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Tuesday Tax Tips

2016 Tax Changes

Three Extra Days to File and Pay

Taxpayers will have until Tuesday, April 18, 2017 to file their 2016 returns and pay any taxes due. That’s because of the combined impact of the weekend and a holiday in the District of Columbia. The customary April 15 deadline falls on Saturday this year, which would normally give taxpayers until at least the following Monday. But Emancipation Day, a D.C. holiday, is observed on Monday, April 17 giving taxpayers nationwide an additional day. By law, D.C. holidays impact tax deadlines for everyone in the same way federal holidays do. Taxpayers requesting an extension will have until Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 to file.

Refunds Delayed for Some Taxpayers

A law change that went into effect this year requires the IRS to hold refunds on tax returns claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until at least Feb. 15. Still, even with this change, the fastest way to get a refund is to file electronically and choose direct deposit. Even though the IRS will begin releasing EITC and ACTC refunds on Feb. 15, many early filers will still not have actual access to their refunds until at least the week of Feb. 27. The additional delay is due to several factors including the time needed by banks to process direct deposits.

Under this change, required by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, the IRS must hold the entire refund — even the portion not associated with the EITC and ACTC. This change helps ensure that taxpayers get the refund they are owed by giving the IRS more time to help detect and prevent fraud. Taxpayers should file as usual, and tax return preparers should submit returns as they normally do. Beginning a few days after Feb. 15, affected taxpayers can check the status of their refund by visiting IRS.gov/Refunds and clicking on Where’s My Refund? Or using the IRS2Go mobile app.

Renew ITIN Soon to Avoid Refund Delays

Many Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) expired on Jan. 1, and affected taxpayers should act soon to avoid refund delays and possible loss of eligibility for some key tax benefits until the ITIN is renewed. An ITIN is used by anyone who has tax-filing or payment obligations under U.S. law but is not eligible for a Social Security number.

Under a PATH Act change, any ITIN not used on a tax return at least once in the past three years has expired. Also now expired is any ITIN with middle digits of either 78 or 79 (9NN-78-NNNN or 9NN-79-NNNN).

It can take up to 11 weeks to process a complete and accurate ITIN renewal application. For that reason, the IRS urges anyone with an expired ITIN needing to file a return this tax season to submit their ITIN renewal application soon. ITIN renewal applicants can get help by visiting IRS.gov/ITIN, consulting a Certified Acceptance Agent or Acceptance Agent or making an appointment at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC).

Olympic Medals and Prize Money Now Tax-Free for Most Olympians

Starting in 2016, most Olympic and Paralympic winners qualify for a new tax benefit. To qualify, the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) must be $1 million or less ($500,000 or less, if married filing separately. For these taxpayers, the value of Olympic and Paralympic medals and the amount of United States Olympic Committee (USOC) prize money is not taxable. These amounts are shown in Box 3 on Form 1099-MISC. See the Form 1040 instructions for Lines 21 and 36 for details on how to report.

ABLE Accounts Now Available for Some People with Disabilities

States are now offering specially designed, tax-favored ABLE accounts to people with disabilities who became disabled before age 26. Originally authorized in legislation enacted in late 2014, these special accounts first became widely available during 2016. Recognizing the special financial burdens faced by families raising children with disabilities, ABLE accounts are designed to enable people with disabilities and their families to save for and pay for disability-related expenses.

Contributions totaling up to the annual gift tax exclusion amount — $14,000, in both 2016 and 2017 — can generally be made to an ABLE account each year. Though contributions are not deductible, distributions are tax-free if used to pay qualified disability expenses. See the Tax Benefit for Disability page for more information.

Standard Mileage Rates Revised

The standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck are:

  • 54 cents per mile for business miles driven in 2016, down from 57.5 cents in 2015. For those planning ahead, the 2017 rate, for use on a 2017 return filed next year, is 53.5 cents per mile.
  • 19 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes in 2016, down from 23 cents in 2015. The 2017 rate is 17 cents.
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations. This rate is set by law and is unchanged.

The tax instructions have details on taking advantage of each of these provisions.

