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2017 Newsletter for Tax Year 2016        
 
"Before you get those tax time blues, here's a bit of cheerful news . . ."
 
Greetings from Barbara, Ana, and James
 
Happy New Year!
Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men
 
Some people feel that they have to put up with their lot in life, but we know that we are lucky.  We have just celebrated the beautiful Christmas holiday, and rang the New Year bell.  For us, this is a time that we enjoy with our families, because of the celebration and renewal that our spirits go through, and because we know we are about to start Tax Season.  We are about to see YOU, the rest of our extended family!
 
Barbara wrapped up her stint as the Ethics Committee Chair at the California Society of Enrolled Agents and used her extensive experience to teach tax education courses.  The next generation of tax preparers and Enrolled Agents get to benefit from her knowledge and expertise!  She is steadily moving towards retirement, but we will keep her as long as she is willing. 
 
Ana and James experienced the Erskine Fire personally this year, when they were evacuated due to the fire.  With lots of luck (and the prayers of their mothers) the fire went right around the neighborhood – they did not lose their home or any pets.  The experience truly highlighted what is important in the world, and provided the opportunity to give back to our Kern River Valley community.
 
Ana continues to be very involved in the KRV, providing advice for non-profit organizations and volunteering at South Fork Middle School, where she works one on one with at risk students.  The experience of helping a struggling student is extremely rewarding.  Even if you think you were not a “good student” in school, helping a child to read or struggling through their math worksheet together means so much to the student.
 
James has been growing his bookkeeping business, working closely with business owners to keep their numbers in order, and helping to negotiate the California minimum wage landscape.  He will be the smiling face at the front desk, and the friendly voice on the phone.
 
Set a Tax Appointment, by Phone, Email, or by Online Request   

We are getting ready for tax season, and we look forward to hearing from you!  Starting on Monday, January 16, 2017, our office will be fully staffed and ready to set appointments.  You can call our office like usual at 661-871-1625, email Ana or Barbara, or you can go to our website and request an appointment.  Go to www.betterledger.com and click on the Contact tab.  There you can request your appointment date, send a message to us, or even get driving instructions to our office from your location. 
 
Portal to Security

Cybersecurity is in the news nonstop.  There are constant threats to our private information these days.  Whether it is a health care company being hacked, or a department store that discovers fraudulent card readers were employed, our data is at risk.  Better Ledger has always taken the utmost care to safeguard your private information, and continues to do so.  Now it is time to protect yourself.  Have you ever thought about the potential risk of sending tax documents electronically?

The best way to protect your sensitive tax data is to send and receive tax documents with Better Ledger using a secure client portal.  There is no additional cost to you to use the secure portal, and it is as easy as accessing and email and uploading a file as an attachment.  To set up a secure portal today, please email ana@betterledger.com.  When you include your cell phone number in the secure portal request, I can quickly text you the password you will need to access the secure portal.
If you already use the secure client portal and just need the password reset, please email ana@betterledger.com
 
Once your secure client portal has been set up, you can log in at www.betterledger.com in the bottom right hand corner.  This is a screenshot of what the secure client portal looks like.  There is a folder for each year’s tax documents.  You can also access your original documents and tax return copies all year long.

 
Did you have a Fire or other Disaster Loss in 2016?

The Erskine and Cedar Fires hit very close to home this year.  Unfortunately, many people lost everything, including their homes, to the fire.  To claim a tax deduction resulting from a fire or other disaster, you must know the following:  The value of your property before the loss, the value of your property after the loss, and the amount of insurance or other reimbursement you received (or are going to receive). 

If you lost your home or belongings to a fire or other disaster in 2016, please give us a call so we can discuss in detail everything you need to prepare your tax return.

Expect Your Refund to be Delayed if you claim EITC or ACTC    

If you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), your tax refund will be delayed until at least February 15, 2017.  The delay is part of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015, passed in December of 2015.  IRS states that the reason for this is to “help ensure that taxpayers get the refund they are owed by giving the agency more time to help detect and prevent fraud”.  Although IRS will start releasing refunds on February 15, 2017, they are warning that most refunds expected by direct deposit will not be available until the week of February 27th. 

If you are filing a tax return and claiming the EITC or ACTC, you should still file at the time you usually do to avoid any additional delays in receiving your refund.  The first day to file for tax year 2016 is January 23, 2017.

1095-A, 1095-B, 1095-C: What does it all mean?
 
The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land, and the requisite hoops need to be jumped through to prove that “minimum essential health coverage” has been maintained.  You will be receiving 1095 forms in the mail this month.  Please provide them
to us with the rest of your tax documents.
 
1095-A:  This form is issued to you by Covered California (or the healthcare marketplace you went through if you do not live in California).  The 1095-A will show who had health care coverage on your policy, what months coverage was provided, how much the premium was and how much the “advance payment of premium tax credit” was, if any.  If you went through Covered California (or the equivalent in another state) IRS will not complete processing your tax return without the 1095-A information.
 
