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Accounting & Consulting
Understanding your rights and responsibilities
The one common factor that affects every American is the fact that each of us must deal with the IRS. Where
most taxpayers pay their taxes and file returns annually, there is always the unfortunate few who either get selected for investigation or can’t resolve an issue.
Smart Business spoke with Samuel L. Tuck, principal-in-charge of the Tax Department at Tauber & Balser, P.C., about how to deal with the IRS during an audit and options available to make that situation less painful.
What events would trigger the IRS to examine a tax return?
An IRS audit or even a taxpayer error can cause the IRS to be your biggest creditor. The difference between the IRS and your average creditor is that the IRS can seize your wages, bank account or even your home without a court order or judgment. Your tax return may be examined for a number of reasons. Your tax return may be selected for examination on the basis of computer scoring called Discriminant Inventory Function System. Your tax return may also be selected on the basis of information received from third parties, such as W-2s and 1099s. Furthermore, the IRS may question the treatment of a certain transaction, such as a real estate sale or a deduction of certain expenses.
How are most IRS audits conducted?
The myth of an IRS audit is that an IRS agent shows up at your office or house demanding information. Contrary to that belief, most IRS examinations are completed by written correspondence with the IRS. An examination usually begins with the IRS notifying you that your return has been selected for audit. At this time, the IRS will request from you all necessary documents and information to resolve the matter. Do not hesitate to ask about anything that is unclear to you. If you seek the assistance of a professional to handle your audit, you will need to provide a power of attorney.
Even though the IRS has the ability to put your life in a tailspin, things will seem a lot more manageable if you know how to exercise your options. The IRS is usually willing to provide more time for payment and even a reduction in overdue taxes, if you know your options. Ten years ago, the IRS moved at a very slow pace. Sometimes, it would take months or even years for the IRS to address an issue and even longer to resolve. As technology has become more sophisticated, overdue taxes are quicker to appear and are quicker to be acted upon by the IRS. Most tax liens and levies are now computer-generated.
What are some tips when dealing with the handling of taxes owed?
? Understand why you owe taxes. There are many instances where a taxpayer may focus more on the taxes owed and not the reason for the tax assess-
ment. If you can’t comprehend why the taxes are owed, please seek help from a tax professional.
? Be willing to cooperate with the IRS. Provide the IRS all proper information it may request. Trying to bully the IRS won’t get you very far.
? Understand your options. After the examination, if any changes to your taxes are proposed, you can either agree with the changes and pay additional taxes or you can challenge the findings made by the IRS. About 25 percent of taxpayers can make a deal with the IRS. These deals can range from creating a payment plan or even an Offer in Compromise. An Offer in Compromise allows a taxpayer to settle unpaid taxes at a relatively large discount. The Offer in Compromise process is lengthy and tedious, however, the results can be quite beneficial.
? When dealing with unpaid business payroll taxes, be sure that you understand not only the business’s liability but also the potential liability that can be charged to the individuals responsible for paying the payroll taxes. Also, the penalties for these unpaid taxes can total 100 percent of the unpaid tax.
? As a last resort, filing for bankruptcy can reduce or eliminate some tax debts. Regardless of what the IRS may tell you, consult legal counsel to determine if the bankruptcy option can solve your tax problems. Be aware that filing for bankruptcy is complicated and can alter your future financial situation.
In dealing with the IRS, it is your right and responsibility to comply, question and act. Make sure you understand the situation and don’t be afraid to seek help when needed. <<
Leslie B Chief O
Samuel L. Tuck
Principal-in-charge Tax Department Tauber & Balser, P.C.
SAMUEL L. TUCK, CPA, MTX, is the principal-in-charge of the Tax Department at Tauber & Balser, P.C. He has more than 15 years of experience with a strong concentration in taxation for real estate partnerships and developers and a variety of small to mid-size businesses. He has developed expertise in technology-based companies, S corporations and limited liability companies. Tuck has extensive experience as well with family limited partnerships, trusts, international taxes and estate planning. He regularly consults with clients to improve their business operations and economic and accounting issues. Reach him at (404) 814-4901 or email@example.com.
Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Tauber & Balser, P.C.
