Companies are following your every move. When you have a cell phone, they are tracking what apps you use, where you go, who you talk to and more! Other smart devices listen to your conversations in your home, keep track of what you view on your TV, and report where you visit and what routes you take to get there. Even worse, the more you share the greater the chance a hacker gets this information.
Consider these tips to more actively protect yourself and your information.
The power of the opt out
Apple recently introduced an opt out feature on their iPhones. Historically, when you download a new app onto an iPhone, you have to manually opt out of sharing your device’s data. Now when you download a new app on your iPhone, you’ll be asked whether you want to opt in and allow the app to have access to your information.
So if you are an iPhone user, start with the opt out and then deliberately select who you wish to give access to your information. And opt out does not have to be global. For instance, a direction function needs your location when you use it. But it does not need to be turned on all the time.
Leave opt-out as default on iPhones and set default to opt-out on other mobile phone brands.
Review all apps and turn off tracking and data sharing.
Actively turn off your phone if you do not wish to be tracked.
Review all smart devices and select your opt out options. Include TVs and personal assistants in your review.
Protect your web browsing
Companies love to keep tabs on your browsing habits. And it is not just limited to their own sites. They might spy on ALL your activity. They see every website you visit, monitor all your clicks, and track all social media likes and videos you view. They then use this information to determine what you see and read. In short, they control your world view, both in content and in what ads you see.
Actively use ad blockers such as AdBlock and uBlock.
Turn off cookies and periodically empty your cache.
Avoid downloading any and all extensions unless absolutely required.
Use best data protection practices
As the internet and smart devices evolve, so do the thieves that wish to steal your identity and your financial resources. So keep up-to-date on best data protection practices.
Vary passwords and user IDs. Keep track of them outside of your computer.
Keep operating systems and software up-to-date.
Encrypt your emails and computer hard drive.
Keep banking information off your cell phone.
Back up all your devices remotely.
Use current antivirus software.
Monitor your credit reports for any suspicious activity.
Confirm before opening suspicious emails or attachments.
Most importantly, stay informed. In the end, the burden of protecting your data always falls on you.
Tracking your miles whenever you drive somewhere for your business can get pretty tedious, but remember that properly tracking your vehicle expenses and miles driven can lead to a significant reduction in your taxes.
Here are some tips to make the most of your vehicle expense deduction.
Keep track of both mileage and actual expenses. The IRS generally lets you use one of two different methods to track vehicle expenses – the standard mileage rate method or the actual expense method. One year the mileage method may result in a higher deduction, while the actual expense method may be higher in a subsequent year. But you won’t know which method results in a higher deduction unless you track both your mileage and actual expenses.
Consider using standard mileage the first year a vehicle is in service. If you use standard mileage the first year your car is placed in service, you can then choose which expense tracking method to use in subsequent years. If you initially use the actual expense method the first year your car is placed in service, you’re locked in to using actual expenses for the duration of using that car in your business. For a car you lease, you must use the standard mileage rate method for the entire lease period (including renewals) if you choose the standard mileage rate the first year.
Don’t forget about depreciation! Depreciation can significantly increase your deduction if you use the actual expense method. For heavy SUVs, trucks, and vans with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating above 6,000 pounds, 100% bonus depreciation is available through the end of the 2022 tax year if the vehicle is used more than 50% for business purposes. Regular depreciation is available for vehicles under 6,000 pounds with annual limits applied.
Don’t slack on recordkeeping. The IRS mandates that you track your vehicle expenses as they happen (this is called contemporaneous recordkeeping). You’re not allowed to wait until right before filing your tax return to compile all the necessary information needed to claim a vehicle deduction. Whether it’s a physical notebook you stick in your glove compartment or a mobile phone app, pick a method to track your mileage and actual expenses that’s most convenient for you.
The first advance payment from the newly expanded child tax credit was recently sent out by the IRS. Payments are scheduled to be made on the 15th of each month through December.
Here’s what you need to know about the child tax credit and the advance payments.
For the 2021 tax year, an expanded child tax credit reduces your tax bill by $3,600 if you have a qualifying child that’s age 5 or under, or by $3,000 if you have a qualifying child from age 6 to 17.
If the total amount of the child tax credit for your family exceeds the total taxes you owe, you’ll receive the amount of the credit as a refund.
Child tax credit advance payments
Instead of waiting to file your tax return to receive the entire amount of your child tax credit, the IRS is directed by Congress to send 50% of the credit to you in six monthly payments beginning in July 2021.
For example, say you have three kids, ages 10, 12 and 16. Also assume your income is not too high and your children meet the IRS definition of a qualifying child. Instead of waiting until 2022 when you file your 2021 tax return to receive the entire $9,000 child tax credit, you can get paid half of the child tax credit amount, or $4,500, in 2021.
The advance payments began July 15 and continue for six months until December 15. The family in this example would receive six payments of $750 starting July 15, for a total of $4,500.
What you need to know
The monthly payments are automatic. You’ll automatically receive advance payments if:
You filed a 2019 or 2020 tax return and claimed the credit, OR
You gave information in 2020 to receive the Economic Impact Payment using the IRS non-filer tool, AND
The IRS thinks you are eligible, AND
You did not opt-out of the early payments.
Register with the IRS. If you didn’t file a 2019 or 2020 tax return but are otherwise eligible for the child tax credit, you’ll need to register with the IRS to receive the child tax credit. Click here to visit the IRS website to find out if you need to register.
