Monday, December 30, 2013

Rental real estate and the Net Investment Income Tax

With the implementation of the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) in 2013, many taxpayers involved in rental real estate transactions may want to take a closer look at their participation in these activities to determine whether their involvement is “passive” or “active.”  The NIIT applies to taxpayers who have net investment income AND modified adjusted gross income of $250,000 or more for joint filers, $125,000 or more for married filing separately filers, and $200,000 or more for single filers.  For purposes of the new NIIT, net investment income includes, among other things,  income from rental activities where the taxpayer is not actively involved in the operations of the rental activity (i.e. it is a passive activity of the taxpayer).

To determine whether or not a taxpayer is actively involved in their rental real estate transactions, there is a two-part test that a taxpayer can review to determine their involvement in these activities.  The first part of the test considers whether or not the taxpayer qualifies as a real estate professional.  To qualify as a real estate professional, more than one-half of the personal services the taxpayer performs during the tax year must be in real property trade or business AND the taxpayer must perform 750 hours of service or more in real property trade or business over the course of the tax year.  The second part of the test in considering a taxpayer’s involvement is to consider whether or not the taxpayer materially participates in each rental activity.  The determination of material participation of a taxpayer is a little more involved and can be established by satisfying one of seven tests and is therefore a bit more involved.  To hear more about these seven tests or to find out more about how your tax rate may be impacted by your rental real estate transactions, contact your tax professional.

Kristin R. Coleman, CPA

Monday, December 16, 2013

Screen capture using Windows' Snipping Tool

As I mentioned in a prior tip, there are several really easy ways to capture a picture of what is shown on your computer screen.  These features are very handy for preparing documentation, for passing along an error message to tech support, or any other time you need to “grab” a picture of what’s on your screen.  The two ways mentioned before were the use of the Print Screen key and the Alt-Print Screen key combination.  The Alt-Print Screen combination is especially useful because it captures only the window that you’re currently “focused” on.  Remember that once you’ve captured your screen (or your current window) you can immediately go to Word, Excel, or Outlook (for example) and Paste the captured image.

But there are some other situations where these solutions just don't quite do the job.  What if you need to capture just a small section of one window?  What if you want to capture two windows at once?  This tip will introduce you to a tool that can do those things.  It’s called the Snipping Tool.  It was first made available in some special editions of Windows XP and is available in all versions of Windows Vista, 7, and 8.  This tool is worthy of spending a little time with in order to get acquainted.  I’ll explain it first, but the video link below (less than one minute long) will demonstrate how to use it.  This tool is handy enough that I recommend “pinning” it to your Start menu or even your Taskbar (and I’ll show you how to do that, as well).

To launch the Snipping tool, begin by clicking the Windows button (see to the right) and begin typing “snip”.  Windows will locate the Snipping Tool's shortcut for you and show it to you as an option (see below).

Press Enter or click the Snipping Tool shortcut to launch it.  Now you’ve opened the Snipping Tool application.  Prior to Windows 8 your screen will change appearance (will get dimmer), which indicates that the Snipping Tool is now active.  (Note: On Windows 8, this won't happen until you click New.)  This also means that your next mouse click will “set” one corner of the rectangle to be captured.  Here’s what you do: click and hold the mouse to set that first corner, then (while still holding down the mouse button) drag the mouse pointer to the opposite corner of the area you want to select and release the mouse button.  That’s it!  You just “snipped” that section of your screen.  It's already on your clipboard.  You can immediately Paste that image into a program.  If you want to begin another “snip” just click the New button in the Snipping Tool window (see below).

There are several options inside the Snipping Tool (like drawing, erasing, capturing a shape other than a rectangle, etc.), but that’s enough for today.

Here’s the short video demonstrating how to use it.

BONUS TIP: If you want to pin the Snipping Tool to your Start Menu or your Taskbar, click the Start button and begin typing “snip”.  When you see Snipping Tool, right-click it and select either Pin to Taskbar or Pin to Start Menu.

Craig Rhinehart - Director of Information Technology

Monday, December 2, 2013

Purchasing state tax credits at year-end

As the year 2013 comes to a close, taxpayers and their advisors are looking for ways to trim their tax bills.  One way that has become increasingly popular in recent years is the purchase of state tax credits.  State tax credits can be purchased at a discount, saving taxpayers potentially thousands of dollars on their state income taxes.  There are a variety of different types of credits, including Low Income Housing Credits, Entertainment (or Film) Tax Credits, Retraining Tax Credits, and Jobs Tax Credits -- just to name a few.  While most of these credits have to be purchased prior to year-end, there are even some that can be purchased in 2014 but used to offset your 2013 state income tax.  We would welcome the opportunity to discuss your potential need for state tax credits. 

Jack J Pease, IV, CPA

Monday, November 25, 2013

The ‘New’ HOPE

The HOPE scholarship, funded by the Georgia Lottery, has been around since the mid-90s and has allowed many high school graduates to continue their education when other means may not have been possible.  Originally, any student graduating high school with a GPA of 3.0 - 4.0 did not have to worry about how they would fund a college education. The HOPE would take care of the tuition and fees and provide a stipend to cover the cost for books.  I would think most people would agree that this program has been an overwhelming success.  However, there have been some changes to the program within the past few years.  Essentially, the scholarship has been separated into the HOPE Scholarship and the Zell Miller Scholarship, with award amounts determined by the student’s GPA and academic performance. 

