Here at Tax Resolution Center...

Here at Tax Resolution Center...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Retailers & Service Providers Should Join Shop-Local Promotions

The holiday season is almost upon us. The smell of fresh-baked cookies wafting through the air, the roar of a fire, the twinkling tree—it’s picture-perfect until unforeseen issues arise. Warm refrigerators, gutters gone awry and clogged toilets are enough to send even the saintliest grandmothers over the edge.
But after Grandma gathers herself, she recalls the flyer that was left on her door during Small Business Saturday from the local plumber offering a discount through the new year. It’s no secret who Grandma decides to call.
And that, service providers, is just one reason you should participate in Small Business Saturday. But if that’s not enough, consider this: $5.9 billion was spent on Small Business Saturday in 2014, and spending has increased every year since its inception in 2010. It only makes sense for retailers and service providers alike to join the shop-local movement.
“We recommend to our clients that during the weeks prior, all [sales] receipts promote the weekend and that receipts for that weekend have a Small Business Saturday stamp or logo,” suggested Ed McMasters, director of marketing and communications at Flottman Company. “In addition, it helps to promote in the local press that the offer is available.”
Get a marketing plan in order, from social media to flyers on doors offering discounts and specials, and hit the ground running starting now. As much as people love purchasing gifts from local shops to support small businesses, consumers are also looking for service providers offering something that they’re sure to need before St. Nick makes an appearance.

So, as family gatherings and big holiday parties get underway, know that ovens will always flicker out and sinks will bubble over. And who better to show up to save the day? None other than the plumber or electrician who created a Small Business Saturday plan.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When Dead Debt Comes Back to Life

With Halloween almost here, we’ve got a question for you — are your zombie-fighting skills up to snuff?
We’re not talking about fighting just any zombie — this time your undead enemy is zombie debt.
Zombie debt is debt you think is dead, gone, and forgotten, but has somehow come back to life. Debt collectors are calling, and your walking dead debt now threatens to wreak havoc on your finances.
Zombie debts might be:
·        debts you already settled with a company or other debt collector
·        debts that were discharged in bankruptcy
·        time-barred debts you may have forgotten or overlooked that are past the statute of limitations
·        debts that no longer show up on your credit report, generally after seven years
·        debts you never owed, like debts resulting from identity theft
Here are some tips for battling zombie debt when a collector resurrects it:
·        Verify it’s a real debt. Before you fight back, make sure you recognize it. It could be a fake debt collector calling. Also get a copy of your free credit report at to see if the debt is listed there. If your zombie debt is a result of identity theft, you’ll find tips and sample letters to help you dispute it at
·        Know your rights to protect yourself. Federal law gives you certain rights in dealing with debt collectors. For example, if someone contacts you about a debt you thought was dead, you can ask the collector to send you a written validation notice detailing the amount owed, and the creditor’s name. By law, the debt collector has to send you this notice within five days of contacting you.
·        Don’t ignore lawsuits. If a debt collector files a lawsuit against you to collect a zombie debt, respond to the lawsuit, either personally or through your lawyer, by the date specified in the court papers to preserve your rights.
·        Don’t accidentally reset the debt clock. If you make, or promise to make, a debt payment on a time-barred debt — a debt too old for a collector to make you pay — the statute of limitations clock may reset, and a debt collector can then sue you for the full debt amount, plus interest and fees.

If a debt collector threatens, harasses or intimidates you into paying a zombie debt — that’s illegal. Report it to the FTC and your state Attorney General’s office.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

You Can’t Buy Love: Keep Your Reputation Intact

Being a small-business owner is no easy task, and it’s often just a one- or two-person show. So working to gain followers on social media and acquire stellar online reviews is often the last thing on your to-do list. Yet as a small-business owner you know that most consumers read reviews before making a purchase or selecting a service provider.
But as tempting as it may be, steer clear from breaking the cardinal rule of marketing: Never, ever buy fake followers or reviews.
Here’s why, according to small-business owner Jesse S. Gaddis:
·        Fake reviews can easily be figured out
·        It sets a bad, desperate tone for your business
·        You will lose customers’ trust
·        You never learn how to gain the value of a truly attentive social network
·        If no one on your network is genuine, then who are you marketing to?

