2019 Year-End General Business Deductions

  The purpose of this post is to get the IRS to owe you money.     Of course, the IRS is not likely to cut you a check for this money (although in the right circumstances, that will happen), but you’ll realize the cash when you pay less in taxes.   Here are five powerful business tax deduction strategies that you can easily understand and implement before the end of 2019.  
  1. Prepay Expenses Using the IRS Safe Harbor
  You just have to thank the IRS for its tax-deduction safe harbors.   IRS regulations contain a safe-harbor rule that allows cash-basis taxpayers to prepay and deduct qualifying expenses up to 12 months in advance without challenge, adjustment, or change by the IRS.   Under this safe harbor, your 2019 prepayments cannot go into 2021. This makes sense, because you can prepay only 12 months of qualifying expenses under the safe-harbor rule.   For a cash-basis taxpayer, qualifying expenses include lease payments on business vehicles, rent payments on offices and machinery, and business and malpractice insurance premiums.   Example. You pay $3,000 a month in rent and would like a $36,000 deduction this year. So on Tuesday, December 31, 2019, you mail a rent check for $36,000 to cover all of your 2020 rent. Your landlord does not receive the payment in the mail until Thursday, January 2, 2020. Here are the results:  
  • You deduct $36,000 in 2019 (the year you paid the money).
  • The landlord reports $36,000 in 2020 (the year he received the money).
  You get what you want—the deduction this year.   The landlord gets what he wants—next year’s entire rent in advance, eliminating any collection problems while keeping the rent taxable in the year he expects it to be taxable.   Don’t surprise your landlord: if he had received the $36,000 of rent paid in advance in 2019, he would have had to pay taxes on the rent money in tax year 2019.  
  1. Stop Billing Customers, Clients, and Patients
  Here is one rock-solid, time-tested, easy strategy to reduce your taxable income for this year: stop billing your customers, clients, and patients until after December 31, 2019. (We assume here that you or your corporation is on a cash basis and operates on the calendar year.)   Customers, clients, patients, and insurance companies generally don’t pay until billed. Not billing customers and patients is a time-tested tax-planning strategy that business owners have used successfully for years.   Example. Jim Schafback, a dentist, usually bills his patients and the insurance companies at the end of each week; however, in December, he sends no bills. Instead, he gathers up those bills and mails them the first week of January. Presto! He just postponed paying taxes on his December 2019 income by moving that income to 2020.  
  1. Buy Office Equipment
  With bonus depreciation now at 100 percent along with increased limits for Section 179 expensing, buy your equipment or machinery and place it in service before December 31, and get a deduction for 100 percent of the cost in 2019.   Qualifying bonus depreciation and Section 179 purchases include new and used personal property such as machinery, equipment, computers, desks, chairs, and other furniture (and certain qualifying vehicles).  
  1. Use Your Credit Cards
  If you are a single-member LLC or sole proprietor filing Schedule C for your business, the day you charge a purchase to your business or personal credit card is the day you deduct the expense. Therefore, as a Schedule C taxpayer, you should consider using your credit card for last-minute purchases of office supplies and other business necessities.   If you operate your business as a corporation, and if the corporation has a credit card in the corporate name, the same rule applies: the date of charge is the date of deduction for the corporation.   But if you operate your business as a corporation and you are the personal owner of the credit card, the corporation must reimburse you if you want the corporation to realize the tax deduction, and that happens on the date of reimbursement. Thus, submit your expense report and have your corporation make its reimbursements to you before midnight on December 31.  
  1. Don’t Assume You Are Taking Too Many Deductions
  If your business deductions exceed your business income, you have a tax loss for the year. With a few modifications to the loss, tax law calls this a “net operating loss,” or NOL.   If you are just starting your business, you could very possibly have an NOL. You could have a loss year even with an ongoing, successful business.   You used to be able to carry back your NOL two years and get immediate tax refunds from prior years; however, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated this provision. Now, you can only carry your NOL forward, and it can only offset up to 80 percent of your taxable income in any one future year.   What does this all mean? You should never stop documenting your deductions, and you should always claim all your rightful deductions. We have spoken with far too many business owners, especially new owners, who don’t claim all their deductions when those deductions would produce a tax loss.   I trust that you found the five ideas above worthwhile. If you would like to discuss any of them, please call me on my direct line (805) 264-3305.   Sincerely, Bob Craig, Robert W Craig, EA Tax Services

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Renting Out your Home or Vacation Home?

