How to Stop Worrying by James Pantzis

How to Stop Worrying by James Pantzis

There are so many things in our modern world that are true causes for concern. Whatever your politics, the atmosphere in Washington is tense. There is unrest across the culture, and a sense that many of the things that we have grown to rely upon aren’t nearly as stable as they once were.

And to top it all off, Batman just died.

But I don’t like to worry about things that I can’t control.

Well … usually. I can’t count how many times I’ve woken up at 2:30AM with a business idea for my Brooklyn practice, or grappling over a problem that we needed to deal with. Or over family issues. You name it.

But when I “wake up” in the morning, splash some water on my face and grab a cup of coffee … I am often reminded that what I was worrying about just didn’t make sense.

I’ve lost too many hours of sleep as a Brooklyn business owner, frankly. And I happen to know that this is the case for everyone, even if you aren’t called upon to meet payroll.

But I’ve slept much better when I worked through this simple exercise for my worries. It’s from the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, but I’ve modified it a bit for my own use.

So, here’s an idea that you can use to stop worrying…

Oh, and before I get there — remember that estimated taxes are due June 15th. So if you’re seeing this and you haven’t already taken care of that (and you are subject to paying them), now’s a perfect time to handle it…

How to Stop Worrying by James Pantzis
“I take a simple view of life: keep your eyes open and get on with it.” -Sir Laurence Olivier

For many Brooklyn people, worrying about things can become more vexing than the original problem they were grappling with.

Imagine that you are on trial and facing 20 years in prison. You’ve hired a lawyer, and you’re praying she’s going to be able to help you. She leans over and says, “Don’t worry. I know I never do. I never worry about a thing. Instead, I just try to think positive.”

Now ask yourself: Is this the kind of person I want representing me? Someone who doesn’t worry about anything — not even what’s going to happen to her client?

The answer, of course, is a resounding NO. You want a lawyer who’s going to worry over details. And cover everything that needs to be covered, so you don’t end up in prison for 20 years. What you want is for your lawyer to worry, and then take appropriate action so that she is prepared.

(In the exact same way, you want a Brooklyn tax professional who is going to pay attention and “worry” over details so you don’t have to. But I digress…)

Now imagine a lawyer who leans over and whispers to you, “Wanna know my secret? I never prepare for a case — I just worry. It’s why I’m known as such a great attorney. All I do is worry. As a matter of fact, a lot of times I actually worry myself sick and have to go into the restroom and throw up.”

Do you want this person representing you? Nope. What you want is an attorney who can help you solve your problems. And that’s exactly what your worry should do for you: help you solve your problems. If it doesn’t, you’re probably participating in unproductive worry, which is unlikely to get you anywhere, except on your way to becoming overly-anxious and, probably, depressed.

So here is the exercise which has kept me from worrying needlessly — but rather doing it productively. I start by asking these two questions to keep worry in its proper place …

1. Is the problem plausible or reasonable? If you’re getting ready to take a trip to a national park, for instance, it’s appropriate to worry about getting accurate directions and your car tuned-up before you go. Worrying about being shot by a sniper along the way, which is unlikely, is probably a waste of time.

2. Can something be done about the problem immediately? If you answer “Yes” to this question, then you can probably come up with an action plan to get something done that will alleviate your worry. If your family’s cashflow is down, how can you INCREASE it by earning more, and obtaining more sources of income — rather than worrying about the expense side of your family budget. If your production at work has suffered recently, what are the positive steps you can take … rather than fixating on who to blame?

You get the idea.

Use these questions, and start sleeping better at night! I know I do…

And I’m grateful for your trust, and for your referrals.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

J.D. PANTZIS, C.P.A., P.C.

Read More

What Is Estate Planning? Six Good Reasons Everyone Should Have An Estate Plan In Brooklyn

What Is Estate Planning? Six Good Reasons Everyone Should Have An Estate Plan In Brooklyn

There comes a point when you hear news such as we all saw unfold over the weekend in London (and earlier in the week in Manchester, UK), and it’s tempting to just go numb. It feels like survival, during these crazy times.

But I’m fighting to care, and not just tune EVERYTHING out. There is great wisdom in keeping our minds uncluttered by the 24-7 cycle of chaos and fear that we can find online and on the news channels … but there are also times when our thoughts, and our prayers, really still matter. And we can’t just tune it all out.

So, let’s stand with our friends across the pond, and stand against senseless brutality, in all of its forms.

