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March

American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012

After a great deal of wrangling, Congress passed and the President signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (Act) in early 2013. The Act provides relief for most taxpayers, but will increase the tax bill for high-income folks. The Act includes, among other items, permanent extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for most taxpayers; revised tax rates on ordinary and capital gain income for high-income individuals; modification of the estate tax; permanent fix of the AMT for individual taxpayers; limits on deductions and exemptions of high-income individuals; and numerous retroactively reinstated and extended tax breaks for individuals and businesses. In this article we will discuss several of the Act’s provisions impacting individual taxpayers. Business provisions are discussed on page 3.

Tax rates on ordinary income. For tax years beginning after 2012, the 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35% tax brackets from the Bush tax cuts will remain in place and are made permanent. This means that, for most Americans, the tax rates on ordinary income will stay the same. However, there will be a new 39.6% rate, which will begin at the following inflation-adjusted thresholds: $400,000 (single), $425,000 (head of household), $450,000 (joint filers and qualifying widows and widowers), and $225,000 (married filing separately).

Estate tax. The new law prevents steep increases in estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes that were slated to occur for individuals dying and gifts made after 2012 by permanently keeping the exemption level at $5,000,000 (as indexed for inflation; $5,250,000 in 2013). However, the new law also permanently increases the top estate, gift, and GST rate from 35% to 40%. It also continues the portability feature that allows the estate of the first spouse to die to transfer his or her unused exclusion to the surviving spouse.

Capital gains and qualified dividends rates. The new law retains the 0% tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends, modifies the 15% rate, and establishes a new 20% rate. Beginning in 2013, the rate will be 0% if ordinary income falls below the 25% tax bracket; 15% if income falls at or above the 25% tax bracket but below the new 39.6% rate; and 20% if income falls in the 39.6% tax bracket. It should be noted that some taxpayers in the 15% and 20% tax brackets could also be required to pay the new 3.8% surtax on investment-type income and gains for tax years beginning after 2012, which applies on investment income of taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income above $250,000 (joint filers), $125,000 (separate), and $200,000 (others).

Personal exemption phase-out. Beginning in 2013, personal exemptions will be phased out (i.e., reduced) for adjusted gross income over $250,000 (single), $275,000 (head of household), and $300,000 (joint filers). Taxpayers claim exemptions for themselves, their spouses and their dependents. For 2013, each exemption is worth $3,900.

Itemized deduction limitation. Beginning in 2013, itemized deductions will be limited for taxpayers with an adjusted gross income over $250,000 (single), $275,000 (head of household), and $300,000 (joint filers).

AMT relief. The new law provides permanent, inflation-adjusted alternative minimum tax (AMT) relief. Prior to the Act, the individual AMT exemption amounts for 2012 were to have been $33,750 for unmarried taxpayers, $45,000 for joint filers, and $22,500 for married persons filing separately. Retroactively effective for tax years beginning after 2011, the new law permanently increases these exemption amounts to $50,600 for unmarried taxpayers, $78,750 for joint filers, and $39,375 for married persons
filing separately. In addition, for tax years beginning after 2012, it indexes these exemption amounts for inflation.

Tax credits for low- to middle-wage earners. The new law extends for five years the following items that were originally enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus package and were slated to expire at the end of 2012: (1) the American Opportunity tax credit, which provides up to $2,500 in tax credits for undergraduate college education; (2) eased rules for qualifying for the refundable child credit; and (3) various earned income tax credit (EITC) changes.

Tax break extenders. Many of the “traditional” tax extenders are extended for two years, retroactively to 2012 and through the end of 2013. Among many others, the extended provisions include the election to take an itemized deduction for state and local general sales taxes in lieu of the itemized deduction for state and local income taxes, $250 above-the-line deduction for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers, special rule for contributions made for conservation purposes, above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses, and limited tax-free distributions from individual retirement plans for charitable purposes (see page 4).

Payroll tax cut. The 2% payroll tax cut available in 2011 and 2012 was allowed to expire.

 

New Roth IRA Conversion Option

A provision in the recently enacted 2012 American Taxpayer Relief Act permits an individual to convert any portion of their balance in an employer-sponsored tax-deferred retirement plan account into a Roth IRA account under that plan. This conversion option for retirement plans is only available if employer plan sponsors include this feature (i.e., in-plan Roth) in the plan. Prior to the Act, only eligible retirement plan distributions could be rolled over to an in-plan Roth IRA.

The catch under the new Roth conversion provision is that the conversion will be fully taxed, assuming the conversion is being made with pre-tax dollars (money that wasn’t taxed to an employee when contributed to the qualified employer-sponsored retirement plan). The taxable amount will also include the earnings on those pre-tax dollars.

The provision is effective for post-2012 transfers, in tax years ending after December 31, 2012.