New Self-Certification Available for Missed Rollover Deadline

Beginning Aug. 24, 2016, a taxpayer who inadvertently fails to properly complete a tax-free rollover of a distribution from an IRA or workplace retirement plan to another eligible retirement program can often qualify to use a new self-certification procedure. Under the procedure, eligible taxpayers, encountering a variety of mitigating circumstances, can qualify for a waiver of the 60-day time limit and avoid possible early distribution taxes. Normally, an eligible distribution from an IRA or workplace retirement plan can only qualify for tax-free rollover treatment if it is contributed to another IRA or workplace plan by the 60th day after it was received. Previously, in most cases, taxpayers who failed to meet the time limit could only obtain a waiver by requesting a private letter ruling from the IRS.

Now, a taxpayer who missed the time limit ordinarily qualifies for a waiver if one or more of 11 circumstances apply to them. They include a distribution check that was misplaced and never cashed, the taxpayer’s home was severely damaged, a family member died, the taxpayer or a family member was seriously ill, the taxpayer was incarcerated or restrictions were imposed by a foreign country.

Ordinarily, the IRS and plan administrators and trustees will honor a taxpayer’s truthful self-certification that they qualify for a waiver under these circumstances. Moreover, even if a taxpayer does not self-certify, the IRS now has the authority to grant a waiver during a subsequent examination. Further details, including a sample self-certification letter that a taxpayer can use to notify the administrator or trustee of the retirement plan or IRA receiving the rollover that they qualify for the waiver, can be found in Revenue Procedure 2016-47, posted on IRS.gov.

The IRS encourages eligible taxpayers wishing to transfer retirement plan or IRA distributions to another retirement plan or IRA to consider requesting that the administrator or trustee make a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer, rather than doing a rollover. Doing so can avoid some of the delays and restrictions that often arise during the rollover process. For more information about rollovers and transfers, check out the Can You Move Retirement Plan Assets? section in Publication 590-A or the Rollovers of Retirement Plan and IRA Distributions page on IRS.gov.

New Deadline for Reporting Foreign Accounts

The deadline for filing the annual Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) is now the same as for a federal income tax return. This means that the 2016 FBAR, Form 114, must be filed electronically with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) by April 18, 2017. FinCEN will grant filers missing the April 18 deadline an automatic extension until Oct. 16, 2017 to file the FBAR. Specific extension requests are not required. In the past, the FBAR deadline was June 30 and no extensions were available.

In general, the filing requirement applies to anyone who had an interest in, or signature or other authority over foreign financial accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2016. Because of this threshold, the IRS encourages taxpayers with foreign assets, even relatively small ones, to check if this filing requirement applies to them. The form is only available through the BSA E-Filing System website.

FS-2017-01, January 2017

Tuesday Tax Tip: Self Employment

If you are self-employed, you normally carry on a trade or business. Sole proprietors andindependent contractors are two types of self-employment. If this applies to you, there are a few basic things you should know about how your income affects your federal tax return. Here are six important tips from the IRS:

  • SE Income. Self-employment can include income you received for part-time work. This is in addition to income from your regular job.
  • Schedule C or C-EZ. You must file a Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, or Schedule C-EZ, Net Profit from Business, with your Form 1040. You may use Schedule C-EZ if you had expenses less than $5,000 and meet certain other conditions. See the form instructions to find out if you can use the form.
  • SE Tax. You may have to pay self-employment tax as well as income tax if you made a profit. Self-employment tax includes Social Security and Medicare taxes. Use Schedule SE, Self-Employment Tax, to figure the tax. If you owe this tax, attach the schedule to your federal tax return.
  • Estimated Tax. You may need to make estimated tax payments. Try IRS Direct Pay. People typically make these payments on income that is not subject to withholding. You usually pay estimated taxes in four annual installments. If you do not pay enough tax throughout the year, you may owe a penalty.
  • Allowable Deductions. You can deduct expenses you paid to run your business that are both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and proper for your trade or business.
  • When to Deduct. In most cases, you can deduct expenses in the same year you paid, or incurred them. However, you must ‘capitalize’ some costs. This means you can deduct part of the cost over a number of years.

IRS Tax Tip 2016-23, February 19, 2016

Tuesday Tax Tip: Tax Scams

Each year, people fall prey to tax scams. That’s why the IRS sends a list of its annual “Dirty Dozen.” Stay safe and be informed – don’t become a victim.

