The Ultimate Tax Preparation Checklist

The IRS estimates taxpayers spend 13 hours on average preparing their tax returns. Before you prepare your tax return you should have a tax preparation checklist to help you get organized.

What is the overall goal of a tax preparation checklist? Simply put, it will help you get everything together before you begin to file your tax return or show up for your appointment with a tax professional. As you move down the checklist, you will find items you may have missed as well as things that were accounted for in the

Listed below are some of the details that should be included on your tax preparation checklist.

Tax Preparation for Personal Information

The IRS needs to know who is filing the tax return, as well as how many people are covered on it. To make this easy, they require:

• Your Social Security number
• Your spouse’s Social Security number (if married)
• Social Security numbers for any dependents

Tax Preparation for Income Information

The following documents will help you prepare all the income information that you need to file a federal tax return:

• W-2 Forms from all employers you (and your spouse, if filing a joint return) worked for during the past tax year.
• 1099 Forms if you (or your spouse) completed contract work and earned more than $600.
• Investment income information (including: interest income, dividend income, proceeds from the sale of bonds or stocks, and income from foreign investments).
• Income from local and state tax refunds from the prior year.
• Business income (accounting records for any business that you own)
• Unemployment income
• Rental property income
• Social Security benefits
• Miscellaneous income (including: jury duty, lottery and gambling winnings, Form 1099-MISC for prizes and awards, and Form 1099-MSA for distributions from medical savings accounts)

Tax Preparation for Income Adjustments

The following adjustments can help reduce how much you owe in taxes, and in turn, increase your chance of receiving a tax refund:

• Homebuyer tax credit
• Green energy credits
• IRA contributions
• Mortgage interest
• Student loan interest
• Medical Savings Account (MSA) contributions
• Self-employed health insurance
• Moving expenses

RELATED: Hey Home Owners! These Little Known Tax Deductions Can Save You Thousands

Tax Preparation for Credits and Deductions

There are many tax credits and tax deductions for various expenses, which are designed to help lower the amount of tax that an individual has to pay:

• Education costs
• Childcare costs
• Adoption costs
• Charitable contributions/donations
• Casualty and theft losses
• Qualified business expenses
• Medical expenses
• Job and moving expenses

Tax Preparation for Direct Deposit

Are you interested in having your tax refund directly deposited into your bank account? If so, you will need to provide two things:

• Your bank account number
• The bank’s routing number

This tax forms / preparation checklist should help you get organized before filing your next income tax return.


How do you stay organized when tax time hits? We want to hear from you! Sound off on our Facebook Page, our Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly eNewsletter. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Why the Holidays Are A Great Time to Sell Your Home

When it comes to real estate, many believe the ideal time to sell your home often falls in the spring months. After all, people often hunker down during the winter or are too busy with the holidays to think about purchasing a new home. Not to mention that people like to start shopping in the spring to make sure they are settled in their home before the start of a new school year.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Home Selling Essentials: The Ultimate Guide

But putting your house up for sale around the holidays has its benefits. Sure, you may not get into a bidding war, but you are going to deal with serious buyers who are ready to pull the trigger.


Consider these major benefits to selling your home this holiday season:

1. There’s Less Inventory

Conventional wisdom says people should wait until the spring to get the most from a home sale. But studies have shown that homes listed around the holidays can not only command more money, but can also sell quicker than ones listed in the spring.

One of the reasons is there is less competition during the holidays. For a multitude of reasons people won’t put their houses up for sale when the holidays are coming up, and so the ones shopping aren’t going to have dozens of houses to choose from. In the spring, inventory usually picks up, and price wars break out in coveted neighborhoods. But during the holidays, there will be limited choices which means a homeowner can have a higher asking price.

2. Buyers Are More Serious

Anyone who is shopping for a new home around Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s is undoubtedly going to be a serious buyer. While hitting open houses is a favorite pastime for many Americans, they aren’t going to spend their precious time around the holidays seeing how the other half lives. In the spring, when open houses are a regular occurrence, people may check out homes without a clear plan to buy.

If your house is up for sale in the winter and someone is looking at it, chances are that person is serious and is ready to pull the trigger. That can often result in a quicker sales process.

3. You Can Make the Home Warm and Cozy

The holidays are often a time when people gather around fireplaces, have hot chocolate and make nice smelling cakes and pies. For homeowners who put their house up for sale during the winter months, they can stage their house to give off the comfy and homey vibe that appeals to many home buyers. Some people may argue that showing a house in the winter is hard to do because there’s snow on the ground, the house is drafty and the curb appeal is lacking. But keeping the heat up, having a pie baking in the oven to give off a pleasant smell and keeping the sidewalk and driveway clear of snow and ice can boost a home’s appeal.

Not to mention that buyers tend to be more emotional during the holidays and will make decisions based on the feeling a house conjures up. During the spring there is a lot more foot traffic in homes that are up for sale. Buyers may not be able to do a thorough walk-through, may get frustrated because of the number of people looking at it and can leave with a bad feeling about the home.

4. Timing Is Perfect for Transfers

The end of the year is typically the time when people get notified that they will be moving because of a job transfer. Those people are going to need a house sooner rather than later, and as a result will be hunting for a new home during the holidays. These buyers can’t wait for the spring, which is why listing during the holidays can get the home sold and sold quickly.

5. Your Neighborhood May Look More Appealing

One of the staples of the holiday months, particularly Christmas, is that many people adorn their homes with festive lights and decorations. That is also true of local communities where lit-up snowflakes and wreaths can be found on lamp poles and up and down the main streets. People purchasing a home during that time may see the neighborhood in a different light and may be more willing to consider an area that they may have been on the fence about.

6. End-of-Year Tax Breaks

Reducing the tax bill is not the main reason buyers purchase a new home, but it could be the reason serious buyers make a move during the holidays. That’s because if the home sale closes before Dec. 31, buyers can deduct the mortgage interest, property taxes and interest costs of the loan. The tax deductions can be significant and could prompt a home buyer to move during the holidays instead of waiting until the spring.


Nobody wants their home to languish on the market nor do they want to have to lower the price they are asking for. And while many fear that will happen if they list their home during the holidays, often that isn’t the case.

