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News & Notes

2017 Holiday Hours:

11/22/2017: Closing at 3:00pm

11/23/2017: CLOSED

11/24/2017: 8:00am - 12:00pm

12/25/2017: CLOSED

01/01/2018: CLOSED


Notice:

We will be closing at 12:00pm on Monday, July 3rd in observance of Independence Day.  Normal business and market hours will resume on Wednesday, July 5th.  Have a Happy 4th of July!!! 


Notice:

We will be closed on Friday, April 14th in observance of Good Friday.  Normal business and market hours will resume on Monday


2017 Tax Scams Announced by IRS

While tax scams can occur at any time of the year, tax scams usually peak during tax-filing season. In an effort to protect you from becoming a victim of a tax scam, we'd like to share with you some notable scams the IRS recently announced to help combat fraud and protect taxpayers:

Phone Scams – Criminals impersonating IRS agents often making aggressive calls to taxpayers demanding payment for taxes owed. They may insist the taxpayer send cash through a wire transfer, a prepaid debit or gift card. They may also threaten to arrest the taxpayer, revoke his/her driver’s license, or file a lawsuit against the taxpayer if money is not paid.

Please note that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers via phone or email. The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method like a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or gift card. In general, the IRS typically will first mail a bill to any taxpayer that they show owes taxes.

Phishing –This scam involves fake emails or websites in which criminals attempt to steal personal information. Scam emails and websites can also infect a taxpayer’s computer with malware. Taxpayers should avoid opening emails or clicking on web links claiming to be from the IRS; unexpected emails purportedly from the IRS concerning large refunds or tax bills, or requesting personal information, should not be opened.

Please be aware that the IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers via email to request personal or financial information.

Inflated Refund Claims – Criminals sometimes pose as tax return preparers promising large federal tax refunds. During tax season, these scammers lure victims by using flyers, ads, phony storefronts, or by making presentations to local community groups promising large refunds. The scammer frequently claims false rebates, credits, or benefits that will generate a large refund for the victim. Typically, the fraudulent refund is deposited in the scammer’s bank account, and then a large fee is deducted before the victim is paid; this practice is not used by legitimate tax preparers.

It is important to remember that taxpayers are legally responsible for the information contained on their return, even if prepared by someone else. Before selecting a tax preparer, taxpayers should do due diligence by checking into a tax preparer’s credentials, qualifications and background before engaging him/her.

Fake Charities – If you plan to donate to a charity, be sure to take the time to ensure the charity is legitimate. Groups of phony charities often use names very similar to familiar organizations and have been known to steal personal information and money from unsuspecting contributors.

Before you donate, make sure the charity is legitimate and qualified through Select Check on the IRS website.

Please contact us if you have any questions.



Fiscal Goals and Resolutions

Just like so many people vow to commit to exercise and dieting as a New Year’s resolution, it’s also not a bad idea to take stock of your financial situation and throw in some fiscal goals. Taking a good look into your overall savings plan, wasteful spending and debt can help you get your financial health in tip top shape and increase your prosperity.

Here’s a list of five valuable exercises you can do to make sure you’re closer to where you want to be financially by this time next year.

Cut wasteful spending. This may seem like an obvious choice but for many it can be an ever-so-hard one! All too often people aren’t even sure exactly where they’re spending their money. The following are some apps you can utilize to help on this front: BillGuard, Penny and Level Money. These apps can link your accounts, track all of your credit card purchases and cash withdrawals and then categorize them into types of spending. You can use the knowledge these apps provide to cut back on purchases that may seem inconsequential at the time but add up in the end.

Create a cushion in your savings. This can first and foremost be accomplished by cutting wasteful spending. But another easy way to save more for emergency expenses is to start utilizing and/or adjusting automatic transfer features on your bank account that allow you to push your money from recurring deposits into designated savings accounts. A lot of times when we see the money sitting in our checking account we tend to think it’s available to spend. So by setting up these transfers, the money is no longer in an account where it’s easy to access!

Get a handle on credit card debt. If you have multiple credit cards, you may want to consolidate to one or two cards. Start by looking at each of your credit card statements to see which has the lowest interest rates—transferring your other balances onto those cards can save you hundreds of dollars a month and thousands a year. Then, challenge yourself to lower these balances by spending only cash on everything you purchase for an entire month and see how it affects your spending habits.

Improve your credit rating. Whether you’re looking to buy a new home, rental property, car or solar panels, everyone wants to first…run your credit! You don’t want to be surprised by a low credit score and be faced with a higher interest rate right as you’re applying for a new loan. Make it a priority over the next 12 months to research your credit report, make sure everything is accurate and then take the necessary action to improve it.

