Thursday, April 19, 2018

TAX SEASON OVER AT LAST - GLAD I WAS ORGANIZED

Well, somehow I managed to finish the tax returns for my clients and us - I never understand how it always gets done.  I actually finished early enough to work in a day trip to Lancaster, PA on Friday. 

Okay, I know sort of how I get it done - Organization!.  Well, also there are a lot less returns than there used to be.  I have an organized system for working on them.  I even print a form for each client on which I summarize the information before I start the return.  This lets me double check that I have entered the information in the program for the returns correctly.  (If, say the amount of interest income on the summary sheet does not match what is to be on the return - one of them is wrong and I have to figure out which.)  I print them out in the same manner each time.  I also make a pdf file of the client’s completed returns, any hand written info pages from the client, anything that showed withheld taxes (such as a W2) for the client, any extra pages I wrote up (sometimes there are a lot of some item and I list it on “columnar paper” - that’s the funny paper with number columns that accoutants use - and then add it up and put the total on the summary page - I also use the back of the summary pages for shorter, simpler listings), and then the summary page - front and back.  My paper copy of the client’s return is stapled together with all of these same items and put into my “to file” holder for next year.  Now, since I scan in everything I needed and did, as well as the return, after I finish the return I shred last year’s paper copy.  What?  Shred it?  Don’t I need to keep it as an accountant?  I have the scanned copy and I keep that - it takes no space other than on a computer disk.  I only keep the paper copy through the next year’s return to help me prepare the next year’s return.

The organization is important as I may be working on several returns at the same time.  Clients send me their info - but sometimes they are missing information either because they forgot to include it or they have not yet received something and wanted to get the rest of the information to me in the meantime.  By being organized and having a summary sheet to match up everything to (and checking last year’s return) I can pick up again if I need to stop and then go back to work on  a return.  Last year’s return helps (which is why I keep a paper copy for the year) as generally people have the same items year to year.  You know, if they had wages one year, chances are they do the next year.  If they had interest from the XYZ bank one year, chances are their bank account is still there the next year.  If they had his and hers statements from a broker - well, they should again next year.  If I find something missing compared to last year, unless the client let me know about it, I know to check for missing information.  

Oddly logic is important also in this organization project.  If a client has, say, a business from their home, not only will a missing amount for their business phone costs pop up when I compare this year to last, but it only makes sense that they would have some expense for using a telephone (of some sort) for their business.  A client who works online has to have Internet service and maybe some other related costs. 

Now despite the organization and being caught up enough to take a day off, I still did not finish until late Sunday afternoon.  I knew I would be able to finish and so took for the day.  I did end up with a small problem.  A client who is a good friend moved to another state and I had not a return from that state in over 30 years.  Their return was finished mostly, but I needed one tiny piece of information that I had not known I would need.  I needed to know their school district. (This is something some states require, most do not seem to based on the returns I have done.)  The name of their community matched one of the school districts, but I know that there still can still be a difference.  (I live in a community that has a school district, but since I live just into the district, my house is in the next community’s school district.)  So I had to set the return aside until I was able to contact them, they checked, and got back to me.  It was a different district, so I was glad I waited.  I prepared and filed extension forms for them and at the same time I mailed out the extension forms, I mailed their returns to them, they owed no taxes - the extensions were only to cover that they would not have the returns to mail out on time.

Now I have to catch up.  Anything that was not important was set aside.  (Please note that YOU are important as my posts went out timely.)  I set up a file folder on top of my paid bills holder and put anything that came along into the folder.  Three bills.  A stack of bank statements for us, our reenacting unit, and my embroidery guild chapter.  RV insurance policy.  You know the stuff I mean. 

Bills were timely paid while dealing with doing the returns due to them being in order in the wall holder next to my desk - and I made sure to note that of the three bills set aside, the earliest one was due to be mailed out on April 20. 

I kept on my email that was of importance.  The lesser emails - this store or that - I deleted.  I get emails from a chat group and they sat unopened until yesterday when I opened all of them and dealt with them.

Dishes and laundry were kept cleaned on schedule. 

On Monday afternoon I mailed out our returns and the items for the above client.  I then came home and wrote up my treasurers report for our reenactment unit’s meeting that night. (And went to the meeting that night.)

So yesterday, Tuesday, I finally started catching up.  I reconciled 6 bank statements - most from the 2 groups I am treasurer of.  I caught up on the chat I mentioned above and got to see photos of 2 lovely crocheted squares from one of the other “chatters” and hear about weather problems of the 2 weeks and a miniature kit one of the others was assembling. 

Today we went food shopping - yes, everything gets short shrift during the height of tax season. 

I should explain that I am the daughter of 2 accountants.  I grew up with tax season the same as I did with the seasons of the year or the holidays during the year - it was something that occurred at the same time every year.  My dad would let me “help” with the photocopying - back when this was a relatively new thing and copies came out wet and had to be hung to be dried.  No computers, of course.  So it is a part of my life.  My husband took many years to be accustomed to the idea of a period of a couple of months in which life basically stops - more so towards the end of tax season - for work.  He knows now how it will all unfold. 

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK -

If you have not filed your tax return yet, I hope that you have filed an extension and you get it prepared as soon as possible - remember it is only extension to file, not to pay and you could end up with interest and penalties if you owe money. 