What is still referred to as the HOPE Scholarship has academic requirements that mirror those of the ‘old’ HOPE Scholarship; however the amount of tuition coverage has changed.  Any student graduating with a GPA of 3.0 to 3.64 is eligible for a portion of college tuition to be paid for by the program.  While the entire amount of the tuition is not covered like before, it’s still a big chunk – between 75% and 85% depending on the school.  If the student can maintain at least a 3.0 GPA for college-level coursework, which is evaluated at 30, 60 and 90 attempted semester hours (45, 90 and 135 quarter hours), the scholarship will continue to cover the tuition.  Under the ‘new’ HOPE provisions, the student is now responsible for books and mandatory fees – costs that were covered before.  There is a table that details the amounts of tuition covered by HOPE for public and private postsecondary colleges and universities at 

The remaining part that made up the old HOPE scholarship program is now called the Zell Miller Scholarship, named for the former Georgia governor.  Any student who graduates with a GPA of 3.7 or higher and scores at least a 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT will have 100% of their tuition to a Georgia public college or university covered.   In order to keep the scholarship, the student must maintain a GPA of 3.30 for college level courses, which, again, is evaluated at 30, 60 and 90 attempted semester hours (45, 90 and 135 quarter hours).  As is the case with the HOPE scholarship, books and additional fees are not covered.

Both the HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships can be used to cover tuition at a private college or university.  The educational requirements are still the same, but the award amounts are different.  For fiscal year 2013-2014, the Zell Miller scholarship covers a maximum of $4,000 of tuition per academic year for full-time students while the Hope scholarship covers a maximum of $3,708.  Tuition coverage for students taking less than twelve semester hours is 50% of the full-time amount.

The information summarized in this blog is by no means meant to be comprehensive.  There is more information about these scholarships, as well as others at
Brad Williamson

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cyber security tips

Below are some very good cyber security tips.  The list originated in an email from the Better Business Bureau.  I am unable to locate a good link, but I wanted to give proper credit.
  1. Delete any online communication that looks suspicious, even if you think you know the source. Be careful about following links – especially links sent to you via email.
  2. Create strong passwords by using a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Do not use one password for all your accounts!!
  3. Make copies of your pictures, videos, and other digital documents by routinely backing up your systems.
  4. Assume that the email you received from your bank is fraudulent. Do not reply to it. Instead, go directly to your bank's website and log in to your account or contact them via telephone to clarify matters. The same advice is good to follow whenever personal information is being solicited and there is even a little doubt to the authenticity of the email. Better safe than sorry, right?
  5. Know that there are people out there who earn their livelihood by scamming people via the Internet or email. Be wary, they can be devious and clever.
  6. Use the Internet to check it out! If you receive a communication that you are not sure of, it is often helpful to put the first sentence or the subject line of the email into a search engine. That is because there is a good chance that the scammers use the same verbiage over and over again and that someone has already reported it. This can also be useful with phone numbers and addresses.

Craig Rhinehart
Director of Information Technology

Monday, November 11, 2013

Are you covered? Understanding the individual health insurance mandate.

As you may or may not be aware, all individuals are required by the new Affordable Care Act regulations to purchase a minimum standard of health insurance beginning Jan. 1, 2014. The state exchanges that offer various plans opened for enrollment on October 1st, 2013.  You can also keep any policy you have under your employer, or that you have already purchased for yourself or your family, as long as it meets the minimum essential coverage standards. However, there are exceptions to this requirement if you do not meet minimum income levels, or if the premiums you would have to pay are too expensive. So what does all this mean for you?

If your employer provides insurance coverage that meets the minimum requirements of the new “Obamacare” plan, you don’t have to do anything. Ditto if your current self-employed policy or individual or family coverage meets those requirements. However, if you do not have coverage through your employer or otherwise, or have been denied coverage in the past, then you need to make sure you are covered to avoid the steep penalties that take effect starting in 2014.

As I said above, there are some exceptions. If you are eligible for coverage from your employer, but your share of the premiums is more than 8% of your household’s AGI, the penalty doesn’t apply. Also, if you are not eligible for employer coverage but the cost of the bronze-level plan through an exchange, less any federal subsidies, exceeds 8% of your household’s AGI, the penalty is waived. Same for those whose income is below the filing threshold, those who are not covered for less than 3 months, and those who can show a hardship or religious reason for not having coverage.

The penalty for 2014 is the higher of $95 per adult ($47.50 per child), capped at $285 per family, or 1% of the excess of the taxpayer’s household AGI over the filing threshold ($10,000 for individuals, $20,000 for families in 2013). These taxes are reduced for any months the taxpayer had coverage, and cannot exceed the cost of a bronze-level exchange plan. The tax is paid annually on your Form 1040. This penalty increases to $325 or 2% of income in 2015, and $695 or 2.5% of income in 2016.

You may choose to purchase an insurance plan through a state exchange or directly from an insurance company. There are generally three levels of plans – bronze, silver, and gold – that provide different levels of coverage, and therefore have different premium costs. There are Federal subsidies available for taxpayers whose income is less than 400% of the poverty level (about $90,000 for a family of four). So you may qualify for some assistance to pay for insurance premiums. And you cannot be turned down due to a pre-existing condition.

