Richard A. Lindsey, CPA

Lindsey & Waldo, LLC – Certified Public Accountants

  • Jul 21

    Many Americans appear to be living one big expense away from disaster. A 2014 Federal Reserve poll discovered the startling fact that almost half of all U.S. households could not come up with $400 to cover an emergency expense. They would need to sell something, or borrow cash, to do so.

    If you find yourself belonging to that category, then I have some ideas (11 of them, in fact) I think will help. In my experience, if you want to get out of a hole, you study the behavior of those who have already made it out. And you do everything you can to copy that behavior.

    Yes, some people have been fortunate enough to inherit wealth, etc. But many, MANY more of those who have wealth came about it in a different way.

    Now, so that YOU do not find yourself in the unfortunate place of not being able to scrape up $400 in an emergency … read this now.

    Becoming a household that will be able to ride through instability and uncertainty is only going to become MORE important in future years, not less. So, that being the case, here is a portrait of those who are able to achieve this status.

    You’ll notice that these are just as significantly about your mindset as you relate to your finances, as about your behaviors.

    Here’s what the Financially Secure look like …

    1) He always spends less than he earns. In fact, his mantra is that over the long run, you’re better off if you strive to be anonymously rich rather than deceptively poor.

    2) She knows that patience is truth. The odds are you won’t become a millionaire overnight. If you’re like her, your security will be accumulated gradually by diligently saving your money over multiple decades.

    3) He pays off his credit cards in full every month. He’s smart enough to understand that if he can’t afford to pay cash for something, then he can’t afford it.

    4) She realized early on that money does not buy happiness. If you’re looking for financial joy, you need to focus on attaining financial freedom.

    5) He understands that money is like a toddler; it is incapable of managing itself. After all, you can’t expect your money to grow and mature as it should without some form of credible money management.

    6) She’s a big believer in paying yourself first. It’s an essential tenet of personal finance and a great way to build your savings and instill financial discipline.

    7) She also knows that the few millionaires that reached that milestone without a plan got there only because of dumb luck. It’s not enough to simply “declare” to the universe that you want to be financially free. This is not a “Secret”.

    8) When it came time to set his savings goals, he wasn’t afraid to think big. Financial success demands that you have a vision that is significantly larger than you can currently deliver upon.

    9) He realizes that stuff happens, and that’s why you’re a fool if you don’t insure yourself against risk. Remember that the potential for bankruptcy is always just around the corner, and can be triggered from multiple sources: the death of the family’s key breadwinner, divorce, or disability that leads to a loss of work.

    10) She understands that time is an ally of the young. She was fortunate (and smart) enough to begin saving in her twenties, so she could take maximum advantage of the power of compounding interest on her nest egg.

    11) He’s not impressed that you drive an over-priced luxury car and live in a McMansion that’s two sizes too big for your family of four. Little about external “signals” of wealth actually matter to him.

    And a little bonus, if you will: She doesn’t pay taxes which could have been avoided with a simple phone call to her tax professional. She plans ahead, before tax time.

    “You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.” – Brian Tracy

  • Jun 23

    Question: Like many students, I am looking forward to some time off from school and perhaps a summer job. What are the most important things I should know before I get that first job?

    Answer: Here are seven of the most important tips I could think of:

    1. Taxpayers fill out a W-4 when starting a new job. This form is used by employers to determine the amount of tax that will be withheld from your paycheck. Taxpayers with multiple summer jobs will want to make sure all their employers are withholding an adequate amount of taxes to cover their total income tax liability. To make sure your withholding is correct; visit the Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov. If you don’t expect to owe taxes, then you can choose to write “exempt” on the W-4 and not have any taxes withheld.
    2. Whether you are working as a waiter or a camp counselor, you may receive tips as a part of your summer income. All tip income you receive is taxable income and therefore subject to income tax.
    3. Many students do odd jobs over the summer to make extra cash. Earnings you receive from self-employment are subject to income tax. These earnings include income from odd jobs like baby-sitting and lawn mowing.
    4. If you have net earnings of $400 or more from self-employment, you will also have to pay self-employment tax. This tax pays for Social Security benefits. Social Security and Medicare benefits are available to individuals who are self-employed the same as they are to wage earners who have Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from their wages. The self-employment tax is figured on Form 1040, Schedule SE.
    5. Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay – such as pay received during summer advanced camp – is taxable.
    6. Special rules apply to services you perform as a newspaper carrier or distributor. You are a direct seller and treated as a self-employed for federal tax purposes if you meet the following conditions:
      – You are in the business of delivering newspapers; – All your pay for these services directly relates to sales rather than to the number of hours worked; You perform the delivery services under a written contract which states that you will not be treated as an employee for federal tax purposes.
    7. Generally, newspaper carriers or distributors under age 18 are not subject to self-employment tax.