If you did file your return and are getting a refund - how about using it towards paying off bills or putting it in the bank towards having savings?  If you owe money and couldn’t pay it - pay it as soon as you can to save to on penalties and interest which can add up quickly.

Start now to set up a system to be able to figure out what you will need to have for next year’s tax returns and organize a way to save the paperwork so you will have an easier time next year.  (I am going to send to IRS and our various medical related providers/insurances in a month or so for some printouts we will need to apply for a low income/senior real estate tax exemption, so when the paperwork for that arrives next August, I will be able to do the forms right away and get them done and out as I will have all that I need in advance and I already have a folder set up to keep them in.)

For those of you in other countries with different income tax systems - I am sure that you have paperwork you need also at the end of the year and need to have it organized to find it all easily.
   
As I always say when I write about taxes - this is not tax or legal advice.  Everyone is different and you need to check with whoever does your income taxes as to what YOU need to keep and what YOU need to do.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

TAX DAY PANIC SETTING IN

Well, Tax Day is coming up on Monday.  Even though this year it is on April 17 instead of the 15th , I still have work to do.  In case anyone has forgotten, I am an accountant so I am not just talking about our own return.  I should remind you - if you cannot file in time, file an extension!

In the past week and a half I have done and mailed out 4 tax returns to clients and also sent estimated taxes for 2018 to another - very estimated they are based on his 2016 returns, so it does not show his 2017 income and deductions and I have no idea of how the change in the tax law will end up affecting him.  (I did use the calculator at IRS’s website to calculate what his tax will be.)  In addition he has had a life change so his taxes will be filed totally different for 2018 than prior years.  I will adjust it when I do his return - he always gets an extension.  I have another return sitting here 99% done, but needed one tiny piece of info that I am waiting for and this will be an extension also, as the return will not get to the client until after tax date just due to the distance to the client after I finish it.   I also finished our corporation return and it is ready to be signed, paid and mailed.     

This sounds good - 4 gone, 1 almost done which will be on extension and another one also to be on extension and our corporation return done also.  Lots of time to do our return right?

Ummm, Saturday I had a call from a client whose taxes had been mailed to her the Monday before  - “Where are they?”.  I told her to wait for this past Monday and if she still did not have them, I would mail another copy by Express Mail.  She received them on Monday.  She also went crazy as her taxes were more than she anticipated.  (We don’t have a lot of money - she has none.)  I ended up spending 2 hours on Tuesday writing up a breakdown comparing her 2016 and 2017 taxes for her so she would understand.  Time I really needed.

Husband is (again) planning a day trip.  This one on Friday, so I was trying to get everything done by then, but it won’t be.  We went to the bank today to transfer money to pay our RV insurance and I transferred extra money to pay what I figured we would have to send as a first estimated payment for 2018 as we don’t earn wages/have withholding and have to pay our taxes on our own. 

Then I started our return.  I should explain that we don’t generally pay income taxes due to our low income and high deductions.  We do have to pay Social Security taxes if either or both of us made $400 or more from businesses - and we pay double what people pay on their salary as we are the employer and the employee.  We also have ACA (Obamacare) medical insurance so we have to adjust our advance credit on our return - we always seem to have received a small bit more than we are entitled to.  No problem - we paid estimated taxes based on our Social Security taxes and the advance credit we owed in the past.

I should also explain that husband is always in a panic when we have to spend/pay money that we did not anticipate - because we don’t have a lot of it. 

So last night I started working on taxes - I summarized information - and today I started doing the return. 

First problem - I used our computer bookkeeping software to figure out husband’s business income and expenses after some adjustments.  I then went to enter it into the tax program.  Uh oh! Several expenses were missing - the entire categories of expenses.  I tried several times and in frustration complained to husband - working at his computer across from me on whatever.  He came over.  With the questions he asked, I figured out that somehow some of the expenses had become unchecked to be included on the statement and that is why they were not included.  I fixed that and printed out the corrected form and entered the information into the tax program.

I went on to get the same sort of statement printed out after making some adjustments - and this time checking that everything was checked to print.  I then managed to erase some forms from the tax program related to both of these forms and had to start all over - entering his business info and mine.

I then entered our other incomes - you know, the whopping interest now being paid on bank accounts, the small dividends from the small number of shares of stock he received as boy, etc.  Going well - no problems.

I then went through our items for deductions.  While the bookkeeping software has all the items paid by check or charge cards, I have to see if I paid anything by cash and then there are charitable donations of “stuff”.  As I went to enter our medical expenses - it all went blooey!

I had to enter the ACA medical insurance into the form that calculates if one is entitled to more credit or owes part of the credit back.  This form brought me to a complete stop and I went into panic.  It seems that when one spouse goes on Medicare and the other stays on ACA - it throws it all off.  We owe back 2/3 of the advanced credit we received.  I kept looking for what I did wrong.  I was shaking.  I finally decided that I had to tell husband - we don’t have enough money in the bank to pay it.  Luckily rather than panicking he started to see what he could find out online - he was actually comforting me rather than the other way around when we have an unexpected expense.  Nope, he found no way around it.  So tomorrow we will go and take money out of his IRA to pay it, as what we had and I transferred is not enough.  After Monday when I can breathe again, I will call and stop this year’s advance credit so I don’t have the same problem again next year.   