Are you planning on selling your home? Contact us to find out why selling your home during the holiday season can mean less competition, more serious buyers and a quicker sale.

5 Ways To Help Protect Your Credit

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you probably already know that monitoring your information and accounts is more important than ever.

Recently, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of headlines about data theft, with the Equifax data breach being one of the largest with as many as 143 Million people being effected.

RELATED: Find Out If You’re Victim to The Equifax Data Breach


Last year was a record year for data breaches in fact, with a 40% increase from the year before. In a world where our information is increasingly digital, and potentially accessible by the “bad guys,” do you know how to take control of your information and identity?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. Starting with the bad, there’s no way to completely prevent identity theft (short of living in the woods and burying your money in a hole). The good news is that there are a few quick steps you can take now, to help protect yourself and keep tabs on your data.

1. Monitor Your Credit

It goes without saying that staying on top of your credit is key. You should know if someone tries to open a new loan account in your name or worse, has used your information to default on a loan.

Once a year, you can get a free copy of your credit report from the three major bureaus (Experian®, Equifax®, TransUnion®) at It’s important to review all three reports—some lenders don’t report to every bureau, so they may have different information. Read through each report carefully and make sure you recognize the accounts. If something strange turns up, start by contacting the lender to investigate. For more info, take a look at this article on checking your credit report.

It’s also helpful to enroll in a credit monitoring. There are several credit monitoring services out there and most will alert you if a new account is opened in your name, or if something meaningful changes on your credit report. And if you catch something that looks like an error or fraud, they may be able to help you figure out what to do about it.

2. Put Fraud Alerts on Your Credit Report or Freeze Your Credit

What do you do if you think there’s fraud on your accounts? Rather than punching a wall or yelling incessantly, you have more constructive options. If you are (or think you might be) the victim of identity theft, you can put a fraud alert on your credit reports to let potential creditors or lenders know what’s going on. Once they know, they may be able to help protect you by taking extra steps to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.

You only need to notify one of the three credit reporting companies to put a fraud alert on your credit report and they’re required to tell the other two companies. Make sure you keep copies of all letters and renew the alert every 90 days until the issue is resolved. The Federal Trade Commission’s website,, also offers information about how to protect yourself against fraud.

And, if you think you could be the victim of identity theft, consider a credit freeze. This is a tool that lets you restrict access to your credit report. And since most creditors need to see your credit report before they’ll let someone open a new account, this could make it harder for potential thieves to apply for credit or open accounts in your name. You can find out more about credit freezes here.

3. Sign Up for Purchase Notifications

Many banks and credit card companies let you to sign up for instant push notifications that’ll let you know when your credit card is used to make a purchase. This might sound annoying, but try it – you may be glad you did.

You can see immediately when your card is used. If you made the purchase, great – you can make sure the merchant charged you the right amount. If you didn’t, then you can quickly take steps to shut down the card and get a new one. And while most major credit card companies don’t hold you liable for the losses if the fraud happened on a credit card and you report it quickly, it’s nice to put a stop to it after a single questionable transaction instead of finding thirty of them on your monthly statement.

Also, some credit card companies allow you to lock and unlock your credit card through their mobile apps. When you can’t find your card, or see an unexpected transaction, you can lock down the card right away. And if your card was hiding in yesterday’s pants or the weird transaction was just something that slipped your mind, it’s easy to reverse.

4. Use A Different Password for Every Account

I know this sounds painful, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s hard to remember multiple passwords, and super frustrating when you mix them all up, but there are ways around it. And it’s better than the alternative.

Use a password manager. Password managers can generate complex, encrypted passwords for each site you visit. You only need to know a single master password to access all of your passwords through the software and it can autofill your login credentials to save time.

Tie something from each site to that account’s password. For example, once you build a strong password, you could also add the first 3 characters of each website to your password for that site. If you did this for every account, you’d still be able to remember your password, but help ensure that no 2 are identical. (Of course, there would be the few sites that start with the same 3 letters, but you get what I’m going for). At the very least, this is better than using the same password or forgetting your password all the time.

5. Be Suspicious of Emails or Phone Calls Asking for Your Information

Phishing is when a fraudster tries to contact you while claiming to be your bank, electric company, or anyone else you might trust enough to share your personal information. Fraudsters are getting more and more convincing, so phishing can be tough to spot.

Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

• Generic emails sent to “Mr./Mrs.,” “Sir/Madame,” etc., instead of your legal name
• Over the phone, the caller asks you to validate your information with a Social Security Number or account number, but they don’t provide any information specific to your account
• Email addresses that don’t match the name of the company supposedly sending you the email.
• Emails with a link asking you to provide information without signing in through the secure site you typically use to access your account. Or, the link leads to a site that looks familiar, but the web address is incorrect or may have subtle differences.

If you experience any of the above, don’t risk responding directly. If you have questions or concerns, contact the company through their official website or phone number to ask about the suspicious message.

While fraud and data breaches are on the rise, so are your options in helping to defend yourself. And the best part is that you’re not alone in the fight. There are several organizations out there that offer sophisticated tools and tips that make it easier to stay on top of fraud than you might think. Bottom line: by adopting these few simple habits, you can play a big part in safeguarding your identity and reducing the impact of fraudsters.


Were you effected by the recent Equifax hack? Have you been the victim of credit card fraud? Have you ever had your identity stolen? What tips do you have for others as to how to navigate this mess? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or on our Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn Feeds. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly HOME ADVICE™ eNewsletter for articles like these delivered straight to your inbox.

If you have more questions for Equifax, the company has set up a designated call center at 866-447-7559.  

27 New Year’s Resolutions for Homeowners

Heading into a new year, we feel an obligation to make resolutions.

Personal resolutions can be motivating, exciting or just plain silly. This year I will… eat healthier, save money, run the Long Branch 5K, learn to surf in Monmouth Beach, do the Asbury Park Polar Bear Plunge.

As a homeowner, resolutions can also be empowering. Some are mission-critical for a solid financial year, others maybe fall in the wish list.


