Articles tagged with: IRS

What Are Your Odds of Being Audited?

They are low, unless you show the I.R.S. some conspicuous “red flags” on your return. 

Fewer than 1% of Americans have their federal taxes audited. The percentage has declined recently due to Internal Revenue Service budget cuts. In 2016, just 0.7% of individual returns were audited (1 of every 143). That compares to 1.1% of individual returns in 2010.1,2

The rich are more likely to be audited – and so are the poor. After all, an audit of a wealthy taxpayer could result in a “big score” for the I.R.S., and the agency simply cannot dismiss returns from low-income taxpayers that claim implausibly large credits and deductions.

Data compiled by the non-profit Tax Foundation shows that in 2015, just 0.47% of Americans with income of $50,000-75,000 were audited. Only 0.49% of taxpayers who made between $75,000-100,000 faced I.R.S. reviews. The percentage rose to 8.42% for taxpayers who earned $1-5 million. People with incomes of $1-25,000 faced a 1.01% chance of an audit; for those who declared no income at all, the chance was 3.78%.2

What “red flags” could prompt the I.R.S. to scrutinize your return? Abnormally large deductions may give the I.R.S. pause. As an example, suppose that you earned $95,000 in 2016 while claiming a $14,000 charitable deduction. Forbes estimates that the average charitable deduction for such a taxpayer last year was $3,529.3

Sometimes, the type of deduction arouses suspicion. Taking the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) without a penny of adjusted gross income, for example. Or, claiming a business expense for a service or good that seems irrelevant to your line of work. A home office deduction may be ruled specious if the “office” amounts to a room in your house that serves other purposes. Incongruous 1099 income can also trigger a review – did a brokerage disclose a big capital gain on your investment account to the I.R.S. that you did not?4

Self-employment can increase your audit potential. In 2015, for example, taxpayers who filed a Schedule C listing business income of $25,000-100,000 had a 2.4% chance of being audited.2

Some taxpayers illegitimately deduct hobby expenses and try to report them on Schedule C as business losses. A few years of this can wave a red flag. Is there a profit motive or profit expectation central to the activity, or is it simply a pastime offering an occasional chance for financial gain?

If you are retired, does your audit risk drop? Not necessarily. You may not be a high earner, but there is still the possibility that you could erroneously claim deductions and credits. If you claim large medical expenses, that might draw extra attention from the I.R.S. – but if you have proper documentation to back up your claims, you can be confident about them.

The I.R.S. does watch Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) closely. Failure to take an RMD will draw scrutiny. Retirees who neglect to withdraw required amounts from IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans can be subject to a penalty equal to 50% of the amount not withdrawn on time.1

The fastest way to invite an audit might be to file a paper return. TurboTax says that the error rate on hard copy returns is about 21%. For electronically filed returns, it falls to 0.5%. So, if you still drop your 1040 form off at the post office each year, you may want to try e-filing in the future.4

Mike Moffitt may be reached at phone# 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com

Website:  www.cfgiowa.com

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

Citations.

1 – kiplinger.com/slideshow/retirement/T056-S011-9-irs-audit-red-flags-for-retirees/index.html [3/17]

2 – fool.com/retirement/2017/02/06/here-are-the-odds-of-an-irs-audit.aspx [2/6/17]

3 – forbes.com/sites/baldwin/2017/01/23/tax-guide-deductions-and-audit-risk/ [1/23/17]

4 – fool.com/retirement/2016/12/19/9-tax-audit-red-flags-for-the-irs.aspx [12/19/16]

 

Should You File Jointly, Or Not?

For many married couples, filing jointly is a good idea, but there are exceptions.

Ninety-five percent of married couples file joint federal tax returns. Filing jointly can be convenient. Frequently, there’s a financial advantage, but that does not mean it should be done without consideration.1

Years ago, there was less incentive to file jointly. That was because the “marriage penalty” for doing so was effectively greater. There is no written “marriage penalty” in the Internal Revenue Code, but, in the past, income tax brackets were structured a bit differently and spouses having similar annual incomes sometimes paid more taxes by filing jointly than single taxpayers did.

