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Accounting and Tax Planning

Make the Right Choice

The Internal Revenue Service today reminds taxpayers that carefully choosing a tax professional to prepare a tax return is vital to ensuring that their personal and financial information is safe, secure, and treated with care.

Most tax-return preparers provide honest, high-quality service. But some may cause harm through fraud, identity theft, and other scams. It is important for taxpayers to understand who they’re choosing and what important questions to ask when hiring an individual or firm to prepare their tax return.

Another reason to choose a tax preparer carefully is because taxpayers are ultimately legally responsible for all the information on their income tax return, regardless of who prepares it.

The IRS has put together a directory of federal tax-return preparers with credentials and select qualifications (irs.treasury.gov/rpo/rpo.jsf) to help individuals find a tax pro that meets high standards. There is also a page at irs.gov for choosing a tax professional that can help guide taxpayers in making a good choice, including selecting someone affiliated with a recognized national tax association. There are different kinds of tax professionals, and a taxpayer’s needs will help determine which kind of preparer is best for them.


Red Flags to Watch Out For

There are warning signs that can help steer taxpayers away from unscrupulous tax-return preparers. For instance, not signing a tax return is a red flag that a paid preparer is likely not to be trusted. They may be looking to make a quick profit by promising a big refund or charging fees based on the size of the refund.

These unscrupulous ‘ghost’ preparers often print the return and have the taxpayer sign and mail it to the IRS. For electronically filed returns, a ghost preparer will prepare the tax return but refuse to digitally sign it as the paid preparer. Taxpayers should avoid this type of unethical preparer.

In addition, taxpayers should always choose a tax professional with a valid preparer tax identification number (PTIN). By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or assists in preparing federal tax returns must have a valid PTIN. Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on any tax return they prepare.


Other Tips

Here are a few other tips to consider when choosing a tax return preparer:

• Look for a preparer who’s available year-round. If questions come up about a tax return, taxpayers may need to contact the preparer after the filing season is over.

• Review the preparer’s history. Check the Better Business Bureau website for information about the preparer. Look for disciplinary actions and the license status for credentialed preparers. For CPAs, check the State Board of Accountancy’s website, and for attorneys, check with the State Bar Assoc. For enrolled agents, go to irs.gov and search for ‘verify enrolled agent status’ or check the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers.

• Ask about service fees. Taxpayers should avoid tax-return preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund or who offer to deposit all or part of the refund into their own financial accounts. Be wary of tax-return preparers who claim they can get larger refunds than their competitors.

• Find an authorized IRS e-file provider. They are qualified to prepare, transmit, and process electronically filed returns. The IRS issues most refunds in fewer than 21 days for taxpayers who file electronically and choose direct deposit.

• Provide records and receipts. Good preparers ask to see these documents. They’ll also ask questions to determine the client’s total income, deductions, tax credits, and other items. Do not hire a preparer who e-files a tax return using a pay stub instead of a Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.

• Understand the preparer’s credentials and qualifications. Attorneys, CPAs, and enrolled agents can represent any client before the IRS in any situation. Annual Filing Season Program participants may represent taxpayers in limited situations if they prepared and signed the tax return.

• Never sign a blank or incomplete return. Taxpayers are responsible for filing a complete and correct tax return.

• Review the tax return before signing it. Be sure to ask questions if something is not clear or appears inaccurate. Any refund should go directly to the taxpayer — not into the preparer’s bank account. Review the routing and bank-account numbers on the completed return and make sure they are accurate.

• Taxpayers can report preparer misconduct to the IRS using Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer (www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14157.pdf). If a taxpayer suspects a tax-return preparer filed or changed their tax return without their consent, they should file Form 14157-A, Tax Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit (www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14157a.pdf).


Extended Hours

In addition to this advice, the IRS also announced nearly 250 IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers around the country will extend their weekly office hours to give taxpayers additional time to get the help they need during the filing season. The extended office hours will continue through Tuesday, April 16.

The Springfield office, located at 1550 Main St., offers extended hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For questions about available services or hours of operation, call (413) 788-0284.

The expanded hours at the assistance centers reflect funding and staffing made possible under the Inflation Reduction Act, which is being used across the IRS to improve taxpayer service, add new technology and tools, as well as help tax-compliance efforts.

“This is another example of how additional IRS resources are helping taxpayers across the country,” IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said. “Adding extra hours provide more options for hardworking taxpayers to get help with their tax issues. The IRS is continuing to work hard both during the upcoming tax season and throughout the year to find ways to make it easier for people to interact with us.”

Senior Planning

Choosing the Right Level of Care Begins with Understanding All of Them

By the Massachusetts Senior Care Assoc.

Massachusetts has a broad array of care options and a national reputation for quality. Understanding the different types of healthcare services offered by providers is the first step to determining which care option best fits your needs.

Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation

Nursing facilities provide both short- and long-term care services for older adults and people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

Of the more than 120,000 people Massachusetts Senior Care Assoc. members care for annually, close to two-thirds return to their community within one month after a brief, post-hospital, rehabilitative stay. With ever-shortening hospital stays, skilled-nursing facilities have become the preferred choice for discharged hospital patients who need short-term transitional care before they can return safely to their homes. Those who cannot live safely and comfortably at home receive precisely the care and community they need as long term residents of Massachusetts’ nursing and rehabilitative facilities.

Short-term care is available for individuals who have been hospitalized and need a period of medical monitoring and/or rehabilitation before returning home. Often referred to as subacute or transitional care, this kind of care can be provided in a free-standing nursing facility or a hospital-based skilled-nursing unit. Most stays are for fewer than 30 days, after which the patient usually returns home. This kind of care can be beneficial after a surgery or a prolonged hospitalization, or for rehabilitation following a stroke or other serious medical event.