It is important to know that other this oddity, I think ACA insurance has been great, as even without the credit it is considerably less than we were paying before it - and it has been several years since, so we would be paying even more.  It was just a bit of a shock.

So all of our papers which were neatly sorted are now strewn around my desk.  I put it all aside until tomorrow - well, I will probably do some calculations tonight after I finish this post - we donated stuff and I have to add up what it was worth.

I know that somehow the return and the two extensions for clients will be done and out on time.  I will make sure it is.  Then Monday afternoon and night I can relax and rest - oh, wait, I can’t.  We have a reenacting unit meeting that night and I have to write my Treasurer’s report and go to the meeting.  Oh, and today the electric co came and trimmed the trees - they even actually trimmed the ones around the wires that run through the back yard that never get trimmed.  We do have tree limb from a neighbor’s tree which overhangs our garage and the line from the wires in the back yard to our house - they could not touch that, but there is a unit that does so and I have to call and have them come - since this tree branch is one of the things that scares husband during storms (not only would be without electricity, he is positive the wire coming down would set the garage - which is really his wood workshop - on fire), so that is something else to do on Monday.

I also have a folder next to my desk.  It contains all the things I have not done - or I only did what absolutely needed to be done and the followup was put in the folder - over the past 2 weeks - bills to check, items to scan or copy or send out, etc.  I still have to deal with that early next
 week. 

Oh, and I as do all of this - every time I need something from the office storage closet - business checkbook, more manila envelopes... I have to move the two stacks of stuff I set aside in January to donate in February - which will still be there until early May - and mentally scream about them.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK -

No matter how well one plans, something goes wrong.  One has to roll with it and do what one can.  The extra money is upsetting, but it won’t affect our day to day lives (luckily).  The errors in the bookkeeping program printouts were found as I match this year’s taxes as they are done to last year’s so that nothing is forgotten. 

Oh, and my friend who is getting an extension, had a marvelous trip to Europe as a gift from a friend as it was cheaper to bring her along than pay the single surcharge.  That is a great friend she has!





Thursday, April 5, 2018

BALANCING LIFE AND WORK

First, let me say - we had another snow storm this past Monday - April 2.  I know that it affected many others around the country.  It of course put husband into a panic as we were hearing about 8 inches of snow - again.  Luckily what came down was not much and was mostly melted by the time we went out. 

This leads into today’s topic in the “life” part of the balance.  Husband’s birthday is this week.  He had planned (hoped?) for us to go to Lancaster for his birthday and/or the day before.  The day before is one of the farmer’s markets we go to.  To go there for same would have been fine with him.  To go on his birthday would be fine with him.  If the weather was mild I had suggested that we drive down for the farmer’s market in our RV and stay overnight (without running water as we have not yet been able to dewinterize and put the water tanks and pipes back into use, due to the cold weather that is still around) so he could be there both days.  He really loves the idea of his birthday and being a special day, so he is terribly upset when it does not work out.  Not only did we have the snowstorm on Monday, we had a terrible rainstorm today and we are due to have heavy rain on Friday and rain or snow on Saturday (which already has him in a panic) - so a trip to Lancaster on a day we would like to go is out.  His latest plan is a trip to New Jersey for dinner at Golden Corral Thursday (tomorrow) when it is not suppose to rain or snow - yet.  (For a story about another attempt to go to this restaurant -  http://wheredidileavethat.blogspot.com/2017/07).   I should say that despite huge snow storms in our general tri-state area, our immediate area has been fairly lucky with much less snow and electric outages than other parts of the general area.

When it was his birthday we ended up eating our normal lunch at Wendys and then we went to a large chain computer store just to walk around, amuse him, and take his mind off the lack of birthday fun he is having and the coming snow.  Of course, with our luck, the store was in the middle of a major redo and it was hard to find where anything he wanted to see had been moved - and the aisles so narrow that one could not really bend to see anything without hitting the other side of the aisle.  I wandered over to the laptop section to look, as I always do, what they have, just in case I need a new one quickly.  It amazes me that I can walk around and look at the laptops for 20 minutes (or more) and no one comes over.  As soon as husband comes to find me, one or another of the salesmen comes running - do they still think only men buy computers?

We could not figure where to go to dinner for his birthday which would be “special”.  We rarely take food in and had been looking at a local chicken place’s handout which was delivered to us and decided to go there.  Dinner seemed okay - and I was able to get grilled chicken instead of fried - but about 20 minutes after dinner he decided that there had been too much grease and he did not feel well.  “Great” ending to a disappointing birthday.

So life has been pushing into my trying to work. 

Now the period between, say February, and April 15 is my busy season.  I no longer have the size accounting/tax practice I used to and have less than 10 income tax returns - plus a couple of business returns for businesses that I do the books for all year.  The week before last it suddenly dawned on me that I had only received information from one client - and I had been holding theirs to work on as they were away anyway.  Most of my clients have moved away and are in other states, so I need some time after doing their returns to get the returns to them in mail so they can file them on time.  (Well, actually most of my clients have died which is why I have so few left.) Oh, and our return and our business return of course.

