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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tips for Small Business Owners: the FMLA

The FMLA is also known as the Family and Medical Leave Act. The act mandates that certain eligible employees are entitled to take job-protected (though unpaid) extended leave for family and medical reasons. It is important for small business owners to be aware of the nuances of the FMLA so that your business does not get held in violation.

Those considered covered employers under the FMLA are the following:

-private employers with 40 or more employees, including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer
-public agenciest
-public or private schools

Those considered eligible employees under the FMLA must fulfill the following requirements:

-those that work for covered employers
-has worked for a covered employer for at least a year
-has worked at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during those 12 months before leave
-works at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles

Eligible employees are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of job protected leave each year if they or an immediate family member falls ill. Employees can also use the FMLA to take leave in cases of pregnancy or adoption. The leave can also be taken in whichever manner best accommodates the employee, whether that be a continuous 12 week absence, a reduced work schedule, or simply a few hours a week off for medical appointmemts.

As a business owner, it is important to be aware whether or not you are a covered employer and to fully follow FMLA guidelines if you are. If your business is not in compliance with the FMLA, the business will be at a significant risk for lawsuits. Covered employers must (1) post a notice explaining employees' rights and responsibilities under the FMLA, (2) include information about the FMLA in their employee handbook and inform employees of it upon getting hired, (3) if an employee requests leave, provide him or her with a notice concerning his or her eligibility for FMLA leave, and (4) notify employees whether leave is designated as FMLA leave and the amount of leave that will be deducted from the employee's FMLA entitlement. Additionally, when an employee returns from FMLA leave, he or she must be restored to his or her previous job or an equivilant one. Not adhering to these guidelines could result in serious consequences for your business, including monetary fines.

If you need assistance with a FMLA related legal matter, feel free to call my office at 718-317-5007.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Immigration Visas & Marriage Fraud

"Green card" marriage, also known as marriage fraud, is often the subject of jokes in popular movies and television shows. Unfortunately marriage fraud really does occur and it can have serious legal consequences for both the individuals involved and their families. Marriage fraud can be defined as the violation of law that occurs when a United States citizen weds a non-citizen for the purpose of obtaining permanent resident status in the U.S.

When a couple files an immigration application, they are granted an interview with an immigration officer. The purpose of this interview is to confirm that all of the information on the couple's application. During this interview, the couple will be asked questions about their relationship and its development, such as "When and where did you meet?" and "How long was it before you decided to get married?" Additionally, the officer will ask questions of each member of the couple individually, such as "What hours does your spouse work?" and "What gifts did you purchase for your spouse this holiday season?" It is recommended that the couple discuss and review some of the major events in their lives such as their first meeting, engagement, wedding and various birthdays/anniversaries before the interview. This information doesn't need to be memorized, however, some couples find it helpful to get on the same page before the interview starts in order to prevent unfortunate slip-ups.

If an immigration application is proven to be false, legally known as fraudulent, the filing couple can face serious consequences. The most immediate consequence is that the individual seeking U.S. citizenship cannot be a beneficiary of any other immigration (family or employment) petition. They may also be deported. The American citizen can face up to five (5) years imprisonment and/or fined up to $250,000 on a charge of criminal conspiracy.

Immigration is a long and complex legal process. If you are or a loved one is considering filing for an immigration visa, you may find that hiring a lawyer with previous immigration experience is helpful. Your lawyer will guide you through the necessary paperwork and help you get answers if you get caught up in red tape.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tax Scams You Should Avoid

We are all familiar with the old adage, "There are only two things in life that are guaranteed: death and taxes." While every citizen files taxes each year, some of us are more familiar with the process than others. Accurately and correctly filing taxes is important and mistakes, even innocent ones, can lead to anxiety-inducing audits and monetary fees. Below I have complied some of the more common "Tax Scams" that you should be avoid while filing your taxes.

1. Frivolous arguments: It is a common misconception that you can get gain hundreds of dollars on your tax refund by filing for loopholes and tax liabilities. The IRS has an entire page on their website dedicated to "frivolous tax arguments" that should be avoided completely when filing. You can get the maximum amount of money back on your taxes without making exaggerated claims. Furthermore,  filing frivolous claims can result in a $5,000 penalty from the IRS. 

2. Income Tax Schemes: Abusive tax structures are essentially plans to avoid paying the taxes you legally owe by concealing your true financial situation. This is primarily achieved by trying to disguise your ownership of expensive assets by using shell companies or foreign financial accounts. If you become involved in an income tax scheme and are caught by the IRS, you can face severe penalties. 

NB: It is important to remember that ignorance of the law is never a valid legal defense. If you are ever convicted of a tax-related crime, it will not work to plead ignorance that your actions were illegal as your defense. That is why it is important to work with reputable professions who can ensure that

3. Misusing trusts: Trusts have useful and valid legal benefits, but they can also be abused. Consult with a lawyer and/or tax professional before you commit any assets into a trust. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Keep Your Valuables Safe: Protecting Yourself From Natural Disaster

This is an reminder of the importance of keeping all of your important financial documents safe in case of a natural disaster or other such emergency.