Whatever your situation, make sure you have the minimum essential coverage in place for 2014, or be prepared to pay the penalty.

Melissa Gregg

Monday, November 4, 2013

Taxpayer guide to identity theft


We know identity theft is a frustrating process for victims. We take this issue very seriously and continue to expand on our robust screening process in order to stop fraudulent returns.

What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number (SSN) or other identifying information, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

How do you know if your tax records have been affected?
Usually, an identity thief uses a legitimate taxpayer’s identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund. Generally, the identity thief will use a stolen SSN to file a forged tax return and attempt to get a fraudulent refund early in the filing season.
You may be unaware that this has happened until you file your return later in the filing season and discover that two returns have been filed using the same SSN.  Be alert to possible identity theft if you receive an IRS notice or letter that states that:

  • More than one tax return for you was filed,
  • You have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return, or
  • IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer unknown to you.

What to do if your tax records were affected by identity theft?
If you receive a notice from IRS, respond immediately. If you believe someone may have used your SSN fraudulently, please notify IRS immediately by responding to the name and number printed on the notice or letter. You will need to fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039.

For victims of identity theft who have previously been in contact with the IRS and have not achieved a resolution, please contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, toll-free, at 1-800-908-4490.

How can you protect your tax records?
If your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft, but you believe you may be at risk due to a lost/stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, etc., contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.

How can you minimize the chance of becoming a victim?
  • Don’t carry your Social Security card or any document(s) with your SSN on it.
  • Don’t give a business your SSN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
  • Protect your financial information.
  • Check your credit report every 12 months.
  • Secure personal information in your home.
  • Protect your personal computers by using firewalls, anti-spam/virus software, update security patches, and change passwords for Internet accounts.
  • Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.

The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.

Kristine P. Braxton, CPA

Monday, October 21, 2013

Two popular ways to save for college tuition

With tuition costs on the rise, it is becoming far too common for a college education to exceed $100,000 by the time your child graduates.  This investment in your child’s future not only can leave you in a financial crisis, but also can create a burden on your child if they are forced to take out large student loans.  Because of the growing costs of higher education, it is never too early to start saving for your child’s college education.  Here are a couple of ways to do that.
One way is a 529 plan, which is usually run by a state or education institution.  Contributions to the plan are not deductible on Form 1040, but your distributions from the plan to pay for your child’s college expenses are federally tax-free.  As well, certain states that offer these plans will allow for contributions to the plan to be deductible on your state tax return, or allow for tax-free distributions.  There is also typically no maximum contribution limit.  Different states offer different tax benefits, so make sure to compare the state plans if this is the route you should choose.

Another way to save for your child’s college is with a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA).  You can contribute up to a maximum of $2,000 per year, but the contributions are not deductible for tax purposes.  However, the income grows tax-free in the account, and distributions are not taxed as long as they are used for qualified education expenses, to include elementary and secondary school expenses (something 529 plans do not allow).  Another benefit of a Coverdell ESA is that it offers a wider range of investment options than a 529 plan, which typically only offers mutual funds, or whatever the state run program chooses to allow. 

Choosing which method to go about saving for your child’s college education may seem overwhelming, but by knowing the differences between these two common methods, you can make an educated choice.  Both of these two choices allow for tax free distributions, however, the key areas of contrast between the two plans are the contribution limits, investment types, and state tax breaks.  Consider these areas to determine which plan best suits your needs.

William A. "Bo" Taber III, CPA

Monday, October 14, 2013

How Does the Affordable Care Act Affect You and Your Individual Tax Rate?

Have you ever wondered how your individual tax rate will be affected by the newly implemented Affordable Care Act (ACA)?  The answer to this fairly simple question can be a very tricky one and can be quite burdensome to compute.  The most important criteria for you to consider in regards to the potential impact the ACA may have on you is your amount of Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI).  If your MAGI is less than designated threshold of $200,000 for a single filer, $250,000 for those married filing jointly, or $125,000 for those married filing separately, then your individual tax rate will not be affected.  If, however, your MAGI falls above the threshold, your individual tax rate may potentially be impacted.  Read on to find out more about the technical details (flow charts have also been provided that may ease the burden of this tricky computation) or contact your tax professional for further insight. 

Effective with the tax year beginning January 1, 2013, individuals who meet certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be subject to an additional tax assessment when filing their 2013 returns.  When evaluating the ACA, there are two provisions that may potentially affect you and the individual tax rate applicable to you:  the Net Investment Income Tax (3.8%) and the Medicare Tax (0.9%).

First off, there is the provision affecting individuals who have Net Investment Income (NII) and whose Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) income exceeds $200,000 for single filers, $250,000 for those married filing jointly, and $125,000 for those married filing separately.  The NII tax is computed on the lesser of one’s NII for the year or the excess of MAGI above the defined threshold amounts.  This provision is said to target those who have “unearned income” whose MAGI exceeds the specified figures defined above ($200,000 for single filers, $250,000 for those married filing jointly, and $125,000 for those married filing separately).  In other words, NII is equivalent to one’s “unearned income.”  According to the ACA, “unearned income” includes interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, rents, passive activity income, capital gains, trade or business income in regards to the trading of financial instruments or commodities, and any oil or gas payments or royalties received, etc.  However, for computing the taxability of one’s unearned income, there are also certain deductions considered attributable to one’s investment income that may be subtracted in determining the NII considered taxable under the ACA.  These deductions include rent and royalty deductions and certain investment expenses such as investment interest expense and other fees and taxes allocable to investments, etc.  The net result after subtracting these deductions from one’s unearned income should then be compared with the portion of the individual’s MAGI in excess of the threshold amounts defined.   The lesser of these two figures is the portion of one’s income subject to the new NII tax of 3.8%.