 

Business Provisions of the New Tax Act

The recently enacted 2012 American Taxpayer Relief Act includes a wide-ranging assortment of tax changes affecting both individuals and businesses. On the business side, two of the most significant changes provide incentives to invest in machinery and equipment by allowing for faster cost recovery of business property. Here are the details.

Enhanced small business expensing (Section 179 expensing). Generally, the cost of property placed in service in a trade or business can’t be deducted in the year it’s placed in service if the property will be useful beyond the year. Instead, the cost is “capitalized” and depreciation deductions are allowed for most property (other than land), but are spread out over a period of years. However, to help small businesses quickly recover the cost of capital outlays, small business taxpayers can elect to write off these expenditures in the year they are made instead of recovering them through depreciation. The expense election is made available, on a tax-year-by-tax-year basis, under Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code, and is often referred to as the “Section 179 election” or the “Code Section 179 election.” The new law makes three important changes to this
expense election.

First, the new law provides that for tax years beginning in 2012 or 2013, a taxpayer will be allowed to write off up to $500,000 of capital expenditures subject to a phase-out (i.e., gradual reduction) once capital expenditures exceed $2 million. For tax years beginning after 2013, the maximum expensing amount will drop to $25,000 and the phase-out level will drop to $200,000.

Second, the new law extends the rule that treats off-the-shelf computer software as qualifying property through 2013.

Finally, the new law extends through 2013 the provision permitting a taxpayer to amend or irrevocably revoke an election for a tax year under IRC Sec. 179 without IRS consent.

Extension of additional first-year depreciation. Businesses are allowed to deduct the cost of capital expenditures over time according to depreciation schedules. In previous legislation, Congress allowed businesses to more rapidly deduct capital expenditures of most new tangible personal property, and certain other new property, by permitting an additional first-year write-off of the cost. For qualified property acquired and placed in service after December 31, 2011, and before January 1, 2013 (before January 1, 2014, for certain longer-lived and transportation property), the additional first-year depreciation was 50% of the cost. The new law extends this additional first-year depreciation for investments placed in service before January 1, 2014 (before January 1, 2015, for certain longer-lived and transportation property).

The new law also extends for one year the election to accelerate the AMT credit instead of claiming additional first-year depreciation for certain corporate taxpayers.

The new law leaves in place the existing rules as to what kinds of property qualify for additional first-year depreciation. Generally, the property must be (1) depreciable property with a recovery period of 20 years or less, (2) water utility property, (3) computer software, or (4) qualified leasehold improvements. Also the original use of the property must commence with the taxpayer—used machinery doesn’t qualify.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the new cost recovery provisions or any other aspect of the new legislation.

 

 

Direct IRA Contribution Provision Extended

The IRA distribution rules allow for the tax-free treatment of distributions from IRAs where the distributions are donated to charity. This provision is available to taxpayers age 70 1/2 or older who have one or more IRAs and a desire to make charitable contributions. Specifically, a taxpayer may exclude from gross income so much of the aggregate amount of his or her qualified charitable distributions not exceeding $100,000 in a tax year. A qualified charitable distribution is any otherwise taxable distribution from a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA that is made directly to a qualified charitable organization.

For purposes of the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules as they apply to individual retirement accounts and individual retirement annuities, qualified charitable distributions may be taken into account to the same extent that the distribution would have been taken into account under the RMD rules had the distribution not been directly distributed under the IRA qualified charitable distribution rules. Thus, an IRA owner who makes an IRA-qualified charitable distribution in an amount equal to his or her RMD for the tax year is considered to have satisfied their minimum distribution requirement for that year, even though a charitable entity (and not the IRA owner) is the recipient of the distribution.

This favorable provision expired at the end of last year, but was recently extended for 2012 and 2013 by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. Please contact us if you have questions on this taxpayer-friendly provision or any other tax compliance or planning issue.

 

 

IRS Expands Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program; Relief From Past Payroll Taxes Available to More Employers Who Reclassify Their Workers As Employees

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service has expanded its Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) paving the way for more taxpayers to take advantage of this low-cost option for achieving certainty under the law by reclassifying their workers as employees for future tax periods.

The IRS is modifying several eligibility requirements thus making it possible for many more interested employers, especially larger ones, to apply for this program. Thus far, nearly 1,000 employers have applied for the VCSP which provides partial relief from federal payroll taxes for eligible employers who are treating their workers or a class or group of workers as independent contractors or other nonemployees and now want to treat them as employees. Businesses, tax-exempt organizations and government entities may qualify.

Under the revamped program, employers under IRS audit, other than an employment tax audit, can qualify for the VCSP. Furthermore, employers accepted into the program will no longer be subject to a special six-year statute of limitations, rather than the usual three years that normally applies to payroll taxes. These and other permanent modifications to the program are described in Announcement 2012-45 and in questions and answers, posted on IRS.gov.

