As a result of the economic difficulties during the COVID pandemic, many Americans received government stimulus checks. These payments were designed to minimize or avoid financial difficulties.
Recipients of the first two stimulus checks used the majority of funds for daily living expenses with food and utilities as the top items. Those who received the third check had some significant changes in their use of the money. An increased portion was used to pay off debt and for savings, including money set aside for an emergency fund. This trend indicated that many households experienced improved financial stability. However, among lower-income groups the third stimulus check was still needed for monthly bills and day-to-day essentials.
People continue to be in need of a cash cushion. Financial advisors recommend using money from stimulus checks or tax refunds to pay off high-interest debt and for an increased savings account. While many households have are better off than they’ve ever been and improving further, millions of others face ongoing financial hardship.
For additional information on stimulus check use, click here.
- Have students talk to those who received stimulus checks to obtain information how the money was used.
- Have students describe a research system that might be used to determine the spending, saving, investing, and credit use habits of various groups of consumers.
- What are reasons people are unable or unwilling to practice wise money management?
- Describe actions that might be taken to prepare for unexpected financial difficulties.
Each year, the IRS warns taxpayers about the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams. Some of these cons show up on the list each year, while others are new. Tax scams are most common during tax season or times of crisis. The COVID pandemic created opportunities to try steal money and information from taxpayers.
Taxpayers are reminded to beware of these ongoing swindles that include:
- Phishing involves fake emails or websites to obtain personal information. The IRS never initiates contact by email. Do not click on links claiming to be from the IRS. Also be wary of keywords, such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” and “Stimulus.”
- Fake charities are a reoccurring concern. Criminals often take advantage of natural disasters and other situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to set up a phony charity, and may even claim to be working with the IRS to help victims.
- Threatening impersonator phone calls claim to be collecting money for the IRS. The scammer uses fear and urgency to demand immediate payment. Senior citizens and their caregivers should be especially alert for this type of fraud.
- Unscrupulous return preparers, called “ghost” preparers, expose their clients to serious filing mistakes and tax fraud. Ghost preparers do not sign the tax returns they prepare, as required by law. While most tax professionals provide honest service, others should be avoided.
- Fake payments with repayment demands involve scammers tricking taxpayers into sending them their refund. The criminal steals or obtains personal data to file a bogus tax return. Once the money is in the bank account, the criminal poses as an IRS employee to request that the money be returned immediately, perhaps in the form of gift cards.
Some recent tax scams that have surfaced include
- Offer-in-compromise mills involves misleading tax debt resolution companies exaggerating their ability to settle tax debts for “pennies on the dollar.” The offer requires that taxpayers meet certain legal requirements. Dishonest businesses enroll unqualified candidates to collect hefty fees from taxpayers already deep in debt.
- Economic impact payment or refund theft, in which criminals filed false tax returns or bogus information with the IRS to redirect refunds to a wrong address or bank account.
- Social media scams may use COVID-19 to trick people. The scammer uses information on social media to send emails pretending to be a family member, friend, or co-worker, which can result in tax-related identity theft.
- Ransomware takes advantage of human and technical weaknesses to infect a computer, network, or server. Invasive software (malware) can track keystrokes and other computer activity. An infected computer can allow access to personal and financial data. Or, a ransom request appears in a pop-up window.
To avoid these scams: (1) be aware of potential cons; (2) check with the IRS or your bank if something is suspicious; (3) keep your computer system and passwords secure, and (4) avoid deals that are “too good to be true.”
For additional information on tax scams, click here.
- Have students describe these situations to other people, and ask them what actions they might take to avoid these scams.
- Have students create a video or visual presentation to warn others of these potential scams.
- Why do some people get taken by tax scams and other frauds?
- Describe actions that might be taken to avoid various tax scams.
Hacks – skills and shortcuts – are used in many life settings. For personal finance, here are some tips that can help stop money leakages:
- Only use credit cards with financial advantages, such as cashback; always pay off credit card balances on time.
- Making weekly payments, instead of monthly, helps to save interest and reduces the amount owed faster.
- Pay off loans/debts with the highest interest rates first.
- You might consider paying off a debt with another loan if the new loan has a much lower interest rate.
- When shopping online, leave the item in the cart for several days or weeks; the price may be lower or you may decide you don’t really need the item.
- Consider bulk purchases with friends to qualify for free shipping.
- Take advantage of seasonal sales.
- Unsubscribe from email offers.
- Avoid household clutter to save time and money.
