Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What Are The ITIN Changes and Will They Affect You?

Today on BizBuilder we're going to be looking at the upcoming changes to ITIN Renewals coming this October and how you can stay up to date for your tax needs.

Recently the IRS announced that there would be revisions to the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) Program thanks to a new law that may require taxpayers to renew their ITINs beginning as early as October. This new law means that ITINs that haven't been used on a federal tax return at least once in the previous three years would no longer be able to use on any tax return unless renewed by the taxpayer. Not only that - but ITINs that issued before 2013 that *have* been used on federal tax returns in the past three years will need to be renewed starting this Fall. The IRS has said they will put a renewal schedule in place to help tax payers.

Taxpayers will need to take immediate action on to prevent a refund delay and to keep from being ineligible for certain tax credits.

So if you will be filing a tax return next year, and if you have an ITIN you have not used in the past year or have an ITIN from before 2013, you will need to renew your ITIN. October 1, 2016 is when ITIN holders can begin filling out the newest Form W-7 Application and follow the instructions to recieve a new ITIN number. The IRS is encouraging taxpayers to plan ahead to make sure there aren't any issues in 2017. Remember if you're unsure about the ITIN changes or if you need to apply for a renewal, there is always the Taxpayer Assistance Center, but remember you'll need to make an appointment ahead of time for that. 

So do your research, and remember to keep yourself up to date with your need to renew your ITIN number for Tax Season 2017!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Beware Tax Scams! A Personal Post to Prevent You From Falling Prey.

Imagine this: you're at home on a weekend, minding your own business, maybe getting ready to go shopping...and you get a call of people claiming to represent the IRS who have filed a law suit against you. You owe the IRS over two thousand dollars. The people on the phone tell you their names, badge numbers, and claim that unless you pay at least five hundred dollars right away they will send an officer to your house to arrest you. They speak so fast and with such confidence that you cannot help but believe them. You cannot help but feel sudden fear, overwhelmed as you are in this panicked blitz. What do you do? Do you dare risk hanging up on them to check and see if they're legitimately from the IRS or not?

Yes. You should absolutely do just that. It is highly likely you have encountered a tax scam, just as I did this past weekend; the very first tax scam I ever encountered. The only reason I didn't fall prey to it was because I didn't have the two thousand dollars in my bank account to pay them over the phone, so taken in was I by their con. And while this is embarrassing, I am admitting it to you all today to help you spot the signs of a scam and avoid getting taken advantage of by these predators.

The experience I just described is exactly what happened to me this past Saturday. Even now, almost a month after the tax deadline, these scams are still running - and sound more official than ever. They'll claim they're dredging up past tax returns (mine were as old as 2008-2013). They claim there was an error on your returns resulting in a debt of thousands of dollars. They threaten you with legal action, and it all sounds perfectly legitimate and professional. They give you their badge numbers, their names, tell you that the call is being recorded for legal purposes, and even give you a time window for when the police officer will arrive to arrest you.

And if - like me - you have no experience with such things, it will scare you. But hopefully, this article will serve to educate and inform you of what to do when you get a scary call like this.
Keep these key points below fresh in your mind should you receive a phone call similar to the one I experienced:
·         The IRS has a page on what to do if you receive a suspicious call from people claiming to be from the IRS.
·         The IRS will never demand an immediate payment, and it will always send you an official bill before attempting to contact you through the phone.
·         The IRS will never demand you pay the bill without the opportunity to question and appeal the amount. (See: Our recent blog post about the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.)
·         They will also never require you to use a specific method of payment (mine demanded I pay cash), or ask for your credit or debit card numbers.
·         And - very importantly - they will never threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If the people calling you demand ANY of those things - this is a scam and you should hang up immediately! And when you hang up, if you have gotten any of their information (their names, fake badge numbers, phone number, etc.), you should head to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (treasury.gov/tigta) and report the scam via their online form.
The Inspector General will ask you when the incident occurred, if you had any financial loss (and how you paid this impersonator), and how this impersonator contacted you. You will need to enter your information should the Treasury Inspector General need contact you, and you will be given a confirmation case number to refer to. This reporting is very important - because these scams need to stop. And the only way they can is for them to be found out and exposed for what they are.

