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Seven tips to avoid Presidents Day rush

WASHINGTON—The period around Presidents Day marks the peak busy season for IRS toll-free phone service, but there are faster ways to find answers to your questions. The Internal Revenue Service provides tools and apps on IRS.gov that can help many of taxpayers get answers immediately online.

Traditionally, the Tuesday after Presidents Day is the busiest day of the year for phone calls. The IRS will staff the toll-free lines on Saturday, February 13 and Monday, February 15, the Presidents Day holiday in an effort to answer more taxpayer calls.

The hours of operations are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time on Saturday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time on Monday.

But on IRS.gov, taxpayers can, among many things, check the status of their refund, request a copy of their tax transcript or get an answer to their tax questions around the clock.

The entire week of the Presidents Day holiday marks a peak time for the IRS,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “We’re keeping our phones open over part of the holiday weekend to manage the increased demand.”

To save time and find answers faster, taxpayers should make IRS.gov their first stop. A good place to start is the “IRS Services Guide” for a quick overview of online services and resources. IRS information and some tools also are in Spanish.

Here are some of the most common reasons people call us over Presidents Day holiday week and the faster and easier ways to get answers:

Want to know where your refund is?

More than 90 percent of refunds are issued in less than 21 days. IRS representatives will not provide individual refund information before then. Taxpayers can easily find information about their refund by using the Where’s My Refund? tool. It’s available on IRS.gov and on the Smartphone app, IRS2Go. Where’s My Refund? provides taxpayers with the most up-to-date information available. Taxpayers must have information from their current, pending tax return to access their refund information. Refund information is updated just once a day, generally overnight, so there’s no need to check more than once a day.

Didn’t get a W-2?

Employers are required to send their employees a Form W-2, Statement of Earnings, by January 31. Employees should allow enough time for their form to be mailed to their address of record. If form W-2 is not received by the end of February, employees should first contact their employer to ensure they have the correct address on file.

After exhausting all options with the employer, employees may contact the IRS and we will send a letter to the employer. However, we would urge you to wait until the end of February to avoid long wait times on the telephone.

Need a copy of your tax return or transcript?

Taxpayers can easily order a return or transcript on the IRS.gov website, or by mailing us a completed Form 4506-T. See our Get Transcript application to have a transcript mailed to you. More information on these options is available at IRS.gov.

Ordering a tax return or tax transcript does not mean a taxpayer will get their refund faster. The two are not connected in any way. IRS transcripts are often used to validate income and tax filing status for mortgage, student and small business loan applications and to help with tax preparation.

Wondering how the Affordable Care Act will affect you?

This year almost all taxpayers must do something related to health care reporting requirements. The majority of taxpayers—more than three out of four—will simply need to check a box to verify they have health insurance coverage. For the minority of taxpayers who will have to do more, IRS.gov/aca features useful information and tips regarding the premium tax credit, the individual shared responsibility requirement and other tax features of the ACA. Publication 5201, The Health Care Law and Your Taxes, also provides a snapshot of ACA requirements.

Need answers to tax law questions?

Questions about what filing status means, whether to file a tax return or who can be claimed as a dependent? There’s the Interactive Tax Assistant that takes you through a series of questions just like one of our customer service representatives would. You can also do a keyword search on IRS.gov; use Publication 17, the annual, searchable income tax guide; or the IRS Tax Map, which allows search by topic or keyword for single-point access to tax law information by subject.

Can’t pay a tax bill?

For taxpayers whose concern is a tax bill they can’t pay, the Online Payment Agreement tool can help them determine in a matter of minutes whether they qualify for an installment agreement with the IRS. And for those whose tax obligation is even more serious, the Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier can help them determine if they qualify for an offer in compromise, an agreement with the IRS that settles their tax liability for less than the full amount owed.

Need help preparing your taxes?

Free tax return preparation help is available nationwide from volunteers and on IRS.gov with Free File. Local community partners operate roughly 13,000 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) sites nationwide. Find a location nearby by searching “Free Tax Help” on IRS.gov.