- Cook your own meals; online videos and recipes offer fast, easy meals.
- Talk to others for investment advice.
For additional information on personal finance hacks, click here.
- Have students tell their personal experience with tech, travel, or personal finance hacks.
- Have students create a video to dramatize various personal finance hacks.
- How would you decide if a personal hack will be of value to you?
- Describe actions that might be used to communicate personal finance hacks to others.
Each year, more than 1.5 million taxpayers obtain refund anticipation loans (RALs). This year, the number may be higher as a result of the government shutdown. While, RALs provide faster access to your money, they come with high fees and should only be used as a last resort. These “cash advances” are a potential for scams; before using these loans, take these actions:
- Assess the cost. While some national tax chains promote this service as a “free” cash advance, fees may apply for applying for the advance, checking your credit, and transferring the money to you. Costs for your refund advance check range from $29 to $65. If your refund is on a prepaid debit card, there will likely be additional fees.
- Beware of loan terms based on timing. Additional charges may occur if your refund is delayed.
- Compare other options. Seek less expensive, small-dollar, short-term loans from a community bank or credit union, or a zero-percent credit card. A $35 charge to defer a $350 tax preparation fee for two weeks has an APR of 174 percent.
- To avoid late fees for bills, contact your creditors. Utility companies and medical providers may offer no-cost extensions or no-cost payment plans.
Always be sure you are doing business with a reputable tax preparer. Check credentials and references. Avoid tax preparers who charge fees based your refund amount, or who deposit your refund in their bank account. Another fraudulent activity is filing false information to increase the amount of the refund.
For additional information on tax refund advances, click here.
- Have students search online for costs for refund anticipation loans.
- Have students prepare a video presentation on avoiding refund anticipation loans.
- What advice would you give a person planning to obtain a refund anticipation loan?
- How might community organizations and government agencies assist people who are considering a refund anticipation loan?
“On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”
Fact: Most Americans wonder how the current wave of tax reform will affect them. This article by Kimberly Amadeo summarizes how the Act changes the amount of income tax that both individuals and businesses pay.
Significant changes in the Act for individuals include
- Lower tax rates (highest rate in 2017 was 39.6 percent drops to 37 percent in 2018) could mean an increase in the amount individuals take home each payday.
- Personal exemptions ($4,150 in 2017) per person are eliminated.
- The standard deduction almost doubles for a single person ($6,350 in 2017) to $12,000. For married and joint filers the standard deduction ($12,700 in 2017) is now $24,000.
- More taxpayers will opt to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing deductions.
- For those taxpayers who choose to itemize, many itemized deductions that were previously allowed have been eliminated.
- Taxpayers who itemize can still deduct charitable contributions, most mortgage interest, retirement savings, and student loan interest.
- Taxpayers who itemize can still deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes.
For businesses, the largest and most signification change is lowering the maximum corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent beginning in 2018.
The article does provides more specific information about how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act affects both individuals and businesses.
For more information, click here.
You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to
- Discuss how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will affect a single college student or a typical American family.
- Explore how lower corporate taxes could impact economic growth, worker salaries, unemployment rates, job creation, and other factors that impact both the nation and individuals.
- Given the information contained in this article and other reports, do you think the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is good for you? Explain your answer.
- For an individual, what effect does lower taxes have on your spending, savings and investments, and retirement planning?
Natural disasters create a need for unique actions. After physical safety is assured, some of the activities related to finances include:
- contacting your insurance company – request a copy of your policy, take photos and videos to document your claim.
- registering for assistance at DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.
- talking with your mortgage lender and credit card companies since you may not be able to make upcoming payments on time.
- contacting utility companies to suspend service if you will not be living in your home due to damage.
Beware of various scams that surface after natural disasters. These frauds can include phony repairs, deceptive contractors, requiring up-front fees, fake charities, and misrepresenting oneself as an insurance company agent or government representative to obtain personal information.
Assistance for the personal and financial chaos created by a hurricane or other natural disaster may be obtained from these organizations:
For additional information on financial actions for disasters, click here.
- Have students role play situations that might require actions such as those described in this article.
- Have students create a video with suggestions to take when encountering a natural disaster.
- How might the advice offered in this article be communicated to people who are victims of a natural disaster?
- Describe common mistakes people might make when encountering a natural disaster.
Recently, there have been numerous calls from the “IRS” threatening you with lawsuits or jail sentences unless you pay up immediately. Don’t be a victim. The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by e-mail, text message or social media channels to request personal or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.
