Author Archive

Monthly Newsletter for November 2017

by in Newsletter on Nov. 1, 2017

IRS Encourages Taxpayers to Check Their Withholding;

Checking Now Helps Avoid Surprises at Tax Time

 

 

WASHINGTON — As the end of 2017 approaches, the Internal Revenue Service today encouraged taxpayers to consider a tax withholding checkup. Taking a closer look at the taxes being withheld now can help ensure the right amount is withheld, either for tax refund purposes or to avoid an unexpected tax bill next year.

 

The withholding review takes on even more importance given a tax law change that started last year. This change requires the IRS to hold refunds a few weeks for some early filers claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit. In addition, the IRS and state tax administrators continue to strengthen identity theft and refund fraud protections, which means some tax returns could require additional review time next year to protect against fraud.

 

“With only a few months left in the year, this is a good time to check on your withholding,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “How much you choose to withhold is a personal choice, but checking now can reduce the chance for a surprise tax bill when you file in 2018.”

 

By adjusting the Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, taxpayers can ensure that the right amount is taken out of their pay throughout the year. Having the correct amount withheld from paychecks helps to ensure that taxpayers don’t pay too much tax during the year – and it also means taxpayers have money upfront rather than waiting for a bigger refund after filing their tax return.

 

The IRS also cautions people to be careful and check to make sure they have enough withheld from their paychecks. Under-withholding can lead to a tax bill as well as an additional penalty. The IRS especially encourages people with a second job, such as those in the sharing economy, or with a major life change to check whether they are having enough withheld or if they are making the appropriate estimated tax payments.

 

In many cases, a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, is all that is needed to make an adjustment. Taxpayers submit it to their employer, and the employer uses the form to figure the amount of federal income tax to be withheld from pay. But remember – it takes time for employers to process these payroll changes, so any adjustments should be made quickly so it can take affect during the final pay periods of 2017

Halloween Update 10-30-17

by in Newsletter on Oct. 30, 2017

How to Know if the Knock on Your Door is Actually Someone from the IRS

October 30, 2017

Every Halloween, children knock on doors pretending they are everything from superheroes to movie stars. Scammers, on the other hand, don’t leave their impersonations to one day. They can happen any time of the year.

People can avoid taking the bait and falling victim to a scam by knowing how and when the IRS does contact a taxpayer in person. This can help someone determine whether an individual is truly an IRS employee.

Here are eight things to know about in-person contacts from the IRS.

 

  • The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service.
  • There are special circumstances when the IRS will come to a home or business. This includes:
    • When a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill
    • When the IRS needs to secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment
    • To tour a business as part of an audit
    • As part of a criminal investigation
  • Revenue officers are IRS employees who work cases that involve an amount owed by a taxpayer or a delinquent tax return. Generally, home or business visits are unannounced.
  • IRS revenue officers carry two forms of official identification.  Both forms of ID have serial numbers. Taxpayers can ask to see both IDs.
  • The IRS can assign certain cases to private debt collectors. The IRS does this only after giving written notice to the taxpayer and any appointed representative. Private collection agencies will never visit a taxpayer at their home or business.
  • The IRS will not ask that a taxpayer makes a payment to anyone other than the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
  • IRS employees conducting audits may call taxpayers to set up appointments, but not without having first notified them by mail. Therefore, by the time the IRS visits a taxpayer at home, the taxpayer would be well aware of the audit.
  • IRS criminal investigators may visit a taxpayer’s home or business unannounced while conducting an investigation. However, these are federal law enforcement agents and they will not demand any sort of payment.

Taxpayers who believe they were visited by someone impersonating the IRS can visit IRS.gov for information about how to report it.

Monthly Newsletter for October 2016

by in Newsletter on Oct. 2, 2017

IRS Reminds Parents, Students to Explore Education Resources on IRS.gov

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service today reminded parents and students that there are many tax benefits available to them, and the easiest way to learn more about them is through the education resources available on IRS.gov.

Besides tax credits such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit, there are other education-related tax benefits that can help reduce a taxpayer’s tax liability. Savings plans, such as 529 plans, also offer tax-free ways to save for a student’s qualified education expenses.

Deductions:

Student Loan Interest Deduction

If a taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in 2017 is less than $80,000 ($165,000 if filing a joint return), there is a special deduction allowed for paying interest on a qualified student loan used for higher education. This may include both required and voluntary interest payments. Eligible taxpayers can claim this deduction even if they don’t itemize their deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A.

