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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.

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Business Finance

First impressions matter – how to win over investors immediately

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Impressing investors is nerve-wracking, but these tips can help you to nail your first impression.

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Going in for your first pitch meeting with investors can be nerve wracking—especially if you haven’t yet met these investors in person. Fortunately, if you land a solid first impression, you can set the right tone for the meeting, and make the rest of the presentation a little easier on yourself.

But why are first impressions so important, and how can you ensure you make one?

Let’s start with a recap of the benefits of a strong first impression:

  • A reputation framework. Our brains are wired to make quick judgments about our surroundings. Accordingly, we tend to judge people based on our first interactions with them, with little opportunity to change those initial judgments later on. If you strike investors as a smart, likeable, and capable person early on, they’ll see your pitch deck in a whole new light.
  • Memorability. First impressions stick with people. If yours stands out from the other entrepreneurs pitching these investors, they’ll be more likely to remember you, specifically, and therefore may be more likely to eventually fund your project.
  • Personal confidence. If you know you’ve nailed the first impression, you’ll feel more confident, and as you already likely know, confidence makes you a better public speaker. You’ll speak more deliberately, more passionately, and with fewer mistakes.

So how can you make sure you land this impression?

  • Arrive in a nice vehicle. Show up in a luxury vehicle, or at least one that’s been recently detailed, sends a message that you’re already successful. This isn’t a strict necessity, but it can speak volumes about what you’ve already achieved, and how you might look when you drive to meet your future clients.
  • Dress for the occasion. Along similar lines, you’ll want to dress nicely. You don’t need to have ridiculously expensive clothes, but you should wear standard business attire that fits you properly and has no signs of wear. It’s also a good idea to get a haircut, shave, wear tasteful makeup, and make other small touches that improve your overall appearance.
  • Smile. Smiling is contagious, and it instantly makes you more likable. Don’t force a grin (or else you’ll look like a robot), but do flash a genuine smile as often as appropriate during the first few minutes you meet your prospective investors.
  • Use your investors’ names. When you speak to your investors, try to address them by name as often as possible. People love to hear the sound of their own names, so it might help you win their favor. As an added bonus, it will help you reinforce your association with their name and face, so you eliminate your risk of calling someone by the wrong name later on.
  • Warm up with something personal. It’s tempting to get down to business right away, especially because your investors’ time is limited, but in most cases, it’s better to warm up with something personal—even if it’s only a few lines of a conversation. Tell a funny joke you heard earlier in the day, or share an anecdote about how your morning has been going. It makes you seem more personable and charismatic.
  • Find a common link. If you can, try to find something in common with each of your prospective investors. You might comment that you got your tie at the same place they did, or that you use the same type of pen. Look for subtle clues about their personalities, lifestyles, and hobbies, and forge a connection through those channels. People disproportionately like other people like them, so the more commonalities you can find with your prospective investors, the better.
  • Watch your posture. Your posture says more about you than you might think. Keep your back straight with your shoulders back, and walk confidently with your hands out of your pockets. This is crucial for projecting confidence (and feeling it internally as well).

If you can land a great first impression, you’ll set the stage for a killer presentation—but don’t think you’re out of the woods yet. You still need to make sure you have a fantastic pitch deck in place, and enough knowledge on your startup idea to handle the toughest investor questions. If this is your first pitch, don’t worry – it does get easier – but the fundamentals are always going to be important.

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Business Finance

How to invest in any cryptocurrency without the IRS hunting you down

(FINANCE) Paying taxes on your cryptocurrency investments doesn’t have to be a headache with this simple tool.

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token tax for cryptocurrency capital gains

As the 2018 tax season approaches, those of you who took a chance on cryptocurrency may be wondering: Do I have to pay tax on my digital investments? Sorry, but yes you do.

Although tax laws are constantly changing, especially in the wild west of cryptocurrency, fear not. Token Tax is the one tool to rule them all, and can help you report cryptocurrency taxes.

In this past year, cryptocurrency investment has skyrocketed. The total market cap rose over 1000 percent, even breaking a record and climbing over $600 billion in December.

Coinbase, the most popular online platform for buying and selling digital currency, gained one million users in one month alone.

Cyrptocurrency’s increasing popularity led to changes in IRS rules.

Although cryptocurrency investors were previously able to use the “like-kind” tax code exemption, the IRS now says digital investments must be taxed as short and long-term capital gains.

Back in 2015, only 802 Americans reported Bitcoin related gains and losses. At the time, cryptocurrency could technically be categorized a property instead of income. The 2017-18 year should show a greater increase in reports due to the new IRS regulations.

It can be difficult to determine how to report your taxes, and many other available tools victimize you with information overload. Understanding your tax liability is no fun at all, but it’s not something you’d want to get wrong unless tax jail sounds exciting.

The newly minted Token Tax does the work for you, integrating directly with Coinbase’s API to import all your investments in an easy to read format that’s directly exportable to the IRS. Kraken, Bittrex, and GDAX are also securely integrated with the platform.

Using FIFO, Token Tax calculates your tax liability and displays it in an easy to read interface. You can then export a fill-out 8949 form directly to your accountant or the IRS for review.

Creators Alex Miles and David Holland Lee say they believe Token tax “could be the TurboTax for crypto.”

Even though Token Tax is still in test mode, not even beta, it caught our attention by winning first place overall in Product Hunt’s Global Hackathon.

If you have invested in cryptocurrency and want to get ahead of the curve for tax season, check out their demo and see for yourself.

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Business Finance

Crypto gets trendy – earn digital currency for taking steps

(FINANCE) Crypto is on exciting, not just with values skyrocketing and falling from day to day, but with new ways to earn and invest.

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fitness tracker sweatcoin crypto

If investing actual money into cryptocurrency isn’t your thing, consider investing calories instead. Sweatcoin — a free app for iOS and Android devices — allows you to do just that.

The premise behind Sweatcoin is simple: you earn virtual currency for a certain number of steps. When you’ve earned a certain amount, you can redeem your Sweatcoin earnings for a number of different rewards, including things like vouchers for yoga classes, fitness apparel, and Apple products (e.g., an Apple watch or a new iPhone).

In order to begin earning with Sweatcoin, you just need to install the app, turn it on in the background, and start walking. This means that you’ll need the app running for the duration of your workout, so make sure that your battery is charged and that you’ve allowed the app to access your location services before heading out into the great unknown that is your cul-de-sac.

There are a couple of minor caveats for Sweatcoin, the first of which is its overhead fee.

While you don’t have to pay to use Sweatcoin, you’ll only “take home” around 65 percent of what you earn. This is in part due to Sweatcoin’s fraud prevention services, so it’s for a good cause — just don’t count your virtual chickens before they compile.

Another issue with Sweatcoin is that it only counts your steps when you’re outside. If your preferred method of walking, running, or skipping (if that’s your thing) involves a treadmill, you’ll need a pretty long extension cable.

The final caveat is that, unlike other cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ethereum, your earnings won’t compound. Sweatcoin is contingent solely on your activity, not on market behavior or current investments; if you’re looking to build up a crypto portfolio, this probably isn’t the ideal venue for you.

Of course, your body is perhaps the strongest asset that you can own, and investing in it is more likely to have serious long-term benefits than is investing in any kind of cryptocurrency. This is the largest benefit of Sweatcoin: it incentivizes you to work out and take extra steps (literally) long enough for doing so to become a habit. That’s hardly a downside.

If you don’t mind an extra few (thousand) steps per day, Sweatcoin is worth checking out.

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