There are many good reasons to file jointly. Nearly all of them involve saving money.

Joint filing may give you an effective tax break right off the bat. Currently, married taxpayers who file separately face the 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6% income tax brackets at lower income thresholds than other unmarried taxpayers.2

Joint filers can claim significant tax credits that marrieds filing separately cannot. If you want to claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, the Elderly or Disabled Credit, or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), you have to file jointly. Joint filing also gives you the potential to claim the full Child Tax Credit, rather than a reduced one.3

Deductions, too, decrease when you file separately as a married couple. Standard deductions fall significantly. Phase-out ranges affect itemized deductions, and some itemized deductions are unavailable for married couples who do not file jointly. Couples who file separate 1040s can only deduct 50% of the capital gains losses joint filers can. In addition, if one spouse elects to itemize deductions, so must the other (there must be a separate Schedule A for each spouse). The spouse with fewer deductions has no ability to use the standard deduction to lower his or her taxable income.2,3

Joint filing even helps you with regard to the Alternative Minimum Tax. When you file separately as a married couple, your AMT exemption falls by 50%. So you may be more susceptible to the AMT if you file separately. If the AMT affects you, you will find many federal tax deductions reduced or unavailable to you.3

Do you live in a community property state? If you do, you may know that state tax law defines what is considered separately held or jointly held property. If you want to itemize deductions in a community property state, the paperwork can be onerous.3

More of your Social Security benefits may be taxed if you file separately. Social Security gives you a “base exemption,” an income threshold above which Social Security benefits may be taxable. The base exemption for married couples filing jointly is $32,000, meaning that if 50% of the Social Security benefits you receive in a tax year plus your other income in a tax year exceeds $32,000, taxes may apply. The base exemption for married couples filing separately who live together at any time during the tax year is $0. It improves to $25,000 for married couples filing separately who live apart for an entire year.4

So why would you not file jointly when married? In certain circumstances, filing separately may be wiser.

Maybe you do not trust your spouse financially. If your spouse is a tax cheat or interprets federal tax law very loosely, filing jointly could prove hazardous in the case of an audit or other troubles. Both spouses must sign a joint return, meaning that both spouses are legally responsible for all taxes, penalties, and fines linked to that return. Yes, an innocent spouse may be offered tax protection by the IRS, but that innocence must be proven.2,3

Maybe you or your spouse have large out-of-pocket medical expenses. If so, and if the spouse contending with such bills earns much less than the other, there may be merit in filing separately. By doing so, the spouse with far less income might have an opportunity to meet the 10% AGI threshold needed to itemize medical expenses. (The 7.5% AGI threshold for itemizing these costs is still in place for taxpayers age 65 and older.)2

Maybe you are separating or divorcing. If that is the case, then it may seem only natural to begin filing separately while still married. Doing so now may lessen the chance of the two of you wading through tax issues in the aftermath of a split.

If you are unsure about whether to file jointly or singly, you can ask a tax professional for his or her opinion. Or, that professional can look at last year’s return and run the numbers for you. Most couples find that filing jointly works out best, but there are exceptions.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at phone# 641-464-2248 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com
Website: www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2016/01/26/married-filing-joint-tax-returns-irs-helps-some-couples-with-offshore-accounts/ [2/6/16]
2 – abcnews.go.com/Business/filing-taxes-jointly-good-idea/story?id=22504248 [2/17/14]
3 – foxbusiness.com/features/2015/03/06/should-couples-file-taxes-separately-or-jointly-which-is-best-for.html [3/6/15]
4 – irs.com/articles/how-are-social-security-benefits-taxed [2/11/16]

The U.S. Savings Bond Tax Trap

Open that safe deposit box.  See if your bond has matured.