  • Qualified Student Loan is a loan:
    • Taken out solely to pay qualified education expenses that were for the taxpayer, their spouse or a person who was their dependent when they took out the loan.
    • Paid or incurred within a reasonable period of time before or after the taxpayer took out the loan.
    • For education provided during an academic period for an eligible student.
    • From someone other than a relative.
    • That is not taken from a qualified employer plan.
  • Qualified Education Expenses include amounts paid for the following items:
    • Tuition and fees.
    • Room and board.
    • Books, supplies and equipment.
    • Other necessary expenses, such as transportation.

 

 

Business Deduction for Work-Related Education

A taxpayer who is an employee and can itemize their deductions may be able to claim a deduction for expenses they paid for work-related education.

For self-employed workers, deduct expenses for qualifying work-related education directly from self-employment income. This reduces the amount of income subject to both income tax and self-employment tax.

To claim a business deduction for work-related education, the taxpayer must:

  • Be working.
  • Itemize their deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040 or 1040NR), if they are an employee.
  • File Schedule C, Schedule C-EZ or Schedule F if the taxpayer is self-employed.
  • Have expenses for education that meet the requirements for qualifying work-related education.

Savings Plans:

Qualified Tuition Programs (529 Plans)

States may establish and maintain programs that allow taxpayers to either prepay or contribute to an account for paying a student’s qualified education expenses at a postsecondary institution. No tax is due on a distribution from a qualified tuition program unless the amount distributed is greater than the beneficiary’s adjusted qualified education expenses.

Qualified expenses include:

  • Required tuition and fees.
  • Books, supplies and equipment.
  • Computer or peripheral equipment, computer software and internet access and related services.
  • Room and board for those who qualify as at least half-time students.

Monthly Newsletter for September 2017

by in Newsletter on Aug. 29, 2017

IRS Issues Urgent Warning to Beware IRS/FBI-Themed Ransomware Scam

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service today warned people to avoid a new phishing scheme that impersonates the IRS and the FBI as part of a ransomware scam to take computer data hostage.

The scam email uses the emblems of both the IRS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It tries to entice users to select a “here” link to download a fake FBI questionnaire. Instead, the link downloads a certain type of malware called ransomware that prevents users from accessing data stored on their device unless they pay money to the scammers.

“This is a new twist on an old scheme,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “People should stay vigilant against email scams that try to impersonate the IRS and other agencies that try to lure you into clicking a link or opening an attachment. People with a tax issue won’t get their first contact from the IRS with a threatening email or phone call.”

The IRS, state tax agencies and tax industries – working in partnership as the Security Summit – currently are conducting an awareness campaign called Don’t Take the Bait, that includes warning tax professionals about the various types of phishing scams, including ransomware. The IRS highlighted this issue in an Aug. 1 news release IR-2017-125 Don’t Take the Bait, Step 4: Defend against Ransomware.

Victims should not pay a ransom. Paying it further encourages the criminals, and frequently the scammers won’t provide the decryption key even after a ransom is paid.

Victims should immediately report any ransomware attempt or attack to the FBI at the Internet Crime Complaint Center, www.IC3.gov. Forward any IRS-themed scams to phishing@irs.gov.

The IRS does not use email, text messages or social media to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds. For more information, visit the “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” page on IRS.gov. Additional information about tax scams is available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube videos.

Monthly Newsletter for August 2017

by in Newsletter on Jul. 25, 2017

Taxpayers Should Review Their Withholding; Avoid Having Too Much or Too Little Federal Income Tax Withheld

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today encouraged taxpayers to consider checking their tax withholding, keeping in mind several factors that could affect potential refunds or taxes they may owe in 2018.

Reviewing the amount of taxes withheld can help taxpayers avoid having too much or too little federal income tax taken from their paychecks. Having the correct amount taken out helps to move taxpayers closer to a zero balance at the end of the year when they file their tax return, which means no taxes owed or refund due.

During the year, changes sometimes occur in a taxpayer’s life, such as in their marital status, that impacts exemptions, adjustments or credits that they will claim on their tax return. When this happens, they need to give their employer a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to change their withholding status or number of allowances.

Employers use the form to figure the amount of federal income tax to be withheld from pay. Making these changes in the late summer or early fall can give taxpayers enough time to adjust their withholdings before the tax year ends in December.