And sometimes it takes a distant tragedy like this to remind us of the fragility of life, and how we should also fight to protect what matters most to us.

One of the best ways we can fight to do that is to take the seemingly-inconvenient step of establishing good plans for whatever might come. Just as you would want to have emergency plans in place for your household should immediate disaster strike, it’s very important to have plans in place for our loved ones and most precious possessions (children, spouse, home, finances).

You may be asking yourself, what is estate planning? This is a great question to explore and get a strategy in place for. In fact, there are six reasons (at least!) that all of my Brooklyn clients should have some kind of estate plan in place, and do it this year…

What Is Estate Planning? Six Good Reasons Everyone Should Have An Estate Plan In Brooklyn

“There is greatness in doing something you hate for the sake of someone you love.”  – Shmuley Boteach

Many well-meaning (and very loving) Brooklyn parents haven’t yet established an estate plan. That is a sad reality.

Yes, perhaps they’ve downloaded a fill-in-the-blank will from a software service, but unfortunately, with many situations, these don’t cover every important component of your wishes.

Or, they may rationalize that they are too young or don’t have enough money to reap the benefits of a plan.

Many of my clients have already made proper preparations, but I’m aware that YOU might be reading this and have not yet set this up.

Well, here are six good reasons that EVERYONE should have a good estate plan…

1) Loss of capacity. What if you become incompetent and unable to manage your own affairs? Without a plan the courts will select the person to manage your affairs. With a plan, you pick that person (through a power of attorney).

2) Minor children. Who will raise your children if you die? Without a plan, a court will make that decision. With a plan, you are able to nominate the guardian of your choice.

3) Blended families. What if your family is the result of multiple marriages? Without a plan, children from different marriages may not be treated as you would wish. With a plan, you determine what goes to your current spouse and to the children from a prior marriage or marriages.

4) Keeping assets in the family. Would you prefer that your assets stay in your own family? Without a plan, your child’s spouse may wind up with your money if your child passes away prematurely. If your child divorces his or her current spouse, half of your assets could go to the spouse. With a plan, you can set up a trust that ensures that your assets will stay in your family and, for example, pass to your grandchildren.

5) Retirement accounts. Do you have an IRA or similar retirement account? Without a plan, your designated beneficiary for the retirement account funds may not reflect your current wishes and may result in burdensome tax consequences for your heirs (although the rules regarding the designation of a beneficiary have been eased considerably). With a plan, you can choose the optimal beneficiary.

6) Avoiding probate. Without a plan, your estate may be subject to delays and excess fees (depending on the state), and your assets will be a matter of public record. With a plan, you can structure things so that probate can be avoided entirely.

I do hope you carefully consider this. And if you’d like a recommendation for a good estate planning solution, I’m glad to offer that to you. Just shoot me an email by clicking the email button in the upper corner of this page.

Most of all, I’m grateful for your trust, and for your referrals.

Warmly,

James Pantzis

(718) 858-9864

J.D. PANTZIS, C.P.A., P.C.

Read More

Tax Freedom Day And Amended Tax Returns For Brooklyn Taxpayers

Tax Freedom Day And Amended Tax Returns For Brooklyn Taxpayers

When I say, “3.5 months of labor,” I’m not actually referring to the work we do here in our Brooklyn tax office on behalf of our clients. (Frankly, we work the entire year so that these past few months would NOT be as crazy as they might otherwise be.)

Nope, I’m referring to one of the big dates we mark every year around here: “Tax Freedom Day“. It’s the date when the nation as a whole* has earned enough money to pay its total tax bill for the year.

(*I say “as a whole”, because this is only a collective average and does not accurately reflect the number for you or for  your neighbors — it is the average tax burden for the overall economy, rather than for specific subgroups of taxpayers.)

This year’s magic date was Sunday, April 23, 2017 (which is one day earlier than last year, for what it’s worth). 3.5+ months into the year. And, as in years past, Americans will collectively spend more on taxes in 2017 than they will on food, clothing, and housing combined.

That’s a sobering reality — but for me and my team, it is a helpful reminder for why we do what we do: We are about keeping your tax bill as low as legally and ethically possible.

Now, with that aside, if work on your return has been completed and you are not on extension, hopefully YOU have complete confidence in how things landed with your return this year. (If not, please do send me an email, and we can set up a time to discuss.)

But what about your friends?

