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Opinion Editorials

Major changes to IRS rules going into effect: get ready

(Editorial) If the IRS calls this year… tell them I’m not here. There are quite a few rule changes that many are not aware of, but they go into effect in short order.

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IRS changes are overwhelming

It’s truly shaping up to be one of the worst tax seasons in history. With all of the new legislation passed this year, it’s almost impossible to make heads or tails of it. Are the new regulations effective for 2013 or 2014? What are the new regulations? What happens if I file an extension? Well, rest assured one thing is certain; it is not going to be in your favor.

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First, here are some of the changes and or proposed changes as of Jan. 1st 2014:

  • For high income earners, the top ordinary tax rate will be 39.6 percent if, as a single filer, your taxable income is more than $400,000 ($450,000 for married couples filing jointly).
  • There is a new net investment income tax of 3.8 percent, also known as the Medicare surtax.
  • Personal exemptions and itemized deduction total will be reduced.
  • Affordable Care Act (don’t get me started) – if you don’t buy an insurance plan, you could face a penalty. The charge for 2014 is either 1 percent of your yearly household income or $95 per uninsured adult and $47.50 per child, up to $285 for a family. You pay whichever amount is higher. If you get insurance for part of the year, your penalty will be prorated. You’ll pay the penalty when you file your 2014 tax return in 2015.
  • Married same-sex couples now have the same federal tax filing responsibilities as heterosexual couples. The IRS instructed same-sex married couples to file jointly or as a married couple filing separately, even if the state where they live does not recognize their marriage. This will simplify same-sex couples’ federal filings, but if they must pay state income taxes, depending on their state’s law, they could still face filing two state returns as single taxpayers.
  • For 2013 returns filed in 2014, the IRS is now offering a simplified home office deduction. The new optional deduction is $5 for each square foot of home office space, up to a maximum of 300 square feet. That comes to a maximum $1,500 annual home office deduction. The IRS estimates that this option will save home-office filers who claim it’s an estimated 1.6 million hours of paperwork and record keeping collectively. Instead of filling out Form 8829, you’ll use a worksheet in the Schedule C instruction book and enter your simplified home-office deduction amount on Schedule C.
  • Inflation had a nominal effect on around 40 tax provisions. Most notable is that income brackets were widened, meaning you can earn a more next year without being bumped into a higher tax bracket. Most people claim the standard deduction, and those amounts for each filing status in 2014 were increased slightly, as was the personal exemption amount, going from $3,900 to $3,950. However, the amounts you can contribute to your workplace pension plan and individual retirement account in 2014 have stayed the same as in 2013.

Is there anything positive about these changes?

There is one good thing about all these IRS changes for this tax season – you get more time to file your return. Ok, not technically. Due to the federal government shut down for 16 days last October, the IRS says Jan. 31, 2014, is the earliest it will be ready to process individual tax returns. That date might even be pushed back to Feb. 4 in order for the agency to complete system updates and tests, which were interrupted by the shutdown.

The IRS promises to make an official announcement of the filing season start date as soon as it knows for sure. You can go ahead and submit your return electronically as soon as you’re ready; your e-filer will hold it until the IRS is ready to accept returns. If, however, you file a paper return, the IRS encourages you to wait until Jan. 28 (or later) to mail it.

So how can one avoid all the complication and mess?

Coming from a small business owner who has had his fair share of enjoyment of that 14% interest payment to the IRS, the absolute best thing you can do is DO NOT FILE YOUR OWN TAXES. Hiring a great accountant and/or CPA is well worth the weight in gold that they, or the IRS, will charge.

That is the only way I know to avoid all the hassle and aggravation. They also act as an insurance policy between you and the IRS should you have to go through an audit.

