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CPAs Reveal 9 Tips for Filing Your Taxes

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Is it already time to start thinking about taxes? Every year, filing taxes is an unfortunate but necessary item on the to-do list. But getting your taxes done doesn’t have to be a horribly arduous, taxing (pun intended) experience. Here are nine tips for getting the job done, courtesy of some friendly Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and tax experts.

1. COME PREPARED WITH ALL YOUR DOCUMENTS.

Before you meet with your CPA, make sure you have all your documents. Take the time to locate and organize any W-2s, 1099s, and other tax forms you’ve accumulated during the past year. “I love seeing clients who bring in their tax documents well organized in a ready to review format. It makes my job much easier and saves time and money,” says Michael Yoon, a Senior Accounting & Tax Associate in Long Beach, California.

If you choose to forgo a CPA and use a discount preparer like H&R Block or tax software like TurboTax, organize all your documents in one place before you begin. Yoon adds that, because the burden of proof falls on the taxpayer, you should “maintain good documentation that can prove almost every number that goes on your return, for at least four years.” That way, if you’re ever audited (knock on wood), you’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle.

2. DON’T LIE TO YOUR CPA.

Your CPA is there to help you, so don’t lie to him or her. Be upfront about your finances. Hiding an outstanding balance you have with the IRS or underreporting your income is a bad idea (and illegal). 

Melanie Lauridsen, the Technical Manager for Taxation at the American Institute of CPAs, writes that some people lie to their CPAs because they’re embarrassed about money they earned by gambling or medical expenses they’ve incurred. Although any discussion you have with your CPA, like your therapist or doctor, is confidential, it’s not privileged information. So, unlike attorney-client privilege, your CPA, if subpoenaed, is legally required to reveal any information you’ve shared. 

3. MAJOR LIFE CHANGES CAN HAVE BIG TAX CONSEQUENCES.

Where you are in your life has bearing on your taxes. The year you take on a second job, get married, have a child, or retire, your tax situation could become more complicated than it previously had been. Andrew, a CPA in Los Angeles, says that discount preparers “are fine, but if your financial situation is somewhat complex, you should see a CPA or tax professional who can give you personalized attention.” 

If you decide to seek professional help, you should set up your meeting with your CPA between January and early March—but the earlier the better.

4. IF THE IRS INITIATES CONTACT WITH YOU BY PHONE OR EMAIL, BEWARE OF A SCAM.

The IRS is a big fan of snail mail, so it will always send you a letter before contacting you any other way. If you receive a call or email from anyone claiming to be with the IRS, be wary of a possible scam. Andrew recalls receiving a phone call last year from a local area code, with a man telling him that the IRS was threatening him with a major lawsuit. “I knew it was clearly a scam since I’m a CPA, but the call was convincing enough that I can understand how an older person might be fooled,” Andrew says.

5. EVEN THE IRS MAKES MISTAKES…

The technology the IRS uses is not exactly cutting edge. So, if you get a letter from the IRS stating that you owe a wildly inaccurate amount of money—like, $20,000—don’t panic. You didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. Just mail the IRS a letter explaining that you paid your taxes in full (with supporting documentation as proof), and you should be good to go. 

A. Kitchin, a Tax Senior Associate and CPA, advises that people “always print tax payment confirmations as proof of payment.” Having a paper trail of these confirmations will save you a lot of stress should the IRS claim not to have received your payment. Even the IRS makes mistakes and sends automatic letters about issues that have already been dealt with.

6. …BUT THE IRS WILL CATCH UP WITH YOU EVENTUALLY.

The IRS’s goal is not to throw you in prison for tax fraud—it’s to collect the most tax revenue. If you’re really behind in your tax payments, contact the IRS to ask if you can do an installment agreement (ask about Form 9465). If you’re reasonable with the IRS, the IRS will be reasonable with you. 

7. IF YOU’RE SELF-EMPLOYED, BE METICULOUS ABOUT TRACKING YOUR BUSINESS-RELATED EXPENSES.

If you’re self-employed, you may be able to deduct home office expenses (a portion of your rent or utilities), car expenses (if you use a car for work), or health insurance, reducing the total amount of taxes you owe. Emily Kingan, an Enrolled Agent with the IRS and owner of Math LLC, stresses the importance of keeping good track of receipts. “Business-related expenses reduce your income dollar for dollar in most cases. Whether it is a business bank account, credit card, or simply a shoe box, keep all business-related spending and receipts in one place.” 