Protect your estate. If you don’t have an estate plan, now’s the time to create one. If you already have one, now may be the time to make sure it is up to date. As time passes, things in life change and estate plans need to be updated. Has your family had any recent births or deaths, have you gained new assets, have there been any marriages or divorces? Any of these life changes can alter your estate wishes and should be addressed in your estate documents as they happen to ensure you’re always prepared. Give the office a call if you have had any changes to your situation so we can be sure you are properly covered.

You work hard for your money, and by doing these financial exercises we know you can make sure it works just as hard for you.



2016 Year-End Tax-Planning List

As year-end quickly approaches, so do important 2016 tax planning deadlines. The following checklist can help you simplify and manage these critical deadlines as you take advantage of opportunities to accelerate deductions, defer income, bunch itemized medical expenses into the current year, and more.

Remember…December 31st marks the deadline for…

Gifts and Charitable Contributions:

  • Making tax-year 2016 charitable contributions of cash or securities 
  • Gifting to family members (you can give up to $14,000 per individual free of gift or estate tax)
  • Donating real property, such as a car, boat, household items, or clothing to qualified charities

Investments and Retirement Accounts:

  • Tax harvesting: selling stocks or listed options to realize a gain or loss
  • Contributing the maximum to qualified retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k), 403(b), etc.)
  • Completing a Roth conversion

Employment and Medical Expenses:

  • Deferring bonuses or self-employment income into 2017
  • Rolling over Flexible Spending Account (FSA) balances in employer-sponsored plans
  • Paying for qualified out-of-pocket healthcare services, procedures, or equipment to itemize medical expenses; qualified expenses must exceed 10% of AGI for taxpayers under age 65 (7.5% for taxpayers age 65+)
  • Avoiding tax penalties by adjusting withholding or estimated tax payments to make up for any shortfall
  • Accelerating income to “zero-out” Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) (check with your tax adviser first; this could be counterproductive if you are in the AMT phase-out range or this affects other tax benefits)

If you have questions or need assistance with year-end financial and tax planning, don’t hesitate to contact us.


The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.




2016 Holiday Hours:


12/23/2016: Closing at 3:00pm

12/26/2016: CLOSED

01/02/2017: CLOSED


Gift Giving Considerations for Tax Benefits

To give is better than to receive, unless you’re giving more than your fair share to Uncle Sam. As you prepare your holiday gift list, consider some smart ways to give family and friends gifts with lasting value that also offer tax benefits for you. Then sit back and reap the rewards of your legacy in action.

Consider the following for:

  • Adult children: the IRS allows you to gift up to $14,000 per individual free of gift or estate tax
  • Grandchildren: make a tax-free contribution to a grandchild’s 529 Education Savings Plan
  • The friend who has everything: consider a tax-free contribution in their name to a cause they’re passionate about
  • Charitable organizations you support: make a tax-free year-end cash contribution; donate securities such as shares of stock; or real property such as a car or boat   

And don’t forget to give a tax-advantaged gift that lasts to yourself:

  • If you you’re eligible to participate in a 401(k) or similar qualified plan, try to contribute the maximum allowable or at least enough to receive any employer matching contributions
  • Take advantage of catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or over, for IRAs and employer-sponsored plans

If you have questions or need assistance with year-end financial and tax planning, don’t hesitate to contact us.


2016 Holiday Hours:

11/23/2016: Closing at 3:00pm

11/24/2016: CLOSED

11/25/2016: 8:00am - 12:00pm

12/26/2016: CLOSED

01/02/2017: CLOSED


Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving is right around the corner! This year, why not throw in one or two new activities and see how they are received by your guests? If they are enjoyed, you may have a few fun Thanksgiving traditions for years to come!

Here are some simple tradition-starting ideas that cost virtually nothing but can add a bit more meaning and a few more memories to your Thanksgiving holiday.

  1. Give back before feasting – Whether it’s running a 5K Turkey Trot that sponsors food bank charities or volunteering to help prepare and serve a hot Thanksgiving meal for a local soup kitchen, giving back to your community has a way of kicking off the holiday season in its intended spirit and yields thankfulness for what you have.

  2. Create a “What We Are Thankful for Tree” – Gather a few fallen branches from outside and place them in a vase so they resemble a tree. Cut out colorful pieces of paper into shapes of leaves and place them underneath the tree. Invite family and friends to write down anything they feel thankful for. Glue, tape or hang them from the tree and use it as a centerpiece for your Thanksgiving meal as a reflection on the year’s blessings.

  3. Toast all the way around the table – Invite each person, young and old, to take a moment to toast to “what they are most thankful for this year.” This quickly floods Thanksgiving dinner with a strong sense of gratitude and helps the flow of conversation throughout the meal as special moments are shared, remembered and celebrated.

