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Home heating credits now being processed

 

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Agency for Energy (MAE) today noted that the Michigan Department of Treasury is now processing Michigan Home Heating Credits (HHC) for the 2016 tax year. The credit assists low-income customers with winter energy bills.

The average credit in 2016 was $132.

Instruction booklets and forms have been mailed out by the Department of Treasury. More than 82 percent of the HHCs were e-filed in 2016. For those people who file a tax return, the Michigan Department of Treasury encourages them to e-file their returns because it speeds processing and reduces errors for the HHC. To find an authorized e-file provider and information on free e-file services, visit Treasury’s website: MIFastFile.org.

Individuals may apply for the HHC even if they do not file a tax return.

Forms and instructional materials area available on the Internet at michigan.gov/incometax or by calling 517-636-4486.

In addition, forms will be available at many libraries and post offices in Northern Michigan and Department of Health and Human Services branch offices across the state. Heating assistance information is available at michigan.gov/heatingassistance.

MAE’s BeWinterWise website provides additional information: michigan.gov/bewinterwise.

For more information about MAE, please visit michigan.gov/energy or sign up for its listservs to keep up on MAE matters.

Posted in Tax TimeComments (0)

Four tax changes that could impact your 2016 return

TAX-Four-tax-changes

(BPT) – With tax filing season upon us, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on what’s changed since last year. While it’s been a relatively quiet year in terms of new tax laws, there are a handful of items for which you’ll want to prepare.

1. The Tax Deadline is April 18.

This year, the deadline to file returns is Tuesday, April 18, 2017, rather than the traditional April 15 date. That’s because the April 15 falls on a Saturday and Emancipation Day, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery, is recognized on Monday, April 17, 2017 and is a holiday in the District of Columbia. For tax-filing purposes, the IRS treats this day as a federal holiday.

2. Delayed refunds for some early filers.

If you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) this year, you’ll have to wait until after mid-February to get your refund. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, passed in late 2015, says the IRS cannot issue credits or refunds for an overpayment before Feb. 15, 2017 to any filer who claims the EITC or ACTC.

The delay gives the IRS more time to review income tax returns – and prevent the agency from inadvertently processing fraudulent returns. Fraudsters file bogus returns before the actual filer can complete their taxes and often claim credits like the EITC and ACTC.

Both the EITC and ACTC are refundable tax credits. That means they are beneficial even after reducing your tax liability to zero. If the amount of these credits is more than the amount of taxes due, you’ll get the difference back as a refund. Savvy criminals know this – and input numbers to make it look like they should get more money back.

If you don’t file either of these credits, the IRS says your refund will likely get processed in the typical time frame of 21 days.

3. Don’t be surprised if your state asks for your driver’s license number or state ID.

Depending on the state in which you live, you may be asked to provide your driver’s license number (DLN) or state ID number when you file your 2016 state return. This is part of a broad effort by the IRS, states and the entire tax industry to lessen the risk of tax-related identity theft. Identity thieves may have personal information such as your name and Social Security number, but not your DLN. The additional information helps states verify you are who you say you are.

“Some states, such as Alabama, will ask taxpayers who e-file to provide both the DLN as well as date of issue, expiration number and issuing state,” says Mark Jaeger, director of Tax Development for TaxAct. “If you use a DIY tax solution like TaxAct, you’ll be prompted to enter the information required by your state as you prepare your return.”

Implementing additional identity verification measures, such as requesting a filer’s DLN and related information, can help curtail the number of fraudulent returns states process this year. The IRS now requests this information, but it is not required to electronically file a federal return.

4. Affordable Care Act (ACA) forms may be late this year, but don’t wait to file your return.

By now, you’re probably accustomed to receiving ACA-related forms reporting whether you and members of your household met health insurance coverage requirements established by the ACA for the prior year. What’s new this year is when you’ll receive some of those forms.

The deadline for companies and insurers to issue Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals has been delayed this year. Employers and insurance providers must mail your forms by March 2, 2017, considerably later than the original Jan. 31 deadline.

“Remember, you don’t need to file these forms with your return,” Jaeger says. “However, the forms can be helpful in identifying coverage months if the entire tax household did not have full-year health insurance coverage. Once you receive the applicable form, keep it with your other tax documents. The IRS gets their own copy so you don’t need to attach it to your return.”

Keep up to date with a little help from your friends.

Staying abreast of tax changes before you file your return can be tough. Fortunately, taxpayers can turn to a number of resources, including TaxAct, for help.

