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Set realistic goals for your website

From SCORE Grand Rapids

The advantages of having a business Web site have been well documented. For some customers, your site is the first place they will gain awareness of your company. From there, the opportunities appear endless.

An effective Web site is one that is meeting both your business’s needs and the informational needs of visitors to the site. Assuming that you already have established a Web site, how do you think it’s doing on both fronts? Clearly, an unproductive Web site will be a waste of your money and your visitors’ time.

Here are some factors for objectively evaluating your site-to see it not only through the lens of your business goals but also through the eyes of a prospective customer. It should:

  • Be current. Making regular changes to the home page is vital to sustain the interest of regular visitors.
  • Be located easily using the major search engines. ·
  • Have working hyperlinks to other relevant sites, such as a trade or professional association whose members are potential purchasers.
  • Be easy to navigate. The files and graphics should be small enough that most visitors can download them quickly. Links within the site should make it easy for a visitor to get back to your home page.
  • Offer customers and prospects relevant information-that is, material that will help them understand your products and services and their potential value to them.
  • Be a secure site, if you are conducting e-commerce on it.
  • Personalize or customize information for different segments of your market.
  • Use cookies or other features to capture information about your site visitors and their buying habits without costing them significant time.
  • Offer customers an easy way to contact you with questions or feedback without their having to leave the site. (And you should be able to respond promptly.)

To sum up, you want your Web site to work for your visitors if your larger goal is to maximize your business potential. So every now and then, step back and become the person you’d like to visit your site.

To learn more about the many dimensions of marketing on the World Wide Web, contact SCORE. SCORE counselors donate their time to consult with and mentor entrepreneurs providing free and confidential business counseling to America’s small business owners. Call the Grand Rapids SCORE chapter at 616-771-0305 or find an online counselor at https://grandrapids.score.org.

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Here’s how people can pay their federal taxes

The May 17 deadline for individuals to file and pay their federal income tax is fast approaching. While paying taxes is not optional, people do have options when it comes to how they pay taxes. The IRS offers a variety of ways to pay taxes.

Some taxpayers must make quarterly estimated tax payments throughout the year. This includes sole proprietors, partners, and S corporation shareholders who expect to owe $1,000 or more when they file. Individuals who participate in the gig economy might also have to make estimated payments. The deadline to pay estimated taxes remains April 15, 2021.

Here are five ways for people who need to pay their taxes. They can:

  • Pay when they e-file using their bank account, at no charge, using electronic funds withdrawal.
  • Use IRS Direct Pay which allows taxpayers to pay electronically directly from their checking or savings account for free. They can choose to receive email notifications about their payments when they pay this way. Taxpayers should watch out for email schemes. IRS Direct Pay sends emails only to users who request the service.
  • Pay using a payment processor by credit card, debit card or digital wallet options. Taxpayers can make these payments online, by phone or through the IRS2Go app.
  • Make a cash payment at more than 60,000 participating retail locations nationwide. To pay with cash, visit IRS.gov and follow the instructions.
  • Pay over time by applying for an online payment agreement. Once the IRS accepts an agreement, the taxpayers can make their payment in monthly installments.

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Working families and individuals eligible for homestead property tax credit

Average tax credit was $669 for the 2019 tax year

LANSING, Mich.—Working families and individuals with household resources of $60,000 or less a year may be eligible for a Homestead Property Tax Credit, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Michigan’s Homestead Property Tax Credit can help taxpayers if they are a qualified homeowner or renter and meet certain requirements. For most people, the tax credit is based on a comparison between property taxes and total household income, with homeowners paying property taxes directly and renters paying them indirectly with their rent.

“Homestead Property Tax Credits provide tax relief for Michigan’ working families and individuals,” said Deputy State Treasurer Glenn White, head of Treasury’s Revenue Services programs. “These tax credits can reduce tax owed and may provide a refund.”

For the 2019 tax year, more than 1.1 million (or 1,172,000) taxpayers claimed the Homestead Property Tax Credit, totaling more than $784.8 million with an average credit at $669.

Taxpayers may claim a Homestead Property Tax Credit if ALL the following apply:

* Your homestead is in Michigan.