Need ideas?  This list should get you started:

1. “Lose weight.”
Losing the weight of excess possessions save time (you know, like looking everywhere for your shoes in a cluttered bedroom), money (where did I put that bill?) and your mind (psychologists agree that clutter and stress go hand-in-hand).

2. Get organized.
The logical next step to decluttering is to find a logical place for what’s left.

Need inspiration? Walk through a home storage store or get yourself on Pinterest for some seriously clever organizational ideas.

RELATED: 7 Clever Weighs to Hide Things in Plain Sight

3. Save energy.
Saving energy is good for the planet and it’s also great for your pocketbook. EnergyStar appliances are just the start.

• LED bulbs are much more efficient and now come in warmer tones and dimmable options for a more homey feel. Use a lighting calculator to measure energy and cost savings.
• Water heaters expend energy storing hot water. The Department of Energy says tankless water heaters are 8 percent to 34 percent more energy efficient than standard water heaters, depending on usage.
• Going solar no longer has to be ugly roof additions. Have you seen the new Tesla solar tiles?

Saving on energy can even have some great tax implications! Check out our article on the best energy enhancements for optimal tax write-offs.

4. Build green.
Going green is more than energy usage. It’s also about sustainability and healthful choices in finishes.

• Change out laminates and carpets for natural hard surfaces.
• Remove asbestos (with a professional).
• Use sustainable and recycled materials like bamboo, cork and Vetrazzo.
• Need to paint? Go with a low- or no-VOC non-toxic paint.
• If you’re texturizing a wall, try Earth plaster instead of gypsum.

5. Get healthy.
Create a workout space, so there’s no excuse when the weather turns. If you’re looking to move, check out neighborhoods with nearby trails, fitness centers and amenities.

RELATED: How to Choose the Perfect Neighborhood for you and your Family

6. Just fix it.
You’ve walked by that broken switch plate how many times?

Go through the house like a home inspector and create a checklist of repairs that need to be done. When it comes time to sell and appraise your house, you’ll be glad these were done.

RELATED: The Benefit of An Advance Home Inspection

7. Set yourself (debt) free.
Those who carry debt and struggle to pay it off are twice as likely to develop mental health problems, according to a study by John Gathergood of the University of Nottingham.

Paying off debt sets you free in so many ways, plus it’s great for your credit score. Think of all the things you could do in the future with the money you save on payments and interest (maybe even pay off your home early — see #20).

8. Remodel right.
Is it time to update a dated bathroom? Replace the garage door?

If you’re wondering what improvements will lead to a better return on investment when you sell, check out our article on which home renovations offer the greatest return on investment. Our Agent’s can also tell you what improvements are best for your neighborhood and house type.

9. Maximize your mortgage.
A recent Zillow study showed that Americans spent more time researching a car purchase than their home loan. Since the Fed announced that it’s planning three rate hikes in 2017, it’s wise to refi sooner than later.

Have you reached the loan-to-value needed to remove your mortgage insurance? Make an appointment to talk to a lender for a mortgage checkup.

10. Learn to DIY.
The more minor fixes (and if you’re really skilled, major fixes) you can do yourself, the more money you save.

Thanks to YouTube, there are a lot of great how-tos. Other great sites include Instructables, How Stuff Works, Do It Yourself and myriad home improvement shows/channels.

11. Plan to maintain.
Create a maintenance calendar to remember those routine maintenance tasks, such as replacing furnace air filters, changing smoke detector batteries and winterizing sprinklers.

Whether it’s a paper calendar or your iCal on your phone, plan out scheduled maintenance so you won’t hear that relentless beeping of the smoke detector in the middle of the night — or run out of propane before the steaks are done (tragedy!).

12. Invest.
Is this the year to buy a rental property? Or a vacation home?

This will really require you to understand your financial situation, so talk to your financial advisor and an Agent who understands investment properties.

13. Take an inventory.
That new flat screen television and 360 viewer you got for Christmas are going to need coverage. If disaster happens, do you really know what’s in your house?

At minimum, make a list and save it on the cloud. Sites like Know Your Stuff and DocuHome help you document items in a room by tagging pics.

14. Do the double check.
The Insurance Information Institute says a standard policy covers the structure and possessions against fire, hurricanes, wind, hail, lightning, theft and vandalism.

Most other disasters are add-ons. Talk to your insurance agent and make sure you have not only enough property coverage but also enough liability coverage.

15. Get a “CLUE”.
Your homeowners’ insurance premiums are dependent on a number of factors, such as credit score and the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report of claim history.

You can request a free report from LexisNexis.

16. Make your neighborhood better.
Get involved with your local HOA, neighborhood watch or community events. The first step to a better neighborhood is your personal involvement.

For news, information about issues that effect your community and to keep in touch with your neighbors; you can also join the Community Facebook Pages and Group we maintain. Like the Bradley Beach, New Jersey Facebook Page or join the Groups for Bradley Beach, NJ Residents, Ocean Township, NJ Residents or our Jersey Shore and Monmouth County Lifestyle Group.

17. Save water.
Dry climate areas struggle for water in dense population centers. Watering restrictions can turn your grass brown and overuse can cost you with tiered billing. Even the New Jersey climates experience seasonal droughts or below average reservoir levels.

Xeriscape what you can outside and look for indoor appliances that use less water. If you live in a state with conservation legislation, get those regulators on your shower heads and hoses.

18. Get dirty.
Landscaping is essential to curb appeal. So this year, really plan to keep up with it or think about going to a more easy-care style.

RELATED: Enhance the Value of Your Home with Landscaping

Out back, consider a garden to save money on better produce. Get a composter for garden and food waste.

19. Plan for emergencies.
Natural disasters and social disruptions are unwanted, but they happen. To be ready, you actually need to prepare!

Do you have a family evacuation plan? Emergency supplies? Go to for a ton of ideas on prevention and disaster preparedness.

20. Get smart.
Smart home features make your home more efficient and easy to use, even remotely. Look for these to be the “wow” factor that could make your house stand out. Who doesn’t love Alexa-enabled appliances?

RELATED: Increasing the Value of Your Home with These Most Popular Smart Home Accessories

21. Make extra mortgage payments.
You can take thousands of dollars and years off your mortgage by putting an extra amount towards the principal each month. For a $400,000 at 4.25 percent interest with 25 of its 30 years left, you could save $21,107 and take two years off by paying an extra $100 per month.