Posted in Featured, Tax TimeComments (0)

Who will prepare your tax return? 

 

The Internal Revenue Service is reminding taxpayers to start thinking about who will prepare their 2016 federal tax return. The IRS began processing tax returns on Monday, January 23.

In 2016, more than 131 million individual and family tax returns were e-filed, the most accurate, safest and easiest way to file. The rest of the returns received by the IRS, numbering over 19 million, were either prepared on a computer and printed or prepared by hand then mailed.

The IRS stresses that no matter who prepares it, by signing the return, the taxpayer becomes legally responsible for the accuracy of all information included.

Free Tax Preparation 

Each year, millions of tax returns are prepared for free by taxpayers using IRS Free File or by volunteers at community organization sites nationwide.

IRS Free File lets taxpayers who earned less than $64,000 prepare and e-file a return for free. Go to IRS.gov and click on the ‘Filing’ tab for options on using commercial tax software. Those who earned more than $64,000 are still eligible for Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms. This more basic Free File option is best for people who are comfortable preparing their own tax returns.

IRS trained and certified volunteers at thousands of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (VITA and TCE) sites nationwide offer free tax preparation and e-filing.

VITA offers free tax return preparation to taxpayers who earn $54,000 or less. The TCE program is mainly for people age 60 or older and focuses on tax issues unique to seniors. AARP participates in the TCE program and helps taxpayers with low to moderate incomes.

To find the closest VITA site, visit IRS.gov and search the word “VITA.” Or download the IRS2Go app on a smart phone. Site information is also available by calling the IRS at 800-906-9887.

To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, visit aarp.org, or call 888-227-7669. There are also VITA and TCE sites that provide bilingual help for taxpayers who have limited English skills.

Many taxpayers pay for tax return preparation. By law, all paid tax preparers must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN. Paid preparers must sign the return and include their PTIN. The IRS offers tips to help taxpayers choose a tax return preparer wisely. The Choosing a Tax Professional page has information about tax preparer credentials and qualifications. The IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications can help identify many preparers in your locality by type of credential or qualification.

The IRS urges taxpayers to avoid fly-by-night preparers who may not be available after this year’s April 18 due date or base fees on a percentage of the refund. The IRS also reminds taxpayers that a new law requires all refunds on returns that claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) be held until Feb. 15. This change helps the IRS detect and prevent fraud.

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Three ways to plan ahead for the 2017 tax season

_BUS-Plan-ahead-for-2017-tax-season

(BPT) – With the tax season approaching, now is the time to start thinking about creating a strategy to help maximize tax refunds in the year ahead. From the passage of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act to the increase in health insurance penalties, here are a few items to keep in mind before the IRS begins accepting tax returns.

1. Donating to charity, making an extra student loan payment or contributing to an IRA can lower your adjusted gross and taxable income.

If you are a taxpayer that itemizes your deductions, donating to a qualified charity by Dec. 31 and saving the necessary documentation can lower your taxable income. Taxpayers can also deduct up to $2,500 of interest paid on their student loans each year, even if the payment is voluntary. For those contributing to their IRA, taxpayers can deduct up to $5,000, and have until April 16, 2016 to make contributions.

2. Your health insurance penalty will increase if you are uninsured and do not sign up by Jan. 31.

The per-person flat fee penalty for not having health insurance has increased more than 630 percent since it was first implemented in 2014.

Taxpayers will now have to pay a penalty of $695 per uncovered adult, plus $347.50 per uncovered child up to a maximum of $2,085 or 2.5 percent of their household income over the filing threshold, whichever is greater. That means a family of four earning $60,000 would pay a penalty of more than $2,000.

According to H&R Block’s estimates, taxpayers without insurance in 2015 paid an average penalty of $401. This was a 125 percent increase from 2014, when the average penalty was $178.

There are some cases where an uninsured taxpayer may qualify for an exemption from the penalty, but the only way to completely avoid it in 2017 is to enroll and stay covered under a qualified insurance plan.

3. If you claim the earned income tax credit (EITC) or additional child tax credit (ACTC), your refund will be delayed until at least Feb. 15.

The passage of the PATH Act now requires the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to hold the entire refund for returns claiming the EITC and ACTC until at least Feb. 15, depending on when the return is filed.

The IRS estimates approximately one in five EITC payments are made through fraudulent filings or confusion due to the complexity in claiming the benefit. Employers are now required to send employee W-2s to the IRS by Jan. 31 to allow the IRS additional time to help prevent identity theft and fraud.