    Do you have a question for the Taxpert that you’d like to see answered in a future Taxing Times? Or perhaps just an issue you’d like the Taxpert to address? Send the Taxpert a note to Taxing Times, 1050 Hillcrest Rd., Ste A, Mobile, AL 36695 or an email to taxpert@CPAMobileAL.com.

  • May 12

    I’ve written before about what a good tax planning technique hiring your children can be. (See “Hiring Your Children for the Summer: The Job of Last Resort or Just Good Tax Planning,” Taxing Times, June 2015.) It can be an effective way of shifting income from your high rate to as low as zero percent! It can also be good for the kids. However, as a recent tax court decision demonstrates, it’s important to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

    The case involved Lisa Fisher, a New York attorney, faced with a common dilemma to find summer care for her children, all under the age of nine. So, during the summer, she brought them into her office two or three days a week where they shredded waste, mailed letters, answered phones, greeted clients, and copied documents.

    Fisher took deductions for the $28,770 in wages she paid her kids over a three year period. But, she didn’t keep any payroll files or issue any W-2s. She didn’t keep any records substantiating the work they did or establishing that she paid “reasonable compensation” for the work performed. Nor could she present any documentary evidence, such as cancelled checks or bank statements, to verify that she actually paid them the wages she deducted.

    You know where this is headed. The IRS disallowed the deductions for the children’s wages and imposed an accuracy related penalty. The Tax Court affirmed that decision.

    Bottom line: Hiring your children to work for your business, or rental properties, can be perfectly legal tax planning. But, you have to follow the rules and document everything in order to protect the benefits.

  • Apr 14

    When was the last time you reviewed your will? People generally make wills to guarantee the proper disposition of their money and property, which is why it’s a good idea to consult your CPA when it’s time to create or update your will.

    We recommend that you revisit your will every time you experience a major life event, such as marriage, the birth of a child, retirement, or other significant milestones. Even if there is no meaningful change in your life, it’s smart to review the document every couple of years to ensure it still addresses all your estate concerns and reflects your wishes. Changes in the value of your investments – such as stock portfolio or real estate – may also require adjustments in your estate plan.

    Reviewing your will may raise questions about various areas of your financial life, including your retirement or estate planning, college savings, or other financial concerns. Be sure to turn to us for the perspective and advice you need to make the best choices.♦

  • Feb 3

    How The Tax Code Makes Regular Taxpayers Angry

    Many people think that preparing taxes for a living is a somewhat easy assignment.

    Bless their hearts.

    It’s NOT just “filling in the boxes” and having the spreadsheets or the software spit out the results. I WISH it were so simple. There are three big reasons why it’s much harder than that — even for many professionals.

    1) The tax code is incredibly long. The version of the tax code we are using right now is more than 75,000 pages long (and that is about 186 times LONGER than it was back in 1913 when we started with it) — and it will likely be getting longer this coming year.

    2) The code also happens to be pretty complicated and laden with contradictory incentives. Take this credit, and watch that other credit go bye-bye. Fail to deduct this item, and then you won’t be able to deduct that other item. You get the picture.

    Sorting through all of them is most definitely NOT a task for a computer software program. It requires sitting down with an individual, a business owner, a family, determining what they most care about, and then use that complicated code to plan for it all properly. Really, that’s the only way to do it. Everything else is just “after the fact” clean-up work.

    Which is why it’s so critical to meet with someone before the end of the year to make sure that you’re set up to hold a tax position which represents the real picture of where you really want to be going.

