It’s Tax Time – Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to File

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You know tax season has begun when your mailbox contains W-2s, 1099s and lots of other tax-related documents needed for filing annual state and federal income tax returns.

While many of us dread preparing our taxes, it’s one of those necessary tasks that we have to get through every year. At least those receiving tax refunds have something to look forward to! But, there is some good tax news this year because the filing deadline has been extended for three days and you have until April 18, 2017 at midnight to get your taxes filed.

We don’t recommend you wait until the last minute, though. Filing early is highly recommended. One of the main reasons is to avoid identity theft. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), identity theft has become a big problem and criminals file fraudulent tax returns and collect refunds in your name leaving you with a mess to clean up. Early filing will prevent this.

Starting early also gives you more time to prepare your returns so you can make sure they are accurate. Plus, you’ll get your refund earlier and if you do have to pay, you’ll have more time to plan for it.

Many wonder whether it’s better to prepare those tax forms themselves or hire a professional. It usually depends on how complicated your finances and returns are. Either way, there is some homework you’ll need to do to keep your stress level down and to complete your filing on time.

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute.
  2. Collect needed documents in advance.
  3. Review your documents to be sure you have everything you need and get what is missing.
  4. Determine if you’ll file online or by mail.
  5. Decide if you’ll prepare your tax returns yourself, use a computer tax program or have a tax preparer do it for you.
  6. Before choosing a professional, interview them over the phone or in person to verify their experience and ask any other questions you may have. Then, make an appointment and check their license and credentials.

According to the California Tax Education Council (CTEC) website, California professionals who can charge a fee to prepare tax returns must be licensed as an attorney or certified public accountant (CPA); or be a CTEC-registered tax preparer or an enrolled agent.

CTEC states that “choosing a tax preparer who is not one of those four professionals may prevent you from legal recourse against fraud. It may also increase your chances for additional taxes, interest and fines.”

Check the license

CPA: If you choose a CPA to prepare your taxes, the California Board of Accountancy (CBA) encourages you to check the status of a CPA’s license on their website. Or call the board at (916) 263-3680.  You can also find any public enforcement documents related to a California CPA here.

Attorney: To verify the license of an attorney, go to the California Bar Association website.

Tax Preparer and Enrolled Agent: To verify that a tax preparer or enrolled agent is certified, go the California Tax Education Council website.

Helpful Information

The CBA’s Consumer Assistance Booklet has helpful tax information and can be viewed here on their website.

If you need more information on your federal taxes, check the IRS website at www.irs.gov.

California tax information can be found  at the California Tax Service Center www.taxes.ca.gov and at the Franchise Tax Board website.

Take some time now to get those tax returns ready and avoid the headaches and stress of waiting until the last minute.

FEBRUARY IS AMERICAN HEART MONTH

americanheartmonthsocial-cover-image-fb_midDid you know that the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States is heart disease?  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the deaths of more than 600,000 Americans—1 in 4—are attributed each year to heart disease.

In the United States, the month of February has been designated American Heart Month. Two nationwide campaign efforts lead the charge with the goal of increasing the public’s awareness about heart disease. The most well-known—The American Heart Association’s (AHA’s) National Wear Red Day—is this Friday, February 3. This campaign encourages women to make heart health a priority. The second campaign, Million Hearts, is a joint effort of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association and other private-public partners; the goal is to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes through prevention and awareness.

The term “heart disease” encompasses not just the heart, but diseases that affect the system that supports it. The most common of these is coronary artery disease, which, according to the CDC, can lead to, or be the first sign of, a heart attack.

Heart disease does not discriminate—it affects people of all ages. In fact, a person can be born with heart disease and anyone, including children, can develop the disease.

According to both the CDC and the AHA, risk factors for increasing a person’s chances of acquiring heart disease include age, family history, smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, and not getting enough exercise. In addition, the probability of getting heart disease increases with pre-existing medical conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes.

Symptoms can vary depending on the type of heart disease, which is why prevention is important. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to make heart health a priority.

The Medical Board of California makes it easy for you to check the status of your doctor’s license. Visit www.mbc.ca.gov.

Don’t Miss the Latest Issue of Consumer Connection!

In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recalled 51.3 million autos in the United States. The recalls included everything from defective ignition switches and consumer-connection-winter-2016steering wheels to acceleration issues and airbag and seatbelt defects. If you receive a recall notice, don’t ignore it. The winter 2016 issue of Consumer Connection walks you through what to do if you receive one.

This edition of DCA’s magazine continues its regular feature highlighting Department leadership. This issue includes an interview with the Executive Officer of the Board of Registered Nursing (Board), Joseph Morris. Mr. Morris discusses his background, long-term goals for the Board, and the Board’s challenges ahead.

The issue also explores a variety of other interesting topics, including recognizing a flood-damaged car when shopping for a used vehicle, fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the recently launched California State Athletic Commission’s campaign to prevent and treat concussions.

