Investing in You: How should a woman ask for a raise?
Mika Brzezinski is the co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe . Beginning April 10, 2015, Mika will kick off a national conference tour in Philadelphia, to empower women to express their worth in business by asking for a raise and/or a bonus.
Let’s say I’m asking for a raise, pay that reflects the work I do and the value I contribute to my company. The question is . . . how?
I sought out Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe and the best-selling book Knowing Your Value. She’ll be coming to Loews Hotel in Center City on April 10 for the first stop on her “Grow Your Value” tour, a live workshop event with an interactive contest that asks women to enter one-minute videos online showing why they deserve a $10,000 bonus to further their careers.
(For contest rules, visit http://www.msnbc.com/knowyourvalue.)
Brzezinski says she made rookie mistakes when asking for a raise.
“I made it personal, instead of about business,” she recalls.
Women “apologize our way into conversation. We’re too self-deprecating during negotiations. That’s like dumping money out of your purse.
“We worry about being friends with people as opposed to respected business partners first. What should be in your head are data you bring to the table. The rest is clutter.”
Before “the ask,” Lisa Penn, managing director at SEI Private Banking, urges writing down on paper a list of accomplishments and value added. Ask friends and coworkers: What am I good at? What do you come to me for? What information do I give you?
Write down their answers. Take the list to your meeting.
Three big mistakes
Stop apologizing, Brzezinski says. Do not utter the words “I’m sorry” at any point in the conversation. That means at the beginning, the middle, and the end.
Stick to one goal. “You don’t need to address other plans or projects in the conversation. The one focus is your goal. Don’t leave the room without accomplishing that,” she says. “We love our lists. But we sometimes miss the big picture. Men sit around and scratch themselves and talk about baseball for a reason. It’s all a negotiation and a way to relax. So let it happen.”
Practice. Before you have the talk, role play.
“Work with someone to speak in public,” she says. “Make a toast. Get used to being looked at and how it feels weird. Send in a video for my tour competition. Even if you’re not a finalist, that exercise will be so good for you! It should not feel weird. It’s not weird. Do it again and again and make it normal.”
At a Hartford, Conn., book event, women got up on stage and pitched, in a minute or less, why they had value and deserved a bonus.
“Amazing women came out of the woodwork,” Brzezinski says. “The winner was in her 50s, had been fired from Wall Street and opened a secondhand store. The runner-up was a 28-year-old single mom who wanted to go to college. Another finalist was a woman dumped by her husband. She opened a fitness center and needed more equipment. And a grandmother walked to the conference. She had just graduated college in her 60s and wanted to open an animal sanctuary.”
After Hartford, Brzezinski says, she realized she was on to something special. Philadelphia, here she comes.
In Pennsylvania, the median annual pay for women in 2013 was $38,000 a year, as opposed to $50,000 for men. If progress continues at the current rate since 1960, the report says, women will not receive equal pay until 2072. In New Jersey, ranked fourth in the nation, the median pay for women that year was $48,000 vs. $60,000 for men, according to a new report, “Status of Women in the States: 2015,” by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
If the pay gap continues at the current rate, women in the United States will achieve equal pay in 2058.
But in some states, a woman born today likely will not see wage equality in her lifetime. Five states – West Virginia, Utah, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Wyoming – will not see equal pay until the next century.
Overall, the winner for women’s employment and earnings is Washington, D.C., the report says. Last is West Virginia. Pennsylvania ranked 19.
“Women’s status on employment and earnings either worsened or stalled in nearly half of the states in the last decade,” says Heidi Hartmann, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research president and a MacArthur fellow.
Typical working women in the United States lose out on more than $530,000 in a lifetime due to the gender wage gap. Race and ethnicity play roles, as well. Hispanic women have the lowest median annual earnings at $28,000, well below the earnings for all women ($38,000). Among Asian and Pacific Islander women, for example, Asian Indian women earn more than twice as much as Hmong women ($60,879 and $30,000, respectively).
See the data for yourself at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s website, http://www.statusofwomendata.org, an interactive tool with each state’s information.