Take the time to build an organic following, and be patient. With good products and services and a strong customer-centric mentality, you will achieve the real reviews, likes and followers you’re after without risking your reputation.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Small Business Saturday: The Countdown Is On, Are You Ready?

Small Business Saturday—November 28, 2015—is not far off. But according to a Manta poll, 57% of small-business owners have never heard of the one day during the holiday rush that is dedicated exclusively to them. Don’t let another year pass without getting involved.
So, first things first—what is Small Business Saturday? In a nutshell, this shopping day falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It was established in 2010 by American Express to encourage consumers to patronize small businesses during the holiday season.
And, no, you don’t have to be a high-end retailer or Etsy artisan to take advantage of Small Business Saturday. It’s for service providers, too.
Here are a few ways experts suggest you reap a little more holiday cheer:
1.     Offer discounts. Ed McMasters, director of marketing and communications at Flottman Company, Inc. suggested that service providers, like their retail counterparts, should offer discounts. Offer coupon codes for weekend appointments or give a 10% or 20% discount for any service appointment scheduled in the next two months. It’s a great way to extend the holiday sales into the new year when business is often slower.
2.     Everyone likes a gift certificate. Gift certificates from fine boutiques are lovely, but name a homeowner who wouldn’t like the gift of home repair. J.J. Ramberg, host of MSNBC’s Your Business, recommended that service providers be creative with gifts certificates—offer clients 3-hour service gift cards to purchase as gifts for family, friends or themselves.
3.     Wear your heart on your sleeve. Join forces with a charity and let customers know that each time a service (or gift card) is purchased, a portion of the sale goes to the dedicated charity.
4.     Partner up! Mark Aselstine, owner of Uncorked Ventures, said small-business owners in the service industry have an opportunity to partner with stores to gain attention. As an example, service professionals could perform demonstrations in locally owned hardware stores—helping them gain foot-traffic and a network they might not otherwise have.

So, while visions of sugar plums may not be dancing in your head quite yet, now’s the time to start considering your marketing plan for Small Business Saturday.

Don't Forget the Debt

When a loved one passes away, the last thing on your mind is hassling with debt collectors. But you may have the job of managing the deceased’s assets – and you could find yourself handling an estate that includes outstanding debts. Keep these considerations in mind:
·         Debts don’t die when the debtor does. Even though your loved one is no longer here, those debts don’t go away. The debt is still a legal obligation that your loved one’s estate must deal with.
·         Discussing the debt. Collectors are allowed to talk about the debt with certain people: the spouse, parents, or guardian of the deceased person, the executor, administrator, or anyone else who has authority to pay your loved one’s debts from their estate.
·         Truth be told. Collectors cannot misrepresent anything about the debt they’re trying to collect. That means they can’t misrepresent or imply that you or any other survivor has a legal obligation to pay the estate’s debts out of your own pocket. It’s unlawful for them to pressure you to use your money. If the deceased left debts and no assets, it’s not your responsibility to pay.
·         You have rights. If a debt collector contacts you, you can ask for a validation notice, dispute the debt with them, or tell them – in writing – to stop all communications with you and the estate.

Learn more about handling the debts of a deceased relative.

Do You Owe Use Tax?

Let’s assume you’ve mastered the sales tax obligations facing your small business. Are you also up to speed on your company’s obligation to pay use taxes in your home state? In addition to the sales tax you collect from your clients and customers, you are also responsible for making sure you’ve paid appropriate taxes through the companies you purchase from.
Sound complicated? Let’s break it down: Say your company found a great deal on office furniture sold by an out-of-state company. If you’d purchased your desks and chairs from the company next door, they would collect sales tax on your purchase. The out-of-state company or online supplier typically won’t collect sales tax. Therefore, your business is responsible for paying the equivalent use tax instead.
These are the basic scenarios in which you’ll need to self-assess your company’s use-tax obligations:

·        When purchasing goods from an out-of-state company that hasn’t charged sales tax
·        When purchasing goods from an online supplier that hasn’t charged sales tax
·        When using your own company inventory as business supplies