    This is the essence of tax planning. Some may say that this is overstating it — but, after years of doing this, I’ve become convinced that it’s the truth. I’m in the business of helping you fulfill your dreams by helping you hold on to as much income/revenue as possible!

    3) Oh, and as I alluded to previously, there is one more big reason this job is no cupcake — staying up to date with how the law is constantly changing.

    And I’m as patriotic as the next person … but, Congress makes THIS task no cupcake.

    Despite what certain fringe voices might claim (and they cite all kinds of “facts” behind their claims), the truth is that we don’t have the choice to “not file” or “not pay” what the tax laws say we owe. That’s why the IRS audits returns and has all sorts of “encouragements” (liens, refund offsets) to encourage us to file by each April 15, and to do so correctly.

    But, even with automatic payroll deductions, etc. we U.S. taxpayers are trusted to fill out the forms, ensure the correct amount was withheld and let the IRS know what our true final bill was. That’s called tax filing. And if we discover that we owe the U.S. Treasury, then our system (as it stands now) relies on us to send in the necessary payments. This, of course, is what we spend much of our time on around here at Team Lindsey — helping YOU do this ethically, but ensuring you’re not overpaying.

    But, Congress makes this much harder than they need to.

    They do this — probably unintentionally — by tinkering with our tax laws so much. They change them, sometimes slightly, sometimes quite a bit, and they do so constantly. What’s worse is the annual rite of procrastination in the House and Senate. I see this all the time. As a regular course of business.

    And these delays in tax changes — or the decision to make some laws retroactive months later (extenders, estate tax, etc.) — totally screw up basic tax planning, sometimes negating options that could have been used to legally lower a tax bill.

    (Which, incidentally, is why I have to pay so much attention to what’s happening in the legislation NOW, during the offseason. I do this so you don’t have to.)

    So some people fudge their returns. And, unfortunately, they feel justified in doing so.

    One recent example was the first-time homebuyer credit that was created a few years back … then revised … and revised again. Many homebuyers had to “pay back” a credit that was taken under existing law — then later canceled.

    And I know (from conversations with real people) how many felt justified in finding ways to “skim back” (i.e. fudge) that $500 back into their returns because they were annoyed at how Congress handled it.

    And there are plenty of other tax laws with similar histories that tick off filers enough so that they look for ways of getting payback when they fill out their 1040s.

    Now, I’m not condoning these taxpayers’ decisions to “even up” the tax code where they may find it unfair. Life can be unfair and taxes are a part of that often unfair life.

    But, Congress can do a lot to prevent these “they hurt me, so I’ll hurt the tax system right back” attitudes, by doing its tax-writing job in a more rational and professional manner.

    Until it does, well, then, Capitol Hill is going to keep creating bad attitudes.

    But, here’s where some hope comes in…

    For my clients and contacts, you can rest assured that we are paying attention … and that we will be on top of even these woefully-procrastinating legislators. We’ll do all that is ethically possible to make sure you don’t make moves that you’ll regret after the fact.

    And the best way to help us help YOU, is by giving us a call to talk things through NOW, while we can still make a difference with 2016 returns.

    “You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” – Dale Carnegie

  • Oct 28

    In what may come as a shock to many of you, the country is broke and is looking for additional revenues. You should know, it will be looking in every nook and cranny to replenish the federal coffers. What you may not know is the Internal Revenue Service seems already to be engaged in revenue-finding-missions. Among the objects of their affection – in the tax audit – are sole proprietors filing Schedule C, and substantiation requirements for every possible deduction.

    The IRS now views the Schedule C as the repository of all manner of evil taxpayer intentions to reduce their tax liabilities (and, from the perspective of the IRS, federal revenues). IRS agents are reportedly beating the bushes of sole proprietors primarily to reduce, or eliminate, claimed deductions as unsubstantiated to increase both income and self-employment tax liabilities.

    All deductions are a matter of legislative grace, and that grace comes with a price: at a minimum to maintain books and records to support the expenditure, and, in many cases, to meet more exacting substantiation standards than the Code imposes as a condition to deductibility in various circumstances. One might not think of charitable contributions as a source of major contention with the IRS, but in the case of non-cash contributions, the taxpayer is technically required to establish, both the fair market value of the property and the property’s adjusted basis. In some cases, the Code requires an appraisal of property (where the value exceeds $5,000) contributed to a charity.