Tax Freedom Day And Amended Tax Returns For Brooklyn Taxpayers
“Friendship is like money, easier made than kept.” -Samuel Butler

Our Brooklyn clients who filed with us this year already feel the peace-of-mind that they were able to claim every possible deduction which is legally allowed in the tax code for 2016. After all, we put each return through an extensive review process to ensure you keep as much of your hard-earned income as the IRS allows.

But what about your friends? And what about your previous years?

Well, since the filing deadline has already passed, they (and you) might think that the proverbial “fat lady” has sung on 2016 returns (and 2015 and 2014). Not so.

Because according to the most recent report on the matter, issued by the General Accounting Office, taxpayers overpay the IRS over $1 billion every year due to incorrect itemization and preparation.

What’s worse is that those who prepared their own taxes (with a software or on their own) are the most vulnerable, according to the report. But did you also know that taxpayers who used one of the “big chain” preparers are almost as bad off?

An excerpt from an additional report from the GAO: In a Limited Study, Chain Preparers Made Serious Errors

In GAO (United States “Government Accountability Office”) visits to chain preparers, paid preparers often prepared returns that were incorrect, with tax consequences that were sometimes significant. Some of the most serious problems involved these preparers…

1.  Not reporting business income in 10 of 19 cases;
2.  Failing to take the most advantageous post-secondary education tax benefit in 3 out of the 9 applicable cases; and
3.Failing to itemize deductions at all or failing to claim all available deductions in 7 out of the 9 applicable cases.

More clippings from the report:
* The 19 paid preparers we visited arrived at the correct refund amount only twice. On 5 returns, all for the plumber, they understated our refund amount by a total of $3,465.

* All 19 of our visits to tax return preparers affiliated with chains showed problems. Nearly all of the returns prepared for us were incorrect to some degree, and several of the preparers gave us very bad tax advice, particularly when it came to reporting non-W-2 business income. Only 2 of 19 tax returns showed the correct refund amount, and in both of those visits the paid preparer made mistakes that did not affect the final refund amount.

So what can your friends do about this? And what could YOU do about it, if you didn’t have us handle your taxes in prior years? Simple: file an Amended Tax Return.

Many tax businesses don’t provide this service, but even though we’ve completed our clients’ returns, we WILL review any of your friends’ returns — at no charge.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

Read More

A Tax Day Thank You From James Pantzis

A Tax Day Thank You From James Pantzis

Lifting my heavily-lidded eyes to peer up through the haze of government forms and procedures, I peek at the calendar, which today said: April 17.

(If any of the above sounded slightly poetic, that’s the coffee talking; I’m a Brooklyn tax accountant, after all.)

Yes, today is an extremely busy day for us here at Team Pantzis — it’s the day before the big deadline (Tax Day = Tuesday, April 18th, 2017). But as I am a person of ritual, I’m still taking the time to write to you on this, of all days. (Though you are likely to be actually receiving it later in the week, depending on how this day goes!)

It’s been a great tax season — and for us, it’s not really ever over.

Yes, we will have a respite because individual filing (and a slew of other things) are due tomorrow, but we don’t take the same kind of extended vacation of which many of our colleagues avail themselves upon tax season’s completion.

But this week gives me the chance to say (again): We are extremely grateful for your trust, and all of the other Brooklyn area families we got to meet with this year for tax preparation.

It’s always been our hope that we take a process that is so painful and time-consuming (with so much waste), and convert it into a profitable enterprise (for YOU) through smart tax preparation and planning and in overall financial coaching for our clients. We’re proud to say that we have seen those good stories this year, as we’ve continued to grow on the strength of your referrals.

I won’t be sharing strategic personal financial wisdom today (I hope you’ll forgive our needing to stay focused), but I would like to make one last request:

If you have filed your taxes with us would you…

A) Write something of your experience for people to know about in the future? Yelp and Google seem to be the place where many Brooklyn people are looking these days, and your words there would mean a great deal…

(And if for some reason you weren’t satisfied with our service, please write me back personally. I will do everything within my power to make it right, and will make it a priority, even this week.)

B) Share us on YOUR Facebook wall…?

Here’s something you could post on your profile, if so inclined:
“I had my taxes prepared by James Pantzis’s team, and had a great experience. And even now, they’re willing to review your tax return to make sure that everything was done right for you … Give them a call at: (718) 858-9864 and let them know I told you to call.” http://www.facebook.com/pantziscpa

Or some such… thanks again.