Like sales tax, use tax is tricky to track manually—and like sales tax, a simple accounting error can trigger an audit. According to automated tax management provider Avalara, businesses that operate in multiple states and tax jurisdictions are at particular risk for mistakes in calculating their use tax obligations.
No industry is immune: manufacturers, retailers, construction companies and service providers would be smart to research solutions that can automate use tax payments as well as sales tax obligations.
When it comes to sales and use taxes, be safe, not sorry. Be prepared to self-assess and, if possible, invest in automated tax compliance solutions to stay ahead of auditors.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Take Notice: How Your Credit History Can Affect Your Monthly Bill

When you apply for things like cable or satellite TV, mobile phone service, or internet service, the company might review your credit report. They can use the information in your credit report to give you less favorable terms, meaning they can charge you more for the service than someone with a better credit history. That’s called risk-based pricing. The law says it’s OK as long as the company lets you know about it by sending you a Risk-Based Pricing Notice.
The FTC says Sprint violated the law because it imposed a monthly fee of $7.99 on customers with a lower credit score and failed to tell them about the negative information in their credit report, as required by law. Sprint has agreed to pay $2.95 million to settle the charges.
A Risk-Based Pricing Notice tells you three important things.
1.     The less favorable credit terms you received are based on information in your credit report.
2.     You can get a free copy of your credit report.
3.     You have a right to dispute mistakes in your credit report.
If you get a Risk-Based Pricing Notice, order a free copy of your credit report and review it. If your credit report contains incorrect information, you can dispute those mistakes. Take these steps:
1.     Send the credit reporting company a dispute letter. Here’s a sample you can use.
2.     Send the information provider—the company that provided the information about you to the credit reporting company—a dispute letter. Here’s another handy sample letter.
Here’s another tip: The next time you get your bill, review it to see if there are unauthorized charges. Contact the company about any fees you have questions about. If you can’t resolve the issue, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Premium Tax Credit: Are You Eligible?

The premium tax credit can help make purchasing health insurance coverage more affordable for people with moderate incomes. Answer these yes-or-no to find out if you may be eligible for the premium tax credit. For the graphic version of these questions and answers, see the IRS Premium Tax Credit flow chart.

Question 1: Did you or a family member enroll in insurance through the Marketplace?
If you answer no to question 1, you are not eligible for PTC.
If you answer yes to question 1, move on to the next question.

Question 2: Are you and every member of your family eligible for coverage through an employer or government plan?
If you answer yes to question 2, you are not eligible for PTC.
If you answer no to question 2, move on to the next question.
Footnote about question 2: there are special rules about what it means to be eligible for employer or government coverage. See Publication 974 for more information.

Question 3: Is your household income at least 100 percent, but no more than 400 percent, of the federal poverty line for your family size?
If you answer no to question 3, you are not eligible for PTC.
If you answer yes to question 3, move on to the next question.
Footnote about question 3: Under special circumstances, you may be able to claim the PTC even though your income is below 100 percent of the federal poverty line. See the instructions for Form 8962 for more information.

Question 4: Can you be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return?
If you answer yes to question 4, you are not eligible for PTC.
If you answer no to question 4, move on to the next question.

Question 5: Is your filing status Married Filing Separately?
If you answer yes to question 5, you are not eligible for PTC.
If you answer no to question 5, move on to the next question.
Footnote about question 5: There are exceptions to the married filing separately rule. Certain victims of domestic abuse and spousal abandonment can claim the premium tax credit using the married filing separately filing status. See the instructions for Form 8962 for more information.

Question 6: Were all the premiums paid?
If you answer no to question 6, you are not eligible for PTC.
If you answer yes to question 6, you may be allowed a premium tax credit.  See Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, and the Form 8962 instructions for more information.

Here are links to information and resources referenced:

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Scam Du Jour: Chip Card Scams

Recently, I told you about the new credit and debt chip cards designed to reduce fraud, including counterfeiting.

Now, I'm reporting on scammers who are trying to take advantage of the millions of consumers who haven't yet received a chip card.
Here's what’s happening: Scammers are emailing people, posing as their card issuer. The scammers claim that in order to issue a new chip card, you need to update your account by confirming some personal information or clicking on a link to continue the process.
If you reply to the email with personal information, the scammer can use it to commit identity theft. If you click on the link, you may unknowingly install malware on your device. Malware programs can cause your device to crash, monitor your online activity, send spam, steal personal information and commit fraud.