    However, the property’s adjusted basis comes into question in two cases: first in most cases where the property is inventory in the hands of the donor, and secondly, if tangible personal property that is unrelated to the charity’s exempt function, the amount of the contribution is limited to the donor’s adjusted basis in the property. For example, if a taxpayer donates used clothing to a charity that does not distribute them to poor or indigent individuals, the deduction is limited to the lesser of your basis or fair market value. Now, it may seem like common sense that the current value of almost all used clothing is less than what was paid for it but technically, a claim for a deduction of such items requires some proof of both the fair market value and the cost basis of the property.

    And such was the case I recently read about in Surgent’s Tax Issues Newsletter where a taxpayer was denied a claimed $850 deduction for clothing donated to charity. Yes $850! The return was under audit and the taxpayer submitted photographs of all the clothing donated and matched them up to the current list of retail prices published by The Salvation Army and recognized by the IRS– but that wasn’t enough. The auditor wanted purchase receipts of each item to establish the cost basis. Even if the taxpayer was in the 35 percent tax bracket, the amount of tax at issue was only $298. The IRS correctly assumed the taxpayer would throw in the towel rather than incur additional time, effort and costs to substantiate the deduction. So, the IRS pressed the issue hard enough to deny any deduction. Hooray, the deficit was reduced $300!

    From a practical standpoint, trying to establish the cost of most any item of personal property even shortly after its purchase, much less a couple of years down the road, is extremely difficult. So, nothing prevents the IRS from using similar audit strategies where larger sums of money are involved.

    Echoing the motivation Willie Sutton once famously gave for robbing banks, the Internal Revenue Service knows where the money is.

  • Oct 14

    Q. My husband and I sold our home on Fowl River that we purchased in 1973 for $459,000, and reinvested the profits in a smaller condo in town. Will we be required to pay the new 3.8% Medicare surtax (now referred to as the net investment income tax) on the gain? I understand it applies when your income is above $250,000.

    A. The 3.8% net investment income tax applies to the lesser of the net investment income for the year, or the excess of modified adjusted gross income over the $250,000 threshold. However, it does not apply to items, such as the gain on the sale of your personal residence, which do not have to be reported on your tax return.

    Do you have a question for the Taxpert that you’d like to see answered in a future Taxing Times? Or perhaps just an issue you’d like the Taxpert to address? Send the Taxpert a note to Taxing Times, 1050 Hillcrest Rd., Ste A, Mobile, AL 36695 or an email to taxpert@CPAMobileAL.com.

  • Jul 8

    I recently read about a show on CNBC that was described as a cross between Shark Tank and Top Chef. (Seriously… Can’t you see that producer walking into a meeting with CNBC and pitching it exactly that way.) The show was called Restaurant Startup and I just had to check it out.

    The setup is that there are two teams of restaurant owners who approach the “sharks” with their concepts. In one episode there was a married couple who ran a Lebanese-themed deli in Oklahoma City that wanted to expand into a sit down restaurant, and the pair of good ol’ boys with a southern comfort food joint in Kingsport, Tennessee who wanted to open a second location in Knoxville. The sharks sample some dishes and quiz the competitors on their operations. They pick one and give them 36 hours and $7,500 to show off their food and their skills. After that “opening night,” they decide whether to invest their own money in the concept.

    Early in the show, the good ol’ boys serve the sharks some dishes prepared from the owner’s grandma’s recipe book. And the shrimp and grits did look mighty tasty. One shark asked the chef how much the owner currently charges for it in Kingsport, and learned it was $12. Then he asked how much the average check was, and learned it was just $13. “This is a $20 dish in Knoxville,” he said, pointing down at the grits. “You need a $35 average check to make it work there.”

    The chef did not want to hear that he had to raise prices, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. He objected that diners in his town wouldn’t pay that much for the food. His grandmother who came up with the recipe wouldn’t want him charging that much for the food. And he wanted everybody to be able to afford to eat at his restaurant and enjoy his grandmother’s great dishes.

    (Does any of this sound familiar? I can just hear some of you saying “my customers won’t pay any more!”)

