Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guest Blogger: 6 Reasons CPA Firms Should Consider SEO

By Brian Swanson
Flashpoint Marketing

Now that tax season has come to an end and partners can “come up for air,” the focus will soon turn back to how to drive new sales across the firm. Increasingly, accounting and CPA firms are looking for new ways to connect with their clients, prospects and referral partners. The most popular forum for this connection has been through social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and to a lesser extent, Facebook. However, there is another strategy that CPA firms should be considering called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

SEO is the process of improving the visibility of your website to search engines through keyword targeting. For example, if you are a CPA firm located in Newport News, you may want to have your website optimized for the term, “Newport News CPA”. Regardless of location and specific services offered more and more firms are turning to SEO to turn their website into a lead generation tool.

Although SEO has been a successful strategy, many still have a great deal of apprehension about the approach because so little is known about it in the accounting profession. To detail the benefits of SEO for accounting firms, in the March/April issue of Disclosures, we have provided a list of six reasons CPA firms should consider SEO.

Click here for the full article.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tax Day Deals for CPAs — and Everyone

CPAs, the end of tax season is nearly here! Celebrate the day with several deals from Virginia merchants.

Morton’s Steakhouse in Richmond is celebrating Tax Day with its annual contest. The Shockoe Slip restaurant was set to hold a drawing Friday afternoon for a CPA who will win a three-course steak and seafood dinner for two valid through April 25. For those in Northern Virginia, the Georgetown location in Washington, D.C., is accepting entries through Sunday.

Tidewater CPAs who enjoy hitting the links should contact Greenbrier Country Club in Chesapeake. The course is offering a $25 round to any CPA from April 19–21, including a cart and sandwiches at the turn. A tour and tee time is required — e-mail Liz Sanchez to book. Guests of CPAs are required to pay guest fees.

Some deals aren’t limited to CPAs, but you can take advantage of them all the same. Maggie Moo’s Ice Cream and Treatery is celebrating Tax Day on the actual federal deadline of Monday, April 18, offering a free mini ice cream sundae from 3 – 6 p.m.

Boston Market is offering free buy one, get one individual dinner plates through Monday. P.F. Chang’s is taking 15 percent off any dine-in or takeout orders on Monday. Cinnabon will give out two free classic Cinnabon bites from 6 – 8 p.m. on Monday.

McCormick & Schmick’s seafood restaurants, with locations in Northern Virginia, Virginia Beach and Washington, D.C., are offering a deal in an amount sure to draw a chuckle from CPAs. The chain is offering $10.40 Tax Relief certificates for use with $10.40 dinner and drink specials, good through Monday.

Chili’s is offering a free appetizer or dessert with the purchase of an entrée on Monday with a printable coupon. And while it’s not explicitly tax-related, children 12 and under eat free at IHOP with the purchase of an adult entrée for the month of April from 4 – 10 p.m.

And for those of you who eat at Chick-Fil-A today, be sure to keep your receipt. You can use it to get a free repeat order through April 30. (Just don’t try to redeem it on Sunday.)

Congratulations on another successful tax season!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is Your Firm One of the Best to Work For?

Are you one of the best accounting firms to work for? Accounting Today is compiling its fourth annual ranking dedicated to identifying and recognizing the best employers in the accounting profession.
Public or privately-held U.S. accounting firms with at least 15 employees are eligible for consideration. The program will rank companies in three categories:
  • Small-sized firms (15-49 employees)
  • Medium-sized firms (50-249 employees)
  • Large-sized firms (more than 250 employees)
For more information, visit http://www.bestaccountingfirmstoworkfor.com/. The deadline for participation is June 30.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

IRS Releases ‘Dirty Dozen’ Tax Scams

On Thursday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued its annual list of the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams it has seen this tax season.

“The Dirty Dozen represents the worst of the worst tax scams,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said in a statement. “Don’t fall prey to these tax scams. They may look tempting, but these fraudulent deals end up hurting people who participate in them.”