The second provision affecting individuals as part of the ACA pertains to individuals whose “earned income” exceeds $200,000 for single filers, $250,000 for those married filing jointly, and $125,000 for those married filing separately.  Earned income for purposes of the ACA includes any earned wages/W-2 income, self-employment income, or any other form of earned compensation. If earned wages exceed these defined thresholds ($200,000 for single filers, $250,000 for those married filing jointly, and $125,000 for those married filing separately) then an additional tax of 0.9% is applied.

Overall, if your earned income or MAGI is below the specified thresholds ($200,000 for single filers, $250,000 for those married filing jointly, and $125,000 for those married filing separately) then neither the Net Investment Income Tax nor the Medicare Tax will affect you.  However, if your income happens to fall above these ranges, you must first determine what items make up your income and whether they are considered “earned income” or “unearned income.”  Below are some quick flowcharts to resort to in determining how the ACA may affect you.
Kristin Coleman, CPA


Monday, October 7, 2013

Are you drowning…in debt?

For many people the dark cloud of debt hangs over their heads every day, overshadowing their lives with worry and stress. Many experience this unpleasant state of living from paycheck to paycheck, worrying about paying bills, worrying about providing for their family, and on and on. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little patience and perseverance, you can eliminate that debt!

Step 1: Know what you spend.
Track expenses for a month in a notebook or spreadsheet. All expenses – even Starbucks runs in the morning and that extra pack of gum you get at the gas station. If you don’t know where the money is going, it’s hard to see where you may be overspending. It may surprise you – and show you where you might be able to cut back and put more money towards paying down debt. You should also list all your debt, along with the interest rate and payment on each amount owed.

Step 2: Make a plan.
Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, and others have tried and true plans that have worked for many people in their efforts to overcome debt. Programs like Crown Financial ( and Financial Peace University ( are offered in many areas to teach people how to manage their money responsibly. Pick one. Try Dave Ramsey’s “snowball plan” – pay as much as you can on the highest interest rate (or smallest balance) until it’s paid off. Then add the payment you were making on that debt to the next highest interest (or next largest) balance, and so on. The idea is to let the payments “snowball” so you can pay off all that debt faster! (One warning – beware of Credit Counseling organizations. Some require large upfront payments and will not help you at all – they will just take your money. Look for a non-profit organization if you go that route.)

Step 3: Stick to the plan.
It might be tempting to fall back into those bad spending habits, but if you keep track of what you spend and have a little patience and perseverance, you will be out of debt before you know it! Then you can think about college, or retirement, or whatever you really want to spend your money on, without worrying about debt.

Debt is not a bad thing. It’s how we buy homes and cars, finance school or vacations, or buy that special birthday or Christmas gift. But planning ahead and saving up works just as well. And you won’t have to worry about how you will pay it off later.  Isn’t it time to make your money work for you instead of the other way around?

Melissa Gregg

Monday, September 30, 2013

One-time car tax in Georgia

If you plan to purchase a new or used vehicle in the State of Georgia this year, here’s something to consider.   In March, Georgia House Bill 266 changed the annual ‘birthday tax’ to a new type of car tax.   State residents will now pay a one-time 6.5% title ad valorem tax (TAVT) instead of the annual tax when they register a car.  This one-time tax is based on the fair market value of the vehicle.

According to the Georgia Department of Revenue, dealerships must compare the value listed in the Georgia Motor Vehicle Assessment Manual for Title Ad Valorem Tax with the retail selling price less trade-ins and rebates. The greater value is deemed the fair market value and is the taxable amount.  Even though you may get a great price from a dealer, it’s still the fair market value that determines the tax you’ll pay to the state of Georgia.

When you finance your vehicle purchase from a dealer, the tax can be included in the financed amount much like sales tax was.  However, the TAVT also applies to the sale of used cars.   For example, if you buy a car from a friend, the one-time fee will be charged at the county tag office.  The title to the car won’t be transferred unless the fee is paid.  Keep in mind that the fee is not based on the sales price of the car; it’s based on the fair market value, which is found in the 2013 assessment manual. To determine the fair market value of a vehicle, click on this link:  TAVT Assessment Manual

Also, if you purchased and titled a vehicle between January 2012 and March 2013, you may be eligible to opt-in to the TAVT. To determine whether you can opt-in, click on this link: TAVT Calculator.  You may have also received a letter from the Georgia Department of Revenue informing you that your vehicle is eligible to opt-in to the TAVT.
Eric Tydings

Monday, September 23, 2013

Net investment income tax

Have you heard about the new 3.8% surtax on unearned income effective for the 2013 tax year? This is a funding provision of the Affordable Health Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) passed in 2010. Basically, this tax may apply to individuals with adjusted gross income over $200,000 ($250,000 for a joint return or $125,000 for married filing separate). Specifically, the tax equals 3.8% of the lesser of:
  1. Net investment income. This includes interest, dividends, royalties, rents, gross income from a trade or business involving passive activities, and net gain from disposition of property (other than property held in a trade or business) reduced by deductions properly allocable to such income.
  2. The excess of Adjusted Gross Income over $200,000 ($250,000 for a joint return or $125,000 for married filing separate).