Consider if you should opt out of the advance payments. Getting half of your child tax credit ahead of time may not be the right move for everyone. For example, if your 2021 income ends up higher than expected, you may need to pay back the advance payments when you file your tax return. To opt out, click here to visit the IRS’s child tax credit update portal.
Summer’s almost here, and soon most children will be on their long-awaited summer vacation. If you own or manage a business, have you thought of hiring your children, nieces, or nephews for a summer job?
If you do it right, it can be a win-win situation for everyone.
The kids will earn some money and gain valuable real-life experience in the workplace while your business will have some extra help during summer months when other staff may be on vacation. If it’s a family business, there might even be some tax advantages as well.
If your child is doing a valid job and the pay is reasonable for the work, your business can generally claim a normal tax expense for wages paid. Your child will probably pay no or very little income tax on the wages they earned. And if the child is under age 18 and your business is unincorporated, neither your child nor your business will have to pay Social Security or Medicare payroll taxes in most cases.
To make the arrangement work, follow the following guidelines:
Ensure it’s a real job. It could be a simple job, such as office filing, packing orders, or simple production activities. But it needs to be an actual job.
Treat your child like any other employee. Expect your child to work regular hours and exhibit appropriate behavior. Don’t show favoritism or you risk upsetting regular employees.
Keep proper documentation. Keep records of hours worked just as you would for any employee. If possible, pay your child using your normal payroll system and procedures.
Avoid family disputes. If the arrangement is not working, or is disrupting the business, help your child find a summer job at another business.
You hang up the phone with a huge smile on your face. You just learned that you’re getting a pretty sizeable tax refund this year. Now all you need to do is kick back and wait a week or two for the IRS to wire the money into your bank account.
This good news, however, is unfortunately short lived. The very next day you get another phone call.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but someone else has already used your Social Security number to file a tax return.”
You’re told that you’ll still be able to eventually get your nice, big tax refund, but it may be several months before you see the money. You first need to work with the IRS to resolve your case of identity theft.
There’s a secret weapon you can now use to protect your tax return – an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN).
Beginning this tax season, all taxpayers who can verify their identities are eligible to obtain an IP PIN. An IP PIN is a 6-digit PIN that offers additional protections when filing your tax return. This one-time-use number is sent to you by the IRS and must be entered on your tax return along with your Social Security number. Since the IP PIN is a one-time-use number, you will receive a new IP PIN number each year from the IRS.
If someone tries to fraudulently file a tax return using your Social Security number, they will be unable to do so without this IP PIN.
What You Need to Do
How to get an IP PIN. To obtain an IP PIN, click here to visit the IRS’s Get an IP PIN tool to opt into the IP PIN program.
If your identity has already been stolen. If someone uses your Social Security number to fraudulently file a tax return, ask for help to find out next steps for getting your identity fraud case resolved with the IRS.
Once in, tough to get out…for now. As this is the first year the IRS is making the IP PIN program available for anyone who wishes to use one, they are not ready to let you opt out once you agree to participate. They anticipate adding the opt-out feature in the near future.
How companies use your identity and what you can do to protect it.
One of the most valuable things you own is YOU. Your identity includes the basics – where you live, your age, and your gender. But it also includes your interests, who you know, and what you buy. So, do you know who has your identity? Here’s the life cycle of your identity and what to do to protect it.
It gets collected. Think about the organizations that legally collect information about your identity – your employer, government entities, insurance companies, banks, credit reporting agencies, and non-profit organizations. And then add those companies you give your identity to freely – like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and any other website or social media platform you visit.
It gets stored. Once your identity gets collected, it then needs to be stored somewhere. Storage is most often on servers or locally on a computer or mobile device. This is one of the core concerns with Tik-Tok, a Chinese-originated short video service. The concern is that a foreign entity will have stored U.S. citizen’s interests and behaviors that can help identify potential targets that can be manipulated.
It gets sold. Once information related to your identity and interests are collected, most organizations then sell it to other companies. Not only is information about your identity sometimes collected without your knowledge, this information is then monetized. Your viewing behavior can also be actively manipulated by the sites you view. So if you read articles about cats, you are going to get a lot more articles about cats and get ads that relate to cat-lover behavior. This is often so subtle, you do not realize it is happening.
It gets accessed. If your information is considered a public record, anybody can see it. Business licenses, property tax records and real estate ownership are just a few examples of personal information that anyone can access.
It gets stolen. Identity thieves are always looking for ways to access your information. Thieves either hack one of the organizations that collects your confidential information or find a way to trick you into giving them your information, with techniques such as phishing emails.
What you can do
Opt-out of providing personal information. The best place to start with protecting your identity is knowing who has access to it and asking if they really need it. Consider opting out of providing information if possible.
Be vigilant with the data you possess. While you can’t control how secure an insurance company’s servers are, you can control how secure you handle the information and documents you possess. Be on the lookout for phishing emails, verify requests for your information and don’t forget about getting rid of documents the old-fashioned way with a shredder.
Deliberately monetize your identity. Stop giving away your identity without a thought. Here’s an idea. Consider you are worth a million dollars. Then see what these services are paying you for your information and how they are using it. If this little exercise gets you to pause before signing up for a new service, then the exercise is worth it!