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Top 5 Tax Mistakes You Should Avoid

Top 5 Tax Mistakes You Should Avoid

As tax season approaches, you’ll want to make sure your finances are in order to properly report your income and expenses to the IRS. Unfortunately, a lot of households make the same mistakes–and they’re entirely avoidable!

Simple mistakes can lead to a tax audit. That means the IRS will double check that your individual account and tax information is correct. To avoid the headache of a tax audit, be sure to report your income and expenses properly the first time.

This starts by avoiding these common tax mistakes:

Choosing the wrong filing status

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    The IRS uses five different filing statuses to determine things like your correct tax rate, eligibility on certain credits, and your standard deduction. These filing statuses include:

    • Single
    • Married Filing Jointly
    • Married Filing Separately
    • Head of Household
    • Qualifying Widow(er)

    It’s not always easy to determine which filing status you should choose. For example, if you recently separated from your spouse but are still legally married, should you choose Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately? It’s also common for people to claim Head of Household when they do not meet the requirements.

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    The IRS can help with that. Take a quick five-minute survey, What is My Filing Status?, on the IRS website to ensure you’re filing correctly. Be sure to have the following items on hand:

    • Marital status
    • Spouse’s year of death (if applicable)
    • Percentage of costs your household members paid toward keeping up a home

    Failing to file taxes for household workers

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      One of the biggest mistakes individuals make is failing to file taxes for household workers. It’s not because people are trying to cheat the system, just that they are misinformed.

      If you pay household workers, such as nannies, home health aides, housekeepers, house managers, etc., over a certain amount each year, you are considered a domestic employer. The threshold changes each year as the national average wage index changes.

      According to the IRS, the threshold for 2015 is set at $1,900, but will increase to $2,000 in 2016. That means that if you paid your household workers more than $1,900 in 2015, you will have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. These rates are currently at 6.2 percent for Social Security and 1.45 percent for Medicare.

      Homeowners often misclassify domestic workers as independent contractors. Making this mistake may lead to fines and imprisonment. Independent contractors set their own hours, supply their own tools/machinery, and offer services to the general public. If this does not sound like your workers, do not send them a 1099! This point is incredibly important: don’t let someone tell you that you can just pay your domestic workers with cash–this is illegal! The IRS has clear guidelines for what a domestic worker is and if you fail to pay their taxes properly, you could face fines and penalties.

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      Talk to your accountant or a domestic taxes expert if you suspect workers, like your nanny, fall into this “household worker” category. Be sure to provide your financial records and payment information to ensure your taxes are filed accurately.

      Failing to report additional income

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        Too often individuals report only what they see on their W-2s and 1099s. However, you may have income from other sources that aren’t on these forms. By law, you still have to report it.

        This can include income like tips, self-employment income, income from rental properties, etc.

        Not only is this mistake avoidable if you’re proactive and keep track of your income, but omitting any additional income from your tax forms can result in fees and other penalties from the IRS.

        Claiming ineligible dependents

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          Claiming dependents on your taxes gives you certain exemptions that will lower how much you have to pay. It is common for individuals to misinterpret what is meant by “dependent.” For example, you can claim children and relatives as dependents, but you can’t claim your spouse.

          A dependent is someone you support financially, usually a child or relative that lives with you.

          Unfortunately, the rules for claiming someone is often misunderstood. For instance, if someone can claim you or your spouse (if filing jointly) as dependents on their tax return, you cannot claim someone else as a dependent. This is true whether or not the person actually claims you.

          For example, if you live with your parents and also have your own child, your parents may be able to claim you as a dependent. In that case, you can’t claim your child on your tax return.

          You can claim dependents if:

          1. They are a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, resident alien, or resident of Canada or Mexico. The only exception is for adopted children.
          2. The dependent is not married or filing jointly.
          3. The dependent is a Qualifying Child or Qualifying Relative according to the IRS.

          If you’re unsure, visit the IRS website and take a short survey, Who Can I Claim as a Dependent?