And wish me – or should I say us – luck!
Tax time can be especially stressful for military families. But servicemen and women are allowed extra time to file and are eligible for free filing help.
If you’re serving outside the United States (including Puerto Rico) as of April 15, 2015, you’re granted an automatic two-month extension to file tax returns. If that’s not enough time, by submitting Form 4868 to the IRS, you can extend filing by an additional four months, according to the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association.
Relief is also available for those in a combat zone. Such service members are granted an automatic 180-day extension to file, and time to pay – which begins once the service member leaves the combat zone.
Free tax-filing help is also available through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). IRS-trained volunteers assist with military-specific tax questions and issues.
Find a VITA site online at http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers, or call 1-800-906-9887.
Other sources of aid:
Under the Military OneSource Free Tax Service program, service members can file their 2014 federal tax return and up to three state returns online at no cost through H&R Block.
Active-duty military members can receive the classic edition of TaxSlayer for free.
And there’s no penalty on withdrawing money from a 529 plan if your kid attends a U.S. military academy.
The Military Family Tax Relief Act of 2003 provides that a U.S. military academy education will be treated as a scholarship for purposes of the 10 percent penalty on nonqualified withdrawals from a 529 or Coverdell ESA. The value can be withdrawn penalty-free, although the earnings portion will be taxable. If your child has a younger sibling planning to attend college, you can simply change the beneficiary of the account into the sibling’s name.
Since tax time is prime time for identity-theft crimes, here are some red flags indicating you might be a target:
More than one tax return was filed for you.
You owe additional tax, have a refund offset, or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer unknown to you.
If you are a victim of identity theft, file a report with the local police, and the Federal Trade Commission at either http://www.identitytheft.gov or the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338. Also contact the major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit.
If your Social Security number is compromised in a tax-related identity theft, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
Investing in You: Strategies when a spouse dies
ERIN E. ARVEDLUND, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Becoming widowed: It could bring some of the most important financial changes in our lives. How do we prepare for – or pick up the pieces after – losing a spouse?
First off, consider a “family playbook” with names of important contacts, account and policy numbers, locations of the wills, and other key documents. (Details in a moment.)
Then decide who’s on your team. A white paper, “Women in Transition,” by strategic consulting firm Spectrem Group found that, in wealth management, widows are most likely to be entirely adviser-dependent – relying on an investment professional or adviser to make most or all investment decisions. But is one adviser enough?
Spectrem found that widows are heavy users of social media (69 percent are on Facebook) and that they invest conservatively to protect their principal, perhaps because 64 percent believe their spouses prepared well for their financial security before death.
If, however, your spouse didn’t prepare, what to do? Consider rejoining the workforce. (More on how below.)
The playbook, the team
“When the husband plays the role of financial caretaker, the wife frequently is completely unprepared to assume those responsibilities. They’re left in a state of great distress because they lacked the tools of the deceased spouse,” says Julia Fisher, wealth adviser with JPMorgan in Center City.
Fisher found a terrific solution through a past client who had witnessed his mother-in-law’s financial terror when her husband died.
“My client came up with what I call the ‘Smith Family Playbook,’ a notebook that had every piece of information a spouse would need: bank accounts, stock accounts, college accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, life insurance, real estate.”
Each bank account had its own page, including the name on the account, the account number, user name and password, and instructions on when to transfer money between savings and checking.
Each investment fund had its own page, as did each insurance policy, plus financial adviser or contact person. Each piece of property included the title information, repairs, and insurance coverage.
The playbook’s last page instructed: “Form a team, and take control,” including a lawyer, an accountant, a banker, and a trusted adviser.
“Make a budget, downsize, consider financial aid for school education for the kids,” her client wrote to his wife.
Fisher shares this playbook with all her clients.
“He did this to protect his wife, to prepare her for the financial housekeeping. He was a wonderful person who saw how tough it would be for his spouse when he was gone.”
Losing a spouse is such a jarring, heartbreaking experience that many widows and widowers make rushed decisions, financial advisers say.