IRS Free File is offered by 13 tax software companies that make their brand-name products available for free to the 70 percent of taxpayers who earned $62,000 or less last year. Free File Fillable Forms is available for households whose earnings are more than $62,000 and are comfortable preparing their taxes.

Taxpayers may also use our searchable directory on IRS.gov for help on finding a tax professional with credentials and select qualifications to help them prepare their tax returns.

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Missing Form W-2? IRS can help

TAX-w2-web

Most people get their W-2 forms by the end of January. Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, shows your income and the taxes withheld from your pay for the year. You need it to file an accurate tax return.

If you haven’t received your form by mid-February, here’s what you should do:

• Contact your Employer. Ask your employer (or former employer) for a copy. Be sure they have your correct address.

• Call the IRS. If you are unable to get a copy from your employer, you may call the IRS at 800-829-1040 after Feb. 23. The IRS will send a letter to your employer on your behalf. You’ll need the following when you call:

**Your name, address, Social Security number and phone number;

**Your employer’s name, address and phone number;

**The dates you worked for the employer; and

**An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld in 2015. You can use your final pay stub for these amounts.

• File on Time. Your tax return is normally due on or before April 18, 2016. Use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, if you don’t get your W-2 in time to file. Estimate your wages and taxes withheld as best as you can. If you can’t get it done by the due date, ask for an extra six months to file. Use Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to request more time. You can also e-file a request for more time. Do it for free with IRS Free File.

• Correct if Necessary. You may need to correct your tax return if you get your missing W-2 after you file. If the tax information on the W-2 is different from what you originally reported, you may need to file an amended tax return. Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return to make the change.

Note: Important 2015 Health Insurance Forms

Starting in 2016, most taxpayers will receive one or more forms relating to health care coverage they had during the previous year.

If you enrolled in 2015 coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you should get Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement by early February.

If you were enrolled in other health coverage for 2015, you should receive a Form 1095-B, Health Coverage, or Form 1095-C, Employer Provided Health insurance Offer and Coverage by the end of March. You should contact the issuer of the form – the Marketplace, your coverage provider or your employer – if you think you should have gotten a form but did not get it.

If you are expecting to receive a Form 1095-A, you should wait to file your 2015 income tax return until you receive that form. However, it is not necessary to wait for Forms 1095-B or 1095-C in order to file.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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Phone scams continue to be a serious threat

 

WASHINGTON—Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers, headlining the annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams for the 2016 filing season, the Internal Revenue Service announced this week.

The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams as scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things. The IRS reminds taxpayers to guard against all sorts of con games that arise during any filing season.

“Taxpayers across the nation face a deluge of these aggressive phone scams. Don’t be fooled by callers pretending to be from the IRS in an attempt to steal your money,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “We continue to say if you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you’re not hearing from us.”

“There are many variations. The caller may threaten you with arrest or court action to trick you into making a payment,” Koskinen added. “Some schemes may say you’re entitled to a huge refund. These all add up to trouble. Some simple tips can help protect you.”

The Dirty Dozen is compiled annually by the IRS and lists a variety of common scams taxpayers may encounter any time during the year. Many of these con games peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or hire someone to do so.

This January, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) announced they have received reports of roughly 896,000 contacts since October 2013 and have become aware of over 5,000 victims who have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam.

“The IRS continues working to warn taxpayers about phone scams and other schemes,” Koskinen said. “We especially want to thank the law-enforcement community, tax professionals, consumer advocates, the states, other government agencies and particularly the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for helping us in this battle against these persistent phone scams.”

Protect Yourself

Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via a phishing email.

Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of their victim if they don’t get the money.

Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.

Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.

The IRS will never:

Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.

Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

If you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:

Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.

Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.

Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax:

Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you.

Stay alert to scams that use the IRS as a lure. Tax scams can happen any time of year, not just at tax time. For more, visit “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” on IRS.gov.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

Posted in Tax TimeComments (0)

Jack and Marge Clark honored at Rotary meeting

Jack and Marge Clark were recently honored at a Rotary meeting. Standing behind them is Rotary president Amanda Gerhardt.

Jack and Marge Clark were recently honored at a Rotary meeting. Standing behind them is Rotary president Amanda Gerhardt.