Oh yeah and then there’s this:

The IRS effort to regulate professional tax preparers will continue in 2014, both in the court system and on Capitol Hill. The agency wants to register all tax preparers who aren’t already subject to certain standards (that is, attorneys, Enrolled Agents or CPAs) and require they pass competency exams and take continuing education classes. The IRS believes this will help reduce incorrectly and fraudulently filed returns.

Three tax pros filed a federal lawsuit against the IRS, winning the first court round. An appellate court decision is pending. Meanwhile, legislation has been filed in the House to give the IRS statutory authority to regulate tax preparers. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus also has suggested such preparer oversight in his tax reform working drafts. A final decision on tax preparer standards could come in 2014, affecting taxpayers who seek professional help in fulfilling their tax responsibilities.

With 16 years of industry experience, earning his CCIM designation in 2007, Smith has held various leadership positions from CCIM Chapter President, CCIM Institute Regional VP, to Partner at McFalls & Smith International Development. Today, Smith is a commercial sales expert at Prudential PenFed Realty's Commercial Division, an Advisory Board Member at the University of Baltimore's Merrick School of Business, and a Professor at the Professional Development Institute. Smith has educated hundreds of REALTORS, investors, and small business owners, helping them find success through Commercial Real Estate.

Opinion Editorials

Before you quit your job, ask yourself these 5 questions

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Frustrated at work? Here are 5 ideas utilizing design thinking and exploration tactics to assess if you really are ready to quit your job.

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Man reclining on beanbag with laptop, thoughtful. Considering tactics before you quit your job.

We have all been there. We are in a job that just doesn’t feel right for us. Maybe we strongly dislike our manager or even our day to day work responsibilities. We find it easy to blame everyone else for everything we dislike. We question life and ask “Is this what life is all about? Shouldn’t I be spending my time doing something I am more passionate about?” But, we probably like the regular paycheck… Thus, we stay there and possibly become more miserable by the day. Some of us may even start to feel physical symptoms of headaches, stomach aches, and possibly depression. We also may go to the internet like this person seeking answers and hoping someone else can tell us what to do:

“I feel conflicted but I want to quit my job. What should I do?

I was thinking of quitting my job because I dislike what I do, and I feel I am underpaid.

However last week my colleague tendered her resignation too. Needless to say, if I leave too, my whole department will fall into a larger mess and that causes some feelings of conflict within me.

Should my colleague quitting affect when I want to leave too? How do I go about quitting now?”

We can definitely empathize with this – it’s really uncomfortable, sometimes sad, and hard to be in a position where we feel we are underpaid and we aren’t happy.

So, how can you navigate a situation like this? How do you figure out if you should just quit your job? How can you be an adult about this?

Here are some exploratory questions, ideas, and some design thinking activities to help you answer this question for yourself.

  • Before you up and quit, assuming you don’t yet have your next opportunity lined up, have you considered asking for a raise – or better yet, figure out how you add value to the organization? Would your supervisor be willing to move you in to a new role or offer additional compensation?
  • If you don’t have a job lined up, do you have the recommended AT LEAST six months of living expenses in your savings account? Some would recommend that you have even more during a global pandemic where unemployment is at an all-time high – it may take longer to find a new position.
  • Do you have a safety net of family or friends that are willing and able to help you with your bills if you don’t have your regular paycheck? Would you be willing to put that burden on them so you can quit your job?
  • Why aren’t you job searching if you are unhappy? Is it because the task seems daunting and the idea of interviewing right now makes you want to puke?
  • What would your ideal job be and what would it take for you to go for it?

Many people claim they don’t like their job but they don’t know what to do next or even worse, don’t know what they WANT to do. To offer a little bit of tough love here: Well, then, that’s your job to figure it out. You can go on Reddit all you want, but no one else can tell you what is right for you.

Here are some ways to explore what may be an exciting career move for you or help you identify some areas that you need to learn more about in order to figure out where work will align with your skills, interests, and passions.