RELATED: How To Pay Your Mortgage Off Early

What could you save? Try Bankrate’s handy extra payment calculator.

22. Pay off your second mortgage.
Whether it’s a one- or multiple-year plan, it won’t happen if you don’t budget for it.

23. Scrutinize your property tax.
If you live in an area where your home value has dropped since the last assessment, you need to really look at that bill.

Is the assessment correct? Is it going up faster than the sale prices of comparable homes? You can appeal via your local appraisal review board.

24. Optimize your withholding.
If you’re a first-time homeowner, you’re going to enjoy those new deductions. Be sure to talk to your tax advisor about adjusting your paycheck withholding accordingly (unless you like Uncle Sam making money off your income instead of you!).

RELATED: Check Out Patrick Parker Realty’s Annual Tax Season Blog Series Articles and Resources

25. Pay bills, especially your mortgage, on time.
It goes a long way to improving your credit. “The longer bills are paid on time, the higher the FICO Score should rise,” says myFICO. “That’s because as recent “good payment” patterns appear on a credit report, the impact of past credit problems on a FICO Score fade.”

26. Cook dinner.
You know that fabulous kitchen you had to have when you bought your home? Use it!

The USDA’s 2016-17 Food Price Outlook shows the price of groceries decreased in 2016, with a less than 1.5 percent increase in 2017, but restaurants will continue to climb beyond 2016’s 2.4 percent increase.

You’ll also eat healthier at home by controlling what goes into your body. If you own a home with a less-than-stellar kitchen, cooking will probably motivate you to make some appliance and feature upgrades that will pay off when you sell.

27. Get hip.
Dated cabinets and 1980s fixtures don’t help your resale value. Evaluate your style and start looking at upcoming (not past) trends.

Although we’re still in a “sellers’ market” that will likely change in the next few years. A modern home (unless it’s a historic property) is simply more appealing and makes the buyer feel like it’s move-in ready.


Your house is your biggest asset. While not all of these resolutions are essential, aim to start out by focusing on your mortgage and personal finances. What do you have to add? Where might you start? Sound off on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly HOME ADVICE eNewsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.

Here’s to a healthier, happier and successful New Year!

New Jersey Landlords Need to be Careful with their Accounting Methods

gavelGuest post by Michael D. Mirne

Most American businesses keep track of their charges and receivables using a “first in, first out” method. The central principle of this method, referred to as “FIFO,” is to apply customers’ payments toward their earliest balances first, and then toward their later balances. New Jersey landlords had also accepted the FIFO method of accounting until relatively recently, when the State Supreme Court ordered that eviction complaints follow a specific format, in which tenants’ unpaid charges are specifically set forth in detail.

Using the FIFO method, for example, if a tenant failed to pay rent January and February, the next payments that the tenant did remit would be applied to January and February. That application would certainly create a gap in later months in which the payments were made. In the event that the eviction complaint followed the same methodology, it might appear that the tenant owed rents from March and April (or whatever the most recent months were), when the two missed payments were really from January and February. This method is unfortunately confusing for tenants who may show up to Court with receipts to prove that they paid certain rents, only to find that the receipts that they produced do not refer to the missing payments in question.

Given new requirements of eviction complaints, I often wondered how a Court would rule when faced with a situation where the tenant could demonstrate that he or she had no idea which rents were owed, and therefore, could not prepare an adequate defense for trial. Fortunately, I received my answer a few weeks ago, when I was waiting for one of our matters to be reached for trial. From the gallery, in the rear of the Courtroom, I watched as another attorney struggled to demonstrate to the Judge that the unpaid rents set forth in the Complaint, did not refer to the actual months in which the payments were missed, but rather, they referred to the most recent months. The attorney continued her explanation to the Judge with a futile statement about standard accounting processes.

The Judge responded that he was familiar with standard accounting practices, but remarked that they were not adequate to enable the tenant a fair opportunity to prepare his defense. The Judge, accordingly, dismissed that matter, with an instruction to the attorney that she could refile the matter, if she redrafted the complaint in a way that showed the tenant the specific months in which the payments were missed.

In light of the Court’s decision in that matter, we have also began to examine our own matters to make sure that that the statement of unpaid charges properly coincides with the months in which the tenant failed to make those rent payments. In cases where the ledger has multiple entries of missed payments, it is also advisable to include a copy of the ledger in the eviction complaint.

Patrick Parker Realty rental experts can help you list your property, find you a qualified tenant and guide you through the process.  Contact us at 732.455.5252 to get started!

From the Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series:
7 Ways To Avoid An Audit
Reduce Your Chances of Getting A Second Look From The IRS with Tips From the Pros

tax-dayThat’s it… it’s here… Tax Day is the 15th!

It’s the 1% no one wants to be a part of: the share of Americans who get audited.

The Internal Revenue Service is tracking down people who may be shorting the tax man by understating their income, exaggerating tax breaks and skipping out on other tax liabilities. And it isn’t just the rich and famous that agents are going after. Six percent of the IRS audits conducted on individuals in 2012 were for people who made between $200,000 and $1 million, according to IRS data.

Taxpayers can get flagged for forgetting important forms, mixing up numbers and erroneously claiming tax breaks. Sometimes, one mistake can open the door for the IRS to take a closer look at the rest of the return, tax pros say. “You don’t want to go through that headache,” says Paul Gevertzman, a partner at Anchin, Block & Anchin, an accounting firm in New York City.

That said, most taxpayers can stay in the clear if they report their income honestly and have the proper documentation. And while there is no such thing as “audit-proofing” a return, taxpayers can take steps to reduce their chances of facing extra scrutiny from Uncle Sam.

Here are 7 things you can do to avoid getting audited:

1. Watch what you tweet
Tax officials don’t just scour public records in their efforts to catch tax cheats. They also check Facebook, Twitter and other websites for clues that a person may be lying about the scope of their business and how much they make.