So I sent an email to a client in FL which is a fairly quick return who normally sends me her stuff early.  She had an accident and had not had a chance to send her info - but she was planning on getting it out to me right away.  (Hers was received the beginning of last week, done and back to her.)  I was going to email to two other clients, but heard from them.  One arrived later last week and is mostly done now, it has to have it’s state return prepared - she lives in New Mexico.  I plan to have it out by Friday so she gets it in plenty of time.  Another just mailed me their return - and I received it today.  They are local, so if it is finished close to deadline, I can always drop it off instead of mailing it, but I hope to have it done soon enough to mail out.  One client always asks for an extension and I heard from him today and will prepare his extensions and his estimates for next year and mail them to him and then do his return later in the year.  And so on.

How is life making a problem?  Well, husband is so upset about the weather and his birthday that I don’t get enough time to work on all the tax returns.   I did nothing on returns today to keep him company.  Plus I have to do some of the returns on husband’s computers due to some odd circumstances and I need to displace him from his computer.  I had hoped he would ask to warp his loom - when he has a weaving project in the living room I have the office to myself - but his upcoming project is trying something new and between the weather and his birthday, he is too nervous to warp the loom for the project.

Now, I know that somehow it will be all be done and on time.  How do I know?  It always has been before.  Our return is done last - of course - and I can always get an extension for it if we need to.  But what made this year terribly odd is the nothing until the last minute.  We had our car in for work a week or so ago and the owner commented to me that I must be jammed as the tax season is coming to an end and was shocked when I told him that I had not even started yet.  I If I had realized that nothing would come in until this late, I would have done our return instead of figuring I would have to stop in the middle of it to do a client’s return.

And of course I also have to do the housework - dinner cooked 5 nights a week (we eat out on weekends), dishes washed every meal 7 days a week, laundry, etc.  Somehow, though, it always done. 

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK -

What we must do ebbs and flows.  There are times when we have too much to do and times when we are looking for things to do, so that they will be done before we run out of time to do them.  I have learned that as a general rule, what needs to be done somehow does get done - and on time.

I grew up in a house with accountants.  I know the ebb and flow of tax season.  Nothing to do.  Then all of a sudden a rush (my rush is smaller and over a shorter time than it used to be, but it is still a rush). Then all of a sudden it over.  Since being married I learned how to deal with husband and his wants and needs during tax season - and he learned what will be going on during tax season decades ago. 

If you are having a time problem - think back to the last time you had to do something similar and how you managed to find the time to get it done.  Generally most non catastrophic problems or something similar, have happened before and will happen again.  Learn from the past to help with the future.  

Think about what you do and the ebb and flow of time - when is your time short in supply and when do you have a chance to breathe and are looking for things to do. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

ARE WE REALLY SO DIFFERENT THAN EVERYONE ELSE?

I am sure that all of you read books about organizing.  I have read lots of them over the years (decades?).  One of the reasons I started this blog is that circumstances and problems in the books seem so remote from our situation and I am guessing that others feel this way also.

For the past couple of decades husband and I go to a chain book store (which one we go to has changed several times due to store openings and closing) on Friday nights after dinner for someplace to go. I tended to wander around while he looked at what he wanted to look at.  I found the section of cartoon books and started reading them - I read quickly and would read while we were there, mark the page where I left off in my small, pocket notebook and pick up again the following week.  Then I was wandering around in the book store one night and found a book on a subject I did not know existed - organizing!  I started reading that book - one thing it did was tell me that there were people whose homes were much worse than mine. I finished it after a couple of weeks and found another - and another, etc.  Every now and then I would have read all the books on organizing and decluttering in whichever book store we were in and I would have to wait until new books were written and arrived. I did this year after year after year.  I found that while that while I did not necessarily get a lot of actual help from the books - every now then and idea worked or helped me figure out what would work - it did give me the impetus to keep working on clearing up our house.

Then something else caught my attention.  Remember we are reenactors (or living historians which is the classier name).  I found “BBC History” magazine.  I loved it and decided to subscribe.  The US price was $75 and there was no electronic version available in the US.  (Yes, I liked it that much.  I read nothing in the electronic version, but to get a subscription to this I was willing to.)  So instead of reading books on organizing I would instead read the magazine when we at the book store.  After several years of doing this, a $45 US subscription was offered this past fall and I can now read the magazine - slowly and savoring every article not rushing through reading what was of the most interest and hoping I made it to the articles of lesser interest as I had to do before at home.  (And yes, I did repurpose one of the plastic magazine holders which was leftover when I convinced husband to get rid of the collected issues of a magazine we no longer subscribe to - I am scanning in the articles he is interested in, into the computer for this magazine, but we ended up with a couple of empty magazine holders.)

Also during this period the book store we go to cut their hours back so Friday nights they close an hour earlier than before, so we don’t always get there on Fridays any longer - with the crazy weather we have had, we have not gotten there much at all this year so far.  I suggested to husband that we go there once a week in the afternoon for something to do and we did so this past weekend. 

I checked the list in my mobile phone and found which books I was in the midst of reading when I switched to reading the BBC magazine and found that one of the books was still on the shelf and I settled into a chair to continue reading from where I left off.

