Cheryl

Getting Ready for Tax Season

 

We’ve turned back our clocks, started buttoning up our houses in preparation of our winter, begun pondering the impending holidays and have given brief reflection to the end of yet another year.  As we rapidly move through the third quarter of 2012, most of us are subtly reminded of what’s looming on the horizon….the dreaded tax season!

If you are like most people, you hate thinking about preparing for tax season. Many people procrastinate because they think they have plenty of time before that April deadline. Unfortunately, this rarely is the case and we end up scrambling, oftentimes missing eligible credits and deductions and overpaying Uncle Sam.

 

However, with some planning and preparation, filing your taxes doesn’t have to be the nerve-racking, hair-pulling hassle it typically has been. Here are a few tips to help you get ready and make this year’s tax season less stressful.

 

  1. Get your paperwork together. When preparing for tax season, go through your past returns. This will help spot items you may have forgotten or remind you of questions you may want to ask you tax preparer. Prepare a folder labeled “2012 Taxes and begin filing important tax documents, statements and receipts and as you get additional end of the year items (e.g. 1099s, W-2s, etc.) add these to your file.  It’s a good idea to retain this folder with a copy of your tax return every year. It will be a lifesaver if you’re ever audited. Note: If your name has changed in the last year and you haven’t applied for a new social security card, do so now, so that it reflects your new name by tax time.

 

  1. Decide what’s the best way to do your taxes – filing yourself or hiring a CPA. Today, programs like Turbo Tax can save you money. But depending on how complicated your return is, and how much your time is worth, a CPA may be worth hiring.

 

  1. Have a chat with your working teen. If your teenager works and will be filing a return make sure you find out whether he or she is claiming himself or herself.. Typically he or she shouldn’t. Most teenagers don’t make enough money to claim themselves.

 

  1. Be Patient. Although it feels great to have your taxes done early, don’t be too overly zealous. Make sure to wait until every form you need has arrived. It will cost you more if have to file an amended return.

 

Remember, taxes are a necessary evil.  They are bound to cause some anxiety. But if you leave yourself enough time and start preparing early by following the steps above, tax season will be a breeze…or at the very least, a great deal less stressful!

 

Experience the Celebrated Colors of Fall Close to Home

Although we Floridians are continuing to experience muggy, summer-like days, most other areas of the country are meandering into one of the most beautiful seasons of the year – fall.

Even though I’ve lived in Florida for over twenty years, having grown up in New York, fall remains the season I miss most. Oh sure, northern Florida gets a taste of fall, but it is quite dull in comparison to the vibrant, rich colors observed by our colder states.

One of the many benefits of living in central to northern Florida – other than the fact it doesn’t snow or more accurately, accumulate snow here – is our close proximity to the true fall – the kind all of us more northern transplants fondly remember and often yearn for each year around this time.

A recent Southern Living article I came across listed the best places in the south for experiencing the radiant colors of fall. I thought I’d share a few with you which are fairly close to home.

So, before this incredible color-packed foliage disappears (peak season is usually the second and third week of October), pack a bag, gas up the car and take a delightfully unexpected trip and celebrate the true colors of fall!

Enjoy your trip and tell me all about it when you return!

1. Ellijay, GA
Ellijay is located on the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest, about 80 miles north of Atlanta. This town and surrounding Gilmer County are known for being the apple capitol of Georgia, claiming 10 pick-your-own apples orchards.

2. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Clermont, KY
This forest is located just south of Louisville in Clermont. It includes 14,000 acres of fields and forests and 35 miles of hiking trails. For the biking enthusiast, there is a bike route that winds along the beautifully fall-colored Long Lick Creek.

3. Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury, NC
This state 7, 024 acre park, which boasts some of the best colors of fall in North Carolina, is approximately 30 miles north of Winston-Salem. You will find mountains rising more than 2,500 ft., cascading waterfalls and more!

4. Lover’s Leap Loop Trail, Hot Springs, NC
The Lover’s Leap Loop Trail overlooks the French Broad River and the town of Hot Springs, North Carolina. A hiker’s heaven – offering 1.6 mile miles of the Appalachian Trail. With its panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you won’t want to miss this!

5. Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg, TN
This most visited national park offers acres of fall colors and incredible wildlife to include white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and black bears. This park spreads across 800 acres of the southern Appalachian Mountains, winding through Tennessee and North Carolina.

6. Natchez Trace Parkway, TN
The Natchez Trace Parkway runs through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. It connects the cities of Nashville, Tennessee and Natchez, Mississippi. Approximately 100 miles of this parkway runs through Tennessee and passes through such towns as Leipers Fork, and several historic spots.

Identity Theft/Fraud

Identity theft/fraud is the fastest growing crime in the nation.  Younger aged groups, especially children are most vulnerable and consequently, in recent years have become most targeted.

 

Identity theft and identity fraud occurs when someone obtains and uses another person’s personal information in a deceptive or fraudulent manner, typically for economic gain (U.S. Department of Justice, www.justice.gov).  A majority of theses cases involve the fraudulent use of debit/credit cards to take funds out of a victim’s bank or financial accounts or to make unauthorized purchases.  However, in the worst cases, when someone’s social security number falls into the wrong hands, the victim’s identity can be taken over altogether, oftentimes leaving them with vast debt and severe and long lasting damage to their credit.