This new tax, along with increased 2013 income tax rates from last year-end’s fiscal cliff compromise legislation, will cause many taxpayers to have much larger federal income tax for 2013 than for 2012. If you did not take this into account in adjusting your wage withholding or estimated tax payments for 2013, you may have a very unpleasant surprise in the form of a large tax balance due come April 15, 2014. There is still time to lessen the blow by adjusting wage withholding for the remainder of the year or making or increasing the remaining tax estimates payment (4th quarter 2013, due by Jan. 15, 2014).

Please contact us if you need some additional info on this new tax or other year-end tax planning advice. 

Jim Story
Manager - Tax Department

Monday, September 16, 2013

Action required for ALL EMPLOYERS by October 1, 2013

Under the Affordable Healthcare Act, ALL employers who are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act must send an Exchange Notice to ALL employees on or before October 1, 2013 informing them of their options under the new Health Insurance Marketplaces (Exchanges) that will open January 1, 2014.

The Notice requirement applies to employers of all sizes  whether or not they offer health coverage.  Employers must send the Notice to all full-time and part-time employees  whether or not they are benefit-eligible.  The Notice must be provided automatically and free of charge.  It can be provided by first-class mail or it may be provided electronically, if the requirements of the Department of Labor’s electronic disclosure safe harbor are met (these are at 29 CFR 2520.104b-1(c)).  It can probably also be hand-delivered.  The guidance does not prohibit or otherwise address hand-delivery, so you will probably want to get each employee to sign or initial that they received the Notice if you do hand-deliver it.

The GOOD NEWS is that the Department of Labor issued Model Notices (called the Notice of Coverage Options). There is a Model Notice for employers who DO offer a health plan to some or all employees (here's the link), and a separate Model Notice for employers who DO NOT offer a health plan to ANY employees (here's the link).

For employees who are hired after October 1, 2013, employers must provide the Exchange Notice at time of hire.  For 2014, an employer will be deemed to be in compliance if the Notice is provided within 14 days of an employee’s start date.  Also, the Notice requirement at this time is a one-time Notice requirement; not an annual Notice requirement. 

Currently, there is no penalty for noncompliance assessed by the Department of Labor, however the Affordable Healthcare Act has a $100 per day penalty.  If an employer is acting “in good faith” trying to comply with the law they may not be fined.  There is still much confusion about the penalty.  We are hoping it will be waived.

For additional information see Technical Release No 2013-02.

Kristine P. Braxton, CPA
Partner - Tax Department

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Windows screen capture basics

There are several really easy ways to capture a picture of what is shown on your computer screen.  I’ll describe two of them here and another in a future post.  These features are very handy for preparing documentation, for passing along an error message to tech support, or any other time you need to “grab” a picture of what’s on your screen.

If you want to capture an image of what is shown on your monitor (or what is shown on ALL your monitors, if you have more than one) and then use it in Word, in an E-mail, or in any program that can manipulate a picture, just press the Print Screen key on your keyboard (sometimes abbreviated PrtScn).  You won’t see anything happen – there’s no flash or beep.  Windows captures your screen’s contents and holds on to the image in the “clipboard” – the invisible place in Windows where things are copied to and pasted from.  You can then go to almost any program and use the Paste function.  The entire image of your screen(s) will be inserted into that program.  It’s really that easy… but there’s a drawback when using Print Screen with multiple monitors:

When you use Print Screen with a multiple monitor system and then paste the image into Word (for example), the resulting picture is very wide and is automatically adjusted in order to fit in your Document.  The result is that it is difficult to make out details of the picture.  Enter the Alt-Print Screen shortcut:

Just hold down the Alt key while pressing and releasing the Print Screen key and Windows will capture only the active window and place that image onto the clipboard.  Everything else is the same (the Paste step, how and where you can use the captured image).  I use Alt-Print Screen a lot more often than I use Print Screen because the image is a more manageable size.

FYI – Either of these methods allow you to create what IT folks commonly call a “screen shot.”

Craig Rhinehart
Director of Information Technology

Monday, August 26, 2013

Social Security information – now online!

Last year Social Security went online, allowing individuals to perform a myriad of Social Security related functions.  On the site you can do the following:

  • Review your earnings record (and report corrections if necessary)
  • Review your estimated benefits (retirement, disability, and other)
  • Print / save your full statement
  • ...and even more, if you are receiving benefits

To get started, head over to and click on my Social Security to create your account. After answering some questions and creating a login and password you are ready to go.

Matt Sellers, CPA - Supervisor

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fish or Cut Bait?: The Answer Will Surprise You

For decades, people have used the expression “Fish or cut bait” to communicate that the time has come to either take action (fish) or get out of the way (cut bait).   The expression has recently taken on new meaning for us here in Columbus.

