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Report finds taxes done by non-CPA preparers riddled with inaccuracies

Before getting your taxes done at a strip mall, check out this report that shows massive errors, and even forgeries by non-CPA tax preparers.

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NCLC report is rather rattling, beware

You may want to think twice before hiring a tax preparer to file your taxes this year. According to an undercover report by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), many unregulated tax preparers are incompetent when it comes to sorting through the complicated IRS paperwork required to file income taxes. What’s worse – tax preparers often knowingly file inaccurate information.

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Anticipating such problems, in 2011 the IRS began requiring tax preparers who were not Certified Public Accountants to register and complete tests proving they were capable of filing taxes accurately. As you might expect, tax preparers appealed the case in federal court in 2014, and surprisingly, won the right to continue helping customers prepare their taxes.

Secret shoppers posed as tax filers… uh oh

The NCLC recently employed secret shoppers to pose as tax filers in 29 test cases in Florida and North Carolina. They found that all but two of the tests resulted in inaccuracies on the tax returns.

Secret shoppers acting as single parents with partial custody of minors were told eight out of fifteen times that they should claim their child as a dependent to earn a $2,523 earned income tax credit, even though this is inaccurate and illegal. It appears that seven of the eight tax preparers were aware that they were illegally misreporting information, and did it anyway. In another test, 12 of 15 tax preparers omitted an $800 side income, even though they were aware of it.

In another test, 10 of 14 tax preparers failed to file income from a paid internship on the Schedule C form, resulting in an omission of $1,300.

Forgery, errors, and fraud

From the 29 test cases, there were several examples of signature forgery, or of one preparer assisting the customer to fill out the forms, while a different preparer signed them.

“To see this level of errors is extremely disturbing,” according to Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney at NCLC.

While many of the inaccuracies seemed to help the customer save money or earn a higher tax return, it is important to note that such practices are illegal, and that, should you be audited, it is you, not the tax preparer, who will have to answer to the law.

#TaxPrep

Ellen Vessels, Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for her wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when she's not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Business Finance

Square POS for restaurants wildly improves service

(TECHNOLOGY) Square, a card payment-processing company, has created a point of sale app specifically for restaurants.

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If you’ve spent any time processing card payments in an informal capacity, you’re probably familiar with Square—a company which facilitates card payments via a smartphone or tablet app and a free card reader. Square’s most recent endeavor tweaks their existing product for a more specific environment: restaurants.

Square for Restaurants is exactly what it sounds like: the traditional Square app optimized for a restaurant setting. The app’s features include improved operating speed, accommodations for both front-of-house and back-of-house operations, and a general user interface which is geared toward quick data entry rather than the traditional Square interface’s more cluttered approach.

While the app’s interface lends itself to payment processing and general front-of-house functions at first glance, Square for Restaurants offers multiple other restaurant-centric options to fit different roles. For example, a server might use the app to take and process an order or keep track of which tables have been attended, while a supervisor might generate payroll or archive receipts.

The instant availability of things like order information and seating arrangements also means that customers will have less time to wait between interactions, and staff will have significantly fewer instances of confusion or wasted down time.

Centralization of your kitchen’s various menus is another key aspect of the app. Since the app automatically synchronizes any changes, you can ensure that everyone sees the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus on any given day of the week. Additionally, menus can be customized on the fly, allowing you to add a high-demand custom order or special item with a few taps.

As you might expect, the POS comes with all the powerful analytics tools and accessibility which accompany the standard Square app. You can do things like track your best-selling dishes, make adjustments to the menu, and review your monthly overhead from anywhere that has Wi-Fi access; once you’ve made your changes, they will display in the app, making it easy to keep everyone on the same page.

Whatever your position on Square’s products in the past, Square for Restaurants promises to be a fresh take on the oversaturated POS (point of sale, y’all) software market.

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Business Finance

Calculator for what your freelance rate should be

(FINANCE) When every second on the clock counts and saving is imperative, where can you go to figure out your optimal freelance rate?

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The issue of what your freelance rate should be is daunting for most, but is especially stressful for those who aren’t particularly mathematically gifted. When every second on the clock counts and saving is imperative, where can you go to figure out your optimal rate? A new calculator has an answer.