Dear Client:

You must consider the vacation home rules when you

• rent a bedroom in your home and also use it personally, or
• rent your beach home (or any other home you own) and also use it personally.

Personal Use of the Dwelling

Rent or use by relatives. Personal use includes more than meets the eye. You have personal use of a dwelling when you rent to or allow use by a relative. The rent charged makes no difference.

Paying and non-paying relatives who use your vacation home complicate your deductions. Such use by your relatives is personal use by you. The relatives who come with this personal-use taint include your

• mom and dad,
• brothers and sisters (whole and half),
• sons and daughters,
• grandchildren and grandparents, and
• spouse.

Planning tip. Do not rent to the tainted relatives.

Co-owners

Co-owners must count both use by their relatives and use by themselves as personal use. Thus, if you own a rental home with others, make sure you know about the personal use by the co-owners and also use by their tainted relatives.

Charitable Donations

Charitable donations produce personal use. No matter how much the charitable donor pays for use of your dwelling unit, the IRS counts the charitable use as personal use by you.

If you donate a week of vacation-home use to your school’s annual auction, you have a week of personal use. It makes no difference what the successful bidder pays for that week of use.

Double whammy. Your charitable gift of the right to use your dwelling unit for the week does not produce a deductible contribution for you. The IRS regulations deny a charitable contribution deduction for a gift of the right to use property.

Thus, the charitable gift penalizes you twice. First, the days you donate are days of personal use by you. Second, your donation of the days does not create a charitable deduction for you.

Swaps

Swaps produce personal use. Similarly, you have personal use when you swap dwelling units with a friend or under an exchange agreement. Swaps and bargains produce personal days. You count as personal use of your dwelling unit any days that you

• allow a person to use your unit under an agreement that lets you use another dwelling, whether or not you charge rent; or
• charge less than fair rent.

Example 1. You and Nelson swap one week of vacation-home use. Nelson’s use of your dwelling unit during the one-week swap counts as personal use by you.

Example 2. You and Johnson rent each other’s mountain homes for a week at fair market rent. Johnson’s rental of your dwelling unit during that one week counts as personal use by you. Example 3. You charge your child’s favorite teacher only 67 percent of the fair rent to use your beach home for a week. The teacher’s use of the beach home counts as personal use by you.

Repair Days

Repair days do not produce personal use. Tax law says that you do not use your dwelling unit on days when your principal purpose for such use is repair or maintenance. To qualify the day as a repair day, you must work substantially full-time repairing or maintaining the dwelling unit.

Example 4. You and your spouse arrive Thursday evening at your lakeside cottage after a long drive, but in time for a late dinner at the cottage. You spend a normal workday on both Friday and Saturday getting the unit ready for rental. Your spouse does no work on the house and simply relaxes at the beach.

You depart Sunday, a little before noon. According to the IRS’s examples, your principal purpose for that trip is maintenance. You do not count Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday as days of personal use. The repair days are non-use days.

Example 5. You own a mountain cabin that you rent in the summers. You spend a week at the cabin with your family. The family members work substantially full-time repairing the cabin. You spend about three to four hours each day during that week helping, and the rest of the time fishing, hiking, and relaxing. According to the IRS, your family’s principal purpose of that week’s stay is maintenance; therefore, the days are not days of personal use.

Again, the repair days are non-use days.

Rented Fewer Than 15 Days

Tax-free income. If you rent your dwelling for fewer than 15 days, you do not report the rental income or any rental expenses on your tax return. The income is tax-free. You do not share it with the government.

Planning tip. Do you have an event coming to your area that might command high rents? Examples include a major golf tournament, Olympic event, or other activity that could allow you to rent at a high rate for a short period.