Smart Business Atlanta | July 2008 28
Most executives prize those people in their organization who exhibit leadership qualities — whether they are in the executive suite or on the front line. Yet, it’s an executive’s responsibility to help employees develop leadership qualities.
As president and CEO of InfoCision Management Corp., Carl Albright has a lot of experience developing and nurturing leaders. “People look for leaders in all walks of life to inspire them to do well, to be better than they can be,” Albright says, adding that good leaders never will ask their people to do anything they wouldn’t do, whether it’s working on a Saturday, coming in early or working late.
Smart Business spoke with Albright about leaders and what makes them tick.
What is leadership in a business setting?
People want to be led by people who know what they are doing and have done the job before. People like working for people who have their best interests at heart. And people want to work for people who will help them become leaders.
How do you develop leadership in your management team?
Good leaders are good followers. Look for people who are good team members. I teach nine or 10 sessions a year on all aspects of management, including how to manage people and how to get the most out of them. Encourage people in your company who exhibit leadership to take classes. Best of all, tell them to watch closely those people who inspire them. Take notes on how those people operate — whether it’s a boss, a teacher or a sports coach. If there is someone in your operation who became an account executive in four years, go up and ask how he or she did it. Ask what he did to help himself succeed.
How do you develop leadership in workers?
Look for people who are good at the job they’re doing now and who have the right attitudes. Some people can be very good at their jobs but have poor attitudes. Others love the company but don’t do the best job. Look at attendance and work ethic. Do they want to move up. Do they get results? Do they have good attitudes? Do they have the company’s best interests at heart? Conversely, you should show them you have their best interests at heart. Everyone starts low and moves up if he or she does well.
How do you recognize or identify those people with leadership qualities?
First, people should always know where they stand. There should be a formal review process after the first 90 days, six months and then annually. However, if your staff members do not know how you feel about their job before you sit down for the review, there is a problem. Good leaders will tell people when they are doing great. If a worker is struggling, he or she should know that well before the review. One rule of leadership is that there should be no surprises.
What helps to bring out leadership qualities in employees?
Mentoring programs are great. If you identify someone early on who has leadership qualities, pair that person with someone outside his or her department who has similar job functions. Then, give that person more challenges to see if he or she can lead as well as follow. You want to see if that employee can go beyond following a straight line from A to Z and exhibit leadership qualities. Then, encourage the employee to attend seminars or go to classes. Tell that person to emulate a sports coach, teacher or manager whose style he or she admires.
How do you handle situations where two good leaders’ ideas conflict?
That is bound to happen. Good people can have differences of opinion. However, when you leave the conference room, you need to have an agreement. Executive vice presidents don’t always think alike. So, there has to be compromise. Everyone has to come out of the room on the same page. It does no good to force a policy on people. You need to get buy-in from everyone. Be sure everyone is on board.
Are there books or seminars you’d recommend for developing leadership skills?
If you have people who get nervous in a crowd, send them to Toastmasters. Have guest lecturers and speakers come in to your office. Have your best managers mentor people. I have a library of books 25 or 30 feet long — books on managing time, managing people and motivating people. I love to read the philosophies of sports coaches, such as Pat Riley, Rick Pitino and John Wooden. Right now, I’m recommending Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great.’ I’ve always liked GE’s Jack Welch and books like ‘Straight from the Gut.’ Gordon Bethune’s ‘From Worst to First’ is another good read. On top of that, take notes on people whose style you admire. Follow up with people. Leaders give credit where credit is due, but take blame when things don’t go well.
CARL ALBRIGHT is president and CEO of InfoCision Management Corp. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. InfoCision Management Corporation is the second largest privately held teleservices company and a leading provider of customer care services, commercial sales and marketing for a variety of Fortune100 companies and smaller businesses. InfoCision is also a leader of inbound and outbound marketing for nonprofit, religious and political organizations. InfoCision operates 32 call centers at 13 locations throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For more information, visit www.infocision.com.
Rolling out of bed, brushing your teeth and saying goodbye to your family most of us take these routine acts for granted, but for people locked into their bodies due to diseases like ALS or the resultant disabilities from strokes, these actions may be impossible or, at best, difficult.
But what if technology could bypass these disabilities, allowing humans to conquer genetics or disease and enable a return to a normal or improved life? These breakthroughs may be closer than you think.