* You were a resident of Michigan for at least six months during the year.

* You own or are contracted to pay rent and occupy a Michigan homestead on which property taxes were levied.

* If you own your home, your taxable value is $135,000 or less (unless unoccupied farmland).

* Your Total Household Resources are $60,000 or less

Taxpayers who are required to file a state income tax return should claim the Homestead Property Tax Credit with their return. Taxpayers may file a Homestead Property Tax Credit claim by itself.

Unemployment compensation—including the federal exclusion—is still included in a taxpayer’s Total Household Resources. While the federal American Rescue Plan Act reduced Adjusted Gross Income and state tax liabilities, it doesn’t reduce Total Household Resources.

To learn more about the Homestead Property Tax Credit and state income taxes, go to www.michigan.gov/incometax and click on “Credits and Exemptions” at the bottom of the page.

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IRS has refunds totaling $1.3 billion for people did not file in 2017

WASHINGTON—Unclaimed income tax refunds worth more than $1.3 billion await an estimated 1.3 million taxpayers who did not file a 2017 Form 1040 federal income tax return, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

“The IRS wants to help taxpayers who are due refunds but haven’t filed their 2017 tax returns yet,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Time is quickly running out for these taxpayers. There’s only a three-year window to claim these refunds, and the window closes on May 17. We want to help people get these refunds, but they will need to quickly file a 2017 tax return.”

The IRS estimates the midpoint for the potential refunds for 2017 to be $865—that is, half of the refunds are more than $865 and half are less. In Michigan, they estimate 43,100 did not file, and are owed refunds totaling $43,189,300.

In cases where a federal income tax return was not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity to claim a tax refund. If they do not file a tax return within three years, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury. For 2017 tax returns, the window closes May 17, 2021, for most taxpayers. The law requires taxpayers to properly address, mail and ensure the tax return is postmarked by that date.

The IRS reminds taxpayers seeking a 2017 tax refund that their checks may be held if they have not filed tax returns for 2018 and 2019. In addition, the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS or a state tax agency and may be used to offset unpaid child support or past due federal debts, such as student loans.

By failing to file a tax return, people stand to lose more than just their refund of taxes withheld or paid during 2017. Many low- and moderate-income workers may be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). For 2017, the credit was worth as much as $6,318. The EITC helps individuals and families whose incomes are below certain thresholds. The thresholds for 2017 were:

  • $48,340 ($53,930 if married filing jointly) for those with three or more qualifying children;
  • $45,007 ($50,597 if married filing jointly) for people with two qualifying children;
  • $39,617 ($45,207 if married filing jointly) for those with one qualifying child, and;
  • $15,010 ($20,600 if married filing jointly) for people without qualifying children.

Current and prior year tax forms (such as the tax year 2017 Form 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ) and instructions are available on the IRS.gov Forms and Publications page or by calling toll-free 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Taxpayers who are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 for the years 2017, 2018 or 2019 should request copies from their employer, bank or other payer. Taxpayers who are unable to get missing forms from their employer or other payer can order a free wage and income transcript at IRS.gov using the Get Transcript online tool at https://www.irs.gov/individuals/get-transcript. Alternatively, they can file Form 4506-T to request a wage and income transcript. A wage and income transcript shows data from information returns received by the IRS, such as Forms W-2, 1099, 1098, Form 5498 and IRA contribution information. Taxpayers can use the information from the transcript to file their tax return.

First-time filers and EIP eligible

The IRS reminds first-time filers and those who usually don’t have a federal filing requirement that they must file a 2020 tax return to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit (RRC), if they were eligible but did not receive the first or second Economic Impact Payment (EIP), or received less than the full amounts. The IRS offers free options to prepare and file a return at How to File on IRS.gov. Taxpayers who received the full amounts of both EIPs cannot claim the RRC and should not include any information about the payments on their 2020 tax return.

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Guidance available on treatment of unemployment compensation for tax year 2020

LANSING, Mich. The Michigan Department of Treasury has posted a notice related to the treatment of unemployment compensation for tax year 2020 at https://www.michigan.gov/treasury/0,4679,7-121–556084–,00.html.