  1. Consider ordering the Design Your Life Workbook that provides writing prompts to help you figure out what it is that you are looking for in a job/career. You may also like the book Designing Your Work Life which is about “How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work”.
  2. Utilize design thinking to answer some of your questions. Make a diamond shape and in each of the four corners, write out the “Who” you want to be working with, “What” you’d like to be doing, “Where” you’d like to be, and “Why” you want to be there or doing that kind of work.
  3. Conduct informational interviews with people doing work that you think you might be interested in. Usually these conversations give you lots of interesting insights and either a green light to pursue something or validation that maybe that role isn’t right for you either.
  4. Get your resume updated. Sometimes just dusting off your resume, updating it, and making it ready gives you a feeling of relief that if you did really want to pursue a new job, you are almost ready. Consider updating your LinkedIn profile as well.
  5. Explore what you can do differently. A lot of what we can be frustrated about can be related to things out of our control. Consider exploring ways to work better with your team or how to grow to become invaluable. Tune in to Lindsey Pollak’s podcast, The Work Remix, where she gives great ideas on how to navigate working in current times where there are five generations in the workplace. There may be ways you need to adjust your communication style or tune in to emotional intelligence on how to better work with your supervisor or employees. Again, focus on what is within your control.

You may decide that you need to quit your job to be able to focus your energy on finding a better fit for you. But at the same time, be realistic. Most of us have to work to live. Everyone has bills, so you may continue working while you sort out some of the other factors to help you find a more exciting prospect. Either way, wishing you all the best on this journey, and the time and patience to allow you to figure it out.

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Opinion Editorials

New USPS duck-shaped truck design has mixed reactions

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) The USPS is getting a fleet of electronic delivery vehicles. We’re wondering if the actual design got lost in the mail.

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New USPS truck in a fictional neighborhood delivering mail.

So the USPS is getting new trucks and they look like ducks and maybe that sucks… or maybe it wucks. Like “works,” if a duck said it. Just give me this one please.

Anyway.

I don’t know how mean I can be here – there has to be something said for objective journalistic integrity – but I have a feeling most people are going to have a rather sarcastic reaction to the new design. I’m not so sure I can blame them – it has a kind of stubby little nose with a shortened hood and a boxy frame and super tall windshield, which gives the wheels a disproportionately large look compared to the rest of the silhouette. It’s sort of like a Nissan Cube but less millennial cool, which A) is discontinued (so maybe not so cool), and B) is not the car that had those giant hiphop hamsters running around, but I’m still going to link to it anyway.

Elon Musk must be breathing a sigh of relief right now.

The contract was awarded to Oshkosh Defense (which I was thrilled to find out is NOT the adorable kid’s clothing company, even though I personally think that would be hilarious if there was a factory making overalls for tiny humans alongside tactical defense trucks) and officially announced on February 23rd, 2021 to the tune of $482 million. Seriously though, someone is going to mix those up for the rest of all time and eternity; I’d never not think about my own baby pictures if some contractor from Oshkosh Defense showed up.

The release mentions that, “The historic investment is part of a soon-to-be-released plan the Postal Service has developed to transform its financial performance and customer service over the next 10 years through significant investments in people, technology and infrastructure as it seeks to become the preferred delivery service provider for the American public.” It’s called the NGDV – Next Generation Delivery Vehicle, which I happen to adore, and will pronounce as Nugduv, and you can’t stop me anyway. The old one was called the Grumman, by the way.

Some credit this as a radical change, and keeping in mind that radical doesn’t necessarily denote positive or negative, it seems like the perfect word to use here. Then there are those who correctly identify “a mixed bag of responses,” sort of like when you get a bag of candy at Halloween that has at least one thing no one likes. Some call it strange, while others defend it as something every new big vehicle should look like (this is where – as one of many – I found it called a “duck” which oh man do I love, quack quack).

We can also hit up the ever fair public opinion of Twitter, because why wouldn’t we?