Did you buy U.S. Savings Bonds decades ago? Or did your parents or grandparents purchase some for you? If so, take a look at them before April 15 rolls around. Your bonds may have matured. That means they are no longer earning interest, and it also means you need to cash them in.1

Check those maturity dates. Sometimes people hold U.S. Savings Bonds past the date of final maturity, often by accident. The old bonds are simply stashed away somewhere and forgotten.

While the Treasury will not penalize you for holding a U.S. Savings Bond past its date of maturity, the Internal Revenue Service will. Interest accumulated over the life of a U.S. Savings Bond must be reported on your 1040 form for the tax year in which you redeem the bond or it reaches final maturity. This must be done even if you (or the original bondholder) chose to have the interest on the bond accumulate tax-deferred until the final maturity date. Failure to report such interest may lead to a federal tax penalty.2

You are supposed to pay tax on a U.S. Savings Bond in one of two ways. Most bondholders choose to defer the tax until the bond matures. Once they redeem the bond, they report the interest through a 1099-INT form. Others choose to pay the tax annually prior to cashing the bond in, reporting the increase in the value of the bond as taxable interest each year.2,3

What if you find out you have held a U.S. Savings Bond for too long? You need to amend your federal tax return for the year in which the bond reached final maturity. You can file an amended return with the help of IRS Form 1040X. It may seem more logical and less arduous to report the forgotten, accumulated U.S. Savings Bond interest on your latest federal tax return, but the IRS does not want you to do that. The longer you leave the accumulated interest unreported, the greater the chance you will be cited for a tax penalty (or assessed a larger one than the one already in store for you).2

Another note about reporting interest: if a U.S. Savings Bond has matured and you have failed to redeem it, you will not find a Form 1099-INT for it in your records. Only redemption will bring that 1099-INT your way. (The accumulated interest for the bond should have been reported to the IRS regardless.) After you cash in that old bond, you will thereafter receive a 1099-INT. It will record that the interest on the bond was earned in the year of the bond’s final maturity.2

Plan ahead & keep track. U.S. Savings Bonds were issued on paper for decades and were often purchased on behalf of children and grandchildren. They are issued electronically now and receive little recognition, yet they can still prove quite useful to a retiree looking to improve cash flow. When you cash in a bond, or even multiple bonds, the “cash infusion” may help you put off withdrawing assets from another retirement account. While the interest on U.S. Savings Bonds is taxed by the IRS, it is exempt from state and local taxes.4

You want to keep track of the maturity dates, the yields and the interest rates on your bonds, as that will help you to figure out what bond to redeem when. A decades-old U.S. Savings Bond may cash out at anywhere from three to nine times its face value at full maturity.4

A useful search tool. Do you own a Series E U.S. Savings Bond? You might want to check on its maturity date at savingsbonds.gov/indiv/tools/tools_treasuryhunt.htm, which provides records of Series E bonds issued since 1974.5

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or  email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com

Website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – treasurydirect.gov/indiv/research/securities/res_securities_stoppedearninginterest.htm [3/2/15]

2 – budgeting.thenest.com/penalty-savings-bond-past-final-maturity-31113.html [3/18/15]

3 – irs.gov/publications/p550/ch01.html#en_US_2014_publink10009895 [2014]

4 – usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/tompor/2014/01/26/did-you-cash-those-savings-bonds-you-got-as-a-kid/4824631/ [1/26/14]

5 – treasurydirect.gov/indiv/tools/tools_treasuryhunt.htm [9/19/14]

 

Tax Season Phone Scams

Beware of crooks calling you up & claiming to be the IRS.

Every year, con artists posing as the Internal Revenue Service perpetrate scams on taxpayers. Their weapon is a telephone, and they use it to leave thousands of households poorer. These gambits can seem very convincing, but you need not fall prey to them if you are informed.