“The BrainLab is working to discover impactful solutions for brain-computer interfaces by uncovering the underlying characteristics that affect users’ control,” says Dr. Adriane Randolph, director of the BrainLab, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University.
Smart Business spoke with Randolph about how brain-computer interfaces may help mitigate debilitating illnesses and injuries and create a new paradigm for the ways in which humans interact with computers.
What is the working definition of brain-computer interfaces?
Brain-computer interfaces are also known as direct-brain interfaces and brain-based interfaces. They are tied to the emerging fields of neuromarketing, neuroeconomics and neuroinformation systems (IS). Brain-computer interfaces allow people to communicate and control devices in their environment without the need for voluntary movement but instead through the use of signals from the brain. In addition, brain-computer interfaces allow for applications more informed about their users’ states of mind.
At this time, we cannot determine exactly what you are thinking, but we can read the patterns of your thoughts. You can learn to control certain patterns at will and these can be mapped to interfaces for control. For example, I cannot read your mind to see directly that you want your coffee with cream, but I can offer you an interface with which you may select coffee with cream by perhaps concentrating on a related image while that and other nondesired options are highlighted, and I can then see a certain area of your brain light up when the desired option is highlighted.
What types of brain-computer interface applications are studied?
Activity is recorded through direct means, such as using electroencephalograms (EEGs) where electrical activity of the brain is recorded and functional near-infrared (fNIR) imaging where oxygenated blood in areas of the brain needed to fuel different thought processes is monitored. Also, activity is recorded through indirect means, such as by using galvanic skin response (GSR), which is similar to a basic polygraph system where small changes in sweat are recorded. These techniques have just begun to move from clinical use to real-world application for control and assessment of user states.
Who are ideal candidates for the interfaces?
Brain-computer interfaces have been found useful for some able-bodied populations, but the target end-users are people who are literally locked into their bodies due to diseases such as ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) or after strokes. Individuals suffering from locked-in syndrome are completely paralyzed and unable to speak but otherwise cognitively intact. Traditional assistive technology is ineffective for this population of users due to the physical nature of input devices, such as mice and keyboards. Unfortunately, we do not yet know the specific profile of an ideal candidate for the various types of brain-computer interfaces, and this is the primary mission of the KSU BrainLab.
What is the biggest challenge of changing thoughts into actions?
In order for brain-computer interfaces to be used as nonphysical input channels for communication and control, they require that users be able to harness their appropriate electrophysiological responses for effective use of the interface. There is currently no formalized process for determining a user’s aptitude for control of various brain-computer interfaces without testing on an actual system. I developed a model for matching users with various interfaces in a way that predicts control, and seek to further validate that model. In addition, current brain-computer interfaces still are quite slow and error-prone where a user may only generate three words per minute in contrast to the ability for unassisted communication by humans at 200 words per minute. Although perhaps not a selling factor for use by able-bodied individuals, this is a significant triumph for someone who might not otherwise have an outlet.
How might brain-computer interfaces cut across business methodologies?
Brain-computer interfaces offer a new paradigm for the ways in which humans interact with computers. They provide for more informed, ‘natural user interfaces.’ Thus, organizations may better understand their clients’ true motivations. Further, we have seen incredible leaps in nanotechnology and changes in the way business is conducted due to innovations such as the Internet and wireless technologies. Brain-computer interfaces sit just beyond the horizon of technological breakthroughs that will impact business methodologies in the future. Already, companies like Microsoft and IBM are exploring these potentials.
DR. ADRIANE B. RANDOLPH is an assistant professor of Business Information Systems and director of the BrainLab at the Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. She can be reached at (770) 423-6083 or email@example.com.
Born: Memphis, Tenn., but grew up and lived in the small towns in eastern Tennessee between Knoxville and Chattanooga.
Education: J.D., Vanderbilt University; bachelor’s degree, University of North Carolina
What’s the best business lesson you’ve learned?
That environment where I grew up in East Tennessee and other aspects of my background are old-school values persistence and hard work pays off over time. There are no shortcuts. That ethos is not in vogue in the modern world always. It’s more of an old-school value system from the greatest generation, but it’s what influenced me, given that I’m 50, and it’s what my parents and grandparents value system was particularly where I grew up. I think those values and lessons are still proven true. There are no shortcuts.