I will end by saying this: I have been reminded, once again, this year: YOU are what makes this nation great. No matter what the politicians may want to take credit for, it’s people like you — the quiet ones who might not ever show up on the roll calls of any Forbes list, but who are doing so many incredible things (that WE get to see!) — who are responsible for any greatness that we might claim as a nation.

What a privilege it is to serve you. To know you. We are all so grateful.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

Read More

Considering Filing A Tax Extension In Brooklyn? Read This First.

Considering Filing A Tax Extension In Brooklyn? Read This First.

Last week, I wrote all about those deadlines. <shiver> I know for a fact that the very word can strike pain and anxiety into the hearts of certain of my clients (who shall remain nameless).

So, this week … well, I’m going to give you the chance to exhale a little. It’ll be like a warm bath of security, peace and comfort.

(And given all the chaos we’re seeing on the national and international stage, we could all use a little security, peace and comfort, yes?)

And it’s not *just* because the personal tax filing deadline falls on Tuesday April 18th, 2017. (Three extra days!)

Today, we’re going to talk about the magical world of the tax return extension —  and what it really means. If, at this point, you’re still staring blankly at a pile of receipts and documents and it just. seems. so. hard. … well, the extension is your friend.

If you’ve already had us complete your taxes, I really would love it if you would help us in a unique way: Would you leave us a review on Yelp or Google Maps for other potential clients to see? We have found that these sources can be so helpful for people evaluating their options, and we would love to have as much information there as possible. Thank you!

So, here’s the truth about extensions. It’ll still feel like that “warm bath” of comfort I mentioned, but with a few deadline-ish things to know as well.

Considering Filing A Tax Extension In Brooklyn? Read This First.
“It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” -Mark Twain

This upcoming Tuesday, April 18, 2017 is the filing deadline for a federal tax return. If you need more time to get your paperwork complete, you need to file (or have us file on your behalf) an extension with the IRS by the end of the day on the 18th. This gives you an automatic six-month extension of time to actually file (until October 16, 2017).

This is the form you can use: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4868.pdf

But it’s also as easy for us to do for you as pushing a couple buttons (it really does pay to use a pro).

This can be a very comforting and helpful process for the procrastinators among us.

An important note: An “Extension of Time to File” is not an “Extension of Time to Pay”, unfortunately. The Extension simply gives you an automatic six months of additional time to get your paperwork together and file that return. But, if you owe more than what you paid with your estimate, you’ll be accumulating penalties and interest on the difference — so PLEASE don’t take the entire six months to do this.

That said, depending on the amounts we’re talking about, those penalties and interest payments may not be that much. The late payment penalty is 0.5% of the tax owed after the due date, for each month or part of a month the tax remains unpaid (up to 25%, which, hopefully, you would never hit).

So, when filing your “Extension of Time to File”, you’ll need to estimate what you think you owe to the IRS.  This should not be pulling numbers out of thin air. You’ll still need to go through your receipts and tax documents and get them “somewhat” organized.

From here, you can estimate both your income and your expenses, and then approximate what you owe Uncle Sam. Keep in mind that this is an ESTIMATE. And, you’ll have to pay what you estimate you owe at the time we file for the tax extension.

As I mentioned earlier, You can do this all electronically through our office, you can mail in the form WITH estimated payment (must be postmarked by the 18th), or you can call a specialized provider and pay by credit card. We can provide you with the appropriate number to call.

If you cannot pay your taxes due:

First of all, you’re not alone. There are many, even right here in Brooklyn (and, of course, beyond), who are unable to pay everything right away. But this is what we’re here for. We can help you through this stuff too.

Here’s what we would tell you…

1) Pay as much as you possibly can right now.

2) You can ask for (and often receive) an extension of up to 120 days to PAY: https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc202.html. It does require a phone call to the IRS. 🙁

3) “Financial hardship” delay: this is if paying your tax bill would demonstrably affect your ability to pay your other bills. Interest and penalties still accrue, but it’s better to register this with the IRS than to simply ignore the bill.

4) Installment payment plan: If you owe less than $50K in taxes, you should usually be able to get an installment payment plan of up to 72 months, simply by asking for it. If this is something you are considering, please let’s talk it over to make sure we come up with the best plan. But you can apply online for this here: https://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Online-Payment-Agreement-Application

5) Negotiate: this is NOT something to try on your own. We can help, but the number of “Offers in Compromise” that get accepted each year are quite small and a knowledge of how the system works is important.

6) Using existing credit sources (credit card, HELOC, private loans): some tax advisors would quickly recommend this, but I would NOT recommend you go this route. If you’ve exhausted the options above, do this instead:

7) Sell something you don’t need anymore and make up the difference.