On Memorial Day weekend of this year, whitewater rafting officially opened on a two and a half mile stretch of the Chattahoochee beginning just south of the North Highland Dam, which was built in 1899-1902 by the Bibb Manufacturing Company to supply hydroelectric power to operate its textile mill in what became known as Bibb City, and ending just behind the Columbus Iron Works Convention and Trade Center in the shadow of the Dillingham Street Bridge.
With its opening, this stretch of the Chattahoochee River has become the longest urban whitewater course in the world!  The economic power of the river has been transformed from that of hydroelectric power generation, supplying power to textile mills and other manufacturing sites, to the generation of opportunities for recreation and enjoyment of the river which has served the city of Columbus for its nearly two hundred years of existence.

The addition of whitewater in Uptown Columbus has added energy and momentum to an area that has already been energized by the addition of a portion of the Columbus State University campus, along with students of art, music and theater who now call Uptown Columbus home. Although it took many people to make the whitewater course possible, John Turner was the driving force behind the project which will not only provide recreational opportunities, but will also help restore the river to a more natural state and help restore species of plants and fish that disappeared from the river because of its industrial use.

The signature rapid on the whitewater course is called “Cut Bait Rapid”, a class IV+ rapid.  The rapid ends rafters’ run with a bang, offering a thrill ride for the rafters, just before sending them into the river, while family, friends, and other onlookers watch from the rocks.  Cut Bait is for those who are more adventurous, and who want to fully experience whitewater rafting in Columbus.

So now for us here in Columbus, the expression “Fish or Cut Bait” has taken on its new meaning.  If someone challenges you to either fish or cut bait, tell them you’ll “Cut Bait!”

David Payne, Accounting Manager

Monday, August 12, 2013

Restoring and maintaining trust

The National Association of Corporate Directors published an article some months ago offering suggestions as to how board members can contribute to the dialogue of restoring trust in capitalism and the system that has made the United States the dominant player in the economic world.  Recognizing that capitalism has lifted millions out of poverty and spurred incredible innovation it also has had its challenges.  Restoring and maintaining trust in our leadership in our companies, our non-profit organizations and our government is crucial.  Five straightforward suggestions were offered and I have listed them below with some editorial modification.

  1. Be the best we can be in the boardroom – Lead by example.  Bring every ounce of our experience, wisdom, objectivity and courage to the table every time.
  2. Stress the tone at the top – Develop and demand a culture that is ethical and that rewards integrity.  As the old saying goes, “You look for three qualities in any team member.  Intelligence, energy and integrity.  If they have the first two but not the last look out for real trouble.”
  3. Build a strong team that values openness and candor – We must trust and respect each other and we must be willing to speak our minds and have no agenda other than the well-being of our enterprise.  Your individual perspective could make the difference.
  4. Stay current and attuned – The political, regulatory and social environment are constantly changing.  We must be well-read and informed to make wise and useful decisions.
  5. Build a strategy that includes giving back to the community – Recognize our good fortune and pay it forward in our strategy.  Be a part of the community solution and not just a beneficiary.

These five simple strategies for restoring and maintaining trust can offer a foundation to any organization’s plan to build a lasting and important culture.  I hope they are of help to you.

S. Scott Voynich, Managing Partner


Monday, July 29, 2013

How to prevent employee embezzlement

According to the US Chamber of Commerce, “One out of every three business failures are the direct result of employee theft.”  In addition, it is estimated that the “typical” organization loses 5% of its annual revenue to fraud. It usually takes over 18 months for a fraud scheme to be detected, if then.  Much has been written about the “Fraud Triangle.” This is simply the fact that fraud in a business is most likely to occur when the following 3 situations exist:
  1. Incentive – “I need money to pay the bills”
  2. Opportunity – “I can work around the controls…I can do this and hide that
  3. Rationalization – “I deserve it because I work all these hours….I’ll pay it back”            

 What are the warning signs that something may be amiss?
     Employees that:
  1. Overspend in relation to their salary
  2. Insist on doing certain duties that involve access to assets
  3. Do not take vacations

     Other signs:
  1. Missing documents
  2. Gaps in accounting records
  3. Un-reconciled variances
  4. Late notices from vendors
  5. Customer complaints about incorrect posting of payments
  6. Unusual patterns in bank reconciliations

So, what should we do about it? Here are some basic tips to help prevent fraud in the workplace:
  1. Screen potential employees (perform background checks, avoid nepotism, check out references, etc.)
  2. Be sure employees take appropriate vacations and someone else performs any critical duties in their absence
  3. Rotate jobs, particularly financial duties, among employees
  4. Have bank statements delivered directly to a responsible person unopened for their review
  5. Review the work performed
  6. Purchase adequate insurance
  7. Establish a fraud policy – let employees know fraudulent activity will be prosecuted

Attempts at employee fraud and theft will continue to occur in the workplace, especially in difficult economic times. However, with attention to details and basic control processes, owners and management can minimize this risk. Please contact us if we can assist in helping you formulate fraud prevention plans.

Jay Pease - Audit Partner

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tech Tip - Windows 7 keyboard shortcuts for window positioning

These two keyboard shortcuts were totally new in Windows 7. They let you take advantage of Windows 7’s side-by-side window-docking feature. Pressing the Window key and either the Right Arrow or Left Arrow key “docks” the current Window to the side of the screen.  Which side the window moves to corresponds with the direction of the arrow that was pressed.  It’s easiest to just give it a try:

  1. Click in a window to make it “active.”  Outlook is a good choice for this example.
  2. Hold the Window key and press (and release) the left arrow key.
  3. Your Outlook window will become “docked” to the left side of the monitor where it was located.  It will take up exactly half of the screen.