Long-term care is available for people who are unable to live safely and comfortably at home, require 24-hour nursing care and support, and need help with many of the activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing, toileting and bathing. When considering long-term nursing facility care, it is important to discuss the issue thoroughly with the person involved and his or her personal physician before the situation becomes an emergency. Finding the right facility can take time, and since some facilities have waiting lists, it helps to plan ahead so space will be available when it is needed.

Among the services provided are 24-hour nursing care; rehabilitative care such as physical, occupational, speech, and respiratory therapy; and help with personal care such as eating, dressing, toileting, and bathing. In addition, a growing number of nursing facilities provide post-operative rehabilitative care, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, Alzheimer’s/dementia specialty care, respite care, restorative and residential care for people with multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders, pediatric specialty care, and acquired brain-injury specialty care.

Assisted Living

Assisted-living residences are for older people who no longer feel comfortable or safe living alone, but do not need 24-hour nursing and medical care. While assisted-living residences monitor the well-being of their residents and help coordinate health services by licensed outside agencies or providers, they do not provide these services directly and are not designed for people with serious medical needs. State law prohibits assisted-living residences from admitting or retaining individuals who need skilled nursing care for more than 90 days in a 12-month period.

Assisted living residences combine apartment-like living with a variety of support services, including meals, assistance with activities of daily living such as bathing and dressing, on-site staff to respond to emergencies and help with medications, housekeeping and laundry services, social and recreational programs, and 24-hour security.

Assisted-living residences have one- or two-bedroom units with private bathrooms and entry doors that lock. Some units may also have a living or sitting room. In addition to a group dining area, assisted-living residences typically provide either a private kitchenette or access to a communal cooking area. Units are usually furnished with a resident’s personal belongings and furniture.

Continuing-care Retirement Community

Continuing-care retirement communities (CCRCs) combine independent retirement housing, assisted-living services, and nursing facility care, usually on the same campus, to allow elders to have their current and future care needs met at one location. As a senior’s needs change, he or she can choose from among the services and care settings available.

CCRCs are another option for older people who no longer want the responsibility of caring for a house and want the peace of mind of knowing that they have planned for their future long-term-care needs. Most CCRCs require incoming residents to be fully capable of independent living upon entering, or may impose conditions based on certain pre-existing conditions. However, some CCRCs allow residents to enter their assisted-living units directly from the community.

CCRCs also provide assisted-living services (either in separate assisted-living units or to individuals residing in the independent living units) and 24-hour nursing-facility care.

Most independent-living units in a CCRC consist of one or two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a full bathroom. CCRCs typically have a number of common areas, including one or more resident dining rooms, and many also have libraries, hair salons, convenience stores, exercise and game rooms, and banking facilities.

Other Care Options

• Adult day health programs, also known as adult day care centers, provide supervision, recreation, health, and personal-care services during the day to older people so that family caregivers can work or attend to other responsibilities. All adult day health programs must meet minimum standards set by the Massachusetts Medicaid program, also known as MassHealth. Adult day health programs are provided either on a private pay basis or through Medicaid.

• Adult foster-care programs match elders who are no longer able to live alone with families willing to provide room and board and personal care. Families are paid a stipend by MassHealth for elders who are Medicaid-eligible. Some adult foster-care funding is also available to pay for assisted-living services for people who are clinically and financially eligible through the state’s Group Adult Foster Care Program.

• Congregate housing facilities provide a living arrangement in which elders have a private bedroom and share common space with others. Support services are usually available to help elders maintain their independence. Most congregate housing sites are sponsored by local municipal housing authorities or nonprofit organizations. Public congregate housing is partially subsidized by the state or federal government.

• Home-based services help individuals live independently at home and are provided by home health agencies, visiting nurse associations, and state-funded home-care corporations (called aging services access points, or ASAPs). They include homemaker services to maintain household functioning, including help with home management, shopping, meal preparation, and light housekeeping; and personal care, including bathing, dressing, grooming, and toileting. They may also provide health services; home health aides provide basic healthcare services such as personal care, recording temperatures and checking pulses, changing simple bandages, and assisting with self-administered medications, while licensed nurses and therapists provide skilled nursing care and therapeutic services.

• Hospice care serves patients with a life-threatening illness and a life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice care may be provided in the home, nursing facility, or hospital, and the hospice team works cooperatively with the patient, family, physician, and other caregivers to provide specialized care that is focused on comfort, not cure. The hospice team includes the patient’s physician, hospice medical director, registered nurses, home health aides, licensed social worker, bereavement counselor, pastoral counselor, rehabilitation therapists, and volunteers.

• Resident Care Facilities (RCFs), also known as rest homes, provide housing, meals, 24-hour supervision, administration of medications, and personal care to individuals who do not routinely require nursing or medical care.

• Respite care is short-term care provided at home, in a nursing facility, or in an assisted-living residence to give families caring for elders at home some time off from their caregiving responsibilities.

• Finally, independent-living senior communities are an option if you want to live on your own, but don’t want to have all the chores that go along with having a home. It’s also a great option for people who want to live in a community with other seniors. Depending on the community you choose, you can rent an apartment either at the market rate or, if your income level applies, a lower rate. They are often specially designed with things like railings in bathrooms or power outlets higher up on the wall. They may also offer a 24-hour emergency call service if residents need help right away. Some facilities may also offer services like meals, transportation, social activities, and other programs.