But again, this is what we’re here for —  we’ll walk you through your best options and figure out the smartest course of action for you.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

Read More

James Pantzis’ List of What Else Is Due On April 18th

James Pantzis’ List of What Else Is Due On April 18th

It’s “go time” around here. Our phones are buzzing, the email inboxes are overflowing, but we are focused like a laser beam on giving our clients the BEST service for their time (and wallet), and ensuring that nobody is paying Uncle Sam more than they should.

We’ve invested a lot into this time of year — in education, client management software (so that nothing falls through the cracks), and in staffing — all so that we serve you extremely well. Some tax professionals fly through these last few weeks in a caffeine-soaked haze, but in truth, we are more focused than we’ve ever been … and thrilled that we get to serve people like you.

We see the kinds of lives our clients lead, and we are privileged to play a small part in helping them do it all so well.

But yes — there are a few deadlines coming up, and I’d like to take this chance to remind you of them.

It’s not just taxes that come calling on April 18th this year (yes, you read that right — the tax deadline is a few days later than normal this year).

Now before I explain, if you’ve already had us complete your taxes, I do have a favor:

Would you leave us a review on Yelp or Google Maps for other potential clients to see? We have found that these sources can be so helpful for people evaluating their options, and we would love to have as much information there as possible. Thank you!

Now, onto those deadlines…

James Pantzis’ List of What Else Is Due On April 18th

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

Yes, personal federal income taxes are due on Tuesday, April 18th 2017.

But that’s not all.

I truly hope this is not overwhelming, and some of this might not apply to you. Regardless, it’s good to know, and some of this knowledge could save you a bunch.

State tax returns are also due. The exceptions are:

  • States with no income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming
  • Hawaii is due 4/20
  • Delaware is due 4/30
  • Iowa, Virginia are due 5/1
  • Louisiana is due 5/15

So, if your state is listed there, we are already on top of things accordingly for you.

Estimated tax payments for the first quarter of 2017 are due. For some clients, not only do you have to pay the federal and state bill, but you you need to get started on 2017 estimated taxes. We’ve included this information for clients, and can help you make the proper payments as needed.

Last day to make an IRA contribution to affect your 2016 taxes. This might be a simple way to reduce your tax burden at the last minute. Let’s make sure we have clarity together before you do something hasty on this front, though.

Last day to claim unclaimed funds from 2013 unfiled tax returns. There are (literally) almost one BILLION dollars in unclaimed refund money available from the IRS from 2013 returns. Here’s the catch: You must claim it by April 18th, 2017. (Source: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/irs-1-billion-unclaimed-refunds.aspx)

How do you do that? Have us take a look at your return, and file an amendment if we find something which needs changing, updating, etc. There are all kinds of reasons why this might be — suffice it to say, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

Or, alternatively, there are people who simply didn’t FILE a return, but just trusted that the taxes withheld from paychecks were correct. Oops — that’s where the IRS gets the billions figure, because there are so many unclaimed refunds due to unfiled returns.

Either way, we can help (and routinely do). Call us.

 

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864
James Pantzis, CPA, PC

Read More

James Pantzis’ Simple Two-Step Trick for Conquering Procrastination

James Pantzis’ Simple Two-Step Trick for Conquering Procrastination

Apparently, the Republican Congressional leadership understands the impulse of procrastination.

Bringing the health care reform bill to an actual vote last week (after months of touting their intentions to repeal the ACA) proved, in fact, to be a difficult task. And so until we hear otherwise, we remain with the status quo. Your opinion of this (and mine) matters little — but what it does demonstrate is the power of procrastination, and its pitfalls.

(By the way, apparently the next item on their list to procrastinate about — tax reform. We’ll see if the results are the same.)

So let’s talk about procrastination today, shall we?

Firstly — are YOU procrastinating about your taxes?

If so, you’re not alone. The most recent IRS data we’ve seen as practitioners shows that overall, tax filing is slower than in recent years. Perhaps that’s because of other system delays the IRS instituted this year. But regardless, people are waiting longer this year.

Perhaps that’s you? Or some of your friends?

If so, you might enjoy this:

James Pantzis’ Simple Two-Step Trick for Conquering Procrastination
“Those who make the worst use of their time most complain about its shortness.” – Jean de la Bruyere 

I write about this kind of thing almost every year, around this time of the year. I do so because this tax deadline brings our own habits and behavior into such sharp relief, that we finally reach the point at which we can be more honest with ourselves.

