April 17, 2014

Some Iowans scramble as midnight federal tax deadline looms

The IRS is reminding Iowans who are preparing their federal tax returns on this deadline day of April 15th to double-check all of their numbers.

The agency’s spokesman for Iowa, Christopher Miller, says if you’re in a hurry, math errors can add up to big trouble, but he says mistakes are less likely if you file your return electronically.

“We’re running about 90% of people electronically filing their tax return,” Miller says. “More and more people are realizing how fast and easy it is to e-file your taxes. When you choose direct deposit and you e-file, you get your refund in the fastest amount of time possible.”

People who have procrastinated doing the taxing task of taxes may be trying to speed through the process as the deadline approaches, which Miller says can be a bad idea.

“When you’re rushing, you can make mistakes easier,” Miller says. There is about a one-percent chance of making a mistake when e-filing versus a 20-percent chance of error with paper returns.

If you’re not able to make the midnight deadline, all is not lost. “If you’re running out of time and don’t think you’re going to get your tax return done, file for an extension,” Miller says. “That has to be done by the deadline. It’s Form 4868. We’re expecting a lot of people will get that additional six months until October 15th to file their taxes.”

If you file for an extension though, Miller reminds, there is a string attached:

“An extension of time to file your tax return is not an extention of time to pay,” Miller says. “If you owe taxes, you still need to figure out your best estimate of how much you’ll owe and get that into us by the deadline to avoid further interest and penalties.”

More last-minute tax tips are available on the agency’s website, www.irs.gov.


Business group pushes for return of renewable energy tax credits

A business group is pushing federal officials to renew tax credits for investment in renewable energy technology. Mark Schroder owns a business in Urbandale that installs new LED lighting all over the state, and is part of the group behind the effort. “We feel as a small business owner that if these tax incentive were reinstated, that would (make) a tremendous impact on our Iowa economy,” Schroder says.

He says the tax credits would help him and others hire more people to retrofit businesses. But right now things are on hold. Schroder says they are running into businesses that want to hold off on making updgrades in 2014 until they see what happens with the tax credits.

One of the concerns is it can take five to seven years for businesses to see a payback on the investment in more energy efficient lighting. “Tax incentives can — in conjunction with utility company rebates — we can actually see paybacks in less than a year,” Schroder says. He says the utility companies have been good in Iowa in offering rebates.

Schroder says the sooner federal officials act on the tax credits, the sooner businesses can work upgrades into their budgets. “Rather than wait ’til the 11th hour — December 29th — and make a decision, we’d like to see something happen much sooner than that so businesses in Iowa can   make those plans and make those decisions, and move forward…on energy efficient upgrades,” Schroder says.

Iowa’s entire congressional delegation has signed onto a letter urging their colleagues to renew the tax credits. Credits for investment in renewable energy technology and production of electricity expired at the end of 2013.

Iowa interests testify in favor of keeping Renewable Fuel Standard where it is

Those who are against an EPA proposal to cut the amount of renewable fuel required to be used in the country testified before a U.S. Senate panel Tuesday. The director of global business for biorefineries at DuPont, Jan Koninckx, testified that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is working and should not be modified. “The bottom line here is, driven by the RFS we have completely reinvented how we fuel our vehicles using renewable fuel. And we do so without adding additional CO-2 into the atmosphere,” Koninckx says.

DuPont is  building the 30-million gallon capacity cellulosic ethanol plant in the central Iowa town of Nevada. The plant converts the stalks and leaves from the corn plant, know as stover, into ethanol.  Another such plant is under construction in  Emmetsburg.

Koninckx told the panel the law encouraged the company to invest in a new technology. “We had to unlock the sugars trapped in biomass by chemically convert them into advanced fuel and create an entirely new supply chain,” he says.  Koninckx  says the company has worked in partnership with the U.S.D.A.,  scientists and local farmers to convert what had been corn harvest waste into fuel. ” Step by step, with our partners, we knocked out these technical challenges,” Koninckx says.

He and others argue that lowering RFS requirements will hurt rural economies and stymie the growth of the new industry.  Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley  is a member of the Senate Ag Committee. Grassley has also expressed concern that reducing RFS mandates will halt the investments in rural Iowa.

Many livestock producers support the EPA’s proposal, hoping it will help keep feed costs lower by reducing demand for corn.

New IRS rules say automatic tips are not tips

A tip that’s required is no longer considered a tip under new IRS rules — and that has caused a change for restaurants. Restaurants have had policies for years where they add an “automatic gratuity” or tip when they serve large groups.