Now I know that our life is different as we have no children and are together and home almost the time.  Also we each have a small professional practice which is run from home (which takes much less space since I scanned all of client’s tax returns and papers other than the most recent year into the computer and he has few files) as well as small craft business we also run from home (and none of these make money).  But when I started reading this book I was reminded of how the authors tend to think that everyone’s life is the same - or very similar - in what they tell one to do.

Have you found your life to be the same as the lives being organized in books about same? 

In the past I attributed the fact that we have no children and much of our “stuff” is work related to what made the books seem lacking in universality to me. 

Everyone has sooooo much clothing.  Get rid of the excess!  Get rid of clothes you have not worn in a year (umm, warm winter, no snow - get rid of my coat and boots that I will need next year? no party this year - dump the party dress I will need again sometime?)!  Store your sports equipment like this.  Food shop like this. Make separate areas in your kitchen for each type of cooking!  Set up your children’s stuff like this!  Have a lovely neat walk in area around your door with a mirror and table (room for neither in our entry)!  Keep track of all those things you have to do - parties, work events, children’s events like this (if we have one event a year it is a lot)!            
                       
I suddenly had an epiphany reading this book as to why what the professional organizers write is so unrelated to reality as husband and I live it - they are dealing with the homes of people rich enough to pay them to come in and organize it for them!!  They are not dealing with the homes of people who could never think of paying them as they need their money to pay for the food and house and other items they need. 

What made me suddenly realize this?

The author of the book I am currently reading states that one should not buy cheap clothing as it does not last even a year.  Surprises me.  I have tee shirts that I bought for $8  more than 20 years ago - some have holes or stains and have been made into nightwear, but the others are going strong in my wardrobe.  She seems to feel that if that if one “only” spends $100 a piece of clothing it is junk.  Do any of you feel this way or spend that much on a piece of clothing? We don’t, well I guess I did, my wedding gown (with hat) was $275 custom made for me - and I thought it a waste of money at the time, but had to make my mother in law to be, happyish. (I wanted to elope.)

Along the same lines as clothing, the author in talking about finding the furniture and storage that one needs in their home says to buy “good quality furniture” and that the sort of furniture Ikea sells will not last at all - not even a year.  About half of our furniture is knock down (the sort of furniture, like Ikea’s, that one buys flat and assembles themselves), especially in the office and our studio, as well as storage pieces.  I know that some of the “kd” furniture is better quality than others and would rate Ikea’s pretty good.  When husband quit his job and we switched to trying support ourselves with our craft business and my tiny accounting practice he constantly complained that his computer desk was not enough space.  After a lot of convincing him to change - we bought our first purchases at Ikea - a small computer stand desk and a long table to put next to him (they make and L shape) so he could deal with orders and such easily. (Desk was easy to assemble - table involved much screaming and arguing as more complicated.)  11 years on they are still in great condition.  But along with my idea that the professionals are used to working with people able to afford their services, the idea that something reasonably priced - or what I would think is reasonably priced and she would consider cheap,  would work well, would not occur to her. 

So, I now know why the information in the books seems to not be realistic to me.  It is based on a life style and budget beyond ours.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK -
                       
If you read a book or article about organizing, take into account that the people the professional organizers work with and their problems are probably those of wealthier people.  Use the information to help you decide what will work for you, but if it makes no sense for you - remember that it may not be aimed at someone like you (or me).  We all have common sense - it is in us somewhere, think about what makes sense to YOU in how to do something.

I know even within our house, what works for me does not work for husband.  I like a small work space in our office - he likes a large space to spread out (as per the work table he needed from Ikea).  I like to have papers that I am likely to need oftenish in folders in a stack of folder holder trays next to me - he likes all the papers laid out so he can see all of them all the time.  It took me decades to convince him to let me sort his shirts by color, now he likes them that way.

What works for you that is not something that works for others?  I would love it if some of you would reply to the blog with your thoughts - I know you are out there.


I wish you a Happy Easter or a Happy Passover if either applies to you.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

AH, THE SECOND DAY OF SPRING

As I write this it is the March 21 - the second day of spring.  Also as I write this we are having the 4th nor’easter of the month (yes, month - not year) and the largest snowfall of the season!

But on to a more pleasant subject - income taxes.  Was that a sigh I just heard?  It is related to organizing you know.

I know that earlier in the year I offered some advice about organizing your papers to do your income taxes this year and to help you do them next year, but this is some encouragement to actually file your taxes.  I am aiming this at those of you in the U.S. as that is where I am and the taxes I know about.  Again, while I am an accountant and a tax preparer not all advice applies to everyone and you should consult someone about your personal situation and not rely on my comments.

I am going to start with past years’ tax returns.  I see you looking around as if to say - “who me?”.  Okay I am just imagining that your are doing so. 

I have a good friend - the best friend I have had other than family members.  She was always one of those last minute filers.  Then her husband was unwell and they were also moving their home of decades to another state.  She settled her husband into their new home and then had to deal with everything in the old home.  She runs a home based online business and the entire house was filled with inventory which had to be moved, plus the normal items one accumulates over decades. 