So, consider this thought experiment:

When your day wraps to a close, are you leaving tired and satisfied? Or just … tired?

You’ve spent the day in nearly constant activity.

And you may have been procrastinating the whole time.

“Huh?” you say, “I can’t have been procrastinating.  I’ve been really busy!”

But that’s the point: when we’re busy, we can easily trick ourselves into thinking that all of that activity means we’re not procrastinating. Yeah, we’re busy — but we’re not focused on the things that should really have our attention. If someone were to tap us on the shoulder and say, “that thing you’re doing — is that the best use of your attention right now?”, we would hesitate to agree.

We’re busy procrastinating.

The explosion of digital channels and the world in our pocket makes it very easy to integrate busy-ness and procrastination. There are a lot of “channels that lead to you.”  Email, sure. But also Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and texting and LinkedIn and … etc., etc.

The inputs from these channels come at us thick and fast. That makes it tempting to let the real-time arrivals drive us. Procrastination is always only a click away.

But ask yourself: what are the odds that email at the top of your inbox is the best thing to focus on next? Or that text message that just dinged for your attention? If it’s not, and you choose to deal with it next anyway, then you’re being driven by the “latest and loudest,” and are letting your channels dictate your priorities.

So, if you’re struggling with procrastination, then what should you do? To get it under control, we need to make getting moving on the right things as attractive as possible.

Procrastination usually boils down to:
1) Not Thinking, or
2) Not Doing.

Here’s how to beat each…

1) Not Thinking.
I’m avoiding thinking about things I know I should think about.

There can be all kinds of reasons we don’t want to think about a given item, or issue. Whatever the reason, it is usually because of the size or complexity of the issue.

So, boil it down to its contingent parts, and address the smaller issues within the larger whole. Ask yourself: What’s the exact, smallest action that can be taken to move this forward? And, What do I want to see happen from that action? You can always address those questions.

Which leads to…

2) Not Doing. 
I’m avoiding doing things I know I should be doing.

Again, break it down into something smaller. Take the tiny action, do it again … and you’ll find yourself suddenly settled into taking the larger action you had been putting off in the first place.

Here’s one small action…

Consider us “The Ultimate Procrastination Solution”.

Allow us to take the pain away from that big pile of forms and obligations … and allow yourself to move into sustained action on those bigger things.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

Read More

4 Very Common Mistakes Brooklyn Investors Should Avoid When Opening An IRA

4 Very Common Mistakes Brooklyn Investors Should Avoid When Opening An IRA

There are so many different messages coming out of DC, per the media, that if you try to make sense of it all through the mass media lens, then you’re bound to work at cross purposes with yourself.

There’s the Republican health care bill, and the current version of the bill is dominating political headlines.

Or, of course, there’s the initial budget being proposed by President Trump which is sure to make certain sectors, of my client base pretty happy.

Then again, there are the war drums being banged (once again) from North Korea

Happy Spring, everyone!

But truly, if you subject yourself to media hysteria, you will make 1) poor financial decisions (because things ALWAYS change) and 2) you will remain in a state of continuous frustration and anger — because that’s what the media feeds on, no matter the political tilt.

I choose to “opt out” of the hysteria. While, of course, keeping my powder dry to respond to REAL issues in my life.

And YOU get the luxury of being able to trust that my staff and I are following all of the tax law changes as they come, and taking greatest possible advantage on your behalf.

Of course the tax law we’re currently using for return preparations has been “in the books” for quite some time now, so we’re not needing to make any rapid shifts these days. Just working the plan, and helping you save the most amount possible.

Speaking of savings… I see many IRAs set up this time of year, and of course, as we review our clients’ return information. But I also see some common mistakes, and I’d like to help you with those.

Let this be a “palate cleanser” from all the chaos, and let’s take a positive step towards saving WELL this week.

4 Very Common Mistakes Brooklyn Investors Should Avoid When Opening An IRA
“Part of making good decisions is recognizing the poor decisions you’ve made and why they were poor.” -Warren Buffett

Opening an IRA for your retirement is almost always a good investment, but it’s not always a simple process. There are IRA alternatives (like a SEP, 401k, etc.)  that many of our clients know how to use (but you might not), there is the Roth option, and of course there are also the pitfalls that people fall into when setting them up. For example:

Not getting professional advice. 
Don’t try to do this on your own. Despite the many softwares, websites, etc. trying to lure you with the promise of saving money on commissions or other professional fees, those who work with a professional do tend to see better overall returns over time, for a number of reasons.  Not to mention the timely, expert advice they can provide when you need it — which you surely will from time to time.