The federal American Rescue Plan Act excludes unemployment benefits up to $10,200 from income for tax year 2020 for those within certain income brackets, providing tax relief on both federal and state income taxes. Taxpayers who may have anticipated owing taxes may now be entitled to a refund.

“If you have already filed your tax return, please wait to file an amended return to receive the American Rescue Plan Act benefits,” State Treasurer Rachael Eubanks said. “The IRS will be adjusting received returns and begin processing them in May without the need for taxpayers to file an amended federal return. States are awaiting guidance from the IRS as to whether they can provide us with the information we would need to do a similar calculation at the state level. This would alleviate the need to file an amended state return. We appreciate taxpayers’ patience as we work through this.”

There is no need for taxpayers to file an amended federal return unless the calculations make the taxpayer newly eligible for additional federal credits and deductions not already included on the original tax return.

The notice also includes information related to total household resources and household income for the purposes of various tax credits.

Additional information will be posted as it becomes available.

How to File a State Tax Return

Choosing electronic filing and direct deposit is convenient, safe and secure. Last year, more than 4.4 million Michigan taxpayers e-filed, which is 86 percent of state income tax filers.

For more information about e-filing, go to www.mifastfile.org.

Printed tax forms were distributed and are available in limited quantities at public libraries, some northern Michigan post offices, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services county offices and Treasury Field Offices.

All individual income tax returns must be received by 11:59 p.m. on May 17, 2021.

For the benefit and convenience of taxpayers, both the beginning and end of the individual income tax filing season are the same as the Internal Revenue Service.

Questions?

Taxpayers with questions about their state income taxes are encouraged to use Treasury eServices. The online platform enables taxpayers to ask state income tax-related questions when convenient and avoids waiting for a state Treasury Department customer service representative to answer your call.

To get started with Treasury eServices, go to www.michigan.gov/incometax and click on “eServices Individual Income Tax.”

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Federal tax day for individuals extended to May 17

Treasury, IRS extend filing and payment deadline

WASHINGTON—The  Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced that the federal income tax filing due date for individuals for the 2020 tax year will be automatically extended from April 15, 2021, to May 17, 2021. The IRS will be providing formal guidance in the coming days.

“This continues to be a tough time for many people, and the IRS wants to continue to do everything possible to help taxpayers navigate the unusual circumstances related to the pandemic, while also working on important tax administration responsibilities,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Even with the new deadline, we urge taxpayers to consider filing as soon as possible, especially those who are owed refunds. Filing electronically with direct deposit is the quickest way to get refunds, and it can help some taxpayers more quickly receive any remaining stimulus payments they may be entitled to.”

Individual taxpayers can also postpone federal income tax payments for the 2020 tax year due on April 15, 2021, to May 17, 2021, without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed. This postponement applies to individual taxpayers, including individuals who pay self-employment tax. Penalties, interest and additions to tax will begin to accrue on any remaining unpaid balances as of May 17, 2021. Individual taxpayers will automatically avoid interest and penalties on the taxes paid by May 17.

Individual taxpayers do not need to file any forms or call the IRS to qualify for this automatic federal tax filing and payment relief. Individual taxpayers who need additional time to file beyond the May 17 deadline can request a filing extension until Oct. 15 by filing Form 4868 through their tax professional, tax software or using the Free File link on IRS.gov. Filing Form 4868 gives taxpayers until Oct. 15 to file their 2020 tax return but does not grant an extension of time to pay taxes due. Taxpayers should pay their federal income tax due by May 17, 2021, to avoid interest and penalties.

The IRS urges taxpayers who are due a refund to file as soon as possible. Most tax refunds associated with e-filed returns are issued within 21 days.

This relief does not apply to estimated tax payments that are due on April 15, 2021. These payments are still due on April 15. Taxes must be paid as taxpayers earn or receive income during the year, either through withholding or estimated tax payments. In general, estimated tax payments are made quarterly to the IRS by people whose income isn’t subject to income tax withholding, including self-employment income, interest, dividends, alimony or rental income. Most taxpayers automatically have their taxes withheld from their paychecks and submitted to the IRS by their employer.

