances are in qualified hands.

What Is It?

The first thing you need to know is, of course, what Mint even is. Is it an app that locates the nearest mint chocolate chip ice cream? Not so much.

In fact, Mint is an app that brings all of your financial accounts into one place—this makes it easy for you to track your income and spending, even if you are working from several banks and other financial institutions.
The most exciting part? It’s completely free. You can simply download it from your device’s app store, or access your account online and then you’ll have access to your finances on the go at no cost.

It will even allow you to create a budget, track your spending, and set and meet goals. Not Bad, huh?

Setting Financial Goals

One of the best features of Mint is the goal setting potential. With Mint, you can look at all of your finances and set long and short term goals. And because all of your finances can be viewed in one app, you don’t have to go through all the hassle of checking each of your bank accounts individually.

With Mint you can track your progress as often as you would like, and receive monthly emails that let you know how you are doing. If that’s not enough, it will also give you advice on how to reach your goals more quickly. In conjunction with a financial adviser, Mint can truly help you change your financial situation.

As you start meeting your goals, you will begin to feel the benefits and gain the confidence to set and meet even more killer goals.

Will Your Financial Information Stay Secure?

At this point you may be getting excited, and perhaps you are also wondering if it is too good to be true. Not to worry, your funds and financial information are secure with Mint. They use the same level of security as banks, so your information is completely protected.

And, in fact, Mint is a tool specifically for viewing financial information, it doesn’t allow access to your funds. That means if someone stumble upon your open Mint app, they won’t be able to touch your assets.

In addition, Mint gives you extra security by informing you of unusual charges or changes in your finances, so you can stay

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on top of your finances at a glance. Now, that’s security.

Taking Action

Alright, so now you know the details and it’s time to take action. Make viewing your finances as simple and effective as possible and consider downloading Mint today. With the help of this app and other financial resources, you can see a huge improvement, so take action today!

The Importance of Being Charitable

Americans today are always looking for ways that they can save a few dollars. Although many people wish that they made more per hour, sometimes all it takes to have more money is to just redistribute how you are spending it.
Money seems to be something that no one has but everybody wants. We all recognize this is true, but we don’t seem to be doing much about it.

Focus Less on Money

Something that could help our society as a whole would be if we could take the emphasis off money a little bit. For many people, all they think about is money.

They are constantly thinking about how their lives could be better if they just had more money. They would be able to buy a nicer house, a newer car, more clothes, and they would just be happier.

Many people dream of having a lot of money, but these people also usually know that money can’t buy happiness. Yet, they still struggle to truly internalize the idea that they don’t need excessive amounts of money to be happy.

Money Doesn’t Equal Happiness

Just look at the people in the world who have a lot of money. You have probably thought of various celebrities, actors, actresses, and owners of big businesses.

They may have a lot of money, but does that mean they are happy? Usually people with a lot of money still describe the most important things in their life to be their family and friends.

The most important things to them are things that they creative and that they are proud of. They usually mostly highly value the things in life that they truly love.

The things that people truly love are usually people. Their family members, their closest friends, and their spouse and children are usually the people that are loved most.

Think of What You Have That Others Don’t

That being said, not having to struggle for the necessities in life is something that people everywhere should be able to enjoy. There are still millions of people around the world who do not have access to clean drinking water.
They usually also do not have adequate shelter or clothing either. We who live in a stable industrialized country seem to take what we have for granted.

We feel that what we have isn’t ever enough. Our house isn’t enough.
Our car from 2003 isn’t new enough, isn’t nice enough. We constantly feel like we need more.

Consider Volunteering

There is a cure for feeling like this. You do not have to succumb to those thoughts of feeling sorry for yourself and always wanting more.

There are several ways that you can be charitable and give to those who do not have as much as you do. There are many, many nonprofit organizations around the United States that you can volunteer for.

There are many different kinds of volunteering opportunities within these organizations. If you want to travel the world and literally go help people who live in developing countries, you can do this.

The Peace Corps accepts volunteers every year. Usually for the Peace Corps, you have to have a bachelor’s degree from a university and some relevant experience in the field that you would like to volunteer in.

There are many things you can do to volunteer without leaving the country, though. You can volunteer at organizations like United Way or UNICEF.

Organizations like these are always in need of loving volunteers who are trying to do their part to make a difference in their world. Oftentimes you can better see the impact you’re making on the world because the effects of your work can be seen all around you in your own community.

Look for Service Opportunities

There are still even more ways that you can help your fellow man and give back to your community. There are simple acts of service all around us.

If you want to make someone’s day better, all you need to do is simply smile at someone as you walk down the street. If you’re at work, smile at someone at work.

Give your co-worker a compliment on their outfit. Ask them about their day and about their life.
People feel valued when people take an interest in them. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say and in getting to know them better.

When you do this, you will feel your love for your fellow man grow. You will feel bonded with your co-workers, associates, family members, and friends.

You will see that by serving you learn to love those around you. And by serving, you come to love yourself as well.
Service is love, and love is service. Be charitable and reap the benefits today.

Budgeting Tips You May Not Have Thought of Before

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When it comes to budgeting, you often see a lot of the same tips on every blog, but here are a few tips that you may not have heard of before, along with a few traditional picks. Your funding is specific to you, so you should have a budget that fits your life and schedule.

Avoid Having too Many Different Bank Accounts

It may be surprising to hear that checking accounts can be much more effective if you only have one or two. Having too many different bank accounts can make it difficult to track your spending and that makes your finances a lot more precarious.

Also, because many accounts have a minimum balance, various maintenance fees or even limit the transactions per month, it can be difficult to keep track of just one account, but if you have a few, it can make things even more difficult. You can save time and even money by limiting your accounts.

Making Smart Purchases

As you are spending money, sometimes it is difficult to make smart choices, especially when you are looking at the short term. But if you center your focus on long-term success then you will begin to see smarter spending choices you can make.

One of the best ways to keep your long-term success in mind is to consider buying products you use frequently in bulk. Often you can save a lot by simply spending a little more now. That may seem a little counter intuitive, but buying in bulk is often the cheapest method in the long run.

Make Saving a Real Priority

Saving is great, but sometimes it falls on the back burner. If you making savings an expense that you must pay for straight off, then you will begin to set savings as a real priority and see the difference it can make in your monthly and long term finances.
It is always a good idea to make your savings “payment” very first. Once you receive your paycheck, transfer a reasonable amount into savings, or set up an automatic transfer to make it even easier.

Take Breaks from Spending

Sometimes spending is really just a habit, so start by choosing a day a week to not spend any money. This simple step will show you that you can find other things to do—besides spending.

Keep Track of Your Progress

Make a chart or graph of your spending. This simple step can help you really see where your money is going. Break your spending into categories and see how much you are spending on unnecessary expenses. Once you know, you can make a real change.

Pack Your Lunch

The small things are often responsible for the biggest changes, so try something as small as packing a lunch instead of eating out. Over the course of a month you can save a lot more than you are expecting.

Make Your Budget Your Way

Your personal finances are yours, so start budgeting today and see the difference it can make for you to have control over your finances.

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