If you are reading this post, whether as a client (or you’re considering still working with us) or someone passed it on to you, know that we are in your corner from the get-go for these sort of questions.

Naming the wrong beneficiaries, or not naming any at all. 
Making your minor child a beneficiary will require a court-appointed guardian to manage the money until the child turns 18. If you fail to name a beneficiary, it is likely the IRA will become payable to your estate upon your death. This unnecessarily subjects the IRA to estate taxes.

Confining yourself to the form. 
Most account agreements allow little space in which to name more than one beneficiary. With a little jiggering though (whether with an additional paper tacked to the initial paperwork, or by working the software a little) you can make sure to add the information of all beneficiaries, and exactly how you want the account to be distributed.

Thinking your financial institution keeps records of everything. 
In this age of mergers and acquisitions, who knows where your records could be? Keep copies of your account agreement and beneficiary designations, and let your professional and your family know how to find them.

And as I mentioned, we’re here to help. Let me know if you have any questions.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

Read More

Why You Should Consider Giving Away Your Tax Refund by James Pantzis

Why You Should Consider Giving Away Your Tax Refund by James Pantzis

This past Sunday, the NCAA revealed the brackets for March Madness. The country will be inflicted with a particular form of hysteria these next few weeks, but unfortunately, this little national hoops holiday isn’t one which my staff and I get much chance to participate in. We’re too busy doing your taxes!

Yep, this is close to our busiest time of the year, and we’re working “like mad” (see what I did there?) to handle the increased volume this year. Because with all of the political chaos out there, it’s clear that people want real answers from someone who knows them — and cares.

But let me say this: though my business does well this time of year, I’d rather things were better and our tax code was simpler. I’d rather the economy was roaring and everyone felt confident enough to handle their own financial forms.

However, the sheer complexity of the tax code keeps me in business — to take the hassle away from you, and apply our expertise to your situation. But wouldn’t it be more efficient if paying taxes didn’t actually require so much expertise?

I know … a bit of a controversial statement from a tax accountant. But I get tired of seeing new clients bring last year’s tax returns to us–and realize that if we’d helped them sooner, they would have saved a bunch of money (fortunately, we *can* file amended returns!). If things were simpler, people would keep more of their money — and THAT’S one of my passions.

Now, I have some thoughts here that might feel a bit controversial. But I’d love your thoughts on it, and I read every note that comes my way.

Why You Should Consider Giving Away Your Tax Refund by James Pantzis
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”  -Tony Robbins

We have many clients who are receiving tax refunds this month, and that number of course will only be rising. So, here’s a thought for you: What would it look like for you to give your refund away?

Yes, this is a radical idea to think about, but consider: what does this tax refund represent to you?

If you’re like many families, it’s a bit like “found money” — i.e. an unexpected windfall. And, in those scenarios, it’s tempting to hoard it, or to splurge.

However, as with other windfall scenarios which I’ve written about in the past, one of the smartest things you can do is to give a portion (at least) of it away.

Why do I suggest this?

Well, I believe it’s actually enlightened self-interest in the long run. And not just in your sense of “feeling good”.

I see the balance sheets of people from every walk of life, and over the years I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: individuals and families who make giving a priority, even when they aren’t “wealthy”, seem to do better in the long run. And I mean financially — not just in their state of mind.

(Though, there are significant soul reasons for giving. Have you seen, as I have, that those who freely give seem to be more pleasant company?)

Before you write this off as being “ask the universe” mushiness, understand that 1) I don’t subscribe to that baloney and 2) I am merely reporting an observed phenomenon. Do with it what you will.

You see, I make it a point to observe how money works. And, for some reason — money gets attracted to those who aren’t merely in hot, desperate pursuit of it. It’s almost like it is in romance — potential lovers are usually turned off by the overly-aggressive seeker.

So consider this. I know it might feel painful. But trust me when I tell you that it can actually provide you with a deeper feeling of joy than if you choose to cling tightly to everything that comes your way.

I hope I didn’t ruffle your feathers … but if so, understand that most of all, we are here to walk with you no matter WHAT your balance sheets look like, or what you choose to do with it.