Say you have a summer home on the beach next to a major golf tournament. You rent the home for $10,000 a week for two weeks. You have $20,000 of tax-free income.

Personal Residence or Rental?

The amount of personal use determines how you will treat your tax deductions on the dwelling. You have a tax code-defined rental of the dwelling when your personal use is either

• 14 days or less, or
• 10 percent or less of the days rented.

Example 6—rental. You rent your resort home 260 days. You use it personally for 26 days. Ten percent of your resort home is a personal home. Ninety percent is a rental property.

Example 7—hobby rental. With 30 days of personal use of the resort home in example 6, you have a residence. Your deductions on the rental part during the current tax year may not exceed your rental income (i.e., you have no tax shelter possibility).

Excess deductions carried forward. When the law deems your dwelling a residence, the deductions attributable to the rental are limited to gross rental income. The good news is that you carry forward the deductions in excess of the gross income limit to next year.

Treatment as a Rental Property

If, based on your rental and personal use, tax law classes your summer home as a rental property, you should follow the IRS allocation method to get the best tax breaks.

Personal part of interest lost. If tax law classes your dwelling as a rental property, any mortgage interest allocated to your personal use is non-deductible consumer interest (ouch!).

Passive loss rules. The dwelling classified as a rental property faces the passive loss rules.

Seven-day rule. The dwelling that is a rental under the 14 days and 10 percent tests is not rental real estate under the passive loss rules if the average rental period during the year is seven days or less, as we explain in Know These Tax Rules If Your Average Rental Is Seven Days or Less.

As you can see, there’s much to know about vacation homes. If you would like me to help you make sure you have the rules in hand, please call me on my direct line at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

Sincerely,

Bob

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Retirement Plan and IRA Rollover Advice

When moving your retirement money to an IRA, you should follow this one rule of thumb.

If you fail to follow the rule I’m about to reveal, you can face two big problems.

• First, your check will be shorted by 20 percent.
• Second, you will be on the search for replacement money.

Here is this very important rule of thumb that you need to follow: Move the money using a trustee-to-trustee transfer. Nothing else.

There are two types of transfers that can be used to move qualified plan distributions into IRAs in a tax-free manner: (1) direct (trustee-to-trustee) rollovers and (2) what we will call traditional rollovers.

If you want to do a totally tax-free rollover, do nothing other than the direct (trustee-to-trustee) rollover of your qualified retirement plan distribution into the rollover IRA.

This is easy to do. Simply instruct the qualified plan trustee or administrator to (1) make a wire transfer into your rollover IRA or (2) cut a check payable to the trustee of your rollover IRA (this option is less preferable than a wire transfer).

Your employee benefits department should have all the forms necessary to arrange for a direct rollover.

If you want to discuss the trustee-to-trustee rollover with me, please don’t hesitate to call me on my direct line at (805) 264-3305.

Sincerely,
Bob
Robert W Craig, EA Tax Services

P.S. Also use the trustee-to-trustee rollover when moving your IRA to another IRA.

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Tax Traps to Avoid in Retirement

Tax Traps to Avoid in Retirement
By Charles Sherry, M.Sc.

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

It’s a quote that comes down to us from Benjamin Franklin, who uttered the phrase in 1789.

Taxes–federal, state, local, sales tax, property tax, gasoline tax, payroll tax, tolls, fees, taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest, gift tax, inheritance tax, and cigarettes and alcohol. There has even been a rising chorus that is calling for a special tax on junk food.

Yes, Ben Franklin nailed it. We can’t escape taxes. Before we jump in, let me say that this is a high-level summary. It’s designed to educate and avert surprises. Planning for tax outlays doesn’t reduce the discomfort that goes with paying Uncle Sam. But preparation can reduce the tax bite and eliminate unexpected surprises.

As I always emphasize, feel free to reach out to me with specific questions, or consult with your tax advisor.

That said, let’s get started.

1. Estimated quarterly tax payments may be required.

If you have never been self-employed, you are accustomed to having federal, state (if your state has an income tax), and payroll taxes withheld from each paycheck.

When you stop working, there are no more W-4s to complete and no one is withholding taxes for you. But that doesn’t absolve you of your year-end tax liability.