If you get involved in illegal tax scams, you can lose money or face stiff penalties, interest and even criminal prosecution. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be on the lookout for these scams:

Identity theft. Identity theft, especially around tax time, is at the top of the “Dirty Dozen” list again this year. The IRS continues to aggressively pursue criminals who file fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number. The IRS is making progress on this front. Remain vigilant to avoid becoming a victim.

Telephone scams. Threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain an ongoing threat. The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent years as scam artists threaten taxpayers with police arrest, deportation, license revocation and more. These con artists often demand payment of back taxes on a prepaid debit card or by immediate wire transfer. Be alert to con artists impersonating IRS agents and demanding payment.

Phishing.  Phishing scams typically use unsolicited emails or fake websites that appear legitimate but are attempting to steal your personal information. The IRS will not send you an email about a bill or tax refund out of the blue. Don’t click on strange emails and websites that may be scams to steal your personal information.

Return Preparer Fraud. About 60 percent of taxpayers use tax professionals to prepare their returns. While most tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service, there are some dishonest ones who set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams. Be on the lookout for unscrupulous tax return preparers. Choose your preparer wisely.

Offshore Tax Avoidance.  Hiding money and income offshore is a bad bet. If you have money in offshore banks, it’s best to contact the IRS to get your taxes in order. The IRS offers the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to help you do that.

Inflated Refund Claims.  Be on the lookout for anyone promising inflated tax refunds. Also be wary of anyone who asks you to sign a blank return, promises a big refund before looking at your tax records or charges fees based on a percentage of the refund. Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony store fronts and word of mouth via trusted community groups to find victims.

Fake Charities. Be on guard against groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. If you are making a charitable contribution, you should take a few extra minutes to ensure your hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities. IRS.gov has the tools you need to check out the status of charitable organizations. Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally-known organizations.

Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns. Don’t give in to the temptation to inflate deductions or expenses on your tax return. Think twice before overstating deductions such as charitable contributions, inflating claimed business expenses or including credits that you are not entitled to receive, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit. Complete an accurate return.

Excessive Claims for Business Credits. Don’t make improper claims for fuel tax credits. The credit is generally limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming. It is generally not available to most taxpayers. Also avoid misuse of the research credit. If it doesn’t apply to your business and you don’t meet the criteria, don’t make the claim.

Falsifying Income to Claim Credits. Don’t invent income to erroneously claim tax credits. A scam artist may try to talk you into doing this. You should file the most accurate tax return possible because you are legally responsible for what is on your return. Falling prey to this scam may mean you have to pay back taxes, interest and penalties. In some cases, you may even face criminal prosecution.

Abusive Tax Shelters. Avoid using abusive tax structures to avoid paying taxes. The IRS is committed to stopping complex tax avoidance schemes and the people who create and sell them. Be on the lookout for people peddling tax shelters that sound too good to be true. When in doubt, seek an independent opinion regarding these complex situations or offers. Most taxpayers pay their fair share, and so should you.

Frivolous Tax Arguments.  Using frivolous tax arguments to avoid paying taxes can have serious financial consequences. Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying taxes. The law is crystal clear that people must pay their taxes. For decades, the federal courts have consistently upheld the tax laws. The penalty for filing a frivolous tax return is $5,000.

Tax scams can take many forms beyond the “Dirty Dozen.” The best defense is to remain alert. Additional information about tax scams is available on IRS social media sites, including YouTubeand Tumblr, where you can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

IRS Special Edition Tax Tip 2016-03, February 22, 2016

What You Need to Know about Taxable and Nontaxable Income

IRS Tax Tip 2016-20

All income is taxable unless a law specifically says it isn’t. Here are some basic rules you should know to help you file an accurate tax return:

  • Taxable income.  Taxable income includes money you earn, like wages and tips. It also includes bartering, an exchange of property or services. The fair market value of property or services received is normally taxable.

Some types of income are not taxable except under certain conditions, including:

  • Life insurance.  Proceeds paid to you upon the death of an insured person are usually not taxable. However, if you redeem a life insurance for cash, any amount you get that is more than the cost of the policy is taxable.
  • Qualified scholarship.  In most cases, income from a scholarship is not taxable. This includes amounts used for certain costs, such as tuition and required books. On the other hand, amounts you use for room and board are taxable.
  • Other income tax refunds.  State or local income tax refunds may be taxable. You should receive a Form 1099-G from the agency that paid you. They may have sent the form by mail or electronically. Contact them to find out how to get the form. Report any taxable refund you got even if you did not receive Form 1099-G.