  4. Get active after dinner – After the meal has been eaten, and possibly before dessert has been served, gather everyone in your Thanksgiving celebration to enjoy a bit of time being active outside. Grab a glass of hot cocoa, coffee or wine and take a nice, long walk around your neighborhood together. Or, host a competitive game of whiffle ball with your family and/or neighbors! It should help stimulate everyone’s metabolism and at the very least will create some great memories.

  5. Celebrate “Friendsgiving” – Start a tradition with your friends to have a potluck party with all of your Thanksgiving leftovers the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Make it a competition to see who can have the best repurposed leftover dish or turn the gathering into an annual board game tournament! This can be a fun time to reconnect with those close friends after the Thanksgiving holiday.


Notice:

We will be closed on Monday, July 4th in observance of Independence Day.  Normal business and market hours will resume on Tuesday


Timeline For Keeping Important Documents:

Knowing which financial and personal paperwork to keep or toss is very important. Here’s a suggested timeline for keeping/shredding documents.

Documents which should be kept indefinitely—in a secure location:

  • Birth/death certificates and Social Security cards
  • Marriage Licenses and Divorce Decrees
  • Pension plan documents
  • Copies of wills, trusts, health care proxies/living wills and powers of attorney (attorney/executor should have copies)
  • Military discharge papers
  • Copies of burial deeds and plots
  • Safe-deposit box inventory
  • Copies of all tax returns

Suggested timeline for retaining documents:

  • Supporting documents for tax return (7 years) - This is the recommended minimum period of time to retain. Remember, tax return copies should remain on file forever.
  • Investment records and statements (7 years) - These are needed for tax filing. Keep for at least 3 years. You may want to keep for the same amount of time as the supporting documents for tax returns.
  • Credit card statements (45 days-7 years) - Keep up to seven years if it may be used for taxes, as proof of purchase or for insurance.
  • Bank statements (1-3+ years) - Keep for 3 years or longer if you apply for Medicaid, or it pertains to taxes, a business expense, home improvement, mortgage payment or major purchase.
  • Medical and dental records (1-5 years) - Keep for at least one year, maybe up to five to be safe. Retain information about prescriptions, specific medical histories, health insurance information and contact information for your physician.
  • Utility and phone bills (1 month-1 year) - Shred them after you have paid them, unless they contain tax-deductible expenses—keep them for a year if they can be used for business deductions.
  • Insurance policies (until closed) - Keep as long as the policies remain in force.
  • Mortgages and other home documents (ownership + 6 years) - Mortgages, deeds and home improvement documents should be kept on file for the length of ownership, plus six years after selling the home.
  • Appliance manuals and warranties (if owned) - Keep on file for the length of ownership.
  • Vehicle titles and loan documents (if owned) - Keep on file for the length of ownership.
  • Pay stubs (until end of year) - There is not a requirement for keeping pay stubs. Keep up to three months if you are applying for a loan. You may want to keep them for a year so you can compare against your W-2.

Be sure to shred any information that has your personal details on it. We hope you found this list helpful and informative.


Notice:

We will be closed on Monday, May 30th in observance of Memorial Day.  Normal business and market hours will resume on Tuesday


Planning to travel soon? Here are five quick tips for making practical, money-saving decisions while you travel:

1. Bring your no-fee credit cards. If your vacation plans will land you overseas, make sure to check with your credit card companies to find one that does not charge you a foreign transaction fee with each purchase. These fees typically average close to 3% of every purchase and can add up very quickly when using your credit card for larger expenses, like hotel accommodations and transportation.

2. Be “smart” with your smartphone. Depending on where you’re headed, roaming rates can add up quickly. I’m talking hundreds of dollars a day, especially if you’re traveling abroad. Check with your service provider to make sure your plan covers calls and internet access where you’re headed, without hidden fees. When traveling to cities you are unfamiliar with, smartphone apps are wonderful tools for finding the cheapest gas stations, nearest ATMs and restaurant coupons.

3. Research public transportation options. Public transportation (e.g. subways, ferries, municipal bike rentals, trains) in a new city give you a real flavor for the area you’re vacationing in, and it can save you quite a bit of cash compared to high-priced taxis and rental car services.

4. Get creative with your meals. One of the most exciting things to explore in a new city is its cuisine. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend a good chunk of change on every meal. Most trendy and expensive restaurants offer smaller portions of their dinner menus during lunch hours at a fraction of the price. So hit the over-priced tourist spots during the day and enjoy the local bars’ and pubs’ happy hour deals in the evening for even more authentic and less expensive options.