What Is My Day Rate is a salary calculator which determines the hourly (and daily) amount you’d have to charge in order to meet your optimal salary.

The calculator itself is intuitive enough: upon landing on the What Is My Day Rate webpage, you simply enter your preferred annual income and wait for the results to load. You’ll see both a daily and an hourly sum appear shortly thereafter.

The process of figuring out how much to charge is simple, but that doesn’t mean the process is simple.

What Is My Day Rate draws from similar geographical, workplace, and demographic data to give you a number which reflects post-holiday, post-fee, post-non-billable work results.

By clicking the “See how we calculated this” link at the bottom of the page, you can see a specific breakdown of how What Is My Day Rate determined your rate.

You’ll notice that they take into account weekends, holidays, sick leave, bonuses, benefits, and more.

If division is a strong suit for you, you may also notice that What Is My Day Rate operates on a 40-hour workweek model, meaning your rate might even be optimistic for your standards.

One problem with the calculator is that it doesn’t account for taxes of any kind; while it factors in a rather generous benefits percentage and adds in things like mandatory vacation time and unpaid sick leave, there’s still a noticeable gap between the calculator’s projected expenses and what you would probably have to pay.

On the plus side, tax brackets change, so you’ll be able to plug the day rate results into a separate tax calculator without worrying about accuracy issues.

What Is My Day Rate is a valuable tool for any freelancer looking to establish their daily freelance rate without necessitating a spreadsheet and several hours of botched accounting—or a more expensive alternative. If you’re worried about undercharging, head over to their site to lock in your rate ASAP.

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Business Finance

20 states won’t grant or renew a professional license if your student loans default

(FINANCE) If your student loans default, your professional license may be revoked – a hard blow to medical practitioners, Realtors, delivery drivers, and so many more hard working people.

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Student loans represent a significant financial burden for recent graduates, with average loan debt in 2017 hitting $37,172, and the impact of debt repayment at graduation causes many Americans, mainly younger professionals, to delay everything from traveling the world and marriage, and even opening their own business.

Beyond the burden of debt, student loans are particularly tricky because they play by some different rules.

Most debt for example, doesn’t accrue interest while you don’t make any payments, and the flexibility of the repayment options can put borrowers in difficult situations where they don’t recognize their repayment amount. In addition, because the way we relate to the lender (AKA the federal government), the consequences of student loan debt often makes it seem less important to pay.

However, most of that flexibility is limited to non-private student loans. Private student loans have all the troubles of regular loans, with some added bite.

One way that student loan debt is different from other forms of consumer debt is that not even bankruptcy can clear you.

In 1976, Congress passed a law that put public student loan debt in a separate category that can’t be discharged. In 2005, Congress extended that to private student loans.

Not paying your student loans can lead also lead to wage garnishment and tax refund seizure.

But perhaps the most painful and insulting consequence of student loan default can be the withholding of your professional (or even your driving) licenses. If you’re a barber, nurse, teacher, lawyer, psychologist, realtor or need to drive a car, that can be devastating.

NYT uncovered that the following 20 states that allow this include:

  1. Alaska
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Florida
  5. Georgia
  6. Hawaii
  7. Illinois
  8. Iowa
  9. Kentucky
  10. Louisiana
  11. Massachusetts
  12. Minnesota
  13. Mississippi
  14. New Mexico
  15. North Dakota
  16. South Dakota
  17. Tennessee
  18. Texas
  19. Virginia
  20. Washington

Beyond the damage to credit scores, liens on properties, and the financial consequences, these license seizures can represent financial ruin, and can punish well-meaning borrowers and those who are working on public service loan forgiveness as well.

The most important thing you can do is know your options.

If you have public loans, explore repayment options, explore refinancing with direct loans, and most importantly, communicate with your lender. If you have private loans, consider moving that debt into something more manageable, especially since private loans have no interest cap, a personal loan or a home equity loan can be a more affordable option.

The best way to handle default is to avoid it – and don’t drown by avoiding swimming. Most importantly, get in the know, explore your options, and get talking. And if you’re feeling extra motivated, work with your state representatives and work on getting legislation to help make students loan more manageable.

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