Here are some items that are usually not taxable:

  • Gifts and inheritances
  • Child support payments
  • Welfare benefits
  • Damage awards for physical injury or sickness
  • Cash rebates from a dealer or manufacturer for an item you buy
  • Reimbursements for qualified adoption expenses

Source: What You Need to Know about Taxable and Nontaxable Income

Tax Payer Bill of Rights

It’s tax season and as many American individuals are busy filing their Tax Returns, some may need to contact the IRS with questions, and for help. Did you know there was such thing as a Taxpayer Bill of Rights?

Every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights. You should be aware of these rights when you interact with the Internal Revenue Service.

The “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” takes the many existing rights in the tax code and groups them into 10 broad categories. That makes them easier to find and to understand.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights includes the following:

  1. The Right to Be Informed.
    Taxpayers have the right to know what they need to do to comply with the tax laws. They are entitled to clear explanations of the laws and IRS procedures in all tax forms, instructions, publications, notices and correspondence. They have the right to be informed of IRS decisions about their tax accounts and to receive clear explanations of the outcomes.
  2. The Right to Quality Service.
    Taxpayers have the right to receive prompt, courteous, and professional assistance in their dealings with the IRS, to be spoken to in a way they can easily understand, to receive clear and easily understandable communications from the IRS and to speak to a supervisor about inadequate service.
  3. The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax.
    Taxpayers have the right to pay only the amount of tax legally due, including interest and penalties, and to have the IRS apply all tax payments properly.
  4. The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard.
    Taxpayers have the right to raise objections and provide additional documentation in response to formal IRS actions or proposed actions, to expect that the IRS will consider their timely objections and documentation promptly and fairly, and to receive a response if the IRS does not agree with their position.
  5. The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum.
    Taxpayers are entitled to a fair and impartial administrative appeal of most IRS decisions, including many penalties, and have the right to receive a written response regarding the Office of Appeals’ decision. Taxpayers generally have the right to take their cases to court.
  6. The Right to Finality.
    Taxpayers have the right to know the maximum amount of time they have to challenge the IRS’s position as well as the maximum amount of time the IRS has to audit a particular tax year or collect a tax debt. Taxpayers have the right to know when the IRS has finished an audit.
  7. The Right to Privacy.
    Taxpayers have the right to expect that any IRS inquiry, examination, or enforcement action will comply with the law and be no more intrusive than necessary, and will respect all due process rights, including search and seizure protections, and will provide, where applicable, a collection due process hearing.
  8. The Right to Confidentiality.
    Taxpayers have the right to expect that any information they provide to the IRS will not be disclosed unless authorized by the taxpayer or by law. Taxpayers have the right to expect appropriate action will be taken against employees, return preparers, and others who wrongfully use or disclose taxpayer return information.
  9. The Right to Retain Representation.
    Taxpayers have the right to retain an authorized representative of their choice to represent them in their dealings with the IRS. Taxpayers have the right to seek assistance from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic if they cannot afford representation.
  10. The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System.
    Taxpayers have the right to expect the tax system to consider facts and circumstances that might affect their underlying liabilities, ability to pay, or ability to provide information timely. Taxpayers have the right to receive assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service if they are experiencing financial difficulty or if the IRS has not resolved their tax issues properly and timely through its normal channels.

 

Phishing Scams – Remain Vigilant With Your Personal Data

social security

It’s Tax Time and this year there are several new phishing schemes to try and obtain your personal data during Tax preparation season. One of the newest is a phishing scheme via email, asking you to update your e-services information with the IRS.

The IRS Security Awareness Tax Tip Number 5 reminds us that “E-services will never ask you to do this. If you receive an email or requests like this, do not click on the links or take any other action. It is important to keep in mind the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. Never click on strange emails or links seeking updated information.”

Furthermore and “especially in families that use the same computer, students should be warned against turning off any security software in use or opening any suspicious emails. They should be instructed to never click on embedded links or download attachments of emails from unknown sources.”

For more tips on talking to your family about security online and at home, visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/Talk-to-Your-Family-about-Security-Online-and-at-Home

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