Remember, the IRS will never
- Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first sending you a bill.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for a credit or debit card number over the phone.
- Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
For more information,click here.
- Ask students if they have received a call from the “IRS” impersonators. If so, what was their response?
- Have students visit irs.gov and click on Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts to learn what the agency is doing to stop these annoying calls.
- What should do if you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you know you don’t owe any taxes?
- Who should you contact to report such calls from the imposters?
Categories: Chapter 3, Taxes
You get a call from a scammer pretending to be with the IRS, threatening you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay taxes you owe right now. You’re told to wire the money or put it on a prepaid debit card. The scammer might threaten to deport you or say you’ll lose your driver’s license. Some scammers even know your Social Security number, and they fake caller ID so you think it really is the IRS calling. But it’s all a lie. If you send the money, it’s gone.
The Federal Trade Commission advises that if you get illegal sales calls, robocalls, or fake IRS calls, it’s best to ignore them. Don’t interact in any way. Don’t press buttons to be taken off the call list or talk to a live person or call back. When you have a tax problem, the IRS will first contact you by mail. The IRS won’t ask you to wire money, pay with a prepaid debit card, or share your credit card information over the phone. If you get fake calls, file a complaint with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov. You also can file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. If you’re concerned there’s a real tax problem, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
For more information, click here.
- Ask students to make a list of steps that taxpayers can take to protect themselves from tax scammers.
- Why do scammers prey on the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English?
- What can the IRS and other governmental agencies do to catch and punish criminals impersonating IRS agents?
- How can taxpayers protect themselves from scam artists?
- What should you do if you believe you owe federal income taxes?
“Income tax identity theft is a huge problem that is only getting worse.”
According to a 2015 report of the General Accountability Office (GAO), the IRS paid out $5.8 billion in bogus refunds to identity thieves for the 2013 tax year–the latest year that complete data are available. To make matters worse, the actual dollar amount is probably higher because of the difficulty of knowing the amount of undetected fraud.
To combat the problem, the IRS announced a new cooperative effort between the IRS, state tax administrators, and private tax preparation services to fight income tax identity theft. A number of specific steps are outlined in this article. Unfortunately, the experts admit there are additional problems to stopping identity thieves that are not addressed in the new program. In fact, most experts agree that additional regulations are required to coordinate employer reporting of employee wages with Social Security reporting requirements.
For individual taxpayers, bogus tax returns become a very real and personal problem if their social security number is stolen and their personal tax return is flagged by the IRS as suspicious. To help resolve disputed tax returns, the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate, which is an internal watchdog for consumers at the IRS, suggests that you file a police report and then mail a paper tax return with an attached Form 14039–Identity Theft Affidavit with a copy of the police report. In addition to additional documentation, expect that it may take on average 278 days to resolve a claim if you become a victim of income tax identity theft.
For more information, click here.
You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to
- Discuss the importance of protecting your personal identity and especially your social security number.
- Stress the importance of monitoring your credit report and all financial documents that could indicate your personal identity has been stolen.
- What steps can you take to protect your personal identity?
- There are a number of credit monitoring services that will help protect your identity. Most charge $75 to $100 or more a year to monitor your financial and personal information. Do you feel this service is worth the cost?
To avoid financial disaster, several measurements are available for assessing a person’s personal financial stress:
- The Debt-to-Income Ratio is obtained by dividing your debts by pretax earnings. Generally this number should be less than 28 percent, without your mortgage, or 36 percent, including your mortgage payment.
- Discretionary Expenses involve spending for items other than fixed obligations and variable nondiscretionary items, such as food and utilities. Purely discretionary expenses may involve recreation and vacations. An analysis of these categories will allow you to delay, reduce, or eliminate various expenses to avoid financial difficulties.
- Emergency Savings should be able to cover three to nine months of living expenses. These funds should be readily available in savings or other easily liquidated accounts. Greater financial greater obligations will require a larger emergency fund.
- Additional Income involving wages or tips from a part-time job or selling personal possessions can provide a cushion in times of financial difficulty.
- Total Assets, both liquid and non-liquid, will reduce your vulnerability to financial turmoil.
For additional information on the personal finance stress test, click here.
- Have students calculate one or more of these measurements for their life situation.
- Have students prepare a short creative video with a summary of these measurements.
- Why is liquidity important for reduced financial stress?
- What actions would you recommend to for a person to reduce their personal financial stress?