Iowa Restaurant Association President, Jessica Dunker, says the IRS changes things at the start of the new year. “You can have an automatic gratuity — but then that has to be treated as a service charge,” Dunker explains. The IRS now treats a service change as worker wages from the employer. “And that means as an example, if you have worked more than 40-hours this week, what’s included in your wage is part of that service charge,” Dunker says. “So that the calculations for an employer become very difficult. In addition to that — a service charge — an  employer has no obligation to give to the employee.”

While restaurants used to include an automatic gratuity of 20-percent or more for large parities, most now list a suggested but not mandatory tip for larger groups.

Better Business Bureau warns of online scam involving missing airplane

Iowans who use a popular social media website are being warned about a new scam that involves that missing passenger airliner, according to Jim Hegarty at the Better Business Bureau. Hegarty says, “If you’re on Facebook and a post catches your attention with the headline, ‘Video of Malaysia 370 plane found in Bermuda Triangle, Passengers Alive,’ it’s designed to trick you into clicking on the link that would lead you to the video that doesn’t exist or it’s a phony one.”

He says it would be a mistake to click on that link, even if it appears to be from a friend you trust. “A pop-up may appear, prompting you to update your video player but when you click on that, what you’re doing is downloading malware into your computer that can do all sorts of bad things,” he says. That malware may record your keystrokes to obtain passwords and access to your personal financial information.

Hegarty says while you can trust your friends, you many not be able to trust their Facebook accounts as they can be hacked. “Don’t click on these because lots of times people’s Facebook can get highjacked and folks will send you things that appear to be coming from them when in fact they’re coming from scammers,” Hegarty says. “These guys are trying to do whatever they can to get unsuspecting consumers to click on these links.”

Hegarty says stay away from links to video footage that claims to be “exclusive,” and he suggests you just hover your cursor over the link to see if it’s really going to the address it claims.

Des Moines ranks high as a place to find a job

Iowa’s largest city rates number 5 in a new national list of best metropolitan areas to find a job. Allen Jones, spokesman for the employment website ZipRecruiter, says they ranked Des Moines and 49 other cities based on the volume of job postings.  “We have the unique ability to have access to a lot of data through small businesses posting jobs,” Jones says. “The way we looked at this, we said, where is unemployment really low and where is there a surplus of jobs based on the activity we see on ZipRecruiter. We took a more non-traditional approach to trying to figure out an index of what looked promising.”

The report shows Des Moines is the center of recession-proof industries like insurance and health care. Just to the west on Interstate 80 lies Omaha, which ranked number-two on the list. “The reason Des Moines came in at #5 is, as it compares to Omaha, the median home price is actually a bit lower,” Jones says. “Omaha comes in at $125,000 while Des Moines is at $106,000, but the unemployment rate is a little higher, 4.4%, while Omaha is a 3.9%, so it kicked it down a couple of notches.”

The website says Salt Lake City is the best place for job hunting. Others in the top five include Madison, Wisconsin, at third and Minneapolis/St. Paul in fourth place. Jones says there are some cities on the list you wouldn’t expect to see there.  “What you’ll see on our list of Top 10 or Top 50 cities for jobs is not the normal cities you’d see,” Jones says. “You see Des Moines, Iowa, and think, ‘Des Moines, really?’ but based on the volume of new jobs there, the unemployment rate, the cost of living and the median salaries, we see opportunity and we think it’s important to expose all of those things.”

ZipRecruiter’s rating is a bonus for Des Moines. The city made the Forbes list of Best Places for Business and Careers in 2010 and 2013, while NBC recently ranked Des Moines as the wealthiest city in America.

Casey’s announces plans for a distribution center in Indiana

An Iowa-based convenience store chain is planning to build a distribution center in Indiana. Casey’s General Stores already has a distribution center in Ankeny, where the company is headquartered. Construction on a 38,000-square foot addition to that building was just recently launched. Officials announced Tuesday that another 250,000 square foot distribution center will be built in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Construction on the $30 million facility will begin in November and will take up a year-and-a-half to complete. It will employ more than 150 people. In a statement, Casey’s CEO Robert Myers said Terre Haute is the “most strategic location” to help the company expand further south and east. Casey’s is the 10th largest convenience store chain in the U.S. with nearly 1,800 stores, mostly in the Midwest.

There are nearly 500 Casey’s stores across Iowa.