For example, some tax officials may take note if a small business owner boasts online about business projects taking place in multiple states but doesn’t report that income to the IRS and the respective state tax authorities, says Gevertzman. Likewise, taxpayers who claim they are having financial difficulties in an effort to reduce the taxes they owe should not post on social media about how much business is booming.The IRS says audit decisions are based on the information taxpayers provide on their returns, not what they post on social media. The agency, however, might monitor publicly available information to help with an existing case. And agents are not allowed to use fake profiles or deceive people on social media sites to collect information.

2. Report all of your income
Most taxpayers know to report all income stated on their W-2 and 1099 forms, since the IRS has matching software that can help it catch income that was reported under a person’s Social Security number. But even less obvious income should be reported, tax pros say. This includes income earned by self-employed individuals that may not appear on a 1099 form. People should also report gambling winnings, which casinos must generally report to the IRS, says Melanie Lauridsen, a technical manager on the tax staff for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

For instance, winnings of at least $1,200 from a bingo game or slot machine must be reported, according to IRS rules, as well as prizes of more than $5,000 from a poker tournament, though the requirements vary per game. (Gambling winnings can also be offset by losses if taxpayers can provide receipts and other documentation.) People also need to report prizes they don’t realize are taxable, like the baseball fan who catches a home run ball that could be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, says Lauridsen. Any athletes bringing home medals from the Winter Olympics in Sochi may also have to face the tax man when they return.

3. Don’t mix business with pleasure
Self-employed taxpayers need to be careful when claiming tax breaks and writing off business expenses if they don’t want to get a double-take from the IRS. Taxpayers often forget, for instance, that only 50% of business meal and entertainment expenses can be deducted, and they must be identified as business costs. People looking to write off travel expenses should keep logs of business trips and visits made to clients to work-related travel costs from those incurred on personal trips. And even though the IRS has introduced a simplified option for claiming the home office deduction, the office still has to meet the main requirement of being used exclusively for business and of being the main place of business. That means that if the children are using the room to play games or watch TV, the office gets disqualified, says Lauridsen.

4. Pay your nanny taxes
Families who find they need to hire someone like a nanny or a home health aide may be more focused on their daily chores than the IRS, but the decision could come with added tax responsibilities. Such workers need to be reported properly to the IRS and families may need to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes and to withhold the worker’s share of those taxes just like any employer, says Stephanie Breedlove, vice president of HomePay, a company that helps families handle payroll taxes and labor law.

The rules apply to anyone who was paid more than $1,800 last year or $1,900 this year. Often, families don’t realize their error until they’ve parted ways with the nanny and he or she tries to file for unemployment benefits and state authorities learn the person was paid off the books, says Breedlove. Those families then need to pay any back taxes and penalties owed and could be found guilty of tax evasion, she says. Families should also avoid incorrectly listing the nanny as an employee of a small business they may own, which could lead to an exaggeration of business credits and deductions.

5. Exaggerating charitable deductions
Tax pros say that many taxpayers forget to write off furniture, clothing and other items they donate to charity. But claiming those items incorrectly or exaggerating their value could get a return flagged by the IRS. Clothes and home appliances must be valued at their thrift store prices and not their original sale prices, says Lauridsen of the AICPA.

“People have a tendency to be emotionally attached to their things so they have a tendency to over value them when they’re doing charitable contributions,” she says. Salvation Army and Goodwill offer guides to help donors determine the value of certain items. Pricier items like paintings, homes and land need to be appraised at the time of donation. Donated cars, which are likely to be sold by charitable organizations, will be valued based on the price that the group gets for selling the car.

6. Don’t try to write off hobbies
Some people may try to write off losses they’ve incurred from a side business like horse breeding or a small business making and selling hand crafted toys. But the IRS requires taxpayers to show they’re going into these ventures with the intention of making a profit. If they lose money year after year, the IRS prohibits taxpayers from using those losses to offset other income unless they can show they made a profit in at least 3 of the last 5 tax years, or 2 of the last 7 tax years.

The IRS also looks to see if taxpayers are making changes to try to make the venture profitable and if they depend on that income to live on. “ You’ve got to show why it’s still a business,” says Gevertzman. Those who don’t make a good case may be suspected of investing in the hobby solely for the purpose of creating a loss that could be used to reduce their tax bill—and they could owe penalties and interest for any taxes they underpaid in the past.

7. Go over the numbers one more time
This sounds like a no brainer but the IRS caught 2.7 million math errors on tax returns in 2012. Taxpayers often make mistakes when calculating how much they owe and how big their refunds should be. Those blunders can get the attention of the IRS, which scans for deductions that seem out of line with a person’s income, says Gevertzman. Some people who accidentally reverse numbers or make enter incorrect Social Security numbers and checking account information could also have their returns held up and their refunds delayed says Lauridsen of the AICPA. Many of these errors can be caught early or avoided through electronic filing. It also helps to use exact numbers, since rounded numbers may give the IRS reason to request more specific figures and documentation.

Keep in mind that this is general information designed to help you put these valuable deductions on your radar. Patrick Parker Realty Agents and Realtors are not certified accountants. Please be sure to check with your tax adviser to see if you qualify for a particular credit or deduction.


The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series will cover many topics as they relate to real estate and increasing your income tax refund. Such topics will include Home Ownership Tax Breaks, Hidden Tax Deductions, Deductions on Mortgage Interest, Reporting on the Sale of Your Home, Home Purchase Tax Credits and more. In addition, our Blog Series will explore Tax Incentives as they relate to major transitions and lifestyles; Marriage, Birth, Divorce, Death of Spouse, Health Insurance, Caretaking of Dependents, Business Owners, Commuters and more.

Check in to The Patrick Parker Realty Blog each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through Tax Day for new posts. You can also follow The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series on Facebook and Twitter using #taxseasonblog.

More Info About The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series >
Tax Terms Glossary >
More Tax Aspects of Home Ownership >

For more information about paying taxes on the sale or purchase of your home or any other questions you have about this article please speak with your tax professional or visit

The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series:
So You’ve Filed Your Tax Return. Now What?
Contributions by Miranda Marquit, Wise Bread

Finally!  You’re done filling out your tax return, and the IRS is pleased.

patrick-parker-real-estate-tax-tipsBut you’re not quite finished yet. To protect yourself in case something goes awry and the IRS asks to audit your return, you should keep and maintain reliable tax return records.