“Don’t rush into doing anything: Don’t sell the house right away; don’t try to cash in an annuity,” advises Carol Alesi, director of private-client services for First Niagara in Plymouth Meeting.
Take the time to evaluate with your advisers, at least a few weeks or months, Alesi says, “especially since, with annuities, you don’t want to enrich a salesperson with a hasty decision by cashing in an annuity that might charge a huge penalty or surrender charge.”
With a nod to the digital age, Alesi and her husband recorded their user names and passwords for all their online accounts. “We had to sit down and go over everything.”
Rejoining the workforce
When she was just 17, Allison O’Kelly’s father died. Her mother was left an unemployed widow.
“My mom’s life changed dramatically. My father died at 54, my mother was a widow at 53,” O’Kelly says. “She had stopped working and was completely dependent on my dad’s income.”
That prompted O’Kelly to found Mom Corps in 2005, a Fort Washington-based, nationally franchised recruiting firm that helps women reenter the workforce.
After her first child, O’Kelly left a corporate job and started Mom Corps out of her house. She now has 10 employees and 10 franchises with their own staffs. In addition to flexible work, Mom Corps offers small-group coaching.
“Most likely, if you’ve been out of the workforce, you have to go back. Many of my friends are stay-at-home moms, they have a husband who has a very senior job, and she depends on that income for their family. If that stopped? Women put themselves at a disadvantage if they’re not thinking about the what-ifs that happen.”
A year after becoming a widow, O’Kelly’s mother went back to work as a specialist in speech therapy for special-needs children.
“I realized I would never put myself in that situation, because of what happened to her. That year was incredibly stressful for my mom,” O’Kelly says, “especially with two teenage daughters.”
Even as a stay-at-home mother of three children herself, O’Kelly says, she “had to keep my hand in the workforce somehow and never be that vulnerable.”
Investing in You: Being a whistleblower has rewards, risks
ERIN E. ARVEDLUND, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
POSTED: Sunday, February 22, 2015, 3:01 AM
Have you witnessed something illegal, unethical, or potentially fraudulent where you work?
If you rat out corporate bad behavior, you could win millions. Last year, for example, Edward O’Donnell, a former Countrywide Financial executive, won $58 million from parent company Bank of America in a case stemming from the sale of shoddy mortgages.
His award was part of a record $435 million the U.S. government paid in whistleblower awards, mostly related to health-care fraud and cases involving banks and mortgage companies.
But for whistleblowers, there’s also hell to pay. Prepare for years of loneliness and secrecy, an unhappy spouse, and gigantic legal bills.
Whistleblowers generally “sit on pins and needles every day, wondering, ‘Is someone going to fire me and escort me out the door?’ They’re going to work every day, trying to do the right thing. Many times, they come to us after suffering retaliation. Then they’re fired, shuffled off, demoted. Only then do they file a whistleblower complaint,” says Brian Mahany, of Mahany & Ertl in Milwaukee, who put together the Countrywide/Bank of America case and convinced the Justice Department to take it.
You’ll be pleased to discover that Philadelphia – yes, our own City of Brotherly Love – is home to one of the country’s most active jurisdictions for whistleblower lawsuits.
Why? Federal prosecutors here welcome them.
Zane David Memeger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, “has lawyers with the experience to move forward,” says Mahany.
Still, 75 percent of the lawsuits “go nowhere, and only a fraction win millions of dollars and headlines,” says Marc Raspanti, a Center City lawyer specializing in whistleblowers.
“Meanwhile, you risk your career, devote a huge block of your life, sometimes five or 10 years, to something most people never see or understand,” says Raspanti, a partner with Pietragallo, Gordon, Alfano, Bosick & Raspanti.
His firm represented Michael Epp, who blew the whistle on fraud by Supreme Foodservice, a contractor to the Department of Defense and coalition troops in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2009.
Supreme paid $389 million in fines under the False Claims Act, a Civil War-era statute. As a result of the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, Epp won $16 million – his portion of the fines.