And lastly, we’re here to help. Let me know if you have any questions.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

Read More

James Pantzis’ Tax Paperwork Checklist

James Pantzis’ Tax Paperwork Checklist

These days, I’m often glad that it’s our busy tax filing season, so that I have an easy excuse when political conversations are happening: Oh THAT [crazy new political story]? Huh, didn’t see it — I’m too busy with tax season.

With all of the chaos out there, the division and shouting — from Washington to Facebook to right here in Brooklyn, it’s helpful to try to tune out the shouting and focus on what is actually in our sphere of productivity.

So speaking of being productive, it might be time to get moving on your tax files, if you haven’t already.

The IRS did a study a few years ago that computed that the *average* time that it takes to complete a tax return is 22 hours. And obviously, that number varies by the return, but I’m reminded (again) of the blessing that it is to free our clients’ TIME — not to mention the additional deductions we find, the stress we remove, and the security we can provide in knowing that it’s being handled right.

Already, we have many, many Brooklyn tax clients who have filed, have received refunds and have written us notes telling us that they’ve never been more pleased with their filing experience. And of course, this makes me happy, as you might imagine.Now, I’ve got something here that we posted towards the beginning of January, but as we are moving into the depths of March, I thought it would be worth posting once more…

James Pantzis’s Tax Paperwork Checklist
“We are not retreating — we are advancing in another direction.” -Douglas MacArthur

With the increased penalties associated with the ACA in 2017, and all of the other changes every year, filing your taxes on your own is not for the faint of heart — even with nice-looking softwares on the market which purport to make it easy for you.

But that’s what we’re here for. Let us be your easy button.

Below is a list of what you will need during the tax preparation process. Not all of them will apply to you — probably MOST will not. Nonetheless, it’s a useful checklist.

Before you get overwhelmed: yes, this is a long list — but it’s the unfortunate reality of our tax code that it’s not even comprehensive! But these items will cover 95% of our Brooklyn tax clients.  Really, this is for ensuring that we’re able to help you keep every dollar you can keep under our tax code.

Even if for some strange reason you won’t be using our cost-effective services this year, feel free to use this list as a handy guide…

Personal Data
Social Security Numbers (including spouse and children)
Child care provider tax I.D. or Social Security Number

Employment & Income Data
W-2 forms for this year
Tax refunds and unemployment compensation: Form 1099-G
Miscellaneous income including rent: Form 1099-MISC
Partnership and trust income
Pensions and annuities
Alimony received
Jury duty pay
Gambling and lottery winnings
Prizes and awards
Scholarships and fellowships
State and local income tax refunds
Unemployment compensation

Health Insurance Information
* All 1095-A Forms from marketplace providers (if you purchased insurance through a Marketplace)
* Existing plan information (policy numbers, etc.)
* If claiming an exemption, your unique Exemption Certificate Number
* Records of credits and/or advance payments received from the Premium Tax Credit (if claiming)

Homeowner/Renter Data
Residential address(es) for this year
Mortgage interest: Form 1098
Sale of your home or other real estate: Form 1099-S
Second mortgage interest paid
Real estate taxes paid
Rent paid during tax year
Moving expenses

Financial Assets
Interest income statements: Form 1099-INT & 1099-OID
Dividend income statements: Form 1099-DIV
Proceeds from broker transactions: Form 1099-B
Retirement plan distribution: Form 1099-R
Capital gains or losses

Financial Liabilities
Auto loans and leases (account numbers and car value) if vehicle used for business
Student loan interest paid
Early withdrawal penalties on CDs and other fixed time deposits

Automobiles
Personal property tax information
Department of Motor Vehicles fees

Expenses
Gifts to charity (receipts for any single donations of $250 or more)
Unreimbursed expenses related to volunteer work
Unreimbursed expenses related to your job (travel expenses, entertainment, uniforms, union dues, subscriptions)
Investment expenses
Job-hunting expenses
Education expenses (tuition and fees)
Child care expenses
Medical Savings Accounts
Adoption expenses
Alimony paid
Tax return preparation expenses and fees

Self-Employment Data
Estimated tax vouchers for the current year
Self-employment tax
Self-employment SEP plans
Self-employed health insurance
K-1s on all partnerships
Receipts or documentation for business-related expenses
Farm income

Deduction Documents
State and local income taxes
IRA, Keogh and other retirement plan contributions
Medical expenses
Casualty or theft losses
Other miscellaneous deductions

We’re here to help. Let me know if you have any questions.

Warmly,

James Pantzis
(718) 858-9864

James Pantzis, CPA, PC

Read More