Due to all of this going on at once, she and her husband were not able to file their taxes on time for 2014 - the last year they were in their old home - and I prepared and they filed extensions so they could file later in the year.  Of course with the move, the tax items were missing and the return was never prepared.  The next year there were medical problems and again, extensions were filed, but no return filed and the same for 2016.  I recently contacted her and reminded her that if she did not file her 2014 by April 17 of this year she would lose her refund for 2014.  She managed to find the paperwork and the return is out to her for them to sign and file.  This also motivated her to find and send me the info for 2015 and 2016 which I will also prepare and send to them. 

Do you have old tax returns which have never been filed?  You really should file them.  If you are entitled to a refund you have 3 years after the due date of the return to file it and still receive the refund.  No matter what your politics are - do you really want to let the government keep money owed back to you?  In this case the 2014 return was due in April 2015, so if it was not filed by the tax date this year - 3 years after the due date - they would have lost their refund - and so will you if you have one coming and don’t file the return.

Oh, and if you don’t file a return - on time, on extension, or late - you know those rules that the government can’t come after you for taxes still owed to them after a certain period of time - it doesn’t apply if you never filed the return on which they are owed!

So file your old returns that have not been filed - believe me you will sleep better.  Then file the return due this April 17 on time.  Find the papers now and get the return done on time.  If you really can’t get it done on time - file for an extension - it is easy to do this both for IRS and separately for states that have income taxes also.  Extension is automatic for 6 months until October 15 when you file the paperwork for IRS and most if not all states with income tax also.  But then, make sure you get your paperwork together - if you owe money when you fill you will pay penalty and interest and if you are entitled to a refund - you don’t get interest on it - so get it sooner rather than later. 

In any of the above cases, if you are missing information you can request a print out of your account from IRS by telephone or with a form online or by mail to help you.       

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK -
                               
If your tax information is a mess - vow to do better this year- start collecting related papers, even if it just to throw it all in a single file folder or into the traditional tax information shoe box. (No really, if you watch old television shows you will hear the shoe box mentioned as where the tax papers are accumulated during the year. 

We all hate taxes (yes, even accountants hate dealing with their own taxes - it is the hardest return I do as I have to do the work on the return that I do for others plus I have to do the work they do to prepare for me for my own taxes)   - but they do have to be done and the sooner the better and the less complications.







Thursday, March 15, 2018

THE NOR'EASTERS CONTINUE - SO MORE ON ORGANIZING IN ADVANCE OF DISASTERS

Well, we have now had 3 nor’easters in 10 days.  Another is now due in early next week.  That’s a lot of nor’easters.  Additional today we had extremely light snow in the late afternoon.  Tomorrow I am going to Manhattan for work - it was suppose to be a completely clear day - no, now during the evening rush hour there is to be snow or rain - at just about freezing temperature and I will be driving home.  There was a time when I would not even blink at the idea of driving home in snow - now even rain if it might freeze on the road worries me.

As of last Saturday afternoon (a week after the first storm and 3 days after the second storm) there were 300,000 electric outages in the tri state area - most still out from the first storm.  And outage is not necessarily one family’s outage - a single outage can be for an apartment building (or businesses) and may actually be lots of families with no electricity.  There are still outages.

We were lucky though.  The exact spot we live in was treated very gently by all 3 storms.  The first storm had almost no snow - here.  The second two we had maybe 3 inches of snow each overnight and by the time we went out the next afternoon - it was 95% or more melted and gone. The first storm passed to the west of us - the second one to west and east of us (at the same time) and the third one passed to the east of us.  According to the news broadcasts the second two storms dropped 6+ inches of snow in our county - how all missed us we do not know and feel lucky. 

So, a bit more about suggestions to organize in advance of possible weather or other emergencies.  I know it recommended to have a gallon of water per person for 3 days minimum.  I don’t know about you, but when we tried to do this we had no place to keep the water.  We finally settled for 2- 1 gallon bottles of water stored in the basement on the top shelf of a metal shelving unit.  I would use the water for a reenactment event when time was getting close for the water to expire and then use the new water bought for the event to replace it so it would stay fresh.  So - if you do buy water - make sure you keep the water fresh. 

We also had a plastic box that we put a jar of applesauce in and some other food items - no canned meat as we know we would not eat it.  Again, make sure to use your supplies and replace them so they are fresh if needed.  We also bought a sterno stove with cans of sterno which were in the box.  It has never been used - we presume it is all still good.

As I mentioned in last week’s post - if you have babies or small children, make sure to have the food they use which does not need refrigeration as well as diapers and related items if they are still being used.  Also make sure you have spare medications for any ailments or conditions and any sanitary items you or other women in the household might need. 

We had thought much of this was overkill as we had never needed it despite nor’easters and hurricanes over the decades we have both been alive.  If one community in the area was without electricity, then others would still have electricity and one could eat out and buy supplies as needed elsewhere.  We have always been told to fill bathtubs with water which can be used for flushing toilets if there is no water or the water is not good.  We have municipal water - this has never happened so we did not bother.  Then came Hurricane Sandy.

Just about the entire Island (4 counties) was without electricity - there were a few spots here and there.  Some villages have their own electric plants - off the grid - and always have electricity - well, some of them were the places the flooding hit the worst and even they did not have electricity.  One village near my mom’s house did have electricity - she would go there once during the day to a casual type restaurant that was open and she would call us on her mobile phone, recharge it, and eat. 