Kingan adds that it can be incredibly time consuming to track all your expenses if you use multiple accounts or mix business purchases with personal spending. “I think the best way to keep track is by having one bank account or credit card account that you use for all business spending. If you use cash for business spending, keep a logbook or a special place for your receipts.” 

8. YOU MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO BENEFIT FROM THOSE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS TO CHARITY.

Just because a non-profit organization tells you that your donation is tax-deductible, it doesn't mean you'll necessarily be able to deduct it on your taxes. “While donations are technically tax-deductible, many young adults are not able to get any benefit from these donations in reality,” says Yoon.

When you file your taxes, you can either take the standard deduction, which is a lump sum reduction in your adjusted gross income, or you can itemize your deductions. Itemized deductions are things like mortgage interest, property tax payments, and charitable donations. Because most young people don’t own homes or have a high enough income, they might not see tax benefits from the charitable donations they give.

9. TECHNICALLY, APRIL 15 IS NOT THE FINAL DEADLINE TO FILE YOUR TAXES.

If you don’t think you can get your taxes done in time, the IRS will give you an automatic six month extension—until October 15—to actually file your taxes. The catch is that you must pay an estimate of what you think you owe by April 15. “Taxpayers have the option to extend their filing deadline to October 15 (or the following Monday if the fifteenth falls on a weekend). This is an extension to file, not an extension to pay,” cautions Kitchin. 

For most people, it’s simpler to pay and file their taxes at the same time, but people with complicated tax situations (like beneficiaries of some trusts who may not receive the proper tax forms until after April 15) have the option to file later.

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Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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14 Things You Owned in the '70s That are Worth a Fortune Now
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DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

From old toys and housewares to books and records, these pieces of '70s memorabilia have aged (and increased in value) like fine wine.

1. THE LORD OF THE RINGS KNICKERBOCKER PLAYSET

A vintage ringwraith toy from Lord of the Rings by Knickerbocker toys, still on the yellow blister pack.

eBay user butamaru999

Peter Jackson wasn’t the first one to take a crack at J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In 1978, Ralph Bakshi directed an animated version with the voices of John Hurt, William Squire, and Anthony Daniels, among others. There was a toy promotion to go along with the movie, of course, and though the action figures look a little cheap by today’s standards, they’re anything but. According to eBay, a complete set can sell for up to $17,000.

2. DAVID BOWIE’S DIAMOND DOGS ALBUM

Photo of David Bowie
RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images

Check your old vinyl! In 1974, David Bowie released the Diamond Dogs LP, which featured artwork of a cartoonish Bowie-dog. The top half of the creature was Bowie, while the bottom half was all canine—including its genitals. Right before the album was released, RCA decided to avoid controversy and had the artwork retouched to remove the offending parts. However, some enterprising employees were able to snag some of the originals, and in 2003, one of them sold for $3550.

3. LUKE SKYWALKER ACTION FIGURE

Luke Skywalker action figure still in the Kenner packaging from the 1970s.
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

OK, you probably didn’t own this exact Luke Skywalker action figure with double-telescoping lightsaber when you were a kid, because there are only 20 known toys in existence. If you are one of the lucky few, though, get thyself to Sotheby’s: In 2015, this 1978 Kenner toy sold for a whopping $25,000.

Even if you don’t own this ultra-rare figure, don’t despair: Your old Star Wars toys could still be worth hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars.

4. THE SEX PISTOLS’S “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN”/“NO FEELINGS” 45

The Sex Pistols
Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The infamously offensive Sex Pistols signed to A&M Records in 1977—and were dropped by the label exactly six days later for proving to be just too much to handle. But in those six days, 25,000 copies of the band’s “God Save the Queen” single had already been pressed. Just nine copies have surfaced over the years, making the rare records worth a pretty penny: In 2003, a copy with the paper sleeve sold for £13,000 (about $17,600).