Of 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices nationwide, about a dozen actively investigate and prosecute on behalf of whistleblowers. The Eastern District was “one of the first to do whistleblower work in 1986. There’s now a very sophisticated federal bench here, and they seek these cases,” Raspanti says.
Witness a suit brought by two Philadelphia doctors against Allergan in 2013.
Ophthalmologists Herbert Nevyas and Anita Nevyas-Wallace claim Allergan paid kickbacks to induce doctors to write prescriptions for more expensive eye-care drugs such as Restasis. Their suit, filed under the qui tam whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, is pending here in U.S. District Court.
Another suit, filed against Health Management Associates by Ralph Williams, the company’s former chief financial officer, claims that a kickback scheme went on for more than a decade. Health Management Associates operates Lancaster Regional Medical Center and Heart of Lancaster Regional Medical Center.
When you blow
Several government agencies have whistleblower-award programs, including the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The biggest payouts come from the Department of Justice. Whistleblowers have collected between 15 percent and 25 percent of any recoveries.
Secrecy is the norm. Under the False Claims Act, the details of 16 suits involving Bank of America and its $17 billion settlement were kept secret and sealed until December.
Now we know that whistleblowers in the case – three former employees and a New Jersey mortgage company, Mortgage Now – shared about $170 million, a new record for the largest award against a single defendant.
Mortgage Now received $8.5 million for exposing the fraud of issuing high-risk mortgages. In addition to O’Donnell, Robert Madsen, a former employee with a property appraisal company owned by Bank of America, won $56 million. Shareef Abdou, a former Countrywide manager, received $48 million.
When the feds step in, a case can move quickly.
“We began talking with the DOJ in 2013, about what they were looking for in these types of cases,” lawyer Mahany recalls of the Countrywide case.
“We got a call from the DOJ on a Sunday night, asking, ‘Remember that guy you told us you had at Bank of America? Can you bring him in and get the complaint filed tomorrow?’ And we did.
“By and large, every one I’ve represented, their primary motivation wasn’t money,” Mahany says.
“Sometimes, you get revenge, as well. That’s a powerful motivator.”
Two views of the U.S. labor market
ERIN E. ARVEDLUND, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
POSTED: Monday, February 9, 2015, 1:08 AM
The chief executive of the Gallup polling service calls the current 5.7 percent unemployment rate a big lie.
Jim Clifton unsettled the financial world last week with a controversial blog post, writing: “If you, a family member, or anyone is unemployed and has subsequently given up on finding a job – if you are so hopelessly out of work that you’ve stopped looking over the past four weeks – the Department of Labor doesn’t count you as unemployed.”
Clifton says the unemployment rate figure is misleading.
“While you are as unemployed as one can possibly be, and tragically may never find work again, you are not counted in the figure we see relentlessly in the news . . . right now, as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed,” Clifton added.
The U6 figure, which counts the underemployed, may be a better gauge of the labor market’s health. That stands at 11.1 percent, vs. around 17 percent in 2010.
Guy LeBas, chief fixed-income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott, is more optimistic. And if his thesis pans out, the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates this year.
“Our base case is a rate hike in September or December,” says LeBas, who works in Center City.
LeBas’ read on the latest jobs numbers: January’s employment report overcame the headwinds of a slumping oil market, the dollar, and postholiday employment cuts to post a strong jobs showing. Nonfarm payrolls grew by 257,000 for January, much better than the consensus of the economists.
“Before long, the U.S. economy is going to run into a problem that was unimaginable just six months ago: We might run out of people to employ,” LeBas added. He cited the unemployment rate among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, which fell to 2.8 percent, according to the January report.
“That would have been unthinkable just 12 or 18 months ago. But it also means that wage pressures among skilled workers will almost certainly rise further in the coming year.”
Average hourly earnings bumped up 0.5 percent for January, reversing December’s dip, as the number of hours worked remained unchanged. For a full year, wage growth at that rate would be enough to add $25.2 billion in spending to the U.S. economy.
“We’ve been holding a September 2015 first rate-hike expectation for some time now,” LeBas added, noting that it was far more likely than a 2016 rate hike.