Mobile phones might or might not work, by the way.  The antennas had been damaged and the remaining available was overwhelmed.  One trick was that text messages go through easier than phone calls - something my niece had figured out in an earlier problem when she was a young teenager.  She and some friends were at a mall some distance from home and she wanted her mom to not worry as they were okay (mall security had actually gotten all the kids together to be able to keep them safe) and to know where to pick them up - her mobile calls would not go through and she thought to text her mom.  So remember, texts go through sometimes even if calls do not. 

One of the county water plants had a sewage plant near it go bad - we are on one side of a major road - we had water.  If we lived on the other side of the road we would have been on the that water system - we would not have had water. 

Now, we had a certain advantage during Sandy and mostly used since then.  We were about to go away on a trip in our RV when Sandy was coming - two days after it actually.  So, we did not know what to do.  There is a lot of work setting up the RV for a trip.  I suggested to husband that we fill the water tank of the RV - if we could go, it was a major thing done to prepare, if we did not go and there was a problem with the drinking water (remember this is before it actually happened to the next area) we would have 25 gallons of clean water in the RV tanks - and if we did not go and did not need the water, it is relatively easy to let it back out.  We have continued to fill the water tanks when a storm is coming if it is coming when the tanks are not winterized.  Winterizing keeps the pipes and valves from freezing so we would not want to take the chance on same and add water to the tanks - also the water, while safe, it would smell and taste awful.

In addition after the first day and night with no electricity I figured out that we could go in the RV and watch TV - there is an antenna that lifts up and the batteries are kept charged.  Husband calculated and figured out that we could run the TV and lights - and recharge cell phones, laptops, etc. - for 2 hours on the batteries (they would last much longer but would need to be recharged) and then run the generator in the RV for an hour which would also recharge the batteries from the 2 hours of use.  Most importantly in the aftermath of Sandy when gasoline was extremely hard to get - it would only take 1/3 of a gallon of gas.  We also used the propane stove in the RV to cook.  We could not use the refrigerator as we would have had to have the batteries on all time.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK -

Okay, I have run on and bored you enough what does all this mean?

One has to plan in advance “just in case”.  Even if there has never been a problem in large storms, one never knows what will happen.  Think of who is in your household - or might seek shelter with you if you have parents, siblings or children or good friends who might need help in an emergency.  Think of what you and the others might need and try to figure out innovative ways to deal with same, in addition to the standard ways.  Have alternate ideas of what to do. 

Plan alternatives.  You never know what might happen out of the ordinary for emergencies in your area.  After Sandy all the bridges and tunnels to our Island were shut down - no way in or out except for official vehicles.  Tunnels remained flooded for some time - damage in them is still be repaired now - 6 years later. 

Hopefully you will never need what you have planned and stored - but that is much, much better than needing it and not having it.




Thursday, March 8, 2018

PREPARING FOR EMERGENCIES

As I write this we are on the tail end of nor’easter - our area is the only area still getting snow and rain, but then again we have had a lot less snow than most other areas.  For those of you who do not know what a nor’easter is, think of it as nontropical hurricane.  There is wind.  The storm is rotating so that the winds come from the north east (hence, its name).  There can be heavy rain or heavy snow - or a mix.  This is our second nor’easter this week and there is a possibility of a third one on this coming Monday (which would make 3 in 10 days).  The first one was just rain, but had wind gusts up to 70 mph in some places.  This one had wind that was not as bad, but had the snow and there is a problem as the ground is so saturated in some areas that the wind can easily take over trees whose roots were flooded by the first one.  Tens of thousands of people who lost their electricity in the first storm, still do not have their same back from then - plus the those now without electricity.  They hope to have those who are still waiting from the first storm back on electricity by Friday - a week since they lost their electricity.

Husband got through last week’s storm relatively well.  In case you don’t remember he has become “weatherphobic”.  He is terrified of our losing our electricity - and therefore heat - and of digging out from snow - due to several years of repeated huge snow storms (20 inches, two days later 20 inches, repeat) and 3 extended blackouts after hurricanes within 2 years of each other - and in one case the electricity came back on finally and the next day we had one of these nor’easters and lost it again. 

Our biggest problem with last week’s storm was that late that night he noticed a strange light on our 3 in 1 in the office that the fax has no phone line.  So I telephoned the phone company and made an appointment with their computer to have our phone line fixed.  I was lacking information from the computer call and called back the next day (all this calling being done on my mobile phone of course) to get additional information - some of which matched and some of which did not match what the computer told me - no one has to be home/someone over 18 must be home, repair will be done by 8 pm (what start time is one of the reasons I called)/the repair will be done between 8 am and 5pm and so on.  I had specifically answered NO to being texted so of course the phone company kept texting me - glad I don’t have the plan that charged me 25c a text as there have been a lot of them.  I called my mom and told her.  I emailed my sisters and the president of my embroidery chapter and told them - all told to call on my mobile.  The appointment was for - Wednesday, today.  My embroidery chapter was to meet for the month - Wednesday, today. 