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This is how I would draw a car. That is not a plus for this design

I really can’t get over that last one. But I mean, whoa. That’s quite the spectrum. There’s less disagreement on pizza toppings I think. But luckily I think we’re safe there – Domino’s makes people drive their personal cars.

Taking a step back and putting snide commentary away for a moment, there’s some areas that should be discussed. First – and what should probably be obvious – there was a laundry list of requirements and restrictions from the USPS, which made Nir Kahn – design director from custom carmaker Plasan – offer up his own tweets that give some insight on dimensions and design:

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I was involved in an early proposal for the USPS truck so I know the requirements well. They pretty much dictated the proportions – this package sketch shows that to meet the ergonomic and size requirements, there wasn’t much freedom 1/2 #USPS pic.twitter.com/Fk35g98Z83

Kahn mentions that “there wasn’t much freedom,” but also that “it could have looked much better,” and this sort of underlines the entire discussion I think – there were goals in place, and possibly some more aesthetically pleasing ways to meet them, but the constraints won out and drove (hehe) the design more than style did.

Certainly, there are other concerns – the ability for USPS drivers to reach a mailbox while seated is paramount. Others have pointed out that this design – with its large windshield and shortened front – should help with safety around small children (all the better if they are wearing Oshkosh B’gosh, because that implies they are tiny and may not be at all concerned with the dangers of streets). The open field-of-vision will aid in making sure drivers can navigate places that might be frequented by any number of pedestrians, so that’s a plus.

Further, if you get struck by one of these, you’ll basically “just” get kneecapped versus taking it square to the torso. The duck article is the one making this call, and I think there’s some merit there (though it makes me question how the USPS fleet is going to do against the SUVs and big trucks out in the wild). It then goes on to point out that this design has more cargo space, fitting into the idea of “rightsizing,” where the form and function of the vehicle meet in a way that is downsized, but still punches above its weight.

“From smaller fire engines to nimbler garbage trucks, making vehicles better scaled to urban tasks can make a huge difference, not only for keeping other cars moving on narrow streets, but also to ensure that humans on those same streets can access the bike lanes, sidewalks, and curb cuts they need to get around.”

I didn’t try too hard to find stats on crashes in mail trucks, but seems like something that should be addressed.

Maybe the biggest point here is that we sort of have to get new trucks – they are outliving their 24 year expectancy and catching on fire. On FIRE. I mean a mail truck might be the worst place for a fire. I’m not even sure I can’t think up a better answer… Ok maybe toilets would be worse.

The new vehicles can be either petrol or electric powered, have 360 cameras, airbags, and automatic braking. Oh, and air conditioning, which the old vehicles did not have. So yes, literally the worst place to have a fire. But due to the taller vehicles, someone can stand in them now! So escape is even easier! Hooray!

A series of delays pushed back the introduction of new vehicles from their 2018 projected date, with poor initial prototypes and the pandemic being major setbacks. Aggressive bidding led to extended deadlines, which had been narrowed down to a small list of candidates that included Workhorse (who unfortunately suffered a large stock plunge following the announcement). It’s been in the works for at least six years.

In the end, I don’t think we can discount all the advantages here – more efficient vehicles that are safer and provide drivers with modern amenities. That’s a LOT of good. I think once the initial goofy shock is over, the design will be accepted. Everyone thought Nintendo’s Wii was a hilarious name (still pretty much is regardless of being in the public book of acceptable nomenclature), and Cybertruck sales are brisk, so I think we can set a lot of this aside. The Edsel these are not.

So hey, new USPS vehicles in 2023, like an exceedingly late birthday present. All I want to see is a bunch of baby ducks following one of them around oh please let that happen. The USPS kind of has an identity crisis in the modern era, so maybe a funny little cute silly boxmobile is just the right way to get some attention.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob, or an un-alphabetized bookshelf, or that we’ve put off ‘declutter’ on our to-do list for too long.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, taking time to declutter can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those 3 things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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