As a kid, what did you want to be?
My father came from modest means so he went off when he was a teenager and began to work in a boiler room in a hospital in a small town in Athens, Tenn., and put himself through college and then worked after college and put himself through med school. When I was younger, that’s all I knew, so I thought I’d be a doctor because that’s what my dad did.
Then I was exposed, through my father, to other people, and I liked aspects of the law and what I thought law to be. I went to law school, and I loved Vanderbilt, but what I thought the law would involve, I found, to a degree, boring and tedious. As I was summer clerking at this firm, I went and interviewed and went pretty far in the process to work for the CIA to do something more exciting, and I ended up not doing that. I went into the law and was frankly surprised by how many different possibilities [there are] for growth and development within a law firm. It has been a challenge and constantly changing.
Until recently, a massive amount of data was simply thrown away because it was not economical to collect, store, analyze or interpret. But when more than half of the human race moved a major portion of its daily habits onto the Internet and more economical storage technologies evolved, a mountain of digital data began piling up data that can be mined for gold by forward-thinking strategic leaders.
“Several trends in market research are likely to have the greatest influence on strategic leadership in the next few years,” says Dr. Joseph Hair, professor, Kennesaw State University. “Strategic leaders need to be aware of and prepared to respond to these emerging trends.”
Smart Business recently spoke with Hair about how leaders, to be successful in today’s global economy, must be able to approach their work with a more strategic tactic.
How do you define strategic leadership?
It is the leader’s ability to anticipate and position his or her company for the future by mobilizing and focusing time and resources on tasks that make a difference and ensure future organizational success. Strategic leaders apply creativity, intuition and planning to help organizations identify and reach their goals. They think and act before they are forced to before they are in a defensive or reactive position. They also must know their customers why they do business with you and what they will be looking for in the future in an evolving market. Finally, they must be familiar with competitors and be sensitive to signals that provide insight about their own team, senior management and suppliers.
What factors are producing the information explosion?
Experts are forecasting that in 2007 to 2009 we will generate more information than we have in the past 1,000 years. The major factors causing this explosion of information is the increased data from retail point-of-sale systems, order entry systems and online purchases. But many other sources are generating tons of data including government, medical, financial, insurance, pharmaceutical, education and scientific sectors. One important enabling factor is the lower cost of data collection and storage. A study reported by the CIO of NCR concluded that in 1992 the cost of storing one megabyte of information was $15; by 2007, the cost was only 1 cent.
How will strategic leaders tap this mountain of information?
Strategic leaders in large and small organizations can convert what had been a ‘waste byproduct’ information into a new resource to improve decision-making and provide added value to customers. New technology will facilitate an expansion of the growing reliance on information/knowledge to improve decision-making in marketing and other functional areas of business. But knowledge-based decisions in marketing will be fueled by other developments, as well, including more comprehensive marketing research, real-time interactions between buyers and sellers that reduce response time, expansion and coordination of communication channels that enhance the ability to interact with customers, and the development of enhanced metrics to measure and benchmark performance. The result will be greater application of knowledge-based approaches and ‘one-to-one’ customer targeting.
How is this impacting customer decisions?
Customers have more and better information at their fingertips than they can even make use of in decisions. The challenge for Google and other popular search engines will be to design systems that help customers sift through and find the critical pieces of information probably less than 5 percent of the available information. With more than one-half of customers searching online before making a purchase, and 66 percent regularly watching TV and accessing the Internet simultaneously, marketers are able to collect data on these interactions and develop metrics to understand how search behavior ultimately impacts product and service choices. To remain competitive, strategic leaders in both consumer and industrial buying situations must understand and react to a better informed and more demanding customer.
How are buyers and sellers leveraging enhanced interconnectivity?
Real-time buyer-seller contact in which feedback is obtained and utilized almost simultaneously by both sides will be an integral part of marketing planning and, therefore, strategic decisions. Enhanced interconnectivity also will mean more and better methods of communication. Connections with customers via mobile devices as well as the Internet, WiFi and satellite-based communications will complement more traditional methods of conventional mail service, telemarketing and face-to-face selling.
How has this changed marketing research?