 

Unfortunately, in many cases, the immediate costs associated with this growing crime are minimal compared to the additional financial costs incurred with restoring your credit, reputation and correcting invalid information.  However, instead of focusing on what you should do if you become a victim of identity theft, it is wiser to know what you can do to prevent it in the first place.

 

Steps to take to prevent identity theft/fraud:

 

  1. Memorize your social security number and all passwords – don’t carry these with you or keep them where someone can easily find them.
  2. Don’t use your birth date as a password.
  3. Shred any information/documentation containing personal or financial information – especially “preapproved” credit cards that come in the mail.
  4. Keep your personal information on a “need to know” basis.  Be extremely cautious about giving your personal information out over the phone or Internet.
  5. Check your financial information regularly for unusual activity – bank and financial statements and credit card statements.
  6. Report lost or stolen credit/debit cards immediately.
  7. Use a firewall program on your computer.
  8. Be careful about sharing personal on social media sites (e.g. address, birth date, phone number, etc.).
  9. Don’t download files or click on hyperlinks from people you don’t know.
  10. Order your credit report from all 3 bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) at least once a year and review thoroughly for accuracy.
  11. When traveling have all mail held at the post office or ask someone you know well to collect your mail and hold it for you until you return.
  12. When traveling don’t give out your personal or financial information on the phone in a public place or where you can easily be overheard.

 

Every year, an estimated 9 million U.S. residents are victims of identity theft.  However, the overall monetary loses are decreasing due to early detection (www.creditinfocenter.com, July 10, 2011).  However, preventative measures remain the best tool for reducing the number of cases as well as costs – financial and personal – associated with this crime.  Don’t become a victim – take these necessary precautions to protect your identity.

 

For more information on protection, early detection or to report a lost or stolen debit card, please contact us at 386-447-1662

Sending Your First Child Off to College – A Survival Guide

As the lazy days of summer begin to wane, many parents are facing the overwhelming task of preparing their first child for college. Gearing up your first-time college student with the necessary supplies for dormitory life is a significant part of this preparatory process. Appointing your child’s first home away from home can seem particularly daunting. With the faithful assistance of Google, I sifted through the seemingly infinite articles, topics ranging from saving for college to dealing with being an empty nester, and compiled some great advice from parents who’ve “been there, done that” and survived to tell their stories. Hopefully, these tips will guide you, somewhat painlessly – a few bouts of tears, sadness and momentary nervous breakdowns are be expected, through this life-altering endeavor, accomplishing the feat both efficiently and cost effectively, ultimately creating a memorable rite of passage for you and your child.

Must-haves for your Freshman College Student

1. A small refrigerator and microwave –
Even if your child is on the meal plan, there will times when he or she will want to sleep in or just have the convenience of eating in the dorm.

2. Linens and Towels –
Dorm mattresses are covered with a plastic waterproof material – you will want to purchase a mattress cover for comfort. You will need a full set of twin sheets, including pillowcase, and of course, a pillow and a comforter. You may want to buy two sets of sheets to alternate between washings. Note: Look for dorm/college length sheets (usually found at Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond) because a college bed is longer than a traditional twin bed. Towels – three large bath towels and three washcloths or a bath sponge are recommended.

3. Storage Bins –
Find ones that will fit under the bed to allow more space.

4. First Aid Kit –
In addition to necessary over-the-counter medicines (e.g. aspirin, cold medications, etc.) and required medications, you will want a first aid kit containing bandages, antibiotic ointment and other basics.

5. Laundry detergent and quarters –
Dorms are equipped with commercial washers and dryers, requiring quarters and your own laundry supplies.

6. Night Light –
Courtesy goes a long way to a lasting friendly roommate relationship – your child won’t annoy his or her sleeping roommate by turning on a bright light when he or she comes in late.

7. Memorabilia -
Your child may never admit to being homesick. Either way, bring a piece of home – a framed family picture is perfect.

8. Shower Caddy –
Fill it with shampoo, conditioner, soap, razor, shaving cream, etc.

9. Power Strip –
Dorms don’t have enough outlets to keep up with the electronic demands of today’s kids.

10. A debit card –
If your child hasn’t opened a checking account yet, it’s time to do so.* Make sure to order a debit card for the account. The debit card will come in handy for all of his or her ancillary needs (e.g. groceries, school supplies, an occasional night out, etc.). A debit card is safer than cash, there’s no waiting for checks to clear, it provides more accountability than a credit card, and with online management there is immediate access to the account balance.

*Stop by our branch and one of our courteous team members will be happy to assist with this.

Okay, before you hit the aisles of your favorite discount store or begin filling the shopping cart on your most frequently visited house ware internet site, step back, take a deep, cleansing breath and utilize what’s remaining of your common sense. Today’s freshmen have access to a tool we didn’t have when our parents packed up the wood paneled family station wagon and carted us off to college – the Internet. They can gain valuable information about each other by connecting on Facebook; their likes and dislikes as well as what kind of supplies and furniture each person is bringing. Although, the element of surprise is gone, the potential for duplication is eliminated, allowing the parents to divide and conquer the communal wares still outstanding.

Before you can blink your weary, occasionally tearful eyes, the momentous day will arrive. You’ll check and recheck your to-dos, must-haves and the various can’t live with outs, pack the car and set the GPS; destination, Collegetown, USA. As you head down the highway, trying to collect your thoughts and maintain composure, remember one very important thing – parenting doesn’t end….ever. You’re just suiting up for the next phase of life with your child. Who knows, when all is said and done, you just might end up being best friends!