Oil-price drops may benefit market
The drop in oil prices may have an upside: Historically, the S&P 500’s performance is mixed during a radical oil-price sell-off, but it rebounds an average of 23 percent 12 months later.
So notes Chuck Widger, founder and chairman of Brinker Capital, who generally keeps a low profile despite his $17 billion investment firm in Berwyn and his long performance record.
Widger has a new book out: Personal Benchmark (Wiley, 2014), coauthored with behavioral-finance expert Daniel Crosby.
Widger gleaned insights from Strategas Research data on oil vs. stock prices.
“Oil is driving current stock market volatility. That’s unsettling, because banks give loans to oil drillers, and smaller, highly leveraged drillers are at risk of default. Overall, the economy is in transition, adjusting to lower oil prices. Some segments hurt, and others will prosper.”
Widger found that during dramatic oil-price declines – in 1985-86, 1990-91, 2008-09, 2011, and 2014 – the stock market dropped two out of five times. In 2008-09, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 35 percent; in 2011, it went down 17 percent.
But the S&P came back “in the double digits every time,” Widger says. By March 1987, the S&P had risen 22 percent, and by September 2012, it had recovered 27 percent.
“The Fed has supported stock markets and not allowed normal disruptive market forces. Active managers do better in volatile markets, and we’re entering a period like that because QE is over and the Fed will likely increase rates.”
Vladimir de Vassal’s quantitative models are rolling over from “negative” on energy to “neutral.”
As director of quantitative research for Glenmede Investment Management, de Vassal and his team in Center City run the $896 million Glenmede Large Cap Growth Fund (GTLLX), and in 2014, it outperformed the S&P by finishing the year with a 20 percent return.
The energy sector “looks cheap. And our model has turned neutral” from negative, he says.
Last year, the fund sold off some energy shares because of poor earnings.
Adds de Vassal: “Industrials are turning positive with cheaper oil and commodity prices, which could benefit their margins assuming economic growth is favorable.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20150202_Monday_Money_Tip__Oil-price_drops_may_benefit_market.html#lwuFo3KrRYIiYXyh.99
ERIN E. ARVEDLUND, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
POSTED: Sunday, January 25, 2015, 3:01 AM
You can get free assistance with filing your taxes, though some income and other qualifying limits may apply, depending on the program.
So many readers wrote in after a recent column on crooked tax preparers that we decided to revisit the topic of getting your 2014 income-tax returns together.
This filing season promises to be extra crazy because of a new wrinkle: the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Many Americans will be subject to penalties or will have to file new forms to avoid those penalties, accountants and tax-industry experts say.
IRS’s VITA program. Qualifying taxpayers can find free, in-person guidance at many locations through the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
Go to http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers. Type in your zip code to locate the nearest VITA office, or use the VITA Locator Tool by calling 1-800-906-9887.
VITA volunteers must pass an IRS ethics exam and obtain IRS certification before they can prepare and file returns, says Alice Abreu, James E. Beasley Professor of Law at Temple University. Abreu has volunteered as a VITA preparer, “as have many of my Temple Law students.”
Visit their websites to find locations, which open Jan. 26 for early birds and operate through April 15 for procrastinators.
VITA sites accept no payment and are run by nonprofit organizations. Volunteers spend evenings and weekends providing tax preparation for low-income, and often immigrant, taxpayers.
“They do it out of a sense of duty and desire to render a public service,” Abreu said. “I’m intensely proud that so many Temple students volunteer, and I have even developed a course in which students use their VITA experience as a lens through which to examine the connections between low-income taxpayer policy and the effect of those policies on actual taxpayers, and then make legislative or regulatory recommendations.”
Tax Counseling for the Elderly. This program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 or older and have lower incomes. It specializes in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.
Its IRS-certified volunteers are often retired individuals associated with nonprofit organizations that receive grants from the IRS. A majority of the TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide program.
