Are You Ready for 2017 Tax Filing Season?

There are several new changes for the upcoming tax filing season. Business as usual is not what it was a few years ago or even last year.

The IRS will start accepting tax returns January 23, 2017. I remember every year tax season started on the 15th of January and if you filed early you would receive your refund in two weeks or less, unless there were some problems with your return. Taxpayers claiming earned income tax credit, child tax credit, additional child tax credit or education credit refunds will be delayed including the portion that does not have anything to do with the credits. These refunds will not be issued before February 15, 2017.

Even though the IRS will begin to issue refunds on the 15th of February your refund might not arrive at your bank until the week of the 27th.

Let’s discuss what qualifies a taxpayer to claim the earned income tax credit, child tax credit, additional child tax credit and the education credit. We are going to about dependents, let’s face it without dependents you can’t claim the first three credits.

Dependent

The dependent has to be related to you by blood, marriage or adoption to qualify for the tax credits. Dependents has to be your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, step brother/sister, grandchild, niece, nephew. They also have to meet the age test under age 19 at the end of the year or under 24 if they are in college and younger than you. You have to pay over half of their support and they lived with you over half of the year. Your dependents income has to be less than $4,000 in 2015, it will be a little higher for 2016.

Dependents can be claimed by ONLY taxpayer even if more than one person qualifies to claim the dependent. There are tie breaker rules we will not discuss here.

Education credits

To qualify for an education credit your dependent has to attend a higher education school, the credit is not for elementary or high school students attending a private school. Students are allowed to claim the American Opportunity Credit for the first four years attending school for higher education. After the first four years your dependents may qualify for the lifelong education credit. This year students have to have form 1098T to qualify for the education credit.

Individual Taxpayer Identifying Number (ITIN)

There may be processing delays for individuals with expiring ITIN numbers. If you have not filed used your ITIN on a tax return at least once in the past three years or your middle number for your ITIN is 78 or 79 it could expire at the end of December 2016. If you plan to file a tax return next year and your ITIN is expiring, you should renew it before it expires.

Taxpayers will be effected by the 2015 Path Act changes.

  • Individuals cannot file an amended return to claim EITC for prior years that a qualifying child did not have a Social Security Number. This provision went into effect on the date the PATH Act became law on December 18, 2015.
  • The IRS can stop taxpayers from claiming EITC for 10 years if the IRS finds they have fraudulently claimed the credit.
  • The EITC is now subject to the penalty for erroneous claim for refunds and credits.
  • Incorrectly claimed refundable credits will now be taken into account when determining the underpayment penalty.

Parents: Take the SAT Challenge!

I keep a box of tissues on the table where I tutor because,

as an SAT tutor and college application consultant, I listen to

high school juniors and seniors who are so overwhelmed

by college pressure that they begin to cry. Not just girls. Not

just Ivy League aspirants.

High school students are always convinced their parents

don’t understand them. This time the students are right.

Parents don’t understand because the college admission

process is so much more competitive than it was when

most parents applied to college.

These are the ten things I wish I could tell parents:

1. I am convinced that parents have to walk a mile in the

student’s moccasins to gain some appreciation for the

stress the students are under and to reverse the tension at

home. If parents will take an SAT practice test they will feel

some of the same anxiety, cringe at their results, and

discover that the test is hard. Instead of piling 25 pounds of

SAT study books on the desk, parents can commiserate

with students over missed problems. Parents and students

can become allies rather than adversaries as they face the

college admission process.

2. Hire SAT prep tutors who focus on the applicable

academic material rather than just the tricks. Increasing a

student’s academic preparation for the test in addition to

teaching the tricks increases their confidence on the test

and in the classroom; teaching only the tricks makes

students more insecure because they are relying on tricks

rather than on actual knowledge.

3. Have the tutors keep the parents informed about each

session so that the parent tracks progress with the tutor

rather than pestering the student for information.

4. Have the student try the ACT. All colleges accept it and

some students do better on it than on the SAT.

5. Make learning fun. For example, have the students

memorize vocabulary using the book Vocabulary Cartoons

by Sam Burchers, et al. Also, have the student do the

crossword and other word puzzles in SAT Vocabulary

Express, the fun book of word puzzles that will increase SAT

scores. I wrote it with Michael Ashley, a nationally known

puzzler, so that our students would learn to play with words,

an important skill for the new SAT.

6. Emphasize getting good grades rather than good SAT

scores. Bs in honors classes are better than As in regular

classes.