5. WALK LIVELY STEFFIE BARBIE

Walk Lively Steffie doll

Image courtesy of bklyngrl44 on eBay

Remember Barbie’s friend from the 1970s, Steffie? Not many people do—which may be why a mint condition Walk Lively Steffie doll that's still in its box can be worth nearly $800.

6. THE GARDEN OF ABDUL GASAZI BY CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG

A copy of The Garden of Abdul Gasazi

Your book collection provides you with hours of entertainment, and can also be a great source of extra income. A first edition of The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, a 1979 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, is worth nearly $1000 (if it's in “Fine” condition). If you have a collection of Van Allsburg first editions, by the way, you’re doing well: A first edition of Jumanji from 1981 is worth hundreds, if not thousands, and a signed first edition of The Polar Express from 1985 is worth $2500.

7. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE BY GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ

The green, floral, leafy cover of the first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Image courtesy of cnos.mich on eBay

Who knew an exclamation point was worth so much? In some early copies of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the first paragraph of the dust jacket blurb featured an exclamation point instead of a period. That little mistake makes a first edition with the exclamation point worth $740. (Even the version with the intended period is worth some cash, though—about $400.)

8. LIMITED EDITION VERSION OF THE FIRST STAR WARS COMIC BOOK

Star Wars Comic Book
Image courtesy of heisman1944 via eBay

Here’s a riddle for you: When is five cents worth $7500? Answer: When rare Star Wars memorabilia is involved. When the first issue of the Star Wars comic book was released in 1977, Marvel published about 1500 limited edition copies for 35 cents instead of the usual 30 cents. Spending that extra nickel 40 years ago is worth more than $7000 today—and there’s currently one on eBay being sold for more than $10,000.

9. REMCO BATMAN UTILITY BELT

A vintage Batman utility belt stilli n packaging, with plastic handcuffs, decoders, and watch.

This Remco Batman Utility Belt from the 1970s came with all of the bells and whistles: a communicator, decoder glasses, a toy watch, handcuffs, a Gotham City decoder map, a secret identity card, and a secret message, among other things. Not only is it cool, that’s a lot of little pieces to keep track of, so you can see why a complete set in decent condition sells for more than $3000.

10. ALPINE MAN PEZ DISPENSER

Image courtesy of tobor1010 via eBay

To commemorate the 1972 Olympics in Munich, PEZ released the “Alpine Man” Pez Dispenser. There were two variants—a mustachioed figure in a green Alpine hat and a clean-shaven one wearing a brown cap. The green hat can be worth up to $3000; the brown one is worth “considerably more,” but is apparently so extremely rare that no pricing seems to actually exist.

11. ORIGINAL MEGO ROBIN ACTION FIGURE

Tom Simpson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Mego company doesn’t produce action figures anymore—it went bankrupt in 1982—but for a decade, it was considered “The World’s Greatest Action Figure Company.” Many of their figures are worth a nice chunk of change today, but the original Robin the Boy Wonder figure from 1973 takes the cake. The first version came with a removable mask, while later versions came with the mask painted on. As you might imagine, that teeny little piece of cloth was often lost by the kids who played with the toy, so finding a Robin in good condition with the mask is pretty rare; one sold for $7357.

12. IKEA FURNITURE

A car topped with boxes of IKEA furniture
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IKEA has become known for their affordable furniture and housewares, but certain vintage pieces will set you back a bit more than a $9.99 LACK table. Today, a teak bookshelf and cabinet combo from the 1970s can fetch up to $3000—surely a good return on investment.

13. PYREX DISHES

A green Pyrex mixing bowl with red ribbons and holly on it, sitting on top of three pyrex collecting books.

Image courtesy of qualityqueen62 via eBay

Your parents and grandparents shouldn't have passed those Pyrex dishes down—they're worth a lot of dough these days. Whole sets of certain patterns or colors can go for thousands of dollars, but even single bowls can fetch hundreds, like the above Christmas bowl from the early '70s, which is going for $370 on eBay.

14. THE ADDAMS FAMILY LUNCHBOX

They’re creepy and they’re kooky ... and they’re worth a lot of money. This metal lunchbox by King Seeley depicts the cartoon version of everyone’s favorite ooky sitcom family. A good-condition set containing the lunchbox and matching thermos can be worth up to $325.

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