You can make estimated payments each quarter. You can also have taxes withheld from your pension, social security, or IRA distribution.

If you have yet to file for social security, you may choose to have Social Security withhold 7%, 10%, 12% or 22% of your monthly benefit for taxes. Or you may decide not to have anything withheld.

But make sure enough is withheld or your estimated quarterly payments are sufficient. Otherwise, you may face a penalty.

Does it sound complicated? You don’t have to go it alone. Tax planning is a part of retirement income planning. If you have any concerns or questions, please reach out to me.

Check out this IRS link: https://www.irs.gov/payments/pay-as-you-go-so-you-wont-owe-a-guide-to-withholding-estimated-taxes-and-ways-to-avoid-the-estimated-tax-penalty

Link to IRS Withholding Calculator: https://www.irs.gov/payments/tax-withholding

2. Social security may be taxed.

If you file as an individual and your combined income (adjusted gross income?+ nontaxable interest?+?half of your Social Security benefits) is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefits.

If the total is more than $34,000, up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable. Additionally, 13 states–Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia–tax Social Security.

3. Beware of the required minimum distributions for retirement accounts.

Let me put this right up front: failure to take the required distribution could subject you to a steep penalty.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are minimum amounts that retirement plan account owners must withdraw annually starting with the year they reach 70½ years of age or, if later, the year in which they retire.

However, if the retirement plan account is an IRA or the account owner is a 5% owner of the business sponsoring the retirement plan, RMDs must begin once the account holder is 70½, regardless of whether he or she is retired (IRS: Retirement Plan and IRA Required Minimum Distributions FAQs).

RMDs are not required for Roth IRA owners.

The first payment can be delayed until April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70½. For all subsequent years, including the year in which you were paid the first RMD by April 1, you must take the RMD by December 31 of the year.

The RMD rules also apply to SEP IRAs and Simple IRAs, 401(k), profit-sharing, 403(b), 457(b), profit sharing plans, and other defined contribution plans.

If you expect to have large RMDs that could push you into a higher tax bracket, it may be beneficial to begin taking distributions prior to 70½. Or, you could convert some of your IRA into a Roth, which will help shelter gains and future distributions from taxes. You pay a tax upfront, but it’s one strategy that can help minimize taxes long-term.

4. The hidden cost of selling your primary residence.

Downsizing can generate cash and reduce your daily expenses. But beware that it may also trigger a tax liability.

If you’ve lived in your primary residence for at least two of the last five years prior to selling, you can exempt up to $250,000 of the profit from taxes if you are single and up to $500,000 if you are married. If you are widowed, you may still qualify for the $500,000 exemption (IRS: Publication 523 (2017), Selling Your Home).

The sale may also trigger the 3.8% tax on investment income. It’s a complex calculation that can ensnare single filers who have net investment income and modified adjusted gross income above $200,000 and $250,000 for married filers. (IRS: Questions and Answers on the Net Investment Income Tax).

The decision to sell shouldn’t be strictly governed by the tax code. However, it’s important to understand the tax ramifications. Timing income streams might be beneficial if a sale will trigger a taxable event.

There are other methods to lower your taxes, including charitable donations. How we structure retirement income, your investments, and distributions from retirement accounts can help to reduce the tax burden. If you need assistance on any of the points I’ve shared, we are happy to assist. Please email me at rcraig1044@aol.com or call me at (805) 264-3305 and we can talk.

Bob

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2018 New IRS Withholding Calculator and Article

The new tax law could affect how much tax someone should have their employer withhold from their paycheck. To help with this, the IRS urged taxpayers to visit the Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov. The Withholding Calculator can help prevent employees from having too little or too much tax withheld from their paycheck. Having too little tax withheld can mean an unexpected tax bill or potentially a penalty at tax time in 2019. And with the average refund topping $2,800, some taxpayers might prefer to have less tax withheld up front and receive more in their paychecks. Please click this link which will take you to the IRS website with information on the new tax law and how it affects your paycheck:

https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-encourages-paycheck-checkup-for-taxpayers-to-check-their-withholding-special-week-focuses-on-changes

If you have questions please feel free to contact me.