Cedar Springs Rotarians gathered at the historic Mangiamo Restaurant in Grand Rapids to celebrate the past and upcoming years. The Rotary club presented a special award to Jack and Marge Clark, with a $1000.00 donation to the Rotary Foundation in their name.

Jack has had 59 years of perfect attendance to weekly meetings, showing his commitment to the Rotary ideals. Marge has been a faithful servant to the Rotary effort to wipe out polio from the face of the earth. She has been painting pinky fingers purple as a fundraiser for many years.

Rotarians shared stories of how the Clarks have led and impacted lives by their own example of “Service Above Self.”

The musical group Perculators entertained the Rotary group following a delicious dinner.

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Platinum Powersports

 

If you are looking for a good used motorcycle, ATV, or other type of recreational vehicle, you might want to check out Platinum Powersports, located at 11745 Cedar Rock Drive.

Owners Tony LeFever and Jennifer LeFever established the business in 2012, and are recently new to the Cedar Rock area. They provide sales, service parts, and accessories, for top Powersports brands such as Harley Davidson, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Polaris, Arctic Cat and Can-Am. They have recently added the Yamaha brand of motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs, snowmobiles, scooters, and power equipment.

“We specialize in pre-owned motorcycles and have the area’s best selection of pre-owned Harley Davidson’s,” said Tony. “And with the addition of Yamaha, exclusively for new machines, we will be the Yamaha experts.”

Tony has spent his entire professional life working in the industry, from motocross racing teams to dealerships. He is a state certified technician and has 10 years of experience at corporate Yamaha.

“We will have the cleanest used bikes around, have the best selection of Yamaha products, and offer the best service—guaranteed,” said Tony.

They are open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Wednesdays they are gone riding! For more info contact them at 616-379-6060.

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Five tips for better financial health

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

(Family Features) As the calendar turns over a new year, it’s a good time to take stock of your finances. Evaluating what missteps you made with your money in the past year, determining how you can correct those errors and setting a realistic budget will put you on your way to better financial health in 2016.

A top New Year’s resolution is putting money into a savings account each month, according to a recent survey of working adults by the Principal Financial Group. Leading money management priorities include paying down debt (28 percent), saving for retirement (25 percent) and building a savings account for emergencies (15 percent).

Achieving those goals starts with setting a budget that you can reasonably follow, said Kevin Morris, vice president of retirement and income solutions at The Principal. However, the group’s recent survey shows many Americans have plenty of room for improvement.

In 2015, workers reported that they blew their budget on dining out (24 percent), food/groceries (19 percent), entertainment (15 percent) and other consumer goods (15 percent), among other things. On top of that, employees’ top financial blunders included not saving enough (20 percent), accumulating credit card debt (11 percent) and spending outside their means (9 percent).

“It’s not surprising to see that American workers continue to blow their budget dining out,” Morris said. “It’s easy to spend $30 here and $40 there on a meal and not think twice about it. But what if they put that money toward something more long-term, like retirement? Or building up their savings? Over time, those pizza deliveries and nights on the town add up and can make a huge difference in your budget.”

Getting your financial house in order doesn’t have to be a burden. Follow these tips to establish a budget and begin building healthier money habits:

Account for incidentals. When listing all the people and places you owe money, it can be easy to overlook other expenses that really add up. Things like a work wardrobe, toiletries and personal hygiene items are necessary purchases that should be reflected in your budget.

Expect the unexpected. Even the best planned budget can fall apart when unexpected expenses arise. Ensure that you’re not only directing a sum of money to your savings account each month, but that you’re earmarking some of that money for emergency car repairs, an unplanned visit to the veterinarian or a critical home repair.

Don’t treat your budget like a bad diet. Like a crash diet, being too restrictive with your budget will leave you discouraged and exhausted. And maybe hungry. The key is to be honest with yourself about your spending. Look at your spending history – you might be surprised to see where your money goes. Be sure to set a reasonable budget that allows you manage your finances without falling off the wagon.