More experimentation:

  1.  Press Window-Right Arrow and watch what happens.
  2.  Press Window-Right Arrow a few more times and watch what happens.
  3.  Press Window-Left Arrow several times and watch what happens.

By now you should be getting a feel for what this feature does.  You can use it to arrange multiple windows (programs) to the edges of your monitors.  This is a great way to position programs side-by-side so that you can work in and compare data – or simply so that you can keep your computer desktop organized!

Craig Rhinehart
Director of Information Technology

Monday, July 15, 2013

80th Anniversary - more fun facts

As our final blog regarding the celebration of our 80 years in practice, we will make one more trip down Memory Lane.  In the year 2002 (seventy years after our founding):

  • Time Magazine’s People of the Year were Enron and WorldCom’s respective whistleblowers. Business will never be the same again.
  • The country was slowly recovering from the 9/11 attacks only one year earlier. The world will never be the same again.
  • On television, a new show named "American Idol" premiered
  • Best movie – Chicago
  • Also in the theatres – SpiderMan, Signs, My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  • A Super Bowl ad cost $1.9 million
  • Baseball Great Ted Williams had his head frozen
  • Latest expression "What Happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas"
  • Top of the Charts – Hot in Here by Nellie, U Got it Bad by Usher
  • Also on TV – Joe Millionaire, ER, Friends
  • Apolo Ohno and Bode Miller are USA stars at the Winter Olympics

We hope you have enjoyed this series of periodic events over the years. As our firm has just completed its 80th tax season, we reflect on our past with an eye towards the future. We continually look for ways to continue to provide exceptional service to our clients. The next 80 years will undoubtedly be different than the last 80, but as, always, we remain Committed to your Success!

Jay Pease - Audit Partner and Firm Historian

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tech Tip - Zooming in Excel and Word

Tech Tip - "Zooming" in Excel and Word

Is the information in your Excel spreadsheet or Word document too small for you to read comfortably?  Don’t squint or lean toward your monitors!  It’s easy to make the spreadsheet or document appear larger on your screen by using the “zoom” feature.  There are a couple of ways to do it, and they both accomplish the same thing.  Use whichever method you like (and can remember) best:

  1. Hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard while rolling the scroll wheel on your mouse.  Rolling the wheel forward will zoom in (will make the spreadsheet or document appear larger), while rolling the wheel backward will zoom out (will make the spreadsheet or document appear smaller).
  2. There also is a zoom tool in the lower right corner of the Excel or Word screen (see figure below). Just click the “+” or “-“ buttons to zoom in or out.  You can also move the slider (in between the “+” and “-“ buttons) left or right to zoom in or out.

Craig Rhinehart
Director of Information Technology

Monday, April 29, 2013

Does your HEALTH PLAN need a CHECK UP?

As a small business, when was the last time you reviewed your health plan to ensure it was in compliance with IRS reporting requirements?  Health and other welfare benefit plans must file a Form 5500 annually unless they are specifically exempt by the IRS.  

The following summary of basic reporting requirements may be the tool you need to give your health and welfare benefit plan(s) an annual “check up”:

1. ______ Did your welfare benefit plan have fewer than 100 participants as of the beginning of the plan year?    (DO NOT COUNT covered dependents, but DO COUNT former employees who are still covered by the plan.) 

If you answered ‘YES’ to (1), see (2) below. 

If you answered ‘NO’ to (1), your plan must file a Form 5500.

2. ______Is your plan any of the following: unfunded, fully insured, or a combination of both?

Unfunded – The employer pays all of the benefits of the plan; there are no employee contributions and/or the employer does not use a trust to hold assets of the plan.

Fully Insured – Benefits of the plan are paid entirely from insurance contracts/policies.  Premiums are paid directly to the insurance company by the employer using employer’s assets, employee contributions, or a combination of both.

Unfunded and Fully Insured, a combination – An IRS example of combination funding would be a single plan that provides both unfunded medical benefits and fully-insured life insurance.

If you answered ‘YES’ to (2), your welfare benefit plan does NOT need to file a Form 5500. 

If you answered ‘NO’ to (2), you must file a Form 5500 for your welfare benefit plan(s). 

Welfare benefit plans that use a voluntary employees’ beneficiary association (VEBA), must file a Form 5500. 

The Form 5500 is due 7 months after a plan’s year end (e.g., a  12/31 year end would need to file by 7/31).   The Form 5500 is an information return, so there is generally no tax due.  However, the IRS does assess penalties for failure to file or for late filings. 

Your CPA is an excellent resource if you need to file a Form 5500 for your plan or if you have questions about the filing requirements.  

Most importantly, remember to give your health plan a “check up” annually. 

