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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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            Last Updated on June 26, 2020

            25 Easy Tips on How to Save Money Fast

            25 Easy Tips on How to Save Money Fast

            “How to save money fast?” This is the question asked by all of us not in the top 1% of rich people.

            If you are looking for ways to drastically reduce your expenses immediately, first look at what you need to spend money on every week. And I mean really need.

            You don’t really need to order in food. You don’t really need to buy expensive perfume.

            Building from that, you can work out how your regular expenses can be reduced.

            As for irregular expenses, they can also be deceptively costly in the long run. Once-off buys can also be tackled with some prudent planning and a little extra research.

            And remember: a budgeted lifestyle does not mean a bad or boring one!

            But first, understand what budget you can cut down on daily:

            • Regular expenses for the average adult (can be trimmed but not eliminated):
              • food
              • rent/mortgage
              • cell phone
              • insurance
              • socializing/entertainment
              • transportation
              • hygiene products
              • household bills
            • Irregular expenses for the average adult (can be eliminated or cut down a lot):
              • travel
              • clothing
              • medication (*depends)
              • grooming (hair, nails etc.)
              • gifts

            Now, let’s dive right into the 25 ways to save money fast:

            Save Money on Food

            1. Bring a stock of food to the office/work

            Instead of popping out for an overpriced salad and a smoothie, leave a set of basic utensils at the office as well as a stock of non-perishable goods such as tinned fruit, tuna, rice crackers and so on (try to avoid the junk food and this can turn into a pretty great diet!).

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            Stocking up means you won’t forget or say “I didn’t have the time” when you rushed out to work in the morning.

            2. Buy the store-brand version

            Many basic foods, such as bread and milk, will taste exactly the same as their branded alternatives. Go for stuff with minimal additives and preservatives. Meat in a tube is probably insanely unhealthy!

            3. Eat cheaper cuts of meat

            Learn how to tenderize and flavour cheaper meat and fish, and save on the (typically) most expensive item on your grocery bill.

            4. Have group dinners

            If 10 friends put $5 each in the kitty, it’s pretty easy to make a giant lasagne and get refreshments, as well as hang out with your favourite people.

            Save Money in Transport

            5. Get a bicycle

            Save on gas money and bus/metro fares with this underrated mode of transport.

            6. Use public transport and/or don’t get taxis

            Some places can only be reached by car. But as a good practise, check your public transport website and see if any routes pass nearby where you need to get to. Walk as much as you can.

            7. Find the cheapest gas

            Regularly check out where the cheapest gas can be bought.

            Save Money in General Shopping

            8. Shop online

            Not only will you save on the gas or transport fares from going to the shopping mall but you will also find better deals

            9. Sell your old stuff

            Get your unwanted belongings up on eBay ASAP and earn a few dollars.

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            Here’re more ideas for you: 25 Things to Sell to Make a Lot of Money

            10. Bulk buying stores

            For regular non-perishable/slow perishable purchases such as toilet paper, cat food, pasta, washing powder and so on, do an epic stocking-up trip to a co-op or equivalent (my mum used to go to a place that restaurants buy from).

            Be wary of supermarket “deals”, as some have been found to be fraudulent after working out a simple calculation.

            11. Become a flea market/car boot sale/street market guru

            You can find original gifts and develop good negotiation skills at these places.

            12. Generic brand medication

            More often than not, the generic version of paracetamol and other basics work the same as the branded version.

            13. Choose deodorant, not perfume

            It blows my mind when someone drops $70 on a bottle of spray. Stick with a nice deodorant, and not only will you smell just fine but you’ll be sweat-free as well!

            Cut Down on Household Expenses

            14. Printing

            Ink is one of the most expensive substances in the office and coloured ink is doubly so. B

            e more efficient and choose black and white, and if your printer doesn’t have a print-both-sides options, just print odd pages first, re-insert the paper and print even pages.

            Expand the margins of what you are printing as often as you can to save on paper.

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            15. Minimize SMS and phone calls

            A combination of a free chat service such as WhatsApp and a free call service such as Skype can reduce your bill to nothing (so long as you have a decent Wifi connection).

            16. Shop around for insurance

            Most people don’t spend enough time searching for the best insurance deal.

            Keep a watchful eye out for deals and new competitors in the market.

            17. Try re-negotiating your rent/mortgage

            If you have built up a good credit history or a good rapport with your landlord, then chances are a frank chat about needing to tighten your spending could result in lowering your payments. You’ve nothing to lose from trying.

            18. Don’t get a TV

            Invest in a computer/laptop and an internet-only package. You can watch more (and often better) entertainment on the web, and skip the advertisements as well.

            19. Pool your internet bill with a neighbour

            My apartment building is basically a big old house split into three apartments. There are five of us in total. We pool the internet bill, making it crazy cheap.

            Save Money in Socializing, Entertainment And Travel

            20. Have house parties

            Instead of paying for overpriced drinks, set up a series of in-house get-togethers with your friends. Everyone takes a turn, so it’s not always your house that needs cleaning.

            For sound insulation, hang heavy drapes on the walls and windows. For music, invest in a good second-hand set of speakers which you can connect to your computer. Let Spotify or Grooveshark playlists do the rest.

            21. Open festivals, meetups and events

            It never fails to surprise me how much underground stuff goes on around me for free or for very cheap. Find out who runs the blogs and websites that list all the less well-known cultural activities.

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            22. Volunteer

            If you can’t pay for a ticket, volunteer and get to be there anyway.

            23. Housesit

            There are multiple housesitting websites offering you the possibility to avoid paying hotels and skip the discomfort of crummy hostels.

            Save Money on Hygiene and Beauty

            24. DIY beauty

            French manicures, pedicures, waxing, eyebrows… pretty much all of these can be achieved at home (and done well) with some practise. There are plenty excellent blogs and YouTube tutorials to help.

            25. Fewer haircuts/volunteer at a trainee hairdresser

            If you can’t bear the risk of a trainee touching your locks, learn more ways to manipulate your hair as it grows and get haircuts sparingly. Women’s haircuts are outrageously priced in many cities.

            Bonus: Effective Money-Saving Tips for Everything

            Here’s a summary of what you can generally do to save more money:

            • Share/pool resources. Organize a neighbourhood sharing scheme, common resources for your apartment block or with your friends. Not everybody needs an individual lawnmower.
            • Buy energy-saving everything. The easiest way to lower your bills – replace those lightbulbs!
            • Buy in bulk. Be sensible about it (i.e. make sure you have space!), and drastically reduce weekly expenditure.
            • DIY. Skill up using YouTube tutorials on plumbing and many other essential services so you never have to pay for simple problems again.
            • Research a lot before making a decision. Most money-wasting is the result of poor preparation and planning. Don’t shirk this part just because you don’t like it!
            • Use your network. Your network is full of resources that can ease the pain of budgeting. Ask for help.
            • Stop and think. Do I really need it?

            Unfortunately, there are some things that require plain ol’ giving up for the time being. This can include high-cost sports such as skiing, the latest versions of some technologies, the finest brands of food/drinks, premier seats at the opera and most other indulgences.

            What is important to remember during lean times is that when you look back on your life, it will be the experiences that stand out, not the extra comforts.

            Living on a budget can teach you a lot about how much you can really get out of your paycheck. We only live one life, so make the most of every penny you earn!

            More Tips for Personal Finance Management

            Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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