The IRS will begin releasing funds on Feb. 15, but taxpayers may not see the funds deposited into their banking accounts immediately. This law could affect approximately up to 30 million taxpayers who claim these tax credits.

If you are one of the 30 million taxpayers who claim these credits and are worried about a delayed refund, visit a local H&R Block professional to see how they might be able to help. For more information, visit hrblock.com/PATH.

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Ensley Real Estate moves into downtown location

Patrick and Laura Ensley, of Ensley Team Real Estate

Patrick and Laura Ensley, of Ensley Team Real Estate

Patrick and Laura Ensley, of Ensley Team Real Estate, are excited to announce their new location, 71 N. Main, in Cedar Springs. (They are in the building formerly occupied by Geekworx.) They will hold a ribbon cutting and open house on Thursday, March 2, at 5:30 p.m., with light refreshments and snacks as people tour their new building.

Both Patrick and Laura were born and raised in the area, and established their real estate team in 2008. Laura said it’s their drive that gives them an edge over the competition. “We are a high energy team that loves to help our clients with every aspect of their real estate needs,” she explained. Their greatest reward is getting their clients the best deal possible. “Negotiating deals is in our blood. It’s what makes us tick.”

Patrick and Laura are also passionate about giving back to the community. They are both on the board of the Cedar Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, and are also involved with the “Best Prom Ever,” a charity that puts on proms for special needs children.

The Ensleys love West Michigan and are passionate about selling the great lifestyle the state has to offer. To check out how they can help you, give them a call at (616) 696-SOLD or stop by 71 N. Main Monday through Friday, from 9-5 p.m.

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Five tips for financial fitness in 2017

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

(Family Features) If a commitment to improving finances is among your resolutions for 2017, you’re not alone.

A survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) shows that more than two-thirds of U.S. adults will make a financial resolution this year.

However, one out of three Americans said their financial quality of life is worse than they expect, as saving money and debt concerns top the list of stressors. Additionally, almost two-thirds of respondents experienced a financial setback in 2016, with transportation issues, housing repairs and medical care cited as the leading causes. For the nearly 50 percent of those who admit they’re living paycheck to paycheck, significant unplanned expenses can add up.

“To be successful with your financial resolutions in 2017, set thoughtful, realistic goals,” said Paul Golden, spokesperson for NEFE. “If your goal is to build an emergency savings, start with a small amount like $500 dollars to show yourself you actually can achieve that mark then set the bar higher. It’s not uncommon to be hit with an unexpected expense, so be prepared.”

These five tips can help get you on the path toward tackling your financial goals:

1. Get debt under control. Take a hard look at what you owe. If there are warning signs of too much debt, take action. Set a goal to reduce your debt next year by 5-10 percent. That might mean reducing impulse shopping, which six out of 10 people admit to doing, and 80 percent regret the purchases later. When you face temptation, walk away for at least 30 minutes to make sure you still want the item.

2. Start saving now. Ideally, you should have six to nine months of income set aside, but achieving a small goal can provide a sense of security and reduce stress. The rules of retirement have changed: Review your long-term savings and ensure they are appropriate and on target.

3. Shop for better services. Make a game out of shopping providers to find the best value in the services you use. How long has it been since you shopped your insurance policies? Is there any chance you can save money on your cell phone, internet or utilities? Visit current providers and ask, “What’s the best deal?” Be sure to understand your policies and services so that you are comparing fairly and accurately.

4. Understand what’s behind your financial decisions. If you’ve ever wondered why you feel good about spending money on vacations but avoid saving for retirement, the answer may lie in your unique values and how they influence your financial decision-making. Take the LifeValues Quiz at SmartAboutMoney.org.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Recruit a “financial buddy” and share your resolutions with a trusted family member or friend who can provide support in helping you meet your financial goals. Find someone who will hold you accountable and set a good example for you to follow.

For more help getting your finances in order, visit SmartAboutMoney.org.

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Spectrum Health Wins 2016 Foster G. McGaw Prize

 

Finalists from Dallas, Los Angeles and Toledo, Ohio, also honored

In recognition of its cutting-edge programs and services to reach the underserved residents of Western Michigan, Spectrum Health is awarded the 2016 Foster G. McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service and will receive $100,000 for programs creating healthier and stronger communities.

As one of the most revered community service awards in healthcare, the Foster G. McGaw Prize is sponsored by the Baxter International Foundation, the American Hospital Association (AHA) and its non-profit affiliate Health Research & Educational Trust. First awarded in 1986, the annual prize recognizes the achievements of hospitals and health systems and inspires strong partnerships that significantly improve the health and well-being of their communities.