We do a variety of things to prepare ahead of a big storm.  If it was summer we would have filled our RV’s water tanks, but this time of year we can not do so as pipes and valves might freeze.  It was to be warm enough both times so we did not have to worry about the pipes in our basement freezing though - or we would have plugged in an electric heater to keep them warm. 

In the old days when husband went out to work and I did the preparation (and he was not terrified as mentioned above) I would fill the gas tank in my car.  I actually did this whenever something happened or was going to happen.  After hearing of the 9-11 attacks, I filled my car tank.  Gas prices announced to go up, I filled my car tank.  Storm coming, I filled my car tank.  Husband used to laugh at me until the gas (petrol) stations either did not have gas or could not pump as they had no electricity after Hurricane Sandy - now he makes sure all 3 vehicles have enough gas in them when a storm is coming.

In the summer I tend to keep refrigerated food at close to minimal amounts so that if we lose electricity we do not lose much - we had to dump out what was in our fridge and freezer 3 times in just over a year due to hurricanes.  In the winter I tend to keep more in the house as I am concerned about snow coming and not being able to go out for food - and if it is cold enough we can put the refrigerated food in plastic boxes outside in the cold.  But, whatever we have, he goes shopping.  This time I got him to go 2 days before the storm, instead of the day before when all the rest of the panickers are shopping -lines are long and food short.  We went in and bought cans of soup - we can always use them - and a bit of “snack” as well as milk (we needed it anyway) and hot cereal (ditto).  No lines.  When we walked out he looked a bit relieved - we could probably live a month on what was in the house anyway, but if it helps him feel better...

When something like this is going to happen we plug in everything to charge it.  The lantern from our RV is brought into the house and its batteries charged (it also takes regular batteries).  Our laptops are left plugged in to charge. Our mobile phones (including my old one that I use as a PDA) are left plugged in to charge.  This time it was even more important to have the mobile phones charging as the house phone is down. 

So, we finished making ready - much of it to reassure him. 

Now, remember, the storm was coming today - today is, believe or not, the same Wednesday that the my embroidery chapter meets and the phone company was coming to fix our telephone!

Yesterday afternoon I telephoned the chapter president (I am also an officer) to ask about canceling the meeting - as schools were already canceling for today.  She was surprised to hear how a big storm was coming (as she was last month) and had planned to wait until evening to decide about the meeting.  She agreed we should cancel it and I sent out an email to the members.  I thought we should call them also (8 calls for each of us would taken care of it) but she said no - they would have the email and/or would call her or me - I reminded her that they could not call me and I hoped they would call her if they had a question.

I have mentioned that I do my laundry on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  I washed and dried all waiting laundry last night - Tuesday.  If we lose electricity we would at least have clean clothes and towels for 2 weeks.  It has not been folded, but, hey, one can fold without electricity.

This morning I woke early and dressed and went back to bed - as we were not sure when - or if (since there was to be the storm) the phone repairman would come or if he would be ringing our doorbell.  I am not a morning person and this is how I deal with anyone who is coming early or makes an “be there sometime during the day” appointment.  Later in the morning while still in bed I got still another text from the phone company asking if the problem was resolved (I got about 3 of these since the request for repair).  Husband picked up the house phone to see and there was a dial tone - a buzz on the line, but that could be do to the storm.  A short while later I got a phone call - hung up after 2 rings - also from the phone company and I called back and spoke with a nice fellow who called the house and made sure our phone was working.  One problem down - I hope.

When we got up for the day husband started to panic about what we would eat this evening if we lost the electricity.  I opened the refrigerator and took out the bread, peanut butter, “American cheese”, and jelly and put the piece of mozzarella cheese and package of cream cheese that we have on the top shelf next to where the refrigerator door opens so they could be grabbed quickly if there was no electricity.  I showed this all to him and reassured him.  I also reminded him that we have sterno and I could cook soup in the porch.  He then remembered we could cook in the RV if we needed to and felt better.  The food is still sitting next to the fridge and I will put it away before we go to bed tonight and will unplug everything sitting and charging.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK -

Make sure you are prepared for emergencies. 

If you won’t eat canned meat - don’t buy it.  Think ahead of what you might need. 

I made sure Saturday night when I refilled our pill boxes for the week that we had enough medications.    

If you have a baby make sure you have whatever you need for the baby - the same for a person who needs care in your household -even sanitary items if it might be “that time of the month”.               
I paid all bills due out before the middle of next week and transferred enough money to pay them and have some cash in the checking account and made sure we had some cash at home (not much - what we have for the week plus and extra hundred dollars) just in case.

I had finished a business tax return for a client which has to go out by next Thursday.  I go in to do her books, write the tax checks and help her sign the forms and put them in addressed envelopes to be mailed out right away when I am there.  I had not copied and assembled the returns.  It dawned on me that if there is another storm on Monday - and who knows what is coming after that - I might not get to her in time to send out the returns.  So, Monday night I copied and assembled the returns and wrote instructions - including that I plan to be there to send them out and would call her if I was not able to be there and to help her deal with them.  They went out in yesterday’s mail to her.  I will call tomorrow to check with her about it. 

Think about what you and your family needs if you can’t go out or have no electricity for a few days ahead of time so you know what to do and you don’t panic if something is coming.