Educating yourself and making sure you know how the IRS operates, is key to making sure you don't fall prey to these heartless cons and ensuring you keep yourself and your accounts safe this tax season. For my part, I was lucky to have not had my accounts compromised, but if yours are - be sure to keep open communication with your bank, and be sure to inform the Treasury Inspector General of what has occurred. Remember those five key points to ensure your financial safety, and always be on alert.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Biz Builder's Small Business Social Series - Twitter

Today on Biz Builder we continue our Small Business Social Media series by putting the spotlight on Twitter; the platform that allows business to take flight. 
With over 320 million active monthly users, businesses of all sizes make use of Twitter every day to get their name and brand out to regular and perspective customers. All over the world people use Twitter to release news, answer questions, and target their ads to their target demographic. And while other social media platforms allow you to also communicate with your clients, Twitter - with its rapid messages and quick interface - is unique in how easy and fast you can answer inquires and speak directly about your products.
But these messages - 'Tweets' as they are called - draw criticism as much as they seem to offer boons. A major challenge faced by employers on Twitter is the 140 character limit. Not letter. Character. That means hashtags, punctuation, and even spaces count towards that 140 limit. The 140 character limit might make it hard to convey messages, but last October when CEO Jack Dorsey began a project to extend the character count, the reaction was mostly negative. Many tweeters took to their Twitter accounts to voice their upset (proper language – but sounds weird to most people – reoword)  about the removal of the character limits, fearing that it would turn Twitter into 'another Facebook'.  The idea of 'micro blogging' with smaller, more concise messaging, is one that has drawn a lot of people to Twitter - and I'm of the opinion that character limits help rather than hinder small businesses.
Small tweets for small businesses encourage new and even experienced marketers to convey the most direct and simple message. Cut away the flowery language and the unnecessary details, and you have the bare bones of news or an idea to give to the customer. And this is crucial in a world where flickering eyes on bright screens are the new normal. Most customers and potential clients hardly have the time to sit and read a 500 word article while at work, so a simple line of text telling them directly what they need to know is the new, best way to attract attention. And in this day and age when big businesses already have their brands out there and small businesses/entrepreneurs are fighting for the same recognition, anyone who markets a small business or works for themselves should embrace the small character limit. The attention span of your customer should always be in mind when composing a tweet, and when a customer's time is so precious to them, a smaller tweet with your name/brand would be a far easier thing to take time to focus on than a hundred word expose on you or your business.  As FDR said “Be sincere, Be brief, Be seated”
Working at EGP Business Solutions, I've come across both sides of this argument. When I write a new blog post, or make a new Pinterest board, and want to get the news out to our customers - it can be hard to narrow the information down to 140 characters. But what this has allowed me to do is really take the time to sit back and ask myself 'what am I doing with this post/board?' 'What is the core of my project?' 'What is the most important thing for my customers to know?' This line of thinking allows me to always keep the customer in the forefront of my mind not just when composing a tweet but making the post or board itself. What is the core? Why is this important in a world where five minute old tweets are already ancient news? This makes every post and every board its own unique challenge but also makes me more discerning on the value of my projects. What is really deserving of not just my time - but my customer's precious time?

If I can't justify that to myself in 140 characters, maybe I should re-evaluate why I want to work on a particular project.

So even though 140 characters can be tough to work with - I argue that the limit has more of an opportunity to help than it does to hinder. It demands small businesses be to-the-point, which can catch the eye of a quickly browsing customer, and ultimately serve to get your name out to the masses. And with millions of people on Twitter, that's millions of chances to communicate directly to your customer, talk about your product, and potentially make millions of sales.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

IRS Storm Relief for Houston

As a Houston native it broke my heart to see pictures of the devastation caused by the recent storms. People I care about were impacted, and landmarks I remembered damaged and some even destroyed. But the people of Houston proved stronger than any storm with rescue missions and relief coming from all corners of the city to help one another. And now the IRS is stepping in to do its part.

In the wake of the recent stormy activity this seas, the IRS has stepped in and allowed Texas storm victims in the Houston area to have until September 1, 2016 to file their returns and pay their taxes. The IRS announced that if you're also affiliated with a recognized goverment or philanthropic group assisting in relief efforts, you also qualify for this extension.

This announcement comes after FEMA declared a disaster area for Fayette, Grimes, Harris and Parker counties. The postponment pertains to various tax filing and payment deadlines starting from April 17th 2016, and is for both individuals and businesses in the affected area. This also includes 2015 income tax returns that would have been due on April 18th as well as quarterly tax payments.

Needless to say, the IRS also waived late penalites for federal payroll and excise tax deposits due by April 17 and before May 2 as long as the deposits are made by May 2 2016. The IRS also provides filing and pentalty relief to any taxpayers with an address in the affected areas on file as an IRS address. However, if you do recieve a pentalty notice from the IRS for a late payment or filing taxes, its important to call the number on the notice sent to you to remove the penalty. The IRS has also said it will work with people who live outside the disaster area but whose records needed for fulfilling a deadline are located in the affected area - just contact the IRS and let them know.

Now if you or your business had uninsured or unreimbursed losses due to the recent storms, you can choose to claim them on either the return for this year - which wouldn't be filed until early 2017 - or on an amended return for the tax year 2015.