7. Hire an independent college counselor who will work

with the family to create a realistic college list, brainstorm for

essay topics, establish deadlines for the student, and check

all college applications. High school college counselors

are overworked and do not have the time to walk families

through the process.

8. Realize that the schools parents attended may not be

within reach for their child. The number of high school

students planning to attend college has increased

dramatically; the student may be well qualified for a

particular college and may still not get in.

9. Look for colleges where the student will thrive

academically and socially. Choosing colleges based on

their name recognition and prestige value is a formula that

will increase stress, not decrease it. Everyone else wants

to go to those schools, too, making them even harder to get

into; they are not necessarily the best place for the student.

Loren Pope’s book, Colleges That Change Lives, is a good

place to start.

10. Support your child through a difficult process. Leave the

prodding, nagging, and yelling to the tutors and college

counselor. The independent college counselor will tell the

student to work harder so the parent doesn’t have to. Why

ruin the student’s last year at home?

Parents can make decisions so that senior year is not be so

fraught with anxiety that family members begin to avoid each

other. And, I hate it when my students cry.

How to Study Abroad in Europe

Are you thinking of studying abroad in Europe but don’t know how to start? Nowadays, earning your degree or part of it abroad has become a vital tool for students to grow personally and professionally. With over 5,400 institutions, a cohesive higher education policy, a safe environment, and an amazing cultural and historical heritage, Europe has a lot to offer you as a student. On this article, I explain the steps you should follow to come study in Europe and give you some pieces of advice on the essential factors to consider when preparing your foreign study experience in Europe.

* STEP 1: Have you already started your higher education studies? There’s a great difference between applying for studies abroad in Europe as a first-year student and moving from a university or college from another country: – If you are not enrolled at any higher education institution in your home country and would like to study as an undergraduate student in Europe, you may need to prove you have successfully passed your upper secondary school / high school studies and your school leaving examination. If you passed the leaving examination and your home country signed the Lisbon Convention or have a reciprocal agreement with the country in Europe where you will be studying, you might be exempted from taking the examination again. To check the validity of your previous studies at high school to continue to higher education studies, you should contact either the university or college of your interest or the ministry of education of the country where you will be studying. Which one you will have to contact vary depending on the country in Europe. – If you are already studying at university or college in your home country and would like to study abroad in Europe, you may continue reading the step #2.

* STEP 2: Decide whether you will be an exchange or a free mover student. If you would like to study your entire degree in Europe, coming as a free mover student might be the most appropriate option for you. If you would just like to study abroad in Europe for a specific period of time, participating in an exchange program between your current school and its counterpart in Europe might be the best approach. It is important your firstly evaluate your status as a student, as it will determine how to apply for studies abroad in Europe. Among the differences between being an exchange or a free mover student in Europe, I would mention these ones: – Exchange students submit their applications through their coordinator at their home school, while free movers must arrange all the documentation by themselves. – As an exchange student, you will be charged moderate or no tuition fees at all, while you will have to pay full tuition and registration fees as a free mover student. – Keep in mind that if you intend to return to your home school, you should make sure you agree in written with your teachers what courses you studied abroad will be recognized once you are back. This is usually done through a document called “Learning agreement”. – In general, exchange students follow different application deadlines than the usual dates.

* STEP 3: Find a school that best meets your academic profile and personal expectations.This is the most time-consuming part of the process of organizing your foreign study experience in Europe. When selecting a school in Europe, you should consider factors such as: – The language of instruction: in Europe, you can study in many languages, such as English, Spanish, French, German or Italian, just to mention a few of them. Don’t be afraid and take the chance to improve your foreign language skills. Many schools in Europe offer languages courses addressed to their international students. So you may be able to earn a degree while learning or improving your foreign language skills. In fact, I studied Swedish while earning my degree. The language of instruction of my lectures was Swedish! It might seem hard in the beginning, but the result is truly rewarding. – Social activities: does your school offer activities to get you socially integrated in the campus life? It’s not just about having fun, but also about learning more about the country where you will be living in and getting to know other people who are in the same situation as you. You will even make very good friends! – Accommodation offer: does your school provide you with accommodation at the campus or help you find a place to stay? You should look for an accommodation option before coming to Europe. – Career opportunities: think of the possibilities available for you after you finish your studies at the school you chose. Do they also help you with career development?