So how can you tell if the email is from a scammer?
·         There's no reason your card issuer needs to contact you by email — or by phone, for that matter — to confirm personal information before sending you a new chip card. Don't respond to an email or phone call that asks you to provide your card number. Period.
·         Still not sure if the email is a scam? Contact your card issuers at the phone numbers on your cards.
·         Don't trust links in emails. Only provide personal information through a company's website if you typed in the web address yourself and you see signals that the site is secure, like a URL that begins https (the "s" stands for secure).
To learn more about protecting your personal information, check out Privacy & Identity.

Travel at the Speed of Your Business: Pack Your Mobile Phone for Overseas Travel

Traveling abroad presents a particular challenge for small-business owners: You want to stay connected to your business, but you’re wary of exorbitant international roaming rates. Here are some smart ways to minimize the worry of vacation communication—so you can focus on having fun!
·        International unlocking: Smartphones operating on what is known as the GSM (Global System for Mobiles) can be “unlocked.” This means the SIM card inside which connects your device to your carrier can be temporarily replaced with a SIM card for a carrier that serves your destination. Check with your carrier to determine whether your phone can be unlocked for international travel.
·        Explore carrier plans: Before you head to the airport, make an appointment to go over your mobile phone service options. Sprint offers International Data Pack add-ons for domestic data plans, along with special Canada Roaming rates. Verizon’s International Travel Program transfers your number to a loaner “world phone” for trips lasting 21 days or less. AT&T offers special Passport and Cruise Ship Packages for international travelers.
·        Buy a prepaid phone: Ask your carrier about special international phone rentals, or purchase a pre-paid phone that will allow you to pay for international calls as you go. These can be ordered online prior to your vacation, or purchased on the ground when you land.
·        Go digital: Don’t forget that this is your vacation—instead of being tethered to your smartphone, set aside a half hour before breakfast and a half hour after dinner to check in with your business back home. Take advantage of the complimentary business centers and Wi-Fi access located in most hotels and resorts. These workstations will allow you to communicate via email or video conferencing meetings free of charge.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Your Online Life After Death

OK, so I know you don’t really want to talk about this – but here goes: we’re all going to die someday. Maybe you’ve already started thinking ahead: planning for your funeral, the care of loved ones and disposal of your property. But what about your online life? All the digital files, photos, posts and other accounts you leave behind might cause a lot of inconvenience – even fraud or identity theft – for your loved ones to clean up. Here are a few tips to figure out a plan for your online life after death.
·         Count your accounts. Make an inventory of your digital life, including accounts for email, social media, blogging, gaming, and cloud storage. Set up a spreadsheet or other file to keep track of each site’s name, URL, your user name, password, your wishes for each, and other information that might be necessary for access. Some of your accounts may involve money – either real-world or online currencies – and may require additional attention. Don’t attach your inventory to your will which becomes a public document after your death.
·         Get in the know – now. Many accounts will let you make arrangements now or name someone to manage the account after your death. Research your options.
·         Who can help? You might want to name a digital executor to handle all these tasks after your death, preferably someone who has experience with online accounts and will understand how to carry out your instructions – or make decisions about issues that you might not have foreseen. You can select a friend or family member to be your digital executor or you can hire a third-party service to help you.

Search “online life after death” or “digital” and “afterlife” or “legacy” or “executor” to learn more.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

When to Show Bad Customers the Door

Building a successful small business takes ingenuity, perseverance and stamina. But once established, staying at the top of your game requires exceptional customer service. Your clients are your biggest assets and worth the care and effort put into building those relationships. But every once in a while, a bad seed gets into the mix and you find yourself face-to-face with the customer from hell. So, what do you do?
You fire them.
Telltale signs you have a customer worth kicking to the curb:
1.     You lose money investing too much time on their escalating demands
2.     You put aside business obligations while taking care of needs that fall outside of your normal offerings
3.     Their requests violate the values of your company
4.     They are emotionally abusive to you or your staff

Even if the words “the customer is always right” were drilled into your head early on, know that it’s an archaic assumption and, frankly, untrue. Some customers are worth giving up to avoid unnecessary stress, expense or affecting the well-being of a valued employee.