Friday, August 18, 2017

New Guidelines On Passwords


You know all that advice about making hard passwords? They must include at least one number and/or specialcharacter? You know how we’re told to change the password frequently and to never use the same one for different things?

Well there are new guidelines that basically say forget what you’ve been told. So, thanks to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, managing your passwords is about to get easier!

Paul Grassi, senior standards and technology adviser at NIST told NPR, “The traditional guidance is actually producing passwords that are easy for bad guys and hard for legitimate users.”

Here are some highlights on the new guidelines:

  • Keep passwords simple, long, and memorable.
  • Use phrases, lowercase letters, and typical English words.
  • There’s no need for special characters or a mix of upper and lowercase letters.
  • There’s no need for your password to expire.

That’s it! Easy peasy! You can read the full report here: NIST Special Publication 800-63B

You can also hear (and read) the full interview with Paul Grassi on NPR’s All Things Considered.



IRS rehiring of fired employees troubles tax watchdog and House Ways & Means members

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Shopping trends and taxes

I like to look at trends because they are interesting and many have tax implications.* Trends may indicate a need to update or modernize tax rules or systems. I'm a bit behind on blogging on this, but several weeks ago, there was an article in Fortune - Phil Wahba, "Major Wall Street Firm Expects 25% of U.S. Malls to Close by 2022," 5/31/17. Reasons included bankruptcies and continuing growth in retail e-commerce sales.

I remember when the US Census Bureau first started reporting retail sales for e-commerce in the 1990s and it was less than 1%.  They just updated data for 2015 and report that e-commerce retail sales represent 7.2% of total sales for 2015 (it was 6.4% in 2014).  That doesn't seem like a lot to me. In contrast, the US Census Bureau reports that for 2015, e-commerce sales of merchant wholesalers represented 30.2% of total sales (it was 28.1% in 2014).

Are retail e-commerce sales going to increase to the point were 25% of US malls will close in the next five years? Seems high to me.  I expect re-purposing where, perhaps, we might do more online shopping while at the mall looking at samples of what we can buy, and getting a latte and recharging our smartphones.  That would use less retail space. Malls might add more ways for people to hang out - activities, fairs, etc.

Tax implications?  A few:
  • More online shopping can mean more uncollected use tax although I suspect a lot of the e-commerce growth will be with Amazon that collects tax in all states (at least on their direct sales).
  • If malls turn into abandoned buildings or vacant lots, property taxes will go down. Is there another need for them?  With an aging population, perhaps the space gets turned into living spaces for older folks - single level, close to public transportation and medical facilities, etc.
What do you think? Will we see 25% of malls close? What will happen to the space?

*For some nostalgia, see this June 2008 blog post on some trends relevant to tax reform.


17 states now impose some fees on electric autos

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chicago-area soda tax angers consumers, while Philly's similar levy may be driving those folks to drink beer

The Path to Enrolled Agent

If you’re looking for a career in the tax industry, set your sights high! While it doesn’t take much to become a tax preparer and start preparing taxes for the general public, earning a credential as an Enrolled Agent should be the ultimate goal.

Enrolled Agents are the only credentialed tax preparer and thus have instant credibility, they also have unlimited representation rights and the knowledge to prepare complicated tax returns (thus they earn more money).

Benefits of Becoming an Enrolled Agent 

While it may seem like a long road, becoming an Enrolled Agent is an attainable goal that can easily be tackled with the help of The Income Tax School. Our nationally recognized Chartered Tax Professional Certificate Program will not only provide you with the education you need to prepare taxes, you’ll learn everything you need to know to pass the IRS EA Exam. Here’s a guide to your path as an EA.

Step 1: Register for our Chartered Tax Professional Certificate Program Path to Enrolled Agent

Our Chartered Tax Professional Certificate program can be taken completely online. It includes a total of 60 lessons: 20 comprehensive lessons and 4 advanced courses (10 lessons each).

Step 2: Complete the Comprehensive Section

Once you’ve completed the 4 module comprehensive section, you will have the knowledge you need to start preparing individual tax returns for most U.S. taxpayers.

Step 3: Obtain a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) from the IRS

In order to prepare taxes for compensation, the IRS requires that you register with them and obtain a PTIN.

PTIN Requirements for Tax Return Preparers

Step 4: Take the 6 Hour AFTR Course

The IRS Annual Filing Season Program (AFSP) is an annual voluntary IRS tax training program for return preparers. It aims to recognize the efforts of non-credentialed return preparers who aspire to a higher level of professionalism. Those who pass earn a Record of Completion, are given limited representation rights, and are listed on the IRS Federal Tax Return Preparers Directory. This list is being marketed to taxpayers through a public education campaign that encourages taxpayers to select return preparers carefully and seek those with professional credentials or other select qualifications.