Keep Copies of Your Tax Return(s)
You should keep a copy of your current return, and all the documents that support it. This means that you should keep copies of receipts (including from charities), leases, 1099 forms, and other documents that back up your claims to deductions and credits. A file of tax documents, kept updated throughout the year, can ensure that you have everything you need each year.

Filing your latest return, though, doesn’t mean that you should get rid of previous years’ documents. The IRS can choose to audit a return three years back, so you should keep your tax return records for at least three years from the date your return was due.

If the IRS suspects you of some type of evasion attempt, you will need tax returns going further back than that. If your unreported income amounts to more than 25% of your gross, you need that return for six years after the filing date. If you have taken a deduction for a bad business debt, or for a worthless security, you should keep your tax return for seven years after the filing date.

The IRS web site also recommends that you keep your records indefinitely if you file a fraudulent return. There are also other rules associated with keeping employment tax records (four years after the due date employment tax is paid or becomes due) and filing a claim for a credit or refund after your return has already been filed (the later of three years after filing the original return, or after two years from when you paid the tax).

Most of the time, the IRS confines its audits to returns filed in the last three years from the date of filing. However, if you don’t have the proper documentation on those audits, or something is uncovered that alerts the IRS to the fact that you might not be reporting everything properly, your older tax returns will be called into question.

As long as you are careful only to claim income, losses, deductions, and credits that you have documentation to support, you should be able to clear up any misunderstandings with the IRS fairly easily, and not have to worry about how far back your tax return records go (beyond the three years for ordinary audits).

What If There’s a Mistake on Your Tax Return?
If you have already filed your tax return, and you realize that a mistake has been made, you will need to file an amended tax return (Form 1040X, along with supporting Forms and Schedules). You can file an amended return anytime within three years from when you filed your original tax return, or within two years from when you paid tax that you owed.

So far, Form 1040X still can’t be filed electronically. If you need to file an amended return, you will have to download the form from the IRS website (fortunately, you can fill out the form on your computer and print the hardcopy with your responses), and mail the form in, along with the appropriate documentation regarding the mistake you are fixing.

Keep Good Records
No matter the situation, you should keep good records. Keep all of your tax documents together in a safe place. You can scan them into a digital file if you don’t want bulky hardcopies taking up space. Just make sure you have a back up somewhere, just in case your original digital copy is destroyed.

The better your records, the less you have to fear from a tax audit – the greater your peace of mind.


Follow The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series on Facebook and Twitter using #taxseasonblog.

Check back in with the Patrick Parker Realty Blog or sign up for the Patrick Parker Realty eNewsletter to have updates delivered to your inbox monthly.

The Blog Series will cover many topics such as How do I qualify for a home seller break?, How do I qualify for a home buyer break?, Do I have to report the home sale on my return?, What is the gain on the sale of my home?, What Are Home Renovation Tax Credits?, Deducting Mortgage Interest, Taking the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, How to Avoid Taxes on Canceled Mortgage Debt, Tax Incentives as they relate to Life’s biggest transitions, such as Marriage, the Birth of a Baby, Divorce, or the death of a Spouse and much more. New posts in this Blog Series will be published twice weekly. 

More info about the Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series >

For more information about paying taxes on the sale or purchase of your home or any other questions you have about this article please speak with your tax professional or visit

From the Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series
Taxes and The Birth Of A Child

ppre-refundThe birth of a child is not just a blessed event; it’s the beginning of a whole new set of tax breaks for your family. Learn how the newest addition to your family can help trim your tax bill, and how to save for your child’s future in the most tax-efficient manner.

Get a Social Security number
Your key to tax benefits is a Social Security number. You’ll need one to claim your child as a dependent on your tax return. Failing to report the number for each dependent can trigger a $50 fine and tie up your refund until things are straightened out.

You can request a Social Security card for your newborn at the hospital at the same time you apply for a birth certificate. If you don’t, it can be a real hassle. You’ll need to file a Form SS-5 with the Social Security Administration, and provide proof of the child’s age, identity and U.S. citizenship.

If registering newborns strikes you as silly, keep in mind that the aim is to prevent taxpayers from claiming dependents they don’t deserve (think parakeets and puppies). Apparently, it’s working. In the first year the government required Social Security numbers, 7 million fewer dependents were claimed than the year before.

Dependency exemption
Claiming your son or daughter as a dependent will shelter $3,950 of your income from tax in 2014, saving you a quick $975 if you’re in the 25 percent bracket. You get the full-year’s exemption no matter when during the year the child was born or adopted.

$1,000 child tax credit
For 2014, a new baby also delivers a tax credit of up $1,000, even if the child was born late in the year. Unlike a deduction that reduces the amount of income the government gets to tax, a credit reduces your tax bill dollar-for-dollar.

The credit is phased out at higher income levels, and begins to disappear as income rises above $110,000 on joint returns, and above $75,000 on single and head of household returns. For some lower-income taxpayers, the credit is “refundable,” meaning that if it exceeds your income tax liability for the year, the IRS will issue a refund check for the difference. Don’t assume you can’t qualify for the refundable credit just because you didn’t qualify in prior years.

Fix your withholding at work
Since claiming an extra dependent will cut your tax bill, it also means you can cut back on tax withholding from your paycheck. File a new W-4 form with your employer to claim an additional withholding “allowance.”

For a new parent in the 25 percent bracket, that will cut withholding—and boost take-home pay—by about $75 a month.

Filing status
If you are married, having a child will not affect your filing status. But if you’re single, having a child may allow you to file as a head of household rather than using the single filing status.

That would give you a bigger standard deduction and more advantageous tax brackets. To qualify as a head of household, you must pay more than half the cost of providing a home for a qualifying person—and your new son or daughter qualifies.

Earned income credit
For a couple without children, the chance to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) disappears when income on a joint return exceeds $20,020 in 2014. (For single filers the 2014 limit is $14,590.)