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          Be sure to have the following items on-hand:

          • Marital status, relationship to dependent, and amount of support you provided them.
          • Income information, including your adjusted gross income.
          • Terms of a multiple support agreement you may have for the dependent.

          Making mistakes on paper tax forms

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            While taxes were once filed exclusively through paper forms, the Internet has made filing taxes easier than ever. The benefit to filing electronically is that the system can check for miscalculations or mistakes, like forgetting to sign your name. Unfortunately, the IRS won’t even accept returns that aren’t signed, and making a single math mistake can cost you, either in a reduced refund or in various fees.

            It’s tough to catch mistakes like this with the human eye, but they can be easily mitigated when you eFile through the IRS.

            Tax season can be stressful for both individuals and accountants. However, you can relieve some of that stress by paying attention to these common mistakes. That way, you know you’re not headed down a path toward incurring fees, penalties, and even jail time. If at any point you’re unsure of what’s expected of you or whether you qualify for certain categories or not, talk to a professional to get expert advice on your personal situation.

            photo credit: Pinterest

            Featured photo credit: El Nariz via thumb9.shutterstock.com

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            Kathleen Webb

            Co-Founder, HomeWork Solutions

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            Published on November 11, 2020

            10 Best Ways to Save Money Faster and Smarter

            10 Best Ways to Save Money Faster and Smarter

            People love to talk about budgeting, reducing spending. and investing. But unfortunately, talk is cheap, and poor money management is expensive. It’s easy to talk about the best way to save money, but putting it into practice is a different thing.

            What people need to talk about is the practical and efficient ways you can quickly save money to accomplish your goals. After all, they don’t teach this stuff in school.

            Here are the 10 best ways to save money faster and smarter.

            1. Cancel All Your Subscriptions

            Yes, all of them.

            Okay, you can keep your wifi and trash. But other than that, cancel all your monthly subscriptions for one month. You will survive, I promise. Better yet, you will realize you won’t miss all of them.

            Now that you have had 30 days to examine what you really missed and what you never thought twice about, you can add some of them back in. The others? you never have to think about them again.

            This is something you can and should do with every part of your life. If it’s clutter, cancel it. Being able to step back and see what is cluttering your life and what is excelling your forward helps improve your quality of life and financial standing.

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            2. Automate Savings From Your Paycheck

            Many of us are so excited about getting a new job that we rush through the paperwork during the hiring process. Good news for you, I have had lots of jobs so I have seen it a million times.

            There is an option for a portion of your paycheck to go directly into a secondary savings account. This is by far the most effective way to save money every month. We tend to spend most of what we have. So, if we take it off the top first, then it’s less likely to be spent. Just head over to HR and ask. It will only take two minutes.

            3. Cancel the Happy Hours for the Rest of the Pandemic

            We are in the middle of a global pandemic, which means that there is no better time to buy some drinks from the local store and stop shelling out $5 a drink at the local cocktail bar. When we look back at our bank statements, we are always shocked that fast food and alcohol can add up so quickly. You can easily save a couple of hundred dollars just by taking this step.

            A great exercise is to print out your last bank statement and highlight all the areas of alcohol and fast food. The amount may surprise you and make you think twice about that old fashion.

            4. Online Grocery Shopping

            Some people think online shopping increases the amount they spend. For the most part, I would agree—except for this category.

            Online grocery shopping is now a no-brainer, though. Whenever you walk through a grocery store, two things always happen: you always grab impulse items, and you never know the total of your cart until you checkout. This means that we always spend more than we originally planned.

            With online shopping, you can see your total as you add items to your cart. You are way less inclined to make those impulse purchases and because of that, I would venture to say that you could even pay to have them delivered to your door and still save money each month by choosing online grocery shopping.

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            5. Get a Famzoo Debit Card

            This is something my wife and I swear by, and it’s great for the entire family! Famzoo strictly exists to help families and kids budget their money better. Each month, my wife and I have an allotted amount loaded onto our pre-paid Famzoo debit card. This amount has changed every year depending on promotions, kids, stage of life, etc.