IRS Annual Filing Season Program (AFSP)

Step 5: Begin Preparing Taxes for Individual U.S. Taxpayers

You’re officially capable of preparing taxes for the general public! Seek employment with a tax firm in town or go out on your own!

Step 6: Continue Your Education

Keep working your way through our CTP course. You’ll take the Advanced 1 and Advanced 2 sections to learn how to prepare more complicated tax returns. Next, you’ll tackle the Small Business 1 and Small Business 2 and learn to help small businesses with their taxes.

Step 7: You’re a Tax Pro!


Once all courses are completed, you will have the knowledge you need to prepare taxes for anyone – and to start preparing for the EA Exam (called the Special Enrollment Examination). The entire CTP program can be completed in 8-16 months. As you work through the program, you can gain experience as a tax preparer. Once you’ve completed the program, you will receive a certificate from The Income Tax School that can be framed and displayed on the wall in your office.


Step 8: Take Our EA Exam Review

The Income Tax School offers an EA Exam Review through a partnership with ExamMatrix. ExamMatrix’s groundbreaking EA Exam Review Software has completely changed the landscape of EA Exam Review preparation. They offer an “Adaptive Learning” technology where students experience a personalized study program that accommodates your busy schedule.

Here are some study tips: How to Study for the Enrolled Agents Exam

Step 9: Register for and Take the SEE

Register for the SEE at You will need to create an account and then schedule your exam.

There are three parts to this exam:

  • Part 1 – Individuals
  • Part 2 – Businesses
  • Part 3 – Representation, Practices and Procedures

Step 10: Apply for Enrollment at

Once you pass all three sections of the SEE, you will need to register as an Enrolled Agent. The application can be found at

Step 11: Pass a Tax Compliance Check with the IRS

The Tax Compliance Check is basically a background check that begins once you submit your application (see Step 10). It takes up to 90 days.

Step 12: Spread the Word! You’ve become an Enrolled Agent! 

Congrats! You’ve gained the highest credential in the tax industry! Tell your clients and add that designation to everything: your desk placard, business cards, email signature, and LinkedIn profile.



Friday, August 4, 2017

Senate Democrats Tax Reform Principles

Don't fall for tax ID theft phishing scam from crooks impersonating tax software companies

Online Directories: A Great Way to Boost Your SEO

When you type in “tax preparer in [enter your city]”, does your firm come up? Is it at the top of search Online-Directoriesresults? There are a lot of things that factor into being on the first page of Google. Are you employing SEO tactics? Do you have a lot of competition? Is your site optimized with keywords? Is your competition using SEO tactics? Without getting into the details of SEO, we want to share with you one tactic that will help: submitting your information to online directories.

Every directory you submit to is another chance to get found online – and there are a TON of directories you could submit your business to. Some of these are free and some you have to pay for. Here are some of the best directories to be in.

Google My Business

Have you claimed your business on Google yet? This is one of the most important listings. Claiming your business on Google allows you to customize your Google listing, add pictures, respond to reviews, and control what people see when they search your business on Google. Google even has an app that allows you to make changes from your phone. Once you’ve claimed your business you’ll need to go through their verification process via postcard or phone.

Sign-up here


Yelp is a crowd-sourced review site that helps consumers make better decisions based on reviews by the community. You should make sure that you have your Yelp profile claimed and customized. Just like Google, you can add photos, respond to reviews, and customize your business listing. You can also run ads and submit events.

Sign-up here


Bing is an alternative search engine to Google and has its own business listing service. To get your business on Bing you’ll need to claim you profile, customize your listing, and then go through their verification process.

Sign-up here

Better Business Bureau

The Better Business Bureau is a nonprofit organization focused on advancing marketplace trust. They collect and provide free business reviews and serves as an intermediary between consumers and businesses. There is a local BBB chapter in every city.

Learn more here

Angie’s List

Much like Yelp, Angie’s list is an online directory that allows users to read and publish crowd-sourced reviews of local businesses and contractors. As a business, it’s free to claim your profile.

Claim your profile here

Social Media

Social media channels like Facebook and LinkedIn are just as much a directory as they are a social platform. Make sure you have a presence on the relevant and popular sites so that you are searchable. Facebook, LinkedIn, Nextdoor, Twitter, and Alignable are all important.

Other Directories

While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some other directories to spend time adding your business to.

  1. Merchant Circle
  3. Whitepages
  5. Yellowbook
  6. CitySearch
  7. MapQuest/Yext
  9. Manta

For any of these directories, make sure you go beyond adding your name and contact information. Fill out your profile completely, add categories, add images, add your business hours, etc.