Global sourcing of marketing research services will increase substantially. Technology will enable companies to bypass existing research vendors and choose those that most closely meet their needs. Strategic leaders must embrace this global trend in outsourcing research because it will impact not only their bottom line but also the ability to respond to emerging opportunities.
DR. JOSEPH HAIR is a professor in the Marketing & Professional Sales Department, Kennesaw State University. Reach him at (770) 499-3280 or Jhair3@kennesaw.edu.
Born: Wichita Falls, Texas
Education: bachelor’s degree, business administration in accounting, Texas A&M University
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I was very passionate about sports and football and played it for many years. At some point, I realized I wasn’t talented enough to take it to the next level.
What’s your favorite board game and why?
I love to play chess just because it’s incredibly intellectually challenging, and I routinely get thumped by one of my 6-year-old twins. It’s an intellectual battlefield.
Burkett on people: An organization is nothing more than a group of people trying to accomplish the best they can, and the single greatest organizing principle that there is, when you have a group of people, is to allow them to build relationships and get to know each other. If you start thinking of a company as an inorganic thing, then you’re missing an opportunity. Think of it as an organic thing, and the life and blood of it are the people people like to do things with people they know. They get energy out of that and get focus out of that.
Resume fast fact: Burkett founded and then served as CEO of SourceNet Solutions Inc., one of the first pure finance- and accounting-focused business process outsourcing companies. He led it to growth of 500 employees throughout North America and Europe between 1996 and 2005.
Pam Sessions has been an entrepreneur and enjoyed working from an early age.
As a 7-year-old, she hosted mini carnivals, and by age 12, she was ordering candy as if she had a real store. She says she loved working and felt she was wired to do so because she enjoyed making people happy and providing them with something that they wanted and for which they were willing to pay.
That love for work and an entrepreneurial flare stayed with her as she and her husband, Don Donnelly, founded home-building company Hedgewood Properties in 1985. In 2006, the 70-employee company posted revenue of more than $100 million, and Sessions’ leadership as co-owner and president is being tested as the company faces the steep housing recession.
Smart Business spoke with Sessions about how to alleviate uncertainty when your company is facing tough economic times.
Communicate. What people fear the most is uncertainly. There’s such an important need to keep strong and consistent interaction and communication, so you don’t have uncertainty lead to rumors, lead to fear, lead to who knows what from there.
It’s humbling, and it’s important to be completely honest. Although we can’t give them certainty as to what the market will do, we can let them know the strategies, the effects and the impact, and not just talk at them but include them and get their feedback and opinions.
At the heart of how everyone listens is, ‘How does this affect me?’ Be sure that you’re speaking to them and you’re able to walk in their shoes and understand what their concerns are, what their uncertainties are and be confident. It’s so critical to be confident, to be courageous.
If you have self-confidence, you can instill it in others. It’s building partnerships and maximizing the energy. In times of uncertainty, leadership is even more important, so it’s not having all the answers and needing their input to make good decisions but still exhibiting confidence.
Hire great people. It’s times like these that highlight the quality and spirit of our people. You see clearly what your culture is about and the character of your company. It’s all about your people. It sounds trite, but it absolutely is the difference.
We look for more than just the job skills. It’s important to hire people with positive attitudes and creative thinkers.
We have a testing process that is behavior-driven for compatibility of that job and to help us understand how to bring out the best in that employee. We like to meet people’s family, if possible, because a job isn’t just a one-person factor it affects the whole family.
Then it’s just a matter of asking the questions that matter to you most and getting people to talk to you. ... Ask open-ended questions that enable people to open up.
When you hire people that share your philosophy, passions and principles, you are working within a trusting environment, and when you are in a respectful environment, all ships rise. Everyone learns that respect for each other is part of the culture. It definitely can provide a more trusting atmosphere.
Be in it for the long term. Make the commitment to a long vision. The decisions that are made short term are not always the most impactful.
Think about where you want to get and all the smaller impacts that are necessary to get you there. You have to hone down, refine and make as efficient as possible everything that you are today just to survive.
It’s important to not fall into the trap of being myopic. You have to stay in the broader world and be aware of what’s happening, changing trends, changing demographics, population trends everything that influences tipping points and social changes.
It’s not just about your business. Your business is interconnected with everything else that’s going on in the world, so it’s looking at that for logistical reasons but also for inspirational reasons.