Spectrum Health is a non-profit, integrated health system in Western Michigan providing a full continuum of care. Its community outreach arm, known as Healthier Communities, responds to the most pressing needs by formulating innovative programs to address specific health challenges and then collaborating with other organizations to address them.

“Since 1997, Spectrum Health Healthier Communities has built the infrastructure, resources, community-based programs and services to reach the people who need care the most,” said John O’Brien, chair of the Foster G. McGaw Prize Committee. “Through impactful alliances with community organizations, Spectrum Health has shown incredible perseverance, patience and a vision to dramatically improve the health of individuals in their communities and reduce healthcare costs.”

“We are honored to be recognized by the Baxter International Foundation and the American Hospital Association for our work to empower vulnerable populations and increase access to care,” said Richard C. Breon, Spectrum Health President & CEO. “The Foster G. McGaw Prize represents significant national recognition of our mission to improve the health of the communities we serve. The award also recognizes the power of collaboration. Healthier Communities is successful due to dozens of community partners coming together to carry out this challenging yet tremendously rewarding work.”

Spectrum Health Healthier Communities’ three areas of focus include maternal and infant health, children’s health and preventing and managing chronic disease through such initiatives as:

*Strong Beginnings Program – Eight area agencies work together to improve maternal-child health and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in birth outcomes. The program, which offers outreach, case management, education, mental health services and a fatherhood program, has helped to significantly reduce the infant mortality rate in Kent County.

*Community Partnerships for Wellness and Access to Healthy Food – Programs specifically tailored to children and minority populations offer health screenings, coaching, fitness and nutritional support. In addition, four independent community agencies collaborate to provide healthy foods to underserved and impoverished individuals.

*School Health Advocacy Program – A partnership with seven local school districts serving nearly 29,000 students to provide first aid, medication administration, tracking/facilitating immunizations, care for chronic health conditions and communicable disease prevention. In less populated areas, telemedicine services are provided.

*Core Health Program – A chronic disease management program for underserved individuals, reaching more than 2,500 community members to date, that has demonstrated a measurable impact by achieving the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Triple Aim goals – a framework that describes an approach to optimizing health system performance.

Through programs like the Foster G. McGaw Prize, the Baxter International Foundation continues to recognize and celebrate health organizations that support an integrated approach to better and more easily accessible care.

“The Foster G. McGaw Prize recognizes healthcare organizations that serve as role models for taking a synergistic approach to improve the health of the people in their communities. This year’s winner and finalists offer wide-ranging programs to meet the needs of their vulnerable populations,” said Stacey Eisen, president of the Baxter International Foundation and vice president, global communications at Baxter. “Through involved leadership, dedicated staff and community collaboration, they significantly improve the lives of the patients they serve and the communities in which they operate.”

2016 Finalists

Three Foster G. McGaw finalists also were recognized for their significant community health programs and will each receive $10,000. These finalists include:

*Children’s HealthSM, the leading pediatric health system in North Texas, for its unique approach in using a cross-sector coalition to improve the health and well-being of children in the community.

*ProMedica in Toledo, Ohio, for establishing numerous community health programs for low-income residents, including collaborative approaches to tackling hunger and peer abuse.

*White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif., for its dedicated prevention programs, including healthy eating and interventions for pregnant and post-partum women, as well as advancing a health careers program to ensure sustainable health among all members of the community.

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Business Bits

(L to R) Dave Rinvelt, manager at The Car Center, and owner Bill Edwards. Co-owner Nick Edwards is not pictured.

(L to R) Dave Rinvelt, manager at The Car Center, and owner Bill Edwards. Co-owner Nick Edwards is not pictured.

The Car Center

Need a dependable company to repair your car after an accident? Need a windshield replaced or repaired? The Car Center, at 13399 White Creek, has you covered. Bill and Nick Edwards, owners of The Car Center in Greenville, opened up the Cedar Springs location in May, in the building formerly occupied by Cedar Body Shop.

The Car Center offers full service collision repair, and glass repair and replacement (on site or mobile).

“We have been serving the Greenville area for over 20 years, and are proud to now have a location so our customers can be serviced closer to home,” explained Bill. “We offer customer service unlike any competitor.”

He also noted that their technicians are the best in the industry. “Fixing cars is our job, but helping people is our business,” he said.

He said they hope to continue to grow and serve the Cedar Springs and surrounding areas.

They are open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. Call (616) 696-1830.