The IRS works with the Justice Department to prosecute the perpetrators of illegal scams, who frequently face heavy fines and imprisonment. Taxpayers who intentionally or unintentionally get involved in such schemes must repay all taxes due plus interest and penalties.

The “Dirty Dozen” is comprised of:

Hiding income offshore

Taxpayers have tried to avoid or evade U.S. income tax by hiding income in offshore banks and brokerage accounts or using offshore debit cards, credit cards or other options. In early February, the IRS announced a voluntary disclosure initiative designed to bring offshore money back into the U.S. tax system.

Identity theft and phishing

Identity thieves use an unsuspecting individual’s name, Social Security number, credit card number or other personal information without permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Perpetrators often use information to run up bills on victims’ credit cards, empty their bank accounts or take out loans in their name. Some identity thieves even file fraudulent tax returns in their victims’ names and collect refunds.

Phishing is a tactic used by scam artists to trick victims into revealing personal or financial information online, often involving the use of phony e-mail, websites and social media. IRS impersonation schemes are common during tax season.

Return preparer fraud

Dishonest return preparers skim a portion of their clients’ refunds, charge inflated fees for services and attract new clients with false promises. Federal courts have issued hundreds of injunctions ordering individuals to cease preparing returns, while the Department of Justice has pending complaints against dozens of others.

Filing false or misleading forms

Scam artists file false or misleading returns to claim refunds to which they are not entitled. One scheme involves a taxpayer who seeks a refund by fabricating a return and falsely claiming the corresponding amount as withholding. Often, scammers use phony information returns to legitimize erroneous refund claims.

Frivolous arguments

Promoters of tax schemes encourage people to make outlandish claims to avoid paying taxes. The IRS has released a list of frivolous legal positions that taxpayers should avoid, which have been thrown out of court.

Nontaxable Social Security benefits with exaggerated withholding credit

The IRS has identified returns where Taxpayers report nontaxable Social Security benefits with excessive withholding, which results in no income reported to the agency on the return. Filings of this type of return may result in a penalty of up to $5,000.

Abuse of charitable organizations and deductions

The misuse of tax-exempt organizations includes arrangements to improperly shield income or assets from taxation and attempts by donors to maintain control over donated assets or income from donated property. Another scheme involves the donation of non-cash assets where several organizations claim the full value for both the receipt and distribution of the same contribution.

Abusive retirement plans

The IRS seeks to identify abuses in retirement plan arrangements, such as transactions that taxpayers use to avoid the limits on contributions to individual retirement accounts (IRA) and transactions that are not properly reported as early distributions. Taxpayers should avoid shifting appreciated assets at less than market value into IRAs or companies owned by their IRAs to avoid annual contribution limits.

Disguised corporate ownership

Corporations and other entities are formed and operated in certain states for the purpose of disguising the ownership of the business or financial activity. Such entities can be used to facilitate underreporting of income, fictitious deductions, non-filing of tax returns, participating in listed transactions, money laundering and other financial crimes.

Zero wages

The filing of a phony wage- or income-related return to replace a legitimate return is used to lower the amount of taxes owed. Often, a Form 4852 or a “corrected” Form 1099 is used as a way to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. Taxpayers may also submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a payer. Another version of this scheme involves including an explanation on Form 4852 that cites statutory language on the definition of wages.

Misuse of trusts
While there are many legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, some questionable transactions promise reduction of income subject to tax, deductions for personal expenses or and reduced estate or gift taxes. Such trusts are used primarily as a means to avoid income tax liability and hide assets from creditors. Recently, private annuity trusts and foreign trusts have become popular vehicles for this scheme.

Fuel tax credit scams

Some taxpayers may be eligible for the fuel tax credit, but others are claiming the credit for nontaxable uses of fuel when their occupations or income levels make the claim unreasonable. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim.