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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 January 21, 2020

            How to Develop a Millionaire Mindset in 6 Simple Steps

            How to Develop a Millionaire Mindset in 6 Simple Steps

            We all like to dream about being financially wealthy. For most people though, it remains a dream and nothing more. Why is that?

            It’s because most people don’t set their mind to achieving that goal. They might not be happy in their current situation but they’re comfortable – and comfort is one of the biggest enemies of growth.

            How do you go about developing that millionaire mindset? By following these simple steps:

            1. Focus On What You Want – And Take It!

            So many people are too timid to admit they want something and go for it. When there is something that you want to accomplish don’t think “I could never actually do that”, think “I could do that and I WILL do that”.

            Millionaires play to win, not to avoid defeat.

            This doesn’t mean to have to become a selfish jerk. What it means is becoming more assertive and honest with yourself. You don’t have to grab off other people. There is a big pot of unclaimed gold in the middle of the table — why shouldn’t you be the one to claim it? You deserve it!

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            2. Become Goal-Orientated

            It’s almost impossible to achieve anything if you don’t set firm goals. Only lottery winners become millionaires overnight. By setting yourself attainable goals, you will get there eventually. Don’t try to get rich quickly — get rich slowly.

            Let’s take the idea of making your first million dollars and expand on what kind of goals you might set to get there. Let’s also say you’re starting at a break-even position – you’re making enough to get by with a few luxuries, but nothing more.

            Your goal for the first year can be having $10,000 in the bank within a year. It won’t be easy but it is doable. Next, you need to figure out the steps you need to take to achieve that goal.

            Always look at ways to make growth before cutbacks. With that in mind, you might want to see if you can negotiate a pay rise with your boss, or if there’s another job out there that will pay better. You might be comfortable in your old job but remember, comfort stunts growth.

            You may also have other skills outside of your workplace that you can monetize to boost your bank balance. Maybe you can design websites for people, at a fee of course, or make alterations to clothes.

            If this is still not enough to make the money you need to save $10,000 in a year, then it’s time to look at cutbacks. Do you have a bunch of old junk that someone else might love? Sell it! Do you really need to spend $10 on your lunch everyday when you could make your own for a fraction of the cost?

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            If you are to become a millionaire, you need to start accumulating money.

            Here’re some tips to help you: How to Become Goal Oriented and Achieve More in Life

            3. Don’t Spend Your Money – Invest It

            The reason you need to accumulate money is for step three. Millionaires tend to be frugal people, and that’s because they know the true value of money is in investing. Being your own boss goes hand-in-hand with becoming a millionaire. You’ll want to quit your regular job at some point.

            Stop working for your money and make your money work for you.

            Rather than buying yourself a new iPad, that $500 could be used to invest in the stock market. Find the right shares (more on that later), and that money could easily double within a year.

            There’s not just the stock market — there’s also property, and your own education.

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            4. Never Stop Learning

            The best thing you can invest in is yourself.

            Once most people leave the education system, they think their learning days are over. Well theirs might be, but yours shouldn’t be. Successful people continually learn and adapt.

            Billionaire Warren Buffet estimates that he read at least 100 books on investing before he turned twenty. Most people never read another book after they’ve left school. Who would you rather be?

            Learn everything you can about how economics works, how the stocks markets work, how they trend.

            Learn new skills. If you have an interest in it, learn everything you can about it. You’d be surprised at how often, seemingly useless skills, can become extremely useful in the right situation.

            Start developing the habit of learning continuously: How to Create a Habit of Continuous Learning for a Better You

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            5. Think Big

            While I advise to start off with small goals, you absolutely should have a big goal in mind. If you have a business idea, then that is your ultimate goal – to start that business and make a success of it. If you want to invest your way to millions of dollars and do little work other than research, then that is your big goal.

            There is no shame in not achieving a big goal. If you run a business and aim to make $1 million profit in a year and “only” make $200,000, then you’re still significantly ahead of most people.

            Aim for the stars, if you fail you’ll still be over the moon.

            6. Enjoy the Attention

            To be successful, you have to be willing to promote yourself and enjoy the attention to a certain extent. Now the attention doesn’t need to be on yourself, it could be on your brand, but attention definitely attracts money.

            Never be embarrassed to get your name out there. That means finding a spotlight and being brave enough to step right up underneath it.

            If you run a business, try contacting the local papers. You’d be surprised at how amenable they often are to running a story about you and your business, and it’s all free publicity.

            Above all, remember: You control your own destiny. Push hard enough for anything and you’ll get it.

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            Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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