Daria A. Cruzen, CPA

Monday, March 11, 2013

80th anniversary fun facts (1992)

In the year, 1992 (sixty years after our founding):
  • President George Bush apologizes for his famous “read my lips…no new taxes” quote, then…
  • Bill Clinton is elected president in November.
  • The first nicotine patch is introduced.
  • The Internet Society is chartered, with 1 million host computers connected.
  • While the Rodney King riots are happening in LA, John Gotti is convicted in New York.
  • Famous deaths: Sam Walton, Lawrence Welk and Fred McMurray.
  • The Mall of America opens in Minnesota.
  • The average cost of a new car is $16,950 (up 112% from 1982), a house is $122,500 (up 48%), and annual income is $30,050 (up 42%)
  • Hit TV shows: Home Improvement, Coach, Full House.
  • Musicians topping the charts: Whitney Houston, Madonna, Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey
  • Academy Award winner “Unforgiven” (Clint Eastwood); also in the theatres: “A Few Good Men”, “Basic Instinct”, ”Wayne’s World”

Meanwhile, back in Columbus, the historic merger of our two firms is now twelve years old. Three of today’s tax partners (Ron Thomas, Clinton Gilmore and Kris Braxton) begin to establish the next generation of leadership at Robinson, Grimes. The firm also expands its services into the new age world of computer consulting, which it continues today, along with traditional services of tax, accounting, audit and management and personal financial planning. As the country enters a time of economic growth, our firm adds to its strengths to take on the variety of challenges in the fast-paced, ever-changing world of public accounting.

More to come – hope you enjoy!!

Jay Pease - Audit Partner and Firm Historian

Monday, February 25, 2013

80th anniversary fun facts (1982)

In the year, 1982 (fifty years after our founding):

  • The following people are born: LeAnn Rimes, Kirsten Dunst, Tara Lipinski.
  • President Ronald Reagan declares War on Drugs.
  • Barney Clark becomes the first artificial heart transplant recipient.
  • The first issue of USA Today is published.
  • The first episode of Late night with David Letterman airs.
  • IBM releases the PC – DOS version 1.1.
  • AT&T is broken up, spinning off the “Baby Bells”.
  • Herschel Walker wins the Heisman.
  • The average cost of a new car is $7,983, a house costs $82,500, and annual income is $21,073
  • Hit songs are “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” (Joan Jett) and “Eye of the Tiger” (Survivor)
  • “Ghandi” is an Academy Award winner
  •  Also in the theaters: “E.T”, “Tootsie”, ”Poltergeist”

Meanwhile, back in Columbus, Ross Robinson and Keith Grimes are two years into the merger of the two largest accounting practices in Columbus. Employees are getting comfortable with their new offices on Whitesville Road. With 10 partners and 40 employees, it is the largest and most diversified firm in the region. 

Four of today’s partners (Lev Norman, Charlie Johnson, Scott Voynich and Jay Pease) helped establish the foundation of practice philosophy and firm culture 30 years ago, and that still carries on today.

More to come – hope you enjoy!!

Jay Pease - Audit Partner and Firm Historian

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tech Tip: Keyboard shortcuts and Mouse Keys

Have you ever been at home (or even at work) and had your mouse quit working?  For most folks this would result in an eventual “hard power off” of the computer because they aren't able to navigate at all without the mouse!  Admittedly, it’s a challenge in Windows to live without it.

Shortcut keys are handy to know – they can save time in your everyday computer use and can also help in case your mouse ever stops working.  The most important shortcut in the case of a non-functioning mouse is Alt+F4.  This is the universal “Exit” or “Close” shortcut, and you can use it (and any other keyboard shortcut) even if your mouse is working.  Just press Alt+F4 and the current program will behave as if you had clicked the “X” or selected File | Exit.  If your file hasn't been saved, you’ll get the standard prompt to save your work before exiting.  In the situation where your mouse quits working and you want to try restarting your computer, start pressing Alt+F4 to close your programs one by one.  Eventually you’ll get to your Windows desktop, and when you press Alt+F4 Windows will get the message that you want to close, and you’ll then see the prompts about shutting down the computer!

One feature to know in the event of a non-functional mouse is called Mouse Keys.  It’s not something you’d want to use to do all your work, but in a pinch (like when your mouse stops working after you've typed three pages of your best writing but haven’t saved the file yet) it can be a lifesaver.  Once activated you’ll use your numeric keypad to move the mouse cursor around the screen.  It can be slow and tedious, but remember that the alternative is losing your work!  On a full-size keyboard’s numeric keypad*, the “8” button moves the mouse cursor up, the “4” moves it left, the “6” moves it right, and the “2” moves it down.  Once you've positioned your cursor use the “5” button for a mouse click.

To activate the Mouse Keys feature, press Alt+LeftShift+NumLock*. This action will produce a prompt asking you to confirm that you want to turn on this feature.  You can press Enter to accept the default “Yes” answer, or press Alt+Y (since the “Y” in “Yes” is underlined).  Now you've activated Mouse Keys.  To navigate using Mouse Keys as described above, press NumLock and then begin using the keys on your numeric keypad*!  To turn off mouse keys (if your mouse suddenly begins working again) you can press Alt+LeftShift+NumLock again.  You won’t see a prompt this time, but Mouse Keys will be turned off.

*On a laptop, this can be a little tricky, because just pressing NumLock can be a bit of a challenge.  It usually involves pressing a “Function” key and the NumLock key (which doubles as a different key when the Function key isn’t pressed) simultaneously.  Also, since there isn't a numeric keypad on most laptop keyboards, you’ll have to look for the arrow buttons as alternate labels on “regular” keys.

Craig Rhinehart, Director of IT Services