Bob
Robert W Craig, EA Tax Services

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Proving Travel Expenses After Tax Reform 2018

As you likely know by now, your travel meals continue under tax reform as tax-deductible meals subject to the 50 percent cut.

And tax reform did not change the rules that apply to your other travel expense deductions.

One beauty of being in business for yourself is the ability to pick your travel destinations and also deduct your travel expenses. For example, you can travel to exotic locations using the seven-day travel rule and/or attend conventions and seminars in boondoggle areas.

From these examples, you can understand why the IRS might want to see proof of your business purpose for any trips, should it examine them.

With deductions for lodging, a meal, or other travel expenses, the rules governing receipts, business reasons, and canceled checks are the same for corporations, proprietorships, individuals, and employees. The entity claiming the tax deduction must keep timely records that prove the four elements listed below:

1. Amount. The amount of each expenditure for traveling away from home, such as the costs of transportation, lodging, and meals.
2. Time. Your dates of departure and return, and the number of days on business.
3. Place. Your travel destination described by city or town.
4. Business purpose. Your business reason for the travel, or the nature of the business benefit derived or expected to be derived.

When in tax-deductible travel status, you need a receipt, a paid bill, or similar documentary evidence to prove:

• every expenditure for lodging, and
• every other travel expenditure of $75 or more, except transportation, for which no receipt is required if one is not readily available. I suggest saving ALL receipts regardless of amount.

The receipt you need is a document that establishes the amount, date, place, and essential character of the expenditure.

Hotel example. A hotel receipt is sufficient to support expenditures for business travel if the receipt contains:

• the name of the hotel,
• the location of the hotel,
• the date, and
• separate amounts for charges such as lodging, meals, and telephone.

Restaurant example. A restaurant receipt is sufficient to support an expenditure for a business meal if it contains the:

• name and location of the restaurant,
• date and amount of the expenditure, and
• number of people served, plus an indication of any charges for an item other than meals and beverages, if such charges were made.

You can’t simply use your credit card statement as a receipt. Like a canceled check, it proves only that you paid the money, not what you purchased. To prove the travel expenditure, you need both the receipt (proof of purchase) and the canceled check or credit card statement (proof of payment).

In a nutshell, a travel expense is an expense of getting to and from the business destination and an expense of sustaining life while at the business destination. Here are some examples from the IRS:

• Costs of traveling by airplane, train, bus, or car between your home and your overnight business destination
• Costs of traveling by ship (subject to the luxury water travel rules and cruise ship rules)
• Costs of renting a car or taking a taxi, commuter bus, or airport limo from the airport to the hotel and to work destinations, including restaurants for meals
• Costs for baggage and shipping of business items needed at your travel destination
• Costs for lodging and meals (meal costs include tips to waiters and waitresses)
• Costs for dry cleaning and laundry
• Costs for telephone, computer, Internet, fax, and other communication devices needed for business
• Tips to bellmen, maids, skycaps, and others

The travel deduction rules are the same whether you operate your business as a corporation or a proprietorship, with one important exception. When you operate as a corporation during the tax years 2018 through 2025, you must either:

• have the corporation reimburse you for the expenses, or
• have the corporation pay the expenses.

If you would like my help in planning the business and personal parts of your next trip, please don’t hesitate to call me.

Sincerely,
Bob
Robert W Craig, EA Tax Services (805) 264-3305

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2018 Client Business Meals Update

Here’s the updated strategy on deducting business meals with your clients or customers: deduct your client and business meals as if tax reform never took place. At first glance it appeared that the new tax law that went into effect on January 1, 2018 would disallow business meal deductions along with entertainment. Looking deeper it appears that was not their intent.

Wow. Is this aggressive? Not if:
• the IRS comes out with regulations that follow a model set by the American Institute of CPAs, or
• the Joint Committee on Taxation in its explanation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) states that client and business meals continue as deductions, or
• lawmakers enact a new tax code section that authorizes client and business meal deductions.