1. Scan your records so that they're electronic
It is simple to scan all important documents (tax records, bank statements, insurance policies, etc) onto your computer and then save them in the manner on your choice. Some good options would be an external hard drive or send to a specific gmail account.

2. Buy a safe and store important documents in it
If you're simply not the computer savvy type and don't want to scan your financial documents, consider storing them in a safe.

2. Get out that camera and document your valuables
You should take photos of your most valuable items. This will allow you to have physical proof of your items, their condition and their worth when you claim the loss with your insurance. These photos may also be useful if you wish to claim the loss of your items as a deduction on your tax return.

3. Have an emergency plan
In the event of an emergency, the best thing you can do is have a plan (and a back up plan) for you and your family. In situations like these, preparation truly does save lives. Make sure you and your family have a separate plan for a variety of different emergency situations, such as earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes. It can also be helpful to rehearse this plan together as a family so that you can identify problems areas and familiarize each family member with the routine. If you are having a trouble forming a comprehensive plan on your own, this PSA guide can help.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Importance of Financial Literacy

Financial literacy is an essential part of running a healthy and stable household. Financial literacy is defined as a set of skills and understanding of how money works and how to manage and invest it in a way that ensures financial well-being. According to a 2013 poll taken by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in 2013, over 40% of adults graded themselves as a C or below in financial literacy. Unfortunately, American women consistently score lower than men in tests of financial literacy. Since financial literacy gives people the power to make educated decisions on the household finances, it can be hugely beneficial for a household's long-term finances if women acquire this knowledge. Women who are financially literate are more likely to prepare themselves for important life events such as retirement and/or the birth of a child. They may also have an easier financial adjustment period in the event of divorce.

There are many resources available to those who wish to increase their financial literacy. Our government runs a useful program called "My Money" to help educate citizens about the five keys to financial literacy: Earn, Spend, Protect, Borrow, and Invest. More information can be found at the My Money.Gov website. Further information about making wise investments can be found at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) website. Additionally, online programs such as the program can help you track your spending and investments and are a great tool for financial beginners. The Internet can be a great source of knowledge about finances, but not all online sites are accurate and/or reliable, so be sure to stick with reputable sources such as the websites of government or major financial institutions. Enjoy your research!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mortgage Loan Information

My firm handles real estate transactions regularly and clients often have questions concerning different kinds of mortgages. There are a few different types of mortgage loans currently being offered and each has it's unique benefits and drawbacks. Only you can decide what is right for your new home.

One of the most common types of mortgage is typically called a fixed rate mortgage. If you choose this type of mortgage, you will be charged a constant rate of interest for the entirety of the mortgage. Although the idea of a constant mortgage payment can be a comforting one, you should keep in mind these types of mortgage are usually associated with higher interest rates as a penalty for such security.

Another type of mortgage is typically known as a variable or adjustable rate mortgage. With an adjustable rate mortgage, your interest rate and payment will be the same for a specified period of time, perhaps five or six years, before fluctuating depending on the market rates. While this type of mortgage is considered more risky a fixed rate, it is important to keep in mind that there is a ceiling on your payment and that these types of loans often start with lower interest rates. Adjusted or variable rate mortgages can be ideal for people who are just starting out but anticipate steady increases in their salaries. 

It is important to do your research before you decide to take on a loan the size of a mortgage. Before you do so, remember that an attorney can often times be useful in providing unbiased and accurate legal guidance. If you have any questions or concerns, you should consult a legal professional first.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

IRS Releases Two New Publications About The Affordable Care Act

The IRS announced the release of more information concerning the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for families. The two new electronic publications, which can be found on the IRS website at, are helpful for educational use by individuals and tax professionals who have questions or concerns about the new Marketplace.

The first is Publication 5152, which discusses the importance of keeping the IRS updated to changes in circumstances. Changes in family size or income can affect your Premium Tax Credit and should be reported as soon as possible. The Premium Tax Credit is a refundable credit designed to assist families with moderate household incomes in affording the health insurance they need. If the Marketplace is not updated within a reasonable timeframe, families may receive too much or too little in advance payments. The publication also discusses the necessity of filing your federal tax return if you intend to claim your Premium Tax Credit.

The second is Publication 5156, which outlines what you need to know about the Individual Shared Responsibility Provision. This provision requires you and every member of your family to have a minimum amount of health coverage. The publication contains information about whether or not your family can qualify for an exemption or how much your payment will be if you or your family members do not have the minimum coverage.

Our health care system has undergone major changes in the last few years, so it is important for both individuals and families to have current and accurate information about their rights and responsibilities. Educating yourself on these provisions and the intricacies of the Affordable Care Act can help you make the right decisions for your family.