To locate the nearest AARP TCE Tax Aide site, go to http://www.aarp.org/applications/VMISLocator/searchTaxAideLocations.action). Or call AARP at 1-888-227-7669. The system will ask for your zip code to find an office and phone number locally.
Tax prep is available from Feb. 1 to April 15 at 6,500 locations.
MyFreeTaxes. This campaign provides free state and federal tax preparation and filing assistance for families earning $60,000 or less in 2014.
The MyFreeTaxes Partnership offers online and in-person tax preparation, with a list of locations at its website (www.myfreetaxes.com), where free tax forms are also available.
Or you can call toll-free at 1-855-698-9435 to receive assistance.
Sponsored by the Walmart Foundation – in cooperation with Goodwill Industries International, the National Disability Institute, and the United Way – MyFreeTaxes preparation and filing services have helped millions of families.
Just to see what kinds of resources were in this area, I plugged zip code 19107 into the website and found a couple of locations
The LIBOR Scandal: A Discussion with Journalist Erin Arvedlund
January 29, 2015 at 6:30 PM
Considered the most important benchmark interest rate in the world, the London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) is calculated through submissions of interest rates by major London banks and is relied upon for the determination of interest paid on almost all lending on a daily basis.
The LIBOR Scandal arose when it was discovered that banks were inflating or deflating their rates to enhance profits. The implications were widespread, affecting countless banks, institutions, individuals, both domestically and across international borders.
In the first book to piece together the event and its ensuing landscape, author Erin Arvedlund traces the Scandal from its beginnings in 2008 to present day as those responsible await punishment. Erin will lead an engaging discussion which will delve into how this manipulation has affected us all and will answer questions and share her unique ideas, research, and discoveries of what happened.
Erin Arvedlund, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Elise Hubsher, Moderator, Fortress Investment Group
Date: January 29, 2015
Time: 6 PM Registration.
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Networking will follow.
Host: Fortress Investment Group
Location: 1345 Avenue of the Americas, Boardroom on 46th Floor, New York, NY 10020
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Erin Arvedlund, Author & Journalist, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Erin Arvedlund began her career as a reporter at Dow Jones newswires in 1993. In 1996, she moved to Moscow to write about business and emerging markets for The Moscow Times. In 1998, she joined TheStreet.com, one of the first real-time news and stock market web sites. She then moved to Barron’s magazine to cover options, mutual funds and hedge funds from 2000-2003. From late 2003 to 2005 Arvedlund reported on business and politics in the former Soviet Union for The New York Times. She also has Wall Street experience, having worked in the hedge fund industry at two separate firms, Vision Opportunity Capital Management and Sanford C. Bernstein. Arvedlund has a B.A. from Tufts University in International Relations and studied abroad for a semester at Leningrad State University in St. Petersburg. She has also freelanced extensively for print and online magazines such as Fortune, Outside, The Economist Intelligence Unit, Portfolio.com, and Slate.com. She is married and divides her time between New York and Philadelphia.
Elise Hubsher, Managing Director, Fortress Investment Group
Elise Hubsher is a Managing Director in the Capital Formation Group at Fortress Investment Group LLC in New York. Elise is responsible for Global Consultant relationships across Fortress’s alternative investment businesses.
Fortress Investment Group LLC (NYSE: FIG) is a leading, highly diversified global investment management firm. Fortress applies its deep experience and specialized expertise across a range of investment strategies – private equity, credit, liquid markets and traditional asset management – on behalf of over 1,600 institutional and private clients worldwide.
Prior to joining Fortress, Elise held positions as Head of Marketing and IR at D.B. Zwirn & Co. Elise headed the NY office of Northwater Capital, a Fund of Funds, where she was responsible for US Marketing and was a member of the Investment Committee. In addition, Elise acquired extensive experience in marketing and managing teams in equity and fixed income derivatives through her career at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.
Elise received her MBA in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and received her AB in mathematics with honors from Vassar College. Elise is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Fortress Investment Group LLC is a leading, highly diversified global investment firm with approximately $66.0 billion in assets under management as of September 30, 2014. Founded in 1998, Fortress manages assets on behalf of approximately 1,600 institutional clients and private investors worldwide across a range of private equity, credit, liquid hedge funds and traditional asset management strategies. Fortress is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE:FIG). For more information, please visit http://www.fortress.com.