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State tax return deadline extended

Taxpayers can now file tax returns and make payments by May 17, 2021

LANSING, Mich.–State of Michigan individual income tax annual returns are now due on May 17, 2021, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.

The new filing deadline comes after the Internal Revenue Service extended its deadline to the same date. For the benefit and convenience of taxpayers, both the beginning and end of income tax filing season are the same as the IRS.

“I’m happy to announce that we are giving Michiganders extra time on their taxes this year,” said Governor Whitmer. “This has been a difficult year for everyone, and by moving the income tax payment date, I hope families have the buffer they need to get their finances in order. I am grateful for the money going out to Michiganders under the American Rescue Plan and proud of the state-level pandemic relief we’ve delivered to families and small businesses. Together, we’ll build our economy back better.”

“Taxpayers are trying to understand how the federal stimulus and the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting their taxes,” State Treasurer Rachael Eubanks said. “We are continuously evaluating how we can assist taxpayers. Changing the state’s filing and payment deadlines can help individuals figure out their next steps as we navigate these extraordinary times.”

“Our members have been adamant to find relief everywhere we can for the people of the State of Michigan,” said *Matt Hall, chairman of the House Tax Policy committee. “We have been prepared with legislation to extend the April 15 filing deadline this year and we’re grateful that Treasury and the administration are working to waive penalties and interest in the meantime.”

Under a Taxpayer Notice issued by the state Treasury Department, state individual income tax annual returns and payments are now due before 11:59 p.m. on May 17, 2021.

Individual taxpayers who need additional time to file beyond the May 17 deadline can request an extension to Oct. 15, 2021. Taxpayers requesting additional time to file should estimate their tax liability and pay any taxes owed by May 17, 2021, to avoid additional interest and penalties.

Because the extension is limited to the 2020 taxes, first quarter estimates for tax year 2021 remain due on April 15, 2021.

Taxpayers who are owed a refund are encouraged to file their state income tax returns so they can receive their refunds. More information about e-filing is available at www.michigan.gov/mifastfile.

Changes to city income tax deadlines require state legislation.

To learn more about Michigan’s taxes, go to www.michigan.gov/taxes or follow the state Treasury Department on Twitter at @MITreasury [ https://www.twitter.com/mitreasury ].

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Spectrum Health United Hospital honored with patient safety award

In observance of National Patient Safety Awareness Week, the Economic Alliance for Michigan (EAM), a nonprofit group comprised of Michigan’s largest employers and unions, announced Spectrum Health United Hospital as a recipient of the 2021 EAM Hospital Patient Safety Award. This annual award recognizes hospitals in Michigan consistently performing high marks and improvements in patient safety and quality of care. 

“Congratulations to all the hospitals who earned an EAM Hospital Patient Safety Award. By making patient safety a top priority, you are saving hundreds of lives,” said Bret Jackson, president, EAM. “There’s no doubt the pandemic has pushed hospitals and healthcare professionals in Michigan to their breaking points. Thank you to all the frontline workers for your hard work and dedication in helping Michiganders get through this difficult time.” 

Spectrum Health United Hospital, along with Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital and Zeeland Community Hospital, earned the Excellence Award. Hospitals receiving the Excellence Award participated in the annual Leapfrog Group survey and maintained all “A’s” with Hospital Safety Grade in four consecutive grading terms (Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020).

“Even during a pandemic, our team has remained vigilant and dedicated to preventing hospital-acquired conditions from occurring,” said Andrea Leslie, president of Spectrum Health United, Kelsey, Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals. “This award demonstrates that patient safety has always been and remains our top priority.”

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New Standard opens cannabis provisioning center in Sand Lake

 A new recreational-only cannabis provisionary is open in Sand Lake. 

New Standard Sand Lake opened on January 23, making it the second New Standard cannabis dispensary in Michigan. The other is in Hazel Park.

“Our team is dedicated to the communities where our cannabis businesses are located, and you’ll find New Standard Sand Lake to be no exception. I’m a firm believer that people should be able to buy cannabis close to where they live,” said Greg Maki, a Co-Founder of New Standard Sand Lake. 