 

Nikki and Company Hair Design, Inc.

If you would like to try somewhere new to get your hair or nails done, check out Nikki and Company Hair Design, Inc. Owner Nikki Twichell said they are now open in their new location at 171 W. Muskegon Street, near the White Pine Trail. They offer haircuts, hair color, balayage hair, ombre hair, foiling, waxing, shellac nails, and more.

Twichell said her salon is unique because they have a boutique inside the salon, and the experience and education of the stylists there give them an edge over the competition. Try them out for yourself! Open Tuesday through Saturday. Call (616) 696-3192 for an appointment or more information.

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Scammers use Venmo to fool sellers

 

Trying to make some quick cash, need to sell your items online? Be wary of too good to be true online ads.

From the Better Business Bureau

The money transfer app Venmo can come in handy when you need to pay a coworker back for lunch or send money to friend. Just be wary when using the app with someone you don’t know. Scammers are exploiting it and scamming sellers.

How the Scam Works: 

You are selling a big ticket item (such as a computer, tablet, or car) on Craigslist or another online service. You find an interested buyer, and he or she is ready to make the purchase. But rather than pay with cash, the buyer suggests sending money through Venmo. You’ve used the payment app successfully to transfer money to friends, so you agree.

At first, everything seems fine. You get an alert from Venmo that the buyer sent the money, so you hand over the item. However, a few days pass, and you notice the funds never appear in your account.

It turns out you’ve been scammed. Transfers in Venmo take several days to process. Scammers take advantage of this by setting up transactions and canceling them before they go through. By the time victims realize they’ve never received the money, the scammers are long gone.

How to Avoid a Venmo Con:

Protect yourself when paying with Venmo by following this advice:

Use Venmo with friends: Protect yourself from scams by only using Venmo for its intended purpose—sending money to people you personally know.

Link Venmo to a credit card. As with many other purchases, using a credit card will help protect you if you don›t get the goods or services you paid for. Linking to a debit card or directly to your bank account does not give you that added protection.

Check your account to be sure that the money transferred: It takes a few days for Venmo payments to transfer. If you have any concerns that a payer didn’t really send the money, be sure to check your account directly.

To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker).

 

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Cedar Springs grad opens dentist office in Rockford

 

Dr. Chas Jensen with four-year-old patient Cece Burge.

Dr. Chas Jensen with four-year-old patient Cece Burge.

Long-time local dentist, Dr. Robert Mette retires from practice

Dr. Chas Jensen, both a Cedar Springs and Rockford native, has acquired the dental practice of Dr. Robert Mette, at 2 N. Monroe St. in downtown Rockford. The practice, which opened in early October, will now be called Rogue River Family Dental.

Jensen is a 2001 Cedar Springs High School grad and the son of Rick and Sue Jensen, of Cedar Springs.

Dr. Mette was a long-time and well-known dentist in Cedar Springs before moving his practice to Rockford in 2007. He retired in October 2016 due to health issues.

Dr. Chas Jensen (right) has bought the Rockford dental practice of Dr. Robert Mette. It will now be called Rogue River Family Dental.

Dr. Chas Jensen (right) has bought the Rockford dental practice of Dr. Robert Mette. It will now be called Rogue River Family Dental.

Dr. Mette was Dr. Jensen’s childhood dentist for many years, and was influential in his decision to become a dentist. At a young age, Jensen would ask questions about the profession when he visited Dr. Mette. While still at Cedar Springs High School, Jensen shadowed Dr. Mette to learn even more prior to college. Jensen then went on to earn his Bachelor of Science in Human Biology from Michigan State University and Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. He eventually settled in Rockford.

“I’m very excited to be back in Rockford, a place I have always considered home,” said Dr. Jensen. “Rogue River Family Dental will continue to offer the same services families have come to know and trust right in the heart of downtown Rockford.”

In an atmosphere that is warm and inviting, Dr. Jensen specializes in comprehensive and cosmetic dentistry for the entire family. He enjoys working with children and looks forward to establishing a long-term professional relationship with families in the Rockford area.

“Dr. Mette and I have had a lifelong relationship spanning more than 20 years,” he said. “The opening of Rogue River Family Dental brings my career full-circle. I am honored to have the opportunity to build upon the solid foundation that Dr. Mette created and nurtured over the past two decades.”

Rogue River Family Dental, located at 2 N. Monroe St., is now accepting new patients. The office hours are Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information contact Rogue River Dentistry at 616-866-7720 or http://rogueriverdentistry.com.

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