Visit the DCA website to download or read the magazine. You can also pick up a printed copy in the DCA Headquarters lobby at 1625 North Market Boulevard in Sacramento. Or, to have it mailed to you at no charge, call (866) 320-8652 or send an e-mail request to consumerconnection@dca.ca.gov. Get connected!

 

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month

blog_posterFluoridated water is the focus of the American Dental Association‘s (ADA’s), message for this year’s National Children’s Dental Health Month.

The slogan “Choose Tap Water for a Sparkling Smile” is featured on the ADA 2017 campaign poster as part of its effort to promote good oral health for young people and their caregivers. Decades of research have shown that an optimal level of fluoride in community water is safe and effective in preventing tooth decay by at least 25 percent.

Simply by drinking water, both young and old can benefit from fluoride’s cavity protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named community water fluoridation one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

The ADA says the average teenage boy in the U.S. consumes 81 gallons of soft drinks a year. A steady diet of sugary foods and drinks can ruin teeth, especially for those who snack throughout the day. Common activities can also contribute to tooth decay,including habitually grazing on foods with minimal nutritional value and frequently sipping on sugary drinks.

The ADA offers these tips to reduce potential tooth decay in kids:

  • Limit between-meal snacks. If kids crave a snack, offer them nutritious foods.
  • If your kids chew gum, make it sugarless—chewing sugarless gum after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid.
  • Monitor beverage consumption: Instead of sipping soft drinks all day, children should choose water or low-fat milk.
  • Help your children develop good brushing and flossing habits.
  • Schedule regular dental visits.

To find a qualified dentist, visit the Dental Board of California website to do a license search.

Coloring and puzzle activity sheets promoting oral health for kids are available in both English and Spanish on the ADA website.

Covered California Open Enrollment Ends January 31

covered-california-jpgOpen enrollment for Covered California, the state’s marketplace for the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ends on Tuesday, January 31. For coverage to begin on March 1, 2017, you must enroll by this deadline.

Depending on different factors such as your family size and income, you can qualify for:

Consumers interested in learning more about their coverage options should go to CoveredCA.com or call (800) 300-1506.

And remember, if you’ve experienced a life-changing event, you may be able to sign up for a health plan during Special Enrollment even after the open enrollment period ends. Visit http://bit.ly/1BMTca1 for more information.

Weighing Out Diet Scams

weight-lossThe first month of 2017 is almost history, but a few of the resolutions you may have put on the list for this year may still not be crossed off—or started, for that matter. Getting more organized and saving money are goals that are easy to plan, while losing weight—a resolution that is at the top of many people’s lists—is one of the hardest to start.

Losing weight is a healthy and rewarding goal, however, beware of quick-fix weight-loss products and plans. Like other scams, if they sound too good to be true, they probably are.

At best, “miracle” weight-loss products won’t help at all and will only cause you to lose money. At worst, they can cause health issues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that hundreds of dietary supplement products contain hidden active ingredients that may be advertised as “natural” and “safe.” As a result, the FDA has received numerous reports of increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, stroke, seizure, and even death as a result of taking these supplements.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), beware of weight-loss ads with tag lines like these:

  • Lose weight without diet or exercise!
  • Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods!
  • Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!
  • Just take a pill!
  • Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!
  • Everybody will lose weight!
  • Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!

The FTC says the best way to lose weight is to cut about 500 calories per day, eat a variety of healthy foods, and exercise regularly. Also, before beginning any weight-loss plan, consult your healthcare professional. To check the status of a doctor’s license, visit the Medical Board of California website at www.mbc.ca.gov.

Drought Conditions Still Persist in Some Areas of the State

After a series of super-soaker storms descended on much of California in January, the obvious question is: Is the state still in a drought?

The short answer is it depends on what part of the state you’re talking about.

Source: California Department of Water Resources

Source: California Department of Water Resources

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) estimates 60 percent of the state in Central and Southern California still faces “moderate” or “severe” drought conditions.

“Much of the state has not recovered from the severe drought conditions that have persisted for the past four years,” the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) stated in a news release. “Moreover, measurements by the Department of Water Resources indicate that the statewide snowpack is about 70 percent of average for early January.”

Northern California reservoir storage is healthy, while watersheds to the south still lag behind. Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville are at 82 and 81 percent of capacity, respectively, while Terminus and Isabella reservoirs in the southland are at just 31 and 35 percent of capacity, respectively.

On January 3, the Department of Water Resources’ first snow survey of the season in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where the snowpack makes up about one-third of California’s water supply, totaled just 70 percent of the historic average for that date. However, that figure should rise sharply when the next survey is conducted after a series of storms dumped several feet of the white stuff in the ensuing two weeks.