Child care credit
If you pay for child care to allow you to work—and earn income for the IRS to tax—you can earn a credit worth between $600 and $1,050 if you’re paying for the care of one child under age 13, or between $1,200 and $2,100 if you’re paying for the care of two or more children under 13. The size of your credit depends on your income and how much you pay for care (you can count up to $3,000 for the care of one child and up to $6,000 for the care of two or more).

Lower income workers with an Adjusted Gross Income of $15,000 or less can claim a credit of up to 35 percent of qualifying costs; the percentage gradually drops to a floor of 20 percent for taxpayers reporting AGI over $43,000.

Child care reimbursement account
You may have an even more tax-friendly way to pay your child care bills than the child care credit: a child care reimbursement account at work. These accounts, often called Flex Plans, let you divert up to $5,000 a year of your salary into a special tax-advantaged account that you can then tap to pay child care bills

Money you run through the account avoids both federal and state income taxes as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes, so it could easily save you more than the value of the credit. You can’t double dip by using both the reimbursement account and the credit. But note that while the limit for Flex accounts is $5,000, the credit can be claimed against up to $6,000 of eligible expenses if you have two or more children. So even if you run $5,000 through a Flex account, you could qualify to claim the 20 percent to 35 percent credit on up to $1,000 more.

Although you generally can only sign up for a Flex account during “open enrollment” in the fall, most companies allow you to make mid-year changes in response to certain “life events,” including the birth of a child.

Adoption credit
There’s also a tax credit to help offset the cost of adopting a child. For 2014, the credit is worth as much as $13,190. If you adopt a “special needs” child, you can claim the full credit amount even if your actual adoption costs are less. For 2014, this credit phases out as Adjusted Gross Income, rises from $197,880 to $237,880.

Save for college
It’s never too early to start saving for those college bills. And it’s no surprise the Congress has included some tax goodies to help parents save. One option is a Section 529 Education Savings Plan. Contributions to these plans are not deductible on your federal taxes, but earnings grow tax-free and payouts are tax-free, too, if the money is used to pay qualifying college bills. (Some states give residents a state tax deduction if they invest in their state’s own 529 Plan. Visit your state’s official website for details.) There are no income restrictions on 529 Plan contributions.

You may also want to fund a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) for your newborn. Up to $2,000 a year can go into an ESA for each child. Again, there is no deduction for deposits, but earnings are tax-free if used to pay qualified education expenses. ESA money can pay for elementary and high school expenses (even a computer used for school and educational software), as well as for college costs. The right to contribute to an ESA phases out as income rises from $95,000 to $110,000 on single returns, and from $190,000 to $220,000 on joint returns.

Kid IRAs
You may have heard about Kid IRAs and the fact that relatively small investments when a child is young can grow to eye-popping balances over many decades. It’s true, but there’s a catch. You can’t just open an IRA for your newborn and start shoveling in the cash.

RELATED: Roth IRAs And Why You Should Open One

A person must have earned income from a job or self-employment in order to have an IRA. Gifts and investment income don’t count. So you probably can’t open an IRA for your newborn (unless, perhaps, he or she gets paid for being an infant model). But as soon as your youngster starts earning some money—babysitting or delivering papers, for example, or helping out in the family business—he or she can open an IRA. The phenomenal power of long-term compounding makes it a great idea.

A Roth IRA is an ideal choice for most kids who are in a low tax bracket, where a tax deduction is of little value. With a Roth IRA there’s no up-front tax break, but their savings will benefit from years of tax-free growth, and withdrawals in retirement are tax-free.

Kiddie Tax
So far, this article has had nothing but good news. But the Kiddie Tax unfortunately is not good news. Here is what you need to know:

The graduated nature of our federal income tax rates—with higher tax rates on higher incomes—creates opportunities for savings if you can shift income to someone (such as a child) in a lower tax bracket. But don’t try to pull any punches. For example, let’s say Dad has $1 million invested in bonds which pay $50,000 of taxable interest each year. As a resident of the 35 percent tax bracket, that extra income hikes his tax bill by $17,500. But if he could divvy up the money among his five children, each of whom earned $10,000, the money would be taxed in the 10 percent bracket and the family could save $12,500 in taxes, right? Nice try—but it won’t work.

To prevent such schemes, Congress created the Kiddie Tax to tax most investment income earned by a dependent child at the parents’ top tax rate. For 2014, the first $1,000 of a child’s “unearned” income (that’s income that’s not earned from a job or self- employment) is tax-free (thanks to the child’s standard deduction) and the next $1,000 is taxed at the child’s own rate (probably 10 percent). Any additional investment income is taxed at the parents’ rate—as high as 39.6 percent. Under current rules, the kiddie tax applies until the year a child turns 19 (or 24 if he or she is a dependent full-time student.)

Nanny Tax
The Nanny Tax is also not good news, but it’s fair. If you lawfully hire someone to come into your home to help care for your new child, you could become an employer in the eyes of the IRS—and face a whole new set of tax rules. If you hire your nanny or caregiver through an agency, the agency may be the employer and have to take care of all the paperwork. But if you’re the employer—and you pay more than $1,900 in 2014—you’re responsible for paying Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes for your caregiver, and reporting the wages to the caregiver and to the IRS on Form W-2.

Keep in mind that this is general information designed to help you put these valuable deductions on your radar. Patrick Parker Realty Agents and Realtors are not certified accountants. Please be sure to check with your tax adviser to see if you qualify for a particular credit or deduction.


The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series will cover many topics as they relate to real estate and increasing your income tax refund. Such topics will include Home Ownership Tax Breaks, Hidden Tax Deductions, Deductions on Mortgage Interest, Reporting on the Sale of Your Home, Home Purchase Tax Credits and more. In addition, our Blog Series will explore Tax Incentives as they relate to major transitions and lifestyles; Marriage, Birth, Divorce, Death of Spouse, Health Insurance, Caretaking of Dependents, Business Owners, Commuters and more.

Check in to The Patrick Parker Realty Blog each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through Tax Day for new posts. You can also follow The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series on Facebook and Twitter using #taxseasonblog.

More Info About The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series >
Tax Terms Glossary >
More Tax Aspects of Home Ownership >

For more information about paying taxes on the sale or purchase of your home or any other questions you have about this article please speak with your tax professional or visit

From the Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series:
Save on Taxes: Filing Seperately As A Married Couple

ppre-refundIf you’re married, there are circumstances where filing separately can save you money on your income taxes.