* STEP 4: Take the admission tests. This might not always be the case but, for certain competitive study programs, students are required to pass an admission test. The results you obtain at those tests will determine whether you will finally be admitted. In the event you are applying for studies related for fine arts, you may also be required to pass aptitude tests.

* STEP 5: Prepare your student visa and residence permit. Once you have selected your school and have been admitted to the study program of your choice, you may initiate the process of applying for a student visa or residence permit. Students from certain countries or planning to stay in Europe for a period of time longer than 90 days, will have to apply for a Schengen Visa and/or a residence permit. Usually the application for a residence permit and a Schengen Visa is carry out through the embassy or consulate in your home country, where you can also address any questions you may have.

I hope the pieces of advice are of help and encourage you to come study in Europe. Welcome to Europe!

USMLE Step 1 Exam Prep – 4 High-Yield Brachial Plexus Tips For The Step 1 Exam

While many people preparing for their USMLE Step 1 exams tend to focus on the tougher subjects like Pathology and Pharmacology, it is imperative that you do a good review of your Anatomy material because you are guaranteed to get a few really easy questions. If you take just a little bit of time to go through the high-yield anatomy notes from your review books or course, you are going to get an easy 5-7 points on your exam, which as you may know can be the difference between a sub-200 score and an above-200 score.

In order to make this process as easy for you as possible, I am going to outline five common injuries that are related to the brachial plexus, which is a very high-yield USMLE topic.

Here we go:

Median Nerve Injury – this commonly results from an injury to the supracondyle of the humerus, and results in a loss of the following:

– forearm pronation

– wrist flexion

– finger flexion

– thumb movement

And it also results in a loss of sensation to the thumb, lateral aspect of the palm, and the first 2.5 fingers.

Radial Nerve Injury – this occurs commonly when there is an injury to the shaft of the humerus, and results in the following:

– loss of triceps reflex

– loss of brachioradialis reflex

– loss of carpi radialis longus

These symptoms lead to the commonly known “wrist drop”, as well as a loss of sensation to the posterior antebrachial cutaneous and the posterior brachial cutaneous nerves.

Ulnar Nerve Injury – this occurs with injury to the medial epicondyle of the humerus, and causes the following problems:

– impaired flexion and adduction of the wrist

– impaired adduction of the ulnar two fingers and the thumb

There is also a loss of sensation to the medial aspect of the palm, as well as loss of sensation to the medial half of the ring finger and the pinky.

Axillary Nerve Injury – occurs as a result of injury to the surgical neck of the humerus and/or an anterior dislocation of the shoulder, resulting in the following:

– complete loss of deltoid movement

– loss of sensation over the deltoid muscle as well as the skin covering the inferior aspect of the deltoid

These are four common brachial plexus related injuries, and are very likely to present themselves on your USMLE Step 1 and/or Step 2 CK exams. Be aware that they will be disguised as clinical vignettes, but also refer back to your basic knowledge in order to choose the most accurate answer.

Conquering Your Financial Aid Application: FAFSA

Why file your financial aid application before the 15th of February? Conquering your financial aid application.

The most important piece in the college admission process is going to be financial aid because it will come down to money which will determine whether you will attend a college of your choice or not. This is why you should apply for financial aid as soon as you and your parents can get your taxes done because the application will require your financial information and your parents’ or parent financial information. If you qualify for any federal or state (free) moneys, the sooner you file your financial aid application the better off you will be. There are a predetermined number of dollars that are earmarked for federal grants and state grants and once the moneys are given out, you will have to wait until the next semester to see if some money frees up. You may have to wait until the following year to attend college.

Besides filing your FAFSA, you should check the website of each school that you will apply to or have applied to for any other financial aid application that you have to file.

Every student should file the application no later than February 15th of his or her senior year.

Who should file for financial aid? (FAFSA)

Everyone should file the application whether they think they qualify for federal and state grants or not because even if you don’t qualify for any free money, the institution will need your financial profile in order for them to give you any of their money. Any free money (grants) or loans will require your financial profile. If you are applying to any institution of higher education, you will need to file a financial aid application.

What drives the Expected Family Contribution number when you file your application? Is it income driven or asset driven?

The Expected Family Contribution is income driven for the most part. Other factors that will influence this number will be the number of people living in the household, the age of the older parent, the number of individuals enrolled in college and the number of properties owned by your parents. EFC is the amount money that the institution will expect you to come up with to pay for your education. This is your financial responsibility. The EFC is always higher than what you expect based on your current financial status. FAFSA is not asset driven and it does not dig deep into your family’s finances.