5. Take advantage of free and discounted attractions. Parades, festivals, art fairs and farmers markets are just a few free events most cities have that give you a great taste of the local culture. Research these types of events a few weeks in advance to help create a budget-friendly itinerary. And don’t forget to scope out local deals through popular apps, such as Groupon, to save big on hot attractions.

If you follow these five basic money-saving tips, I think you’ll be off to a great start to a budget-friendly vacation. If you are headed somewhere soon, enjoy your trip!


FIVE SMART USES FOR A TAX REFUND:

If you’re expecting a refund this tax season, consider the following tips for using it wisely:

  1. Pay down credit card debt. Begin by paying down the card with the highest interest rate.

  2. Build up an emergency fund. Even a modest amount can help soften the blow of unexpected expenses.

  3. Invest in a retirement plan. Invest in your future now by boosting retirement savings.

  4. Prepay your mortgage or other loans. Make extra principal payments on mortgage, auto or student loans to help pay them off sooner.

  5. Take care of necessary home or car repairs.


Notice:

We will be closed on Friday, March 25th in observance of Good Friday.  Normal business and market hours will resume on Monday.


There's no question that preparing your tax return can be a daunting challenge. And the more complex your finances, the more complex your tax return. Whether you prepare your own return or work with a tax professional, there are ways to make the process less burdensome. It all hinges on a bit of upfront organization.

Here are some key activities to consider as you prepare for tax day:

  • Have identification numbers handy. Make sure you have Social Security numbers, tax ID numbers, and your dependents’ information like Social Security and birthday dates.
  • Collect documents that show your earnings. This includes your W-2 form from your employer, 1099 form for income from interest, dividends, capital gains or freelance work, and be sure to include any other income that may not be reported on a W-2 or 1099 (self-employment income, alimony)
  • Gather documents that reduce your taxable income. Contributions to a traditional IRA and/or health savings account, alimony or qualified student loan interest are all examples of “adjustments to income.”
  • Have appropriate records and receipts for itemized deductions. Itemized deductions include things like mortgage interest, state and local taxes, property taxes, charitable contributions, and casualty and theft losses.
  • Don’t forget about tax credits. There are a number of tax credits available such as child and dependent care, qualified adoption expenses or even owning an electric car!


Notice:

We will be closed on Monday, February 15th in observance of President's Day.  Normal business and market hours will resume on Tuesday.  


Holiday Hours:

12/24/2015: 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

12/25/2015: CLOSED

01/01/2016: CLOSED


The Thanksgiving Tradition

Do you ever wonder how we’ve come to celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday of gratitude, filled with traditional food staples like turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes and pumpkin pie? This menu was not the menu the English settlers and the local natives sat down to enjoy in 1621. Much of the menu made now with butter, flour and sugar that we have come to enjoy originated from recipes published by Sarah Josepha Hale, Godey’s Lady’s Book editor and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

For those who love Thanksgiving, we can also give thanks to Sarah for campaigning to President Abraham Lincoln and gathering support from her readers to help make Thanksgiving an annual holiday. President Lincoln referred to her as the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” While she didn’t come up with the concept of Thanksgiving, she did spend three decades trying to make it a national holiday!

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday, we are grateful to those such as Sarah who have the forethought and persistence to help create what is now a beloved holiday tradition. We are also grateful to have you as a valued client and the forethought and persistence you put into preparing for your future. We appreciate your business in every way and wish you a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving holiday!

On July 20, 2012, The Masters Group volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization which helps to build or refurbish affordable housing for those who are less fortunate.


From left to right: Ron Dougherty, Kristen Crouthamel, Tim Hawkins, Heath Hanson


Tim Hawkins (left) hangs siding with the help of Ron Dougherty (right).


We’ve Moved!! In order to better accommodate our clients and staff, and provide room for future growth, we have moved to a new building in the growing development of Prairie Trail in Ankeny. Beginning September 1st, 2011, our new address is:

1250 SW State Street, Suite E
Ankeny, IA 50023

Our phone numbers have remained the same (see about us or contact us). However, we did recently get a new toll-free fax number. It is 866-531-4037.

Below is a photo of the new building and some photos of our new space, along with a map and directions. In addition, if you’d like to call our offices for directions, we would be happy to assist you.


New Hire: Director of Business Retirement Plans

January 4, 2012 ~ The Masters Group has hired Ron Dougherty as Director of Business Retirement Plans.

Dougherty brings with him 30+ years of experience working in business retirement planning. He previously worked for Principal Financial Group as the Senior Relationship Manager in Retirement Services. He and his wife, Diane, have lived in Ankeny for 36 years.

“Ron’s wealth of knowledge and experience providing retirement plan solutions for businesses will be the perfect complement to our staff as we continue to grow and meet the unique needs of small and mid-sized businesses” said Tim Hawkins, President of The Masters Group.