The IRS will never call you up & demand money. Nor will the IRS contact you by phone to discuss your refund. In addition, it will not use social media, text messages or emails out of the blue to talk about tax matters with you.1

Not everyone knows this, and these criminals exploit that fact. In particular, these crooks target immigrants and elders. They presume that these demographic groups do not understand tax law and tax collection proceedings as well as others. Sometimes the caller ID will even suggest the “IRS” to further the scam.1

Since December 2013, federal investigators have detected about 290,000 fraudulent IRS calls made to homes and businesses. About 3,000 people succumbed to these scams during that period, forking over a total of $14 million in “back taxes” – roughly $5,000 per taxpayer.2

What are the telltale signs of a bogus IRS call? The classic sign is the demand for an immediate payment of “taxes” when no bill for delinquent taxes has been sent to you by the IRS to begin with. The IRS nearly always makes initial contact with taxpayers by mail.2

Another common move is asking for a credit or debit card number. In one common scam, the caller alleges that you have unpaid back taxes that can only be settled by buying a prepaid debit card (and by supplying the card number to the caller).1

Bullying is another red flag. In another prevalent scam, a message may be left saying that this is a “final notice from the Internal Revenue Service” and tell you that the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you on a business or personal tax issue. Threats of arrest, deportation or losing your driver’s license may be made. The caller may also tell you that you have no way to appeal, no chance to plead innocence – you are guilty and must pay taxes owed now.1,2

How can you report frauds like this? If you know for a fact that you do not owe any back taxes, call up the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484 and report what happened to you. (TIGTA is on the Web at tigta.gov.) Alternately, go to FTC Complaint Assistant website maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a complaint there (click on “Other” in the right-side menu, and then click on “Imposter Scams”). Start your notes with the phrase “IRS Telephone Scam.”1

If you think you actually might owe some back taxes, call the IRS instead at IRS at 1-800-829-1040 as that really should be resolved; IRS staffers can assist you with such a matter.1

Watch out for these crooks, and let others know about their tactics so that they may avoid becoming victims.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph. 641-782-5577 or email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com

website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

 

Citations.

1 – irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/Scam-Phone-Calls-Continue;-IRS-Identifies-Five-Easy-Ways-to-Spot-Suspicious-Calls [10/29/14]

2 – cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2015/01/nearly_3000_people_in_us_have.html [1/23/15]

Financial Considerations for 2015

Is it time to make a few alterations for the near future?

2015 is less than two months away. Fall is the time when investors look for ways to lower their taxes and make some financial changes. This is an ideal time to schedule a meeting with a financial, tax or estate planning professional.

How do economists see next year unfolding? Morningstar sees 2.0-2.5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the U.S. for 2015, with housing, export growth, wage growth, very low interest rates and continuing vitality of energy-dependent industries as key support factors. It sees the jobless rate in a 5.4-5.7% range and annualized inflation running between 1.8-2.0%. Fitch is far more optimistic, envisioning U.S. GDP at 3.1% for 2015 compared to 1.3% for the eurozone and Japan. (Fitch projects China’s economy slowing to 6.8% growth next year as India’s GDP improves dramatically to 6.5%.)1,2

The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey projects America’s GDP at 2.8% for both 2015 and 2016 and sees slightly higher inflation for 2015 than Morningstar (with the Consumer Price Index rising at an annualized 2.0-2.2%). The Journal has the jobless rate at 5.9% by the end of this year and at 5.5% by December 2015.3

The WSJ numbers roughly correspond to the Federal Reserve’s outlook: the Fed sees 2.6-3.0% growth and 5.4-5.6% unemployment next year. A National Association for Business Economics (NABE) poll projects 2015 GDP of 2.9% with the jobless rate at 5.6% by next December.4

What might happen with interest rates? In the Journal’s consensus forecast, the federal funds rate will hit 0.47% by June 2015 and 1.17% by December 2015. NABE’s forecast merely projects it at 0.845% as next year concludes. That contrasts with Fed officials, who see it in the range of 1.25-1.50% at the end of 2015.3,4

Speaking of interest rates, here is the WSJ consensus projection for the 10-year Treasury yield: 3.24% by next June, then 3.58% by the end of 2015. The latest WSJ survey also sees U.S. home prices rising 3.3% for 2015 and NYMEX crude at $93.67 a barrel by the end of next year.3