Howard Luckoff, CEO and a Co-Founder of New Standard added, “From day one, we set out to create a retail experience unlike any other for cannabis consumers. We are looking forward to setting this new standard for the Sand Lake and all of our Michigan communities where we have stores planned.”

In addition to renovating the vacant West Michigan Snowmobile Museum building, the store will employ 15 people and bring tax revenue to the village of Sand Lake.  The store carries a wide variety of cannabis products, from flower to concentrates, edibles, and tinctures. “We work with growers and processors across Michigan and New Standard Sand Lake will be stocked with the top brands people are looking for,” Maki said. 

“Our team brings cannabis and community together to create a thoughtful, curated, and comfortable environment where the cannabis connoisseur, the cannabis curious, and everyone in between is able to come into our store and feel like we’re here for them,” Luckoff said.

 All New Standard stores provide safe and tested cannabis for adults 21+ with a government-issued photo ID. The store offers inside shopping as well as curbside online ordering from its website: www.anewstandard.com/sand-lake/.  The store is highly regulated and very secure. New Standard Sand Lake is located at 29 E. Lake Street, Sand Lake, MI 49343. For more information, call 616-327-0420 or visit www.anewstandard.com/sand-lake

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Make Time for Marketing

From SCORE 

If you operate a home-based business, there are more demands on your time than time to go around. But there’s one business activity you can’t afford to defer if you want to stay in business: marketing.

For any small business, marketing has many facets, and it’s a more complex proposition than just selling what you’re already offering customers. Marketing is the set of activities that attracts customers to your product. In a home-based business, that’s not going to be signs in front of your house and a parade of customers coming through your doors every day. The challenge is to adapt sound marketing techniques to your business’s unique circumstances and offerings. And that takes time.

Here are six tips for making time for marketing:

  1. Convince yourself that marketing is worth the time. When you don’t think a task will contribute to your bottom line, it’s easy to go on to the next item on your to-do list. If marketing is outside your so-called comfort zone, examine why you feel that way.
  2. Have a marketing plan. Invariably, a good plan is at the heart of personal productivity. Examine your business goals and determine how marketing can help fulfill them. As a new business owner, you may need a crash course in marketing. If so, that becomes part of your plan.
  3. Be open to new ideas. How are competing businesses getting noticed by customers? If they’re using techniques or media you never considered, take time to study and learn about new approaches. Experiment with marketing ideas that are low cost and low risk.
  4. Dedicate the time. By reserving the time, you’re less likely to procrastinate. Once you’re committed to marketing, block out time for it just as you would any other important task. Whether the task is market research or cold calling, know what you want to accomplish-in that period of time, and anticipate the distractions that are most likely to interfere.
  5. Stay connected. Take time to be at meetings and other gatherings of your professional and community groups. Yes, this presence takes time away from other business activities, but it keeps you in front of prospective customers and creates opportunities for you to sell yourself as well as your business. A home-based business is especially likely to benefit from this exposure.
  6. Celebrate your marketing successes. Pay attention to when your marketing pays off. You’ll discover that as effective marketing leads to better exposure and more sales, it becomes easier to justify the time you spend to promote your services.

“Work smarter, not harder” is an expression that applies to marketing as well as other facets of entrepreneurship. Make time for marketing, use that time wisely, and you’ll hone your competitive edge. For more insights on making a home-based business succeed, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” SCORE is a nonprofit organization of more than 10,500 volunteer business counselors who donate their time and talents to assist entrepreneurs in starting, growing and operating small businesses.  All counseling is free and confidential. For the SCORE chapter nearest you, call 1-800/634-0245, or find a counselor online at www.score.org.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 389 SCORE chapters around the country assisting entrepreneurs. While counseling is always free-of-charge, local SCORE chapters also offer small business workshops and seminars for modest fees.

To learn more about SCORE and its counseling services, call 1-616-771-0305, or email your questions to the Grand Rapids Chapter of SCORE  at https://grandrapids.score.org/.

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