Things in Houston are rough right now with the recent storms, but through this relief, taxes don't have to be just another problem on your plate. Take advantage of the relief offered should it apply to you and get yourself and your family in a safe environment again before tackling taxes. And communication is vital - if the storms have impacted your area and your ability to pay, don't be afraid to contact the IRS. This relief effort proves they already have these difficulties in mind and perhaps would be open for helping you find a way through your tax issues. And in a time where rebuilding and healing are key, this is one stress you don't have to have on your shoulders.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Biz Builder's Small Business Social Series - Pinterest

As small businesses and entrepreneurial endeavors step closer to the second decade of the second millennium, social media becomes more vital than ever before. With so many outlets to choose from, it is easy for someone taking that plunge into the world of owning your own business to feel confused as to where to go first and know which outlets offer the best chance for outreach and growth.

Because of this, here on BizBuilder we're beginning a new series examining how social media platforms can effect small businesses. Starting today, we're looking at the platform claimed by Shopify to increase orders by 140% in the past two years - Pinterest.

According to this same information released by Shopify, two million people engage with product pins every day and Pinterest is the second overall source of all social media traffic to Shopify sites. With this incredible amount of increased orders driven by Pinterest, and these numbers, it remains no surprise that Pinterest is a formidable player in the small business oriented social media world. With visual emphasis and quick click mentality, customers on Pinterest search millions of pins that lead them straight to a purchasing option as easy as they could an impulse buy in the checkout line.

In working for EGP Business Solutions I've personally witnessed Pinterest in action - both in the creation of boards and observing how its platform works with both buyers and sellers. The business side of Pinterest has several tools geared towards making Pins profitable for business owners - such as an Analytics tool that allows owners to see which pins their customers are engaging with the most. In my experience, it is allowed me to see which pins are getting the most attention, and how much customers are clicking that pin to get through to the website. As a Marketer this is allows me to see where the customers' eyes are going on a visual heavy platform, and when and how their eyes shift. This allows me to put greater emphasis on which pins to promote through their promotion tool, and where the direction of my next boards go.

And should I - or any other Marketing professional - wish to make those pins all more noticeable, they can pay to 'promote' the pin and have it show up as a 'sponsored' pin on the feeds of users who have (through their search terms) shown interest in the type of pins you offer. For instance; one of the products we sell at EGP Business Solutions is colored and patterned tissue paper so people who look for DIY gift wrapping ideas, or for Christmas or Easter basket ideas, will see our promoted tissue paper pins to entice them to buy from us.

To make that buying process all the easier, Pinterest announced that they're coming out with a blue 'buy' button which will make buying a product pin easier than ever! Now customers could buy pins from their smart phones or tablets with better experience as long as the seller has an account through Shopify, Big Commerce, Demandware, IBM Commerce, or Magneto. Pinterest has said those are the only 5 commerce platforms. However, if you have another or custom platform, you'll need to sign up for their waitlist and they would then notify you of future integrations.

With its many tools and positive outlook to the future for small business owners and entrepreneurs, Pinterest proves time and time again to be a vital resource in the social media world. With its bright pins and its visual based presentations, your customers will have a fun and exciting view of your product - and perhaps even a chance to buy right away. It's a platform of potential!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights

The Tax Deadline is fast approaching, and if you don't have time to read through the near four million word US Tax code, the IRS has released the Taxpayer Bill of Rights - ten laws in quick and easy language for anyone to read and understand. And today on BizBuilder we are listing these Rights from their Publication 1 "Your Rights as a Taxpayer" and briefly discussing them. As outlined by the IRS, here are you Ten Rights as a Taxpayer.

Taxpayers have the right to know what they need to do to comply with the tax laws - with clear explanations of the laws and procedures. They also must be informed of all IRS decisions about their tax accounts and receive clear explanations about the outcomes.
Taxpayers have the right to prompt, courteous, and professional assistance in their dealings with the IRS. This assistance must also be in a way they can easily understand. They are also free to speak to a supervisor about any inadequate service.
Taxpayers had the right to only pay only the amount legally due. This also includes any interest or penalties accrued by the taxpayer that they owe the IRS.
Taxpayers have the right to raise objections, expect the IRS to consider their objections in a timely, prompt manner, and expect the IRS to respond should they disagree with said objection.
Taxpayers are entitled to an impartial and fair appeal of most IRS decisions and to receive a written response regarding the Court of Appeal's decision.
Taxpayers have the right to know wen they can challenge an IRS position and how long the IRS has to audit a decision or collect a tax debt. The IRS must also inform the Taxpayer when an audit is finished.
The IRS must comply with laws that do not intrude upon a taxpayer's privacy any more than necessary and will respect due process in terms of searches and seizures.
Taxpayers can expect the IRS not to disclose any information unless asked to do so by taxpayer or required by law. Taxpayers also can expect the IRS to take appropriate action against anyone who wrongfully discloses their tax information.
Taxpayers may retain legal representation in dealings with the IRS and should they not be able to afford one they ask for assistance from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.
Taxpayers can expect the IRS to take circumstances into consideration in determining ability to pay, liabilities, and means of providing information. Taxpayers may also seek the assistance of a Taxpayer Advocate if they have trouble paying what they owe or if the IRS has not responded to tax issues to the tax payer's satisfaction.