    The sharks agreed that it would be a big jump to raise prices to those levels, but they insisted that the point of running a restaurant isn’t just to share grandma’s southern comfort. It is to make money—and making money, in this case, would require higher prices.

    The sharks chose the good ol’ boys for the test kitchen, and set them up with a local consultant to help walk them through the process. Once again, pricing came up. The owner said flat out “I don’t want to serve a $19 piece of fish.” The consultant explained the restaurant isn’t just serving a piece of fish, it’s serving an experience— then proceeded to show the owner how he could garnish and plate the fish to look like it’s worth the price he had to ask diners to pay.

    At that point you could almost see the light bulb go on over his head. He readily agreed to raise his prices, and the pop-up restaurant opened for business. Diners who filed in that night loved the food. Unfortunately for our good ol’ boys, service and management weren’t as good as they should have been and the sharks declined to fund the concept. It was a hard lesson for them to take home to Tennessee.

    And here’s our lesson for the day. If you’re like most small business owners I know, you at least profess to want to run your business to make money. You may think your customers won’t pay more— but you’re probably wrong. You may think that your mentor, or the person you bought your business from (who didn’t charge enough himself) would disapprove— but it’s your business, not theirs. And you may really want everyone in town to be able to enjoy your great product or service—but can you really make the kind of money you deserve if you price yourself into bankruptcy?

  • Apr 29

    Wesley Snipes, best known for his action roles in such films as Blade and Passenger 57, has gone on the offensive against the IRS. Snipes has petitioned the U. S. Tax Court to allow him to enter the IRS’s Fresh Start initiative to lower the amount of unpaid taxes that the IRS is assessing him. Mr. Snipes offered to pay $842,000, but the IRS is demanding the actor pay the full $17.5 million.

    Snipes’ current fight with the IRS is just about civil tax collections. Although convicted in 2008 on three misdemeanor counts of failing to pay his taxes for 1999, 2000, and 2001, he was acquitted of all felony charges. He had followed the advice of a tax protester organization that claimed income taxes were illegal, but ultimately acknowledged his errors.

    Mr. Snipes attempted to bargain with the Internal Revenue Service using an offer in compromise or installment agreement. He was trying to work it out with the IRS. He even paid off amounts for previous years. Mr. Snipes claims in court that the IRS is making arbitrary determinations, and abusing its discretion. After all, the whole purpose of the IRS offer in compromise program is to provide a resolution that is in the best interest of the taxpayer and the government. The idea is to resolve things and move on, keeping the taxpayer in compliance.

    However, as noted elsewhere in this newsletter, the IRS rarely gives up a tax debt if you have the resources or the ability to earn more money to pay the debt in full.

  • Apr 15

    The theft of your identity, especially personal information such as your name, Social Security number, address and children’s names, can be traumatic and frustrating. In this online era, it’s important to always be on guard.

    The IRS has teamed up with state revenue departments and the tax industry to make sure you understand the dangers to your personal and financial data. Taxes. Security. Together. Working in partnership with you, we can make a difference.

    Here are seven steps you can make part of your routine to protect your tax and financial information:

    1. Read your credit card and banking statements carefully and often– watch for even the smallest charge that appears suspicious. (Neither your credit card, nor bank– or the IRS—will send you emails asking for sensitive personal and financial information; such as asking you to update your account.)
    2. Review and respond to all notices and correspondence from the Internal Revenue Service. Warning signs of tax-related identity theft can include IRS notices about tax returns you did not file, income you did not receive, or employers you’ve never heard of or where you’ve never worked.
    3. Review each of your three credit reports at least once a year. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to get your free reports.
    4. Review your annual Social Security income statement for excessive income reported. You can sign up for an electronic account at www.SSA.gov.
    5. Read your health insurance statements; look for claims you never filed or care you never received.
    6. Shred any documents with personal and financial information. Never toss documents with your personally identifiable information, especially your Social Security number, in the trash.
    7. If you receive any routine federal deposit such as Social Security Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, you probably receive those deposits electronically. You can use the same direct deposit process for your federal and state tax refund. IRS direct deposit is safe and secure and places your tax refund directly into the financial account of your choice.