News for your business and your life. | Hawkins Ash CPAs
In this Edition
June 23, 2020

Holding a Virtual Meeting or Event?
Plan for Cybersecurity

PODCAST: Save the Date: The Tax Filing Deadline is Coming Up on July 15, 2020!

Should You Digitize Your Tax and Financial Records?

The Marriage Penalty Still Exists Under the TCJA
Holding a Virtual Meeting or Event? Plan for Cybersecurity
In today’s ever-changing world, organizations of all types are moving to meet and hold events online. There are many companies that provide a platform that is easy to use, quick to setup and allow participation from anywhere. One area all organizations should consider when selecting and using these tools is cybersecurity. Today I will discuss what makes a platform secure, and what you can do to support that security. This information is not intended to support any one specific product, but to empower you to make safe choices on any solution out there.

I am going to start with the most common question I get asked: How do we know if an online solution is safe to use? My response is to ask these basic questions in return:

  1. Do you trust the company behind it? Service contracts and solutions that cost a bit more are a company’s way of ensuring they have put extra value into their service to maintain trust and integrity. You should be able to speak to a real person before you purchase a platform to ensure it meets your needs.
  2. How important is privacy? Typically anything that is free or very low cost makes up for it by utilizing your information and profiting off of that. Read a product’s privacy policy to make sure it meets your requirements for privacy.
  3. How secure is your login and password? This may seem basic, but the number one cause of databreach on any online system is not a flaw in the product, but rather a weak or reused password. Make sure you are using unique and secure passwords online!

Once you have chosen an online tool that meets your needs, keeping it secure is ultimately up to you. Many articles recently have been written about online meeting exploits, such as instances where uninvited participants join a private meeting unexpectedly with the intent of either stealing information or simply causing disruptions. These issues are not new, and have been around since before the telephone was invented. Following these best practices will ensure that you do not fall victim, as well. While not all platforms have all these capabilities, the more you use, the safer your interactions will be.

  • Never post direct meeting invites or links publicly online: Send the link via email or utilize registration pages for people to sign up. The act of signing up deters most scammers, as they need to provide you with information that could possibly lead back to them.

  • Always use a password on your meetings. Even if your meeting link is not shared online, many scammers know how these systems format their meeting links and simply will try every number combination until one of them lets them in. Adding a password will deter these challenges.

  • Assign a meeting manager or moderator. This is a technique that has been used for decades in both live and online events: Having someone who is knowledgeable with the tools and is empowered to control the group by muting participants, admitting participants or even kicking out participants. However, this person should not be the person presenting or running the meeting so the speaker is not disrupted.

  • Utilize “waiting rooms.” This key tool for meeting moderators (mentioned above) allows them to control access to a meeting just like a bouncer would control access to a club. Waiting rooms allow you to ensure that those who are attempting to join your meeting actually are supposed to be there.

  • Silo your solutions. If you are sharing documents or written information during a meeting or event, consider using a different platform for confidential information. Emailing out a file to all meeting participants is typically safer than posting the file within a meeting room. I advise that people should consider anything they write or share in an online meeting platform to be considered publicly accessible. If the file contains sensitive information, use a secure tool designed specifically for securely sharing documents. Most organizations should have this type of tool in place already.

  • Practice, practice, practice. There is no better way to ensure security than through experience. Online events and meetings should be prepared for as much (if not more) than in-person meetings. If you are attempting something you have never done before, reach out and try it first with a trusted colleague or friend.

Regardless of the platform, the best way to stay safe is with  knowledge. It is critical to take the time to go through product trainings and read through “best practices guides,” so you can understand the capabilities of the system. This knowledge will empower you to ensure that your online events are secure and successful.

Author:  Bob Spencer
Phone: 608.784.7737
Save the Date:
The Tax Filing Deadline is Coming Up on July 15, 2020!
If you have not filed your tax return as of yet, those returns are going to be due in less than a month on July 15, 2020. Find out what happens if someone cannot file before then, and why you might not yet have received your refund if you did already file.
Should You Digitize Your Tax and Financial Records?
Traditionally, important tax and financial records have been stored as hardcopies in desk drawers, filing cabinets and safe deposit boxes. Nowadays, it’s become increasingly popular and easy to digitize documents and store them electronically. Is this the right move for you?

Pluses of Electronic Storage

Perhaps the biggest advantage of digital documents is a drastic reduction in the amount of paper that you must sort, organize and store. Also, digital documents are generally more protected from damage than paper files—assuming they’re stored properly.

In addition, electronic documents can be digitally date-stamped, which helps ensure that you’re accessing the most recent versions. You can track edits to electronic files, monitor who’s been viewing them and restrict access to sensitive documents, too.

Self-Host or the Cloud

To digitize paper documents, you need only a scanner, which can be rented if you don’t have one and don’t wish to purchase one. You can shred many paper files after digitization, though you may need to retain paper versions of some legal documents. (Consult an attorney about which ones.)

When it comes to storage, you essentially have two options:

  1. A self-hosted system. Here, you buy a dedicated hard drive (or several high-quality thumb drives) to store your digital records. It’s best not to keep these files on your home computer because, if it crashes or gets hacked or stolen, your sensitive data may be lost permanently or exposed. Hackers can’t get to self-hosted files because they’re not on the Internet, and you can limit your drive’s exposure to natural disasters, accidental damage and theft risk by keeping it in a fire-proof safe.
  2. The cloud. You’ve likely heard of, and may even use, Internet-based storage for photos or other items. You can do this for tax and financial records as well, but you’ve got to be careful. Choose a reputable and stable provider that encrypts everything. The upside is you’ll have instant access to your files anywhere in the world—as long as you have a secure Internet connection. The downside: you’ll lose access during Internet outages and no cloud system is 100 percent guaranteed secure.

Organized and Safe

For many people, the right approach might be “both.” Retain paper files of certain documents for a recommended period and digitize everything else. Our firm can help you find the best way to keep your tax and financial records organized and safe.
The Marriage Penalty Still Exists Under the TCJA
One byproduct of the Internal Revenue Code is that the tax liability of married couples who file jointly may be more than their combined tax liabilities would be as single filers. This is “the marriage penalty.”

Unfortunately, this hasn’t gone away under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). For example, through 2025, the TCJA imposes a $10,000 limit on itemized deductions for state and local taxes. The limit is the same for joint filers and single filers. That means unmarried couples can deduct $10,000 each, for a total of $20,000, while married couples can deduct only $10,000. (There have been proposals in Congress to eliminate the limit.)

There’s a similar marriage penalty on mortgage interest deductions. Through 2025, the TCJA reduced the amount of home acquisition debt that’s eligible for interest deductions from $1 million to $750,000 for debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017. Again, the limit is the same for joint filers and singles filers, so while married couples may be able to deduct interest on only $750,000 in home acquisition debt, unmarried couples may be able to deduct interest on up to a combined $1.5 million.

If you’re getting married, we can help you crunch the numbers and see how your union will affect your tax bill. No one would suggest that a potential marriage penalty should influence your decision to tie the knot, but knowing the impact can help you make informed financial planning decisions.
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