While they may not answer every one of your questions, these Rights are the most important, base laws that every tax payer should be aware of. Knowledge of these Rights provides an important first step in dealings with the IRS and helps generate an open dialogue between the taxpayer and the tax collectors.

The full text of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights is a two page document - as opposed to a four million word code - and lists not just these Rights but a second page full of helpful information taxpayers might not know. For example it lists the preferred means of communication should you have a reason to contact the IRS (in the case of Right Number 3) as well as directs you which publication to consult for Audits, Appeals, and Collections. The Bill document proves to be both a simple explanation of the foremost taxpayer laws, but also a reference to where deeper questions could be found.

Though a document which might leave some answers to be desired, it is an important treatise that anyone who pays taxes should read in order to better understand the laws and how they interact with them on a yearly basis.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below, and be on the look out for our next post which will be a series on how social media can impact your small business and/or self-employment.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Importance of Trepidation

If you're a self-starter with a keen eye for what makes a business tick, you already have the frame of mind required to either go into business for yourself or add your voice to a small business team. Taking that first step into the world of entrepreneurship and small business can be exhilarating, but you should look before you leap! The small business and self-employment experiences are entirely different ventures compared to working for a large corporation or business - feelings of trepidation are natural and expected.

I do not to say you should consider taking that first step for years until you manage to talk yourself out of it, but rather look at the numbers and engage in self-examination. Review your experiences and skills. Assess the amount of time, energy, and money you would need to invest to create a successful business. Contemplate, conversely, the possible pay cuts you may face if you join a small business as opposed to a larger one.

One does not simply wake up one morning and say 'Hey -I think I'll start a business today!' Moving from the Academic World into the Business World, I personally discovered one lesson permeating through both spheres - 'Embrace trepidation, then let it go'. Trepidation is the hesitation or anxiety that comes from taking a fearful step forward. Unfortunately the word itself developed a negative connotation, and sometimes we forget that trepidation can be a good thing. Trepidation is the caution and hesitation before you make a big decision. It is the pause compelling you to ponder look your options before taking that first step. Without trepidation you could blindly walk in to a bad situation, unprepared to handle it.

Embrace trepidation. Hold onto it for dear life. But then you have to let it go. Trepidation shouldn't be a debilitating fear that keeps you from your goals, trepidation is the forethought that allows you to research the landscape before you explore those goals. Trepidation is the afternoon watching the stocks to check on how a product similar to yours sells, or spending hours on an online retail shop to study your competition, and working out business costs. And sometimes trepidation can lead to a full stop - but trepidation will always allow for a better frame of mind to take the risk of starting self employment or working at a small business.

And that is the 'embrace', but then you have to 'let it go'. If you've been trepid, researched all your figures and believe your product or service can sell - you need the confidence in yourself to take that risk. It won't be easy, it won't be stress-free, and it probably will take its toll. Maybe you need to keep your day job and spend long hours at night self starting this business. Maybe you take a pay cut. Maybe you spend your nights banging your head against the table trying to work out a budget. But take courage from the fact that all over this country other people are taking the same risk - with the same trepidation as you. Recent numbers indicate one in ten Americans is self employed! And I have found as I witness the day-to-day functions of a small business, that the more prepared you are, the easier time you'll have. And this preparation is linked back to embracing trepidation - to learning to slow down and look at the calculations before you take that calculated risk.

Be willing to work with a customer to give them what they want - different colors, imprints, or logos on your products.
Anticipate any problems or mistakes and make plans B, C, D...and even Z - product out of stock, wrong order, busy schedule, etc.
Know what your limitations are - don't oversell your product or your time. As my Dad said, 'don't dig yourself too deep a hole that you can't get out of'.

And know when to say 'YES'! If your instinct, and your trepidation, have led you to an idea for a business that is viable then say yes to it! Trepidation should be the preparation to follow your instinct - the look before you leap. And even if trepidation leads you to the realization that your idea isn't sound, it gives you the confidence to make the best decision for you. So embrace trepidation, then let it go, and stay tuned to BizBuilder for more articles about what to do after you've taken that first step!