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Warning signs of crooked tax preparers
ERIN E. ARVEDLUND, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
POSTED: Sunday, January 11, 2015, 3:01 AM
With the onset of the 2015 tax-filing season, here are cautionary tales of a man and a woman whom you don’t want preparing your taxes.
The Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service highlight some of the brightest red flags among fraudulent tax preparers.
These two local folks were doozies.
In 2013, “Archie” – full name, Adekunle Adetayo Adeolu – was sentenced to prison and $135,519 in restitution after filing false tax returns. He operated Adeolu & Okojie, a tax-service business in Philadelphia.
Red flag: When a client owed federal taxes, Adeolu would sell that person a name and Social Security number in order to claim a stranger as a dependent, then falsely claim an income tax credit or a child tax credit.
In August 2014, Dawn Chamberlain, of Claymont, Del., was sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $833,160. Between 2009 and 2012, Chamberlain filed more than 450 false individual federal income tax returns for others, claiming more than $730,000 in credits, to which her clients were not entitled.
Red flag: Chamberlain deposited client refunds into her own bank accounts. She returned less than the full amount of the refunds to her clients, and also used client names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers to file fraudulent New York State Resident income tax returns, requesting refunds of more than $210,000.
How can we avoid these nasties?
Dishonest tax preparers employ a bag of tricks, including inflated or phony expenses; charitable contributions; medical and dental expenses, and false dependents.
Many people accused of tax evasion just make mistakes. These were criminals.
If you can afford one, there are different types of return preparers. Visit the IRS website to learn more (IRS.gov/chooseataxpro).
Avoid tax return preparers who claim or advertise that they obtain larger refunds than other preparers.
Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of your refund. Check fees upfront.
A reputable tax professional signs and enters a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) on your return and provides you with a copy for your records.
Anyone with a valid 2015 PTIN is authorized to prepare federal tax returns.
Tax return preparers, however, have differing levels of skills, education and expertise.
Consider whether his or her firm will be around to answer questions about your tax return, months, even years, after filing.
Never sign a blank tax return.
Ask for referrals. Do you know anyone who has used this tax professional? Were they satisfied with the service they received?
Does your tax preparer have a professional credential (enrolled agent, certified public accountant, or attorney), belong to a professional organization, or attend continuing education classes? For instance, tax law changes, such as the Affordable Care Act provisions, will be maddening.
Always make sure your refund is sent to you directly or deposited into your bank account. Your tax preparer should not deposit your refund into his or her bank account.
Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-filing (electronic filing). Ask that your return be submitted to the IRS electronically. Any tax professional who gets paid to prepare and file more than 10 returns generally must file electronically.
Records and receipts: Good preparers will ask to see these. They will ask questions to determine your income, deductions, tax credits and life events. Did you get married? Did a close family member pass away or did you experience financial difficulty last year?
Don’t rely on a preparer who is willing to file your return just using your last pay stub.
Paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN, as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.
File for free
Not everyone can afford to pay for tax prep. Readers asked us to reprise free (yes, free) tax filing resources.
The Free File Alliance (www.IRS.gov/freefile) is a nonprofit coalition of tax software companies partnered with the IRS to help millions of Americans prepare and e-file their federal tax returns for free – if you have 2014 adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less.
Although not available until Jan. 16, Free File Alliance member companies provide more than a dozen brand-name tax software options at no cost. The IRS begins accepting tax returns electronically on Jan. 20. Paper tax returns begin processing at the same time.
Also TaxACT.com offers free federal filing, including all e-fileable IRS forms.
Investing in You: IRA TAX PROS
National organizations that can help you find a tax professional:
American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
American Association of Attorney-Certified Public Accountants (AAA-CPA)
National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA)
National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP)
National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP)
National Society of Accountants (NSA)
National Society of Tax Professionals (NSTP)