The withholding review takes on even more importance now that federal law requires the IRS to hold refunds a few weeks for some early filers claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit. In addition, the steps the IRS and state tax administrators are now taking to strengthen protections against identity theft and refund fraud mean some tax returns could face additional review time next year.

So far in 2017, the IRS has issued more than 106 million tax refunds out of the 142 million total individual tax returns processed, with the average refund well over $2,700. Historically, refund dollar amounts have increased over time.

Making a Withholding Adjustment

In many cases, a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, is all that is needed to make an adjustment. Taxpayers submit it to their employer, and the employer uses the form to figure the amount of federal income tax to be withheld from their employee’s pay.

Monthly Newsletter for July 2017

by in Newsletter on Jun. 26, 2017

IRS Cautions Taxpayers to Watch for Summertime Scams

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service today issued a warning that tax-related scams continue across the nation even though the tax filing season has ended for most taxpayers. People should remain on alert to new and emerging schemes involving the tax system that continue to claim victims.

“We continue to urge people to watch out for new and evolving schemes this summer,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Many of these are variations of a theme, involving fictitious tax bills and demands to pay by purchasing and transferring information involving a gift card or iTunes card. Taxpayers can avoid these and other tricky financial scams by taking a few minutes to review the tell-tale signs of these schemes.”

EFTPS Scam

A new scam which is linked to the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) has been reported nationwide. In this ruse, con artists call to demand immediate tax payment. The caller claims to be from the IRS and says that two certified letters mailed to the taxpayer were returned as undeliverable. The scammer then threatens arrest if a payment is not made immediately by a specific prepaid debit card. Victims are told that the debit card is linked to the EFTPS when, in reality, it is controlled entirely by the scammer. Victims are warned not to talk to their tax preparer, attorney or the local IRS office until after the payment is made.

“Robo-call” Messages

The IRS does not call and leave prerecorded, urgent messages asking for a call back. In this tactic, scammers tell victims that if they do not call back, a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Those who do respond are told they must make immediate payment either by a specific prepaid debit card or by wire transfer.

Private Debt Collection Scams

The IRS recently began sending letters to a relatively small group of taxpayers whose overdue federal tax accounts are being assigned to one of four private-sector collection agencies. Taxpayers should be on the lookout for scammers posing as private collection firms. The IRS-authorized firms will only be calling about a tax debt the person has had – and has been aware of – for years. The IRS would have previously contacted taxpayers about their tax debt.

Scams Targeting People with Limited English Proficiency

Taxpayers with limited English proficiency have been recent targets of phone scams and email phishing schemes that continue to occur across the country. Con artists often approach victims in their native language, threaten them with deportation, police arrest and license revocation among other things. They tell their victims they owe the IRS money and must pay it promptly through a preloaded debit card, gift card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls” or via a phishing email.

Tell Tale Signs of a Scam:

The IRS (and its authorized private collection agencies) will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments. The IRS will usually first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury and checks should never be made payable to third parties.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

For anyone who doesn’t owe taxes and has no reason to think they do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page. Alternatively, call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

Monthly Newsletter for June 2017

by in Newsletter on Jun. 5, 2017

Eight Tips for Deducting Charitable Contributions

 

Charitable contributions made to qualified organizations may help lower your tax bill. The IRS has put together the following eight tips to help ensure your contributions pay off on your tax return.

1. If your goal is a legitimate tax deduction, then you must be giving to a qualified organization. Also, you cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates. See IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, for rules on what constitutes a qualified organization.

2. To deduct a charitable contribution, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A.

3. If you receive a benefit because of your contribution such as merchandise, tickets to a ball game or other goods and services, then you can deduct only the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received.

4. Donations of stock or other non-cash property are usually valued at the fair market value of the property. Clothing and household items must generally be in good used condition or better to be deductible. Special rules apply to vehicle donations.

5. Fair market value is generally the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of all the relevant facts.

6. Regardless of the amount, to deduct a contribution of cash, check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written communication from the organization containing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution and amount of the contribution. For text message donations, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.

7. To claim a deduction for contributions of cash or property equaling $250 or more you must have a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written acknowledgment from the qualified organization showing the amount of the cash and a description of any property contributed, and whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the gift. One document may satisfy both the written communication requirement for monetary gifts and the written acknowledgement requirement for all contributions of $250 or more. If your total deduction for all noncash contributions for the year is over $500, you must complete and attach IRS Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, to your return.