Can you put a little more into your IRA or workplace retirement plan? You may put up to $5,500 into a traditional or Roth IRA for 2014 and up to $6,500 if you are 50 or older this year, assuming your income levels allow you to do so. (Or you can spread that maximum contribution across more than one IRA.) Traditional IRA contributions are tax-deductible to varying degree. The contribution limit for participants in 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans is $17,500 for 2014, with a $5,500 catch-up contribution allowed for those 50 and older. (The IRS usually sets next year’s contribution levels for these plans in late October.)5

Should you go Roth in 2015? If you have a long time horizon to let your IRA grow, have the funds to pay the tax on the conversion, and want your heirs to inherit tax-free distributions from your IRA, it may be worth it.

Are you thinking about an IRA rollover? You should know about IRS Notice 2014-54, which lets taxpayers make “split” IRA rollovers of employer-sponsored retirement plan assets under more favorable tax conditions. If you have a workplace retirement account with a mix of pre-tax and after-tax dollars in it, you can now roll the pre-tax funds into a traditional IRA and the after-tax funds into a Roth IRA and have it all count as one distribution rather than two. Also, the IRS is dropping the pro rata tax treatment of such rollover amounts. (Under the old rules, if you were in a qualified retirement plan and rolled $80,000 in pre-tax dollars into a traditional IRA and $20,000 in after-tax dollars into a Roth IRA, 80% of the dollars going into the Roth would be taxed under the pro-rated formula.) The tax liability that previously went with such “split” distributions has been eliminated. The new rules on this take effect January 1, but IRS guidance indicates that taxpayers may apply the rules to rollovers made as early as September 18, 2014.6  

Can you harvest portfolio losses before 2015? Through tax loss harvesting – dumping the losers in your portfolio – you can claim losses equaling any capital gains recognized in a tax year, and you can claim up to $3,000 in additional losses beyond that, which can offset dividend, interest and wage income. If your losses exceed that limit, they can be carried over into future years. It is a good idea to do this before December, as that will give you the necessary 30 days to purchase any shares should you wish.7

Should you wait on a major financial move until 2015? Is there a chance that your 2014 taxable income could jump as a consequence of exercising a stock option, receiving a bonus at work, or accepting a lump sum payout? Are you thinking about buying new trucks or cars for your company, or a buying a building? The same caution applies to capital investments.

Look at tax efficiency in your portfolio. You may want to put income-producing investments inside an IRA, for example, and direct investments with lesser tax implications into brokerage accounts.

Finally, do you need to change your withholding status? If major change has come to your personal or financial life, it might be time. If you have married or divorced, if a family member has passed away, if you are self-employed now or have landed a much higher-salaried job, or if you either pay a lot of tax or get unusually large IRS or state refunds, review your current withholding with your tax preparer.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at  ph# 641-782-5577 or mikem@cfgiowa.com.

website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.  Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor.  Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – news.morningstar.com/articlenet/article.aspx?id=666682&SR=Yahoo  [9/29/14]

2 – 247wallst.com/economy/2014/09/30/downside-risks-to-global-gdp-growth/ [9/30/14]

3 – projects.wsj.com/econforecast [9/30/14]

4 – blogs.wsj.com/economics/2014/09/29/business-economists-see-lower-interest-rates-than-the-fed-sees-in-late-2015/ [9/29/14]

5 – shrm.org/hrdisciplines/benefits/articles/pages/2014-irs-401k-contribution-limits.aspx [11/1/13]

6 – lifehealthpro.com/2014/09/30/irs-blesses-split-401k-rollovers [9/30/14]

7 – dailyfinance.com/2013/09/09/tax-loss-selling-dont-wait-december-dump-losers/ [9/9/13]

Guarding Against Identity Theft

Take steps so criminals won’t take vital information from you.
America is enduring a data breach epidemic. As 2013 ended, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics released its 2012 Victims of Identity Theft report. Its statistics were sobering. About one in 14 Americans aged 16 or older had been defrauded or preyed upon in the past 12 months, more than 16.6 million people.1