            The important part is that when you give yourself the freedom to spend a certain amount, you are more likely to only spend the allotted amount. Think of it as a diet. If you are counting calories, you are more likely to stick close to the amount you set. You can also look for some tips online to better stick to your family budget.

            6. Purge

            This is actually my favorite to do, and it is actually one of the best ways to save money. Raise your hand if you have ever moved. Okay, so everyone.

            When we move, we are always amazed at how much junk we have acquired. I have found that about every 6 months, I can find a couple of boxes to sell online of things that we never use. This not only gives you so extra quick cash, but it also keeps your house more tidy and organized.

            Now, go clean out that garage!

            7. Amazon Subscribe and Save

            32! That is how many items I have setup on amazon subscribe and save. Let me explain.

            This sounds expensive, I know. But it actually saves us hundreds of dollars per year! We all need toothpaste, shampoo, razors, laundry detergent, toilet paper right? This feature is truly a triple threat. When you have more than 5 items on subscribe and save, you automatically unlock the max savings for every product on your list. This can be up to 20% per item!

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            Now, even better is that it ships straight to your door on the exact day you want the item, maybe monthly or maybe you only need it every 4 months. This way, you never have too much or never run out. Either way, it’s totally customizable.

            Lastly, there is no contract for any items, which means you can switch brands or items at any given time at no cost. My advice: every single staple item should be on your subscribe and save.

            8. Rewards

            This may ruffle some feathers, but if you are using your debit card for purchases, you are missing out on free money! We have this notion that credit cards are evil but in reality, they are the same piece of plastic as your debit card.

            How you use it can be bad, don’t get me wrong. But if you want my opinion though, ditch the debit card and get a rewards credit card. Use it just like you would your debit card and make sure to pay it off as soon as the statement comes in!

            Just to give you an idea of how powerful this can be in terms of money, here are some things that our miles have paid for:

            • 4 nights in Vail with Flight
            • Rental car in Vail (convertible might I add)
            • Flight to Ireland
            • Flight to Hawaii
            • Multiple staycations at very nice Hotels

            That’s roughly about 7 thousand dollars in travel expenses so far! Remember that the credit card is just a tool and can be one that benefits you if you use it wisely. Ironically, this can be an effective way to save money.

            Pro tip: If you don’t trust yourself carrying around a credit card, then set up all your monthly bills with your credit and leave it in a drawer at home. This way, you rack up miles but don’t get tempted to overspend.

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            9. Vacation With Friends

            Now, I know travel is hard right now but what a perfect time to go grab an Airbnb in the woods with a couple of friends and detox from the world right now!

            Vacationing alone can be pricey and get rather boring quickly, but if you split lodging and set out for a road trip, it can become affordable quickly! For a couple of hundred bucks apiece, you can have one of the most relaxing vacations ever. Don’t forget to pick up your food at the local grocery store to avoid eating out every meal!

            10. Make a Budget

            When is the last time you updated your budget or made one for that matter? Making a budget is like writing down your goals. If you don’t make a budget, then you will struggle to save.

            How can you know if you are spending wisely if you are not tracking everything?

            Our advice would be to get a finance app like Mint, Every dollar, or personal capital. All these apps are free and do a tremendous job of tracking spending and budgeting. I still am old-school and have an excel spreadsheet which I do highly recommend.

            Work Smarter, Not Harder

            The entire goal is to boost your bank account while reducing the effort required. Efficiency is the name of the game, and automation is the key player. Luckily, we live in a world that has more perks than we can ever take advantage of. But if I were to choose a few, it would be the ones above.

            Taking on all 10 of these steps may seem a little daunting. You can first try to pick three of your favorite and start there. Saving money doesn’t have to be a chore as long. As we use the tools correctly, it can be quite effortless. And now, you have a great blueprint to get started!

            More Tips on Saving Money

            Featured photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon via unsplash.com

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