8. Taxpayers donating an item or a group of similar items valued at more than $5,000 must also complete Section B of Form 8283, which generally requires an appraisal by a qualified appraiser.

Monthly Newsletter for May 2017

by in Newsletter on May. 1, 2017

Early Withdrawals from Retirement Plans

Many people find it necessary to take out money early from their IRA or retirement plan. Doing so, however, can trigger an additional tax on top of income tax taxpayers may have to pay. Here are a few key points to know about taking an early distribution:

  1. Early Withdrawals. An early withdrawal normally is taking cash out of a retirement plan before the taxpayer is 59½ years old.
  2. Additional Tax. If a taxpayer took an early withdrawal from a plan last year, they must report it to the IRS. They may have to pay income tax on the amount taken out. If it was an early withdrawal, they may have to pay an additional 10 percent tax.
  3. Nontaxable Withdrawals. The additional 10 percent tax does not apply to nontaxable withdrawals. These include withdrawals of contributions that taxpayers paid tax on before they put them into the plan. A rollover is a form of nontaxable withdrawal. A rollover occurs when people take cash or other assets from one plan and put the money in another plan. They normally have 60 days to complete a rollover to make it tax-free.

Check Exceptions. There are many exceptions to the additional 10 percent tax. Some of the rules for retirement plans are different from the rules for IRAs.

Monthly Newsletter for March 2017

by in Newsletter on Feb. 28, 2017

Get Credit for Making a Home Energy Efficient

Taxpayers who made certain energy efficient improvements to their home last year may qualify for a tax credit this year. Here are some key facts to know about home energy tax credits:

Non-Business Energy Property Credit

  • Part of this credit is worth 10 percent of the cost of certain qualified energy-saving items added to a taxpayer’s main home last year. Qualified improvements include adding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and doors, and certain roofs. Do not include the cost to install these items.
  • The other part of the credit is not a percentage of the cost. It includes the installation costs of certain high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning systems, high-efficiency water heaters and stoves that burn biomass fuel. The credit amount for each type of property has a different dollar limit.
  • This credit has a maximum lifetime limit of $500. Taxpayers may only use $200 of this limit for windows.
  • A taxpayer’s main home must be located in the U.S. to qualify for the credit. The non-business energy property credit is only available for existing homes.
  • Be sure to have the written certification from the manufacturer that their product qualifies for this tax credit. They usually post it on their website or include it with the product’s packaging. Taxpayers can use this to claim the credit. Do not attach it to a tax return. Keep it with tax records.
  • Taxpayers may claim the credit on their 2016 tax return if they didn’t reach the lifetime limit in past years. Under current law, Dec. 31, 2016, was the deadline for qualifying improvements to the taxpayer’s main U. S. home.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

  • This tax credit is 30 percent of the cost of alternative energy equipment installed on or in a home. This includes the cost of installation.
  • Qualified equipment includes solar hot water heaters, solar electric equipment, wind turbines and fuel cell property.
  • There is no dollar limit on the credit for most types of property. If the credit is more than the tax owed, carry forward the unused portion of this credit to next year’s tax return.
  • The home must be in the U.S. It does not have to be a taxpayer’s main home, unless the alternative energy equipment is qualified fuel cell property. The residential energy efficient property credit is available for both existing homes and homes under construction.
  • This credit is available through 2016.

February Monthly Newsletter

by in Newsletter on Feb. 9, 2017

Early Withdrawals from Retirement Plans

Many people find it necessary to take out money early from their IRA or retirement plan. Doing so, however, can trigger an additional tax on top of income tax taxpayers may have to pay. Here are a few key points to know about taking an early distribution:

  1. Early Withdrawals. An early withdrawal normally is taking cash out of a retirement plan before the taxpayer is 59½ years old.
  2. Additional Tax. If a taxpayer took an early withdrawal from a plan last year, they must report it to the IRS. They may have to pay income tax on the amount taken out. If it was an early withdrawal, they may have to pay an additional 10 percent tax.
  3. Nontaxable Withdrawals. The additional 10 percent tax does not apply to nontaxable withdrawals. These include withdrawals of contributions that taxpayers paid tax on before they put them into the plan. A rollover is a form of nontaxable withdrawal. A rollover occurs when people take cash or other assets from one plan and put the money in another plan. They normally have 60 days to complete a rollover to make it tax-free.

Check Exceptions. There are many exceptions to the additional 10 percent tax. Some of the rules for retirement plans are different from the rules for IRAs