1095-B:  This form is issued to you by your health care provider.  The 1095-B will show who had health care coverage on your policy and what months coverage was provided. 
 
1095-C:  This form is issued to you by your employer.  The 1095-C will show who was offered health care coverage on your policy, and what months they were covered.
 
These forms are used to determine whether or not there is any “shared responsibility payment” penalty due, and if coverage was provided through Covered California (or the equivalent in another state) whether the “advance payment of premium tax credit” was correct.  If members of your household did not maintain health care coverage, you will likely be hit with the penalty ($695 per person or 2.5% of your household income).  If you went through Covered California and the premium tax credit was calculated incorrectly, you may need to pay some of it back.
 
Energy Efficient Improvements
 
Energy efficient improvements to your home, like dual pane windows, external doors, and insulation will not be worth a tax credit after December 31, 2016.  If you installed energy efficient improvements before December 31, 2016, please be sure to include your sales contract and receipt with your tax documents.  The tax credit is 10% of what you spent, with a maximum credit of $500 available.

If you purchased and installed solar power on your home in 2016, please be sure to bring in the sales contract and receipt.  The tax credit is worth 30% of your cost!  This credit, which also covers solar water heaters, fuel cells, wind energy and geothermal equipment, will be available through December 31, 2019.  After that the credit will be reduced to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, and is set to expire December 31, 2021.
 
Important Reminders:          

Phone Scams and Hoaxes
In 2016 clients continued to receive threatening phone calls, often from someone claiming to be from IRS or the Franchise Tax Board.  Please do not be alarmed if you receive one of these calls, and DO NOT give any private information over the phone!  Threats of imminent bank account seizure, and even arrest, are false!

Legitimate tax agencies will ALWAYS contact you by mail multiple times before potentially having access to your assets, like a bank account.  If you get a letter from IRS, FTB or another tax agency, PLEASE OPEN IT and forward it to our office as soon as possible.  If you or someone you know has given a suspected thief personal or financial information you may contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4338 or IRS Identity Protection Unit at 800-908-4490.  Go to www.irs.gov/individuals/identity-protection for more information.
 
Mandatory Reporting of Foreign Financial Assets
If you have financial interest or signature authority in any accounts located outside of the U.S, and the total of those accounts was worth $10,000 or more on any day of the year, you must file that information with IRS.  Although you are not taxed on the content of the accounts, it is important to accurately report the information at tax time on the FBAR (Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report).  Penalties for willfully not reporting foreign assets can be as high as 50% of the value of the account.  So, if you have foreign assets like a business, stock accounts, or annuities, and the total value exceeded $50,000 on any day of the year, please tell us about it. 
 
Have you had a major event in your life?  There is a good chance that it will have an impact on your tax return.  Make sure that you tell us about your changes!  Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, adoptions, going to college, searching for a new job, buying or refinancing your house, buying a rental property or starting a new business.
 
Gazing into the Future: What is in store for 2017 and beyond?

Our country went through political upheaval in 2016.  There are new players at all levels of federal government, and the majority of state governments.  The PATH Act of 2015 extended tax laws through December 31, 2016 only.  What will tax law turn out to be for 2017?  Since it hasn’t been decided yet, make your voice heard!  Contact your representatives in Congress:  Go to www.house.gov/representatives and www.senate.gov/senators/contact to find the congressmen who represent you.
 
 
 

A Message from James:

As the tax season administrator for Better Ledger, Inc., I look forward to seeing or hearing from all of our great clients again in 2017. I will be at the front desk making tax appointments, taking payments, answering as many of your questions as I can, and basically running the show for our talented tax preparers.

I hope you all had a wonderful 2016, but most of you probably found it quite challenging as far as the old pocketbook goes. We want to keep as much money as possible from the United States Treasury because we as a people believe wholeheartedly that we can and deserve the chance to spend every dollar ourselves. In that effort, I don’t think I can overstate how useful the Better Ledger website can be in making sure you don’t miss any possible deductions. Please spend a few minutes on betterledger.com sometime soon and don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about possible deductions, forms you are required to have for tax preparation, or just what the government expects from you on your tax return. We’re here to clear the muddy pictures they tend to paint for us.

If you are a business owner with employees, you know minimum wage is going to make it harder for you to keep profits where you like them to be. Plus the State of California now has the unprecedented stigma of failing to pay back the federal government for unemployment monies owed for a record 6th straight year, meaning that every employer is going to pay at or near the maximum 6.2% for the first $7,000 of wages per employee. We’ll be lucky if they don’t raise the limit on either the percentage or the wage requirement in order to collect more money as unemployment does not seem to be diminishing.

2017 may well be the most interesting year in a long time as both the people and those representing the people have placed "the economy" as issue #1 for America’s immediate future. Here’s hoping your 2017 is brighter and less murky and confusing as the past few years and I will see or hear from you all soon.

James Robert Duke