The Internal Revenue Service considers wedded taxpayers married if they are legally married under state law, live together in a state-recognized common-law marriage, or are separated but have no separation maintenance or final divorce decree as of the end of the tax year.

Of the 56 million tax returns married couples filed in 2009, the latest year for which the IRS has published statistics (at the time of writing), 4.3 percent belonged to twosomes who filed separately. These partners reported individual income and expenses on individual tax returns. They had to agree on either itemizing expenses or using the standard deduction. By filing separately, their similar incomes, miscellaneous deductions or medical expenses likely helped them save taxes.

Filing separately with similar incomes
A couple may pay the IRS less by filing separately when both spouses work and earn about the same amount. When they compare the tax due amount under both joint and separate filing statuses, they may discover that combining their earnings puts them into a higher tax bracket. Their savings depends on a variety of other factors, however, including their investment situation and whether they have children. The “married filing separately” status cuts the deductions for IRA contributions and eliminates child tax credits, among other tax breaks.

Using miscellaneous deductions by filing separately
Miscellaneous deductions can lower taxable income, but in order to enter them on Schedule A, they must add up to more than 2 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI). Spouses with union dues, job-search costs, tax-preparation fees and unreimbursed business expenses may find their miscellaneous deductions don’t qualify when their higher combined income raises their AGI. A spouse who travels frequently for business could rack up a sizable tally in airline fees for baggage and itinerary changes that makes the miscellaneous deduction worth pursuing.

Filing separately to save with unforeseen expenses
Adjusted gross income also determines if a couple can use unreimbursed health care costs and casualty losses on Schedule A to save taxes. Unless out-of-pocket medical expenses exceed 10 percent of AGI, they don’t qualify as a deduction. Casualty losses must also total more than 10 percent of AGI. The spouse with the loss or substantial medical outlay calculates deductibility against his own, lower AGI when he and his partner file separate returns. When one spouse can lower taxable income this way, married filing separately might trim a couple’s overall tax burden.

RELATED: The Affordable Care Act and Taxes

There is a temporary exemption from Jan. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2016 for individuals age 65 and older and their spouses. If you or your spouse are 65 years or older or turned 65 during the tax year you are allowed to deduct unreimbursed medical care expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. The threshold remains at 7.5% of AGI for those taxpayers until Dec. 31, 2016.

Filing separately to guard the future
When you don’t want to be liable for your partner’s tax bill, choosing the married-filing-separately status offers financial protection: the IRS won’t apply your refund to your spouse’s balance due. Separate returns make sense to prevent the IRS from seizing a spouse’s refund when the other has fallen behind on child support payments.

Couples in the process of divorcing may shun joint returns to avoid post-divorce complications with the IRS, while a spouse who questions her partner’s tax ethics may feel more comfortable living a separate tax life.

RELATED: Taxes and Divorced of Seperated Individuals

Keep in mind that this is general information designed to help you put these valuable deductions on your radar. Patrick Parker Realty Agents and Realtors are not certified accountants. Please be sure to check with your tax adviser to see if you qualify for a particular credit or deduction.


The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series will cover many topics as they relate to real estate and increasing your income tax refund. Such topics will include Home Ownership Tax Breaks, Hidden Tax Deductions, Deductions on Mortgage Interest, Reporting on the Sale of Your Home, Home Purchase Tax Credits and more. In addition, our Blog Series will explore Tax Incentives as they relate to major transitions and lifestyles; Marriage, Birth, Divorce, Death of Spouse, Health Insurance, Caretaking of Dependents, Business Owners, Commuters and more.

Check in to The Patrick Parker Realty Blog each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through Tax Day for new posts. You can also follow The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series on Facebook and Twitter using #taxseasonblog.

More Info About The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series >
Tax Terms Glossary >
More Tax Aspects of Home Ownership >

For more information about paying taxes on the sale or purchase of your home or any other questions you have about this article please speak with your tax professional or visit

From the Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series:
Tax Implications: Converting A Second Home Into A Primary Residence

ppre-refundAlthough the rule that allows homeowners to take up to $500,000 of profit tax-free applies only to the sale of your principal residence, it has been possible to extend the break to a second home by converting it to your principal residence before you sell. Once you live in that home for two years, you have been able to exclude up to $500,000 of profit again. That way, savvy taxpayers can claim the exclusion on multiple homes.

Note: Congress has clamped down on this break for taxpayers who convert a second home into a principal residence after 2008. A portion of the gain on a subsequent sale of the home will be ineligible for the home-sale exclusion, even if the seller meets the two-year ownership-and-use tests.

The portion of the profit subject to tax is based on the ratio of the time after 2008 when the house was a second home or a rental unit, to the total amount of time you owned it. So if you have owned a vacation home for 18 years and make it your main residence in 2013 for two years before selling it, only 10 percent of the gain (two years of nonqualified second home use divided by 20 years of total ownership) is taxed. The rest would qualify for the exclusion of up to $500,000.

Keep in mind that this is general information designed to help you put these valuable deductions on your radar. Patrick Parker Realty Agents and Realtors are not certified accountants. Please be sure to check with your tax adviser to see if you qualify for a particular credit or deduction.


The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series will cover many topics as they relate to real estate and increasing your income tax refund. Such topics will include Home Ownership Tax Breaks, Hidden Tax Deductions, Deductions on Mortgage Interest, Reporting on the Sale of Your Home, Home Purchase Tax Credits and more. In addition, our Blog Series will explore Tax Incentives as they relate to major transitions and lifestyles; Marriage, Birth, Divorce, Death of Spouse, Health Insurance, Caretaking of Dependents, Business Owners, Commuters and more.

Check in to The Patrick Parker Realty Blog each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through Tax Day for new posts. You can also follow The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series on Facebook and Twitter using #taxseasonblog.

More Info About The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series >
Tax Terms Glossary >
More Tax Aspects of Home Ownership >

For more information about paying taxes on the sale or purchase of your home or any other questions you have about this article please speak with your tax professional or visit

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