Having a long-term focus helps you get through the day to day.
Solicit input. When you work in a participatory style, you’re working together, you’re communicating, and everyone has an important role in the process.
Don’t call a meeting to discuss things. You’re just out amongst your people all the time. You’re talking, and it’s casual and comfortable, so it’s not intimidating because you’re doing it all the time.
People still look to you, as the leader, to be the decision-maker, but they know their voice matters. They continue to give good advice and good consult because they know it does matter. They see that you’re taking in their input and understanding that perspective, and your decisions are influenced by that.
Do what’s right. Make those sound decisions to do what you believe to be right all the time, even in times of conflict, even times of temptation. Take that high road, do what is right and make good, sound decisions in that spirit. Just do right by people.
Leadership is over time I don’t think anyone is an instant leader. Over time, it’s those little pieces one happy customer, one great partnership, or one loyal employee, all of those things where you make decisions and little rewards add up to a successful business.
It’s that same commitment, even when there’s apparently nothing in it for you.
HOW TO REACH: Hedgewood Properties, (770) 889-3667 or www.hedgewood.com
On Feb. 13, 2008, President Bush signed into legislation the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008.
While its benefits to individuals have been widely touted in the media, there are advantages available to businesses as well, including a number of tax incentives.
Smart Business spoke with Leslie Balmforth, principal and chief operating officer of Tauber & Balser, P.C., on its impact to businesses and how they can take advantage of the tax savings opportunities it provides.
What are the major business tax incentives of the new law?
The Economic Stimulus Act increases the Code Section 179 depreciation deduction and brings back bonus depreciation for 2008. The Internal Revenue Service Code provides an immediate expense deduction for taxpayers who elect to treat the cost of qualifying property, called Section 179 property, as an expense rather than a capital expenditure for the year the property is placed in service. Before the Economic Stimulus Act, the maximum Code Section 179 deduction for 2008 was limited to $128,000 of qualifying property. With the new law, the deduction will almost double to $250,000. For tax years beginning in 2009, the maximum deduction will be reduced to $125,000, adjusted for inflation. Qualifying property must be tangible depreciable business property (new or used), depreciable under Code Section 168, and acquired by purchase for use in the active conduct of a trade or business.
What are some of the limitations of the Section 179 deduction?
There are two main limitations to the Section 179 deduction: the taxable income limitation and the investment limitation. The taxable income limitation states that the total cost of property that may be expensed for any tax year cannot exceed the total amount of taxable income derived from the active conduct of any trade or business during the tax year. The amount disallowed as a result of the taxable income limitation can be carried forward to future years subject to certain limitations.
The investment limitation affects businesses that purchase a significant amount of assets during the course of a year by limiting the amount of the allowable Section 179 deduction. A business can lose part or all of its Section 179 write-off by reducing dollar for dollar the amount of qualifying assets in excess of the investment limitation for that year. The Economic Stimulus Act increased the threshold for 2008 to $800,000. In tax years beginning in 2009, the threshold will be reduced to $500,000, adjusted for inflation.
How will these deductions and limitations work?
These examples illustrate how these deductions and limitations will work:
How does the bonus depreciation work, and how does it impact the business taxpayer?
The new law also provides business taxpayers with 50 percent bonus depreciation for qualifying property. Under first year bonus depreciation, a business can deduct half of the cost of a new asset and write off the remaining cost with the Section 179 deduction (if available) and/or regular depreciation deductions during the asset’s recoverable life. In essence, businesses can take advantage and utilize both the increased Section 179 deduction amounts and the bonus depreciation to reduce a significant amount of their taxable income.
For property to qualify, it must be purchased and placed in service by Dec. 31, 2008, or by Dec. 31, 2009, for certain long-lived assets.
Check with your tax adviser to see what property qualifies for the bonus depreciation and for more information on the new Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 and how it can benefit your business or you individually.
LESLIE BALMFORTH, CPA, is a principal at Tauber & Balser, P.C. and serves as chief operating officer. She is responsible for managing the financial and operational aspects of the firm including human resources, marketing, employee benefits, technology, facilities management, cash management and internal accounting. Reach her at (404) 814-4985 or firstname.lastname@example.org.