Leverage rewards. It may seem counter-intuitive to use a credit card for expenses you don’t need to buy on credit. But if you use a cash back rewards credit card for your regular essential purchases and even bills, you’ll have some extra income each month. Deposit those rewards in a savings plan or allocate them to help pay down debt each month. Just remember that this approach only works to your advantage if you pay the balance each month.

Research all your money management options. A solid budget is the foundation of a good money management plan, but the type of accounts you use can also influence your financial situation. A financial advisor can help you understand the benefits and limitations of various types of checking, saving and investment accounts, as well as other products to help maximize your savings and minimize debt.

Find more information to help guide your budget planning as well as the full Principal Financial Well-Being Index: American Workers study at
principle.com.

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Consumer alert from the BBB

BUS-Consumer-alert

Preferred Client Services, Global Vacation Network, Dudley Media Group

From the Better Business Bureau

BBB Serving Western Michigan is alerting consumers about the business practices of Preferred Client Services and associated companies. All have F-ratings with the Better Business Bureau.

Thousands of consumers report they are receiving offers in the mail for a free Android tablet if they participate in a marketing study.

In the past 12 months, 28,000 consumers have inquired about Preferred Client Services on the local BBB website, and some have filed complaints. Preferred Client Services lists their address as being located on Sparks Drive in Southeast Grand Rapids.

In this case, the consumer complaints listed on the BBB site for Preferred Client Services, Global Vacation Network, and Dudley Media Group help paint a more complete picture of these organizations. Read several complaint excerpts below:

Preferred Client Services:

“I received a letter promising an android tablet if I participated in a market study/promotion. When I called there is no android but avacation ad received a letter promising an android tablet if I participated in a market study/promotion. When I called their is no android but vacation ad. This is false advertising, bait and switch. F Rating by BBB and prior news casts supporting. Very immoral, dishonest company and all that work for it represent this behavior.”

Global Vacation Travel:

“Received deceptive, official-looking letter offering a free Android tablet computer, when in fact, it is an attempt to lure me into purchasing a vacation package. The letter Reads: “Once you have received and tested your Android tablet, we ask that you compete the brief survey that we have enclosed and return it to us. Whether you complete the survey or not, the Android tablet is yours to keep.” Letter signed by Stephanie ******* coordinator of Product Research of Preferred Access Network. The survey sheet is included in the letter; the tablet isn’t. A toll-free number must be called and the code# is given.”

Dudley Media Group:

“Misleading advertising being sent through the US Postal System.

I have copies of the advertisements that were mailed on two separate occasions. The company is the front man for a Vacation company operating in Florida. The first advertisement was made to look like a survey that all you needed to do was review a Tablet that they would ship to you for free and you get to keep the tablet for participating in the survey. The second one I received was made to look like a US Postal Parcel Pick Up notice. When you call the number it’s a Vacations company that gives you a 10 minute pitch and then asks your household income. If you are under 40K you aren’t qualified and they tell you another number to call to schedule a pickup of an Android Tablet a month away in Palm Harbor which is over an hour away from where I live. The first advertisement I received that was made to look like a survey said they would ship the tablet to me. After multiple phone calls and emails to the company they insisted I could only pick up the tablet and they no longer shipped them. I have saved both mailings and would like to provide a copy of them.”

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Ask Score: Business operations

 

Follow these simple guidelines when hiring a consultant

From time to time, as a small business owner, you’re likely to bump up against a problem you can’t solve yourself. That may be because you don’t have the right experience or knowledge to correct it. Or it may be because you are perfectly capable of meeting the challenge but can’t justify the time it will require of you, given your many other responsibilities.

Solving that problem or challenge at a quieter time may not be an option if the goal is to move the company forward. So how do you know when it’s time to hire a consultant to find the solution, to remove a major distraction from your business day, and perhaps to avoid a costly mistake?

Much like an independent contractor, consultants come in on a short-term or project basis. For an agreed-upon fee, they will agree to

  • analyze or solve a problem
  • set up a new procedure or system
  • conduct research
  • advise on a one-time activity, such as setting up a corporation

The general advantage of using a consultant is that you pay only for the information and guidance you need. An example of a situation where a consultant might make sense is when you need to create a marketing and advertising program. A consultant can develop your advertising plan and then leave it to you to implement. However, the same consultant may undertake certain tasks within the plan- perhaps having to do with creating ad messages or finding the right graphic designer.