Facing unprecedented drought conditions statewide, in 2015, SWRCB ordered 400 urban water districts to cut usage by an average of 25 percent compared to 2013. With conditions improving significantly in many regions, SWRCB backed off those restrictions in May, allowing many water districts to set conservation targets based on projected shortages.

After a water-logged January, the SWRCB is debating whether to lift all drought regulations as much of the state receives above-average precipitation for the first time in years. The Board is likely to vote February 7 on lifting the eased restrictions.

Find out more about the drought and water conservation at www.saveourwater.com.

Cervical Health Awareness Month: Get Checked and Vaccinated

Start the new year by taking care of your cervical health. January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, which highlights the importance of proactive healthcare in the prevention of a possibly deadly cancer.

nccc-posterThanks to the Pap test, the human papillomavirus (HPV) screenings, and the HPV vaccination, cervical cancer has largely become a preventable and treatable disease. The HPV vaccine can protect against four types of HPV—the most common cause of cervical cancer—and should be administered before becoming sexually active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the shot for not only girls and women ages 11 to 26, but for boys and men as well.

Cervical cancer can be serious and even fatal—that’s why taking advantage of the early detection tools and the vaccine are so important. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), nearly 13,000 U.S. women are diagnosed each year with cervical cancer and more than 4,000 die from the disease.

Talk to your healthcare provider about getting screened and about your or your child’s eligibility to receive the HPV vaccine. In California, licensed medical professionals and pharmacists can administer the vaccine. To verify the license status of a doctor, visit the Medical Board of California; to verify the license status of a pharmacist, visit the State Board of Pharmacy. More information on cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine is available on the NCCC website.

Glaucoma Awareness Month: Guard Your Vision

Glaucoma. It’s called the “sneak thief of sight” because it can strike without symptoms and lead to permanent blindness.

The good news is that blindness from the disease is preventable. January is Glaucoma Awareness Month—a time to understand the disease and take important steps glaucoma-awareness-monthto guard yourself from its serious effects. Although there is no cure for glaucoma, if detected early, it can be treated with medication or surgery to slow down or prevent further vision loss.

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF), as much as 40 percent of a person’s vision can be lost without noticing—that’s why regular eye exams from a licensed optometrist are key. The GRF says these five tests are part of a thorough comprehensive glaucoma exam:

The inner eye pressure Tonometry
The shape and color of the optic nerve Ophthalmoscopy (dilated eye exam)
The complete field of vision Perimetry (visual field test)
The angle in the eye where the iris meets the cornea Gonioscopy
Thickness of the cornea Pachymetry

Anyone can get glaucoma, but there are those who are at higher risk:

  • African Americans over age 40
  • Everyone over age 60, especially Hispanics/Latinos
  • People with a family history of glaucoma

You can learn more about glaucoma by visiting the GRF’s website at www.glaucoma.org and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/features/glaucoma-awareness/index.html. To check the license and license status of an optometrist, visit the Board of Optometry’s website at www.optometry.ca.gov.

MMA Event Gets an Unintentional Promo From Hollywood

Mixed martial arts (MMA) and, specifically, the Bellator 170 event at the L.A. Forum in Inglewood on January 21, made headlines last week after gaining attention from an unlikely source–famed actress Meryl Streep.

Bellator MMA boss Scott Coker invited Meryl Streep to a fight after she mentioned MMA in a Golden Globes acceptance speech on January 8. Photo/JOSH HEDGES/FORZA LLC/FORZA LLC VIA GETTY IMAGES; PAUL DRINKWATER/NBCUNIVERSAL VIA GETTY IMAGES

Bellator MMA boss Scott Coker (above) invited Meryl Streep (inset) to attend Bellator 170 after she mentioned MMA in a Golden Globes acceptance speech on January 8. Photo/JOSH HEDGES/FORZA LLC/FORZA LLC VIA GETTY IMAGES; PAUL DRINKWATER/NBCUNIVERSAL VIA GETTY IMAGES

After receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, Streep gave a politically charged acceptance speech, part of which was aimed at Donald Trump’s negative stance on illegal immigrants. It was at that point that she gave MMA and football an unintentional boost.

“So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners,” Streep said, “and if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”

The off-the-wall reference received national media attention, much of it focusing on the fact that MMA is an extremely diverse, global sport. As the Washington Post headline said, “Meryl Streep slammed mixed martial arts. She doesn’t know what she’s missing.”

Scott Coker, the president of MMA promotional company Bellator—which is putting on the event headlined by Chael Sonnen versus Tito Ortiz with oversight from the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC)—seized the opportunity to formally invite Streep to Bellator 170 via Twitter.

Bellator's Scott Coker posted this tweet on January 8, inviting Meryl Streep to attend Bellator 170.

Bellator’s Scott Coker posted this tweet on January 8, inviting Meryl Streep to attend Bellator 170.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There has been no word if Streep will accept the invitation, but the jolt of publicity surely helped shine a light on the worldwide reach and diversity of MMA.