Just 8% of those taken advantage of had detected identity theft through their own vigilance. More commonly, victims were notified by financial institutions (45%), alerts from non-financial companies or agencies (21%), or notices of unpaid bills (13%). While 86% of victims cleared up the resulting credit and financial problems in a day or less, 10% of victims had to struggle with them for a month or more. 1

Consumers took significant financial hits from all this. The median direct loss from cyberthieves exploiting personal information in 2012 was $1,900, and the median direct loss from a case of credit card fraud was $200. While much of the monetary damage is wiped away for the typical victim, that isn’t always the case.1

Tax time is prime time for identity thieves. They would love to get their hands on your return, and they would also love to claim a phony refund using your personal information. In 2013, the IRS investigated 1,492 identity theft-linked crimes – a 66% increase from 2012 and a 441% increase from 2011.2

E-filing of tax returns is becoming increasingly popular (just make sure you use a secure Internet connection). When you e-file, you aren’t putting your Social Security number, address and income information through the mail. You aren’t leaving Form 1040 on your desk at home (or work) while you get up and get some coffee or go out for a walk. If you just can’t bring yourself to e-file, then think about sending your returns via Certified Mail. Those rough drafts of your returns where you ran the numbers and checked your work? Shred them. Use a cross-cut shredder, not just a simple straight-line shredder (if you saw Argo, you know why).

The IRS doesn’t use unsolicited emails to request information from taxpayers. If you get an email claiming to be from the IRS asking for your personal or financial information, report it to your email provider as spam.2

Use secure Wi-Fi. Avoid “coffee housing” your personal information away – never risk disclosing financial information over a public Wi-Fi network. (Broadband is susceptible, too.) It takes little sophistication to do this – just a little freeware.
Sure, a public Wi-Fi network at an airport or coffee house is password-protected – but if the password is posted on a wall or readily disclosed, how protected is it? A favorite hacker trick is to sit idly at a coffee house, library or airport and set up a Wi-Fi hotspot with a name similar to the legitimate one. Inevitably, people will fall for the ruse and log on and get hacked.

Look for the “https” & the padlock icon when you visit a website. Not just http, https. When you see that added “s” at the start of the website address, you are looking at a website with active SSL encryption, and you want that. A padlock icon in the address bar confirms an active SSL connection. For really solid security when you browse, you could opt for a VPN (virtual private network) service which encrypts 100% of your browsing traffic; it may cost you $10 a month or even less.3

Make those passwords obscure. Choose passwords that are really esoteric, preferably with numbers as well as letters. Passwords that have a person, place and time (PatrickRussia1956) can be tougher to hack.4

Check your credit report.
Remember, you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the big three agencies (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax). You could also monitor your credit score – Credit.com has a feature called Credit Report Card, which updates you on your credit score and the factors influencing it, such as payments and other behaviors.1

Don’t talk to strangers. Broadly speaking, that is very good advice in this era of identity theft. If you get a call or email from someone you don’t recognize – it could tell you that you’ve won a prize, it could claim to be someone from the county clerk’s office, a pension fund or a public utility – be skeptical. Financially, you could be doing yourself a great favor.

Michael Moffitt may be reached at phone# (641)-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com.
website: www.cfgiowa.com
Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

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Citations.
1 – dailyfinance.com/2013/12/31/scariest-identity-theft-statistics/ [12/31/13]
2 – csmonitor.com/Business/Saving-Money/2014/0317/Tax-filing-online-Seven-tips-to-avoid-identity-theft.-video [3/17/14]
3 – forbes.com/sites/amadoudiallo/2014/03/04/hackers-love-public-wi-fi-but-you-can-make-it-safe/ [3/4/14]
4 – articles.philly.com/2014-03-18/business/48301317_1_id-theft-coverage-identity-theft-adam-levin [3/18/14]