How big is the “if” in the if? We have some insights that say business meals will be deductible for all of 2018. Of course, nothing is certain except the current uncertainty.

Let’s put it this way: if you do what you need to do to deduct the meals, then you are in a position to claim the business meals deduction when one of the above happens. So, make sure you have your 2018 business meals documented as follows:

• The name of the person you had the meal with.
• The name of the restaurant where you had the meal.
• A short description of the business discussed.
• If the meal costs $75 or more, keep the receipt that shows the name of the restaurant, number of people at the table, and itemized list of food and drink consumed.

If you want to discuss the business meals deduction with me, don’t hesitate to call.

Note that meals associated with customer or client entertainment (eg, eating while at the theater or baseball game) are NOT deductible due to the new tax law in 2018. Business deductions for entertainment are gone-period.

Sincerely,
Bob (805) 264-3305

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The Unpardonable Sin in an IRS/FTB Audit

Mileage Log Required for Vehicle Tax Deductions

When it comes to your tax records, there’s one record that you really must keep, and it’s easily overlooked. It’s the mileage log. In an IRS audit, the mileage log often creates the first impression of your tax records, and not having a good log is the biggest unpardonable sin of an IRS/FTB audit. Whether you use the IRS mileage rate method or the actual expense method, you need a written record that proves your business percentage of use.

  Various records can be used, but the IRS three-month sampling record is the preferred choice for those who know about it. With this method, you keep a mileage log for three months and then apply that three-month business percentage to either the miles you drove for the year (mileage method), or the expenses you incurred for the year (actual expense method).

  The three months must be consecutive and must represent your driving pattern. Otherwise you must keep the mileage log for the entire year.

  Technology & APP’s: With respect to keeping your mileage log, technology has made your job a lot easier. You can find very affordable apps that work with your smartphone, such as Mileage Expense Log, Mile IQ, and Trip Log. These apps track where you go and where you stop, and that takes away a big part of the record-keeping hassle. Make sure you also add the business reason for the stops. This takes a few minutes, but it’s critical. Don’t skip this step.

  If you would like an example of what a mileage log should look like, feel free to contact Bob at (805) 264-3305.

Robert W Craig, EA Tax Services
431 2nd Street, Suite 3
Solvang, CA 93463
email: rcraig1044@aol.com

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Tax Reform Changes the Alimony Game!

Tax reform changes the alimony game.

This may or may not have any relevance to you, but if it does, you will want to move quickly.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) eliminates tax deductions for alimony payments that are required under post-2018 divorce agreements.

More specifically, the TCJA’s new denial of alimony tax deductions applies to payments required by divorce or separation instruments:

• executed after December 31, 2018, or
• modified after that date, if the modification specifically states that the new TCJA treatment of alimony payments now applies.

Example. Betsy is divorcing Tim, and Betsy will pay $120,000 a year in alimony. If Betsy can deduct the $120,000 in her 50 percent combined federal and state income tax bracket, her net cost is $60,000 ($120,000 x 50 percent).

To look at the alimony in another light, with no tax deduction Betsy has to earn $240,000, then pay taxes of $120,000 in her 50 percent bracket, before she can give Tim the $120,000.

Regardless of how you look at the cost of alimony, the loss of the alimony tax deduction is huge.

Note: You deal with a judge (court) to finalize the divorce. This could take some time, so don’t procrastinate, or you’ll surely miss the deadline.

To qualify as deductible alimony, your divorce must satisfy a list of specific tax-law requirements. We should review your divorce if you are in this process.

Sincerely,
Bob
Robert W Craig, EA Tax Services (805) 264-3305

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Time Limit to Correct Social Security Earnings Statement Before It’s Too Late!

Here’s a link to an important article about keeping a eye on your social security earnings records.

There are strict time limits on fixing any errors in your social security earnings record that you need to be aware of. Not correcting the error(s) in a timely fashion could cost you benefits for a lifetime.

http://socialsecurityintelligence.com/check-your-social-security-earnings-statement-before-its-too-late/

If you have any questions about this please feel free to call me.

Bob
Robert W Craig, EA Tax Services
(805) 264-3305

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