Some day-to-day activities and situations may require short-term consulting help, such as making a fix in a proprietary software program. When identifying, purchasing, and implementing  a comprehensive computer system, by way of contrast, would require a software consultant on a longer term basis.

For better cost control and a more reliable estimate, have a completion date in mind for the project. An open-ended consulting relationship may create dependency while becoming a financial drain. In addition, use caution when considering a more generic management consultant, who may not be able or willing to specify the work he or she is prepared to do to focus on a problem area.

To begin the search for a consultant, tap into your own network for recommendations, then check references. You’ll want to know what problem the consultant was engaged to solve, whether the work was completed on time and within budget, and whether the consultant produced a quality product.

And for other perspectives on your involving outside experts in your business, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” The SCORE Grand Rapids office has 35 local volunteer business counselors who provide free and confidential business counseling to small business owners.

Call SCORE at 1-616-771-0305 to talk to a counselor, or e-mail us at score@grandrapids.org  or online at   http://www.scoregr.org./

 

Free and Confidential Counseling

SCORE, 111 Pearl Street NW

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

(616) 771-0305   wwwscoregr.org

E-mail:  score@grandrapids.org

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Cedar Springs Brewing Company 

Post photo by  J. Reed.

Post photo by J. Reed.

Post photos by J. Reed.

Post photos by J. Reed.

The Cedar Springs Brewing Company, 95, North Main, officially opened its doors to the public last week Friday, November 13, with a ribbon cutting at 1 p.m. Eager patrons lined up around the building, and waited for a chance to get in and sample not only what was on tap, but also the various German and American dishes on the menu. Patrons filled the establishment all weekend long.

“We were excited at the enthusiastic response for our opening week and weekend and did our best to stay on top of everything,” said owner David Ringler. “While we were disappointed to run short in the kitchen on Sunday, we’re back to work getting better and preparing for this weekend as we’re planning live music on Saturday and getting ready for our Community Pub Crawl next Saturday.”

Ringler said their hours would be flexible as they build up their supplies, but they intend to re-open to regular hours on Thursday through next week. They will be closed Thanksgiving, but should be otherwise be open through their pub crawl next Saturday, November 28 (barring any supplies shortages).

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Red Flannel Festival earns first place at MFEA convention

Red Flannel board members at MFEA convention. Left to right: Mark Laws, Brynadette Powell, Michele Tracy, Rick Knapp and Steve McBride.

Red Flannel board members at MFEA convention. Left to right: Mark Laws, Brynadette Powell, Michele Tracy, Rick Knapp and Steve McBride.

Michigan Festivals & Events Association (MFEA) announces Red Flannel Festival of Cedar Springs, as the first place winner in the MIFun Awards Promotional Budget $20,000 – $50,000 category. “It’s such an honor to win such a prestigious award at a State level for Red Flannel Town,” said Festival President Michele Tracy. “The Board works very hard to have an outstanding, professional marketing portfolio. We’re proud of our track record of consistent wins!”

The Red Flannel Festival competed against three other entries in their category.

The MFEA MIFun Award winners were recently honored at an awards ceremony and luncheon held November 6 during the 23rd Annual Michigan Festivals and Events Association Convention at the Boyne Mountain Lodge in Boyne Falls, MI. Red Flannel Festival Board members Michele Tracy, Mark Laws, Brynadette Powell, Rick Knapp, Jr. and Steve McBride all attended the conference.

The MFEA MIFun Awards competition draws entries from festivals and events throughout all of Michigan. Entries are divided into three budget levels; Promotional Budget under $20,000, Promotional Budget between $20,000 & $50,000 and Promotional Budget over $50,000. The prestigious “Peoples’ Choice Award” goes to the entry deemed the favorite of all MFEA Convention Attendees.  There were 10 entries representing proud communities that celebrate and promote Michigan’s heritage, agriculture, talents, four seasons, history, products, sports, foods and magnificent waterways.

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