Normally, employers are barred from the VCSP if they failed to file required Forms 1099 with respect to workers they are seeking to reclassify for the past three years. However, for the next few months, until June 30, 2013, the IRS is waiving this eligibility requirement. Details on this temporary change are in Announcement 2012-46.

To be eligible for the VCSP, an employer must currently be treating the workers as nonemployees; consistently have treated the workers in the past as nonemployees, including having filed any required Forms 1099; and not currently be under audit on payroll tax issues by the IRS. In addition, the employer cannot currently be under audit by the Department of Labor or a state agency concerning the classification of these workers or contesting the classification of the workers in court.

Interested employers can apply for the program by filing Form 8952, Application for Voluntary Classification Settlement Program, at least 60 days before they want to begin treating the workers as employees.

Employers accepted into the program will generally pay an amount effectively equaling just over one percent of the wages paid to the reclassified workers for the past year. No interest or penalties will be due, and the employers will not be audited on payroll taxes related to these workers for prior years. Employers applying for the temporary relief program available for those who failed to file Forms 1099 will pay a slightly higher amount, plus some penalties, and will need to file any unfiled Forms 1099 for the workers they are seeking to reclassify.

 

 

Social Security Benefits and Your Taxes

Some people must pay taxes on their Social Security benefits. If you get Social Security, you should receive a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, by early February. The form shows the amount of benefits you received in 2012.

Here are five tips from the IRS to help you determine if your benefits are taxable:

1. The amount of your income and your filing status affect whether you must pay taxes on your Social Security.

2. If Social Security was your only income in 2012, your benefits are probably not taxable. You also may not need to file a federal income tax return.

3. If you received income from other sources, then you may have to pay taxes on your benefits.

4. You can follow these two quick steps to see if your benefits are taxable:

• Add one-half of the Social Security benefits you received to all your other income, including tax-exempt interest. Tax-exempt interest includes interest from state and municipal bonds.

• Next, compare this total to the ‘base amount’ for your filing status. If the total is more than your base amount, then some of your benefits may be taxable.

The three 2012 base amounts are:

$25,000 for single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child or married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouse at any time during the year;

$32,000 for married couples filing jointly; and

$0 for married persons filing separately who lived together at any time during the year.

5. If you use IRS e-file to prepare and file your tax return, the tax software will figure your taxable benefits for you. If you file a paper return, you can use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on the IRS website to check if your benefits are taxable. The ITA is a resource that can help answer tax law questions. There also is a worksheet in the instructions for Form 1040 or 1040A that you can use to figure your taxable benefits.

 

 

Five Tips if Your Name Has Changed

If you were married or divorced and changed your name last year, be sure to notify the Social Security Administration before you file your taxes with the IRS. If the name on your tax return doesn’t match SSA records, the IRS will flag it as an error and that may delay your refund.

Here are five tips for a person whose name has changed. They also apply if your dependent’s name has changed.

1. If you have married and you’re using your new spouse’s last name or you’ve hyphenated your last name, notify the SSA. That way, the IRS computers can match your new name with your Social Security number.

2. If you were divorced and are now using your former last name, notify the SSA of your name change.

3. Letting the SSA know about a name change is easy. File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, at your local SSA office or by mail with proof of your legal name change.

4. You can get Form SS-5 on the SSA’s website at www.ssa.gov, by calling 800-772-1213 or at local SSA offices. Your new card will have the same number as your former card but will show your new name.

5. If you adopted your new spouse’s children and their names changed, you'll need to update their names with SSA too. For adopted children without SSNs, the parents can apply for an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions, with the IRS. The ATIN is a temporary number used in place of an SSN on the tax return. Form W-7A is available on the IRS.gov website or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

 

 

 

Missing Your W-2? Here’s What to Do

It’s a good idea to have all your tax documents together before preparing your 2012 tax return. You will need your W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, which employers should send by the end of January. Give it two weeks to arrive by mail.

If you have not received your W-2, follow these three steps:

1. Contact your employer first.  Ask your employer – or former employer – to send your W-2 if it has not already been sent. Make sure your employer has your correct address.

2. Contact the IRS. After February 14, you may call the IRS at 800-829-1040 if you have not yet received your W-2. Be prepared to provide your name, address, Social Security number and phone number. You should also have the following information when you call:

• Your employer’s name, address and phone number;

• Your employment dates; and

• An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld in 2012, based upon your final pay stub or leave-and-earnings statement, if available.

3. File your return on time. You should still file your tax return on or before April 15, 2013, even if you have not yet received your W-2. File Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, in place of the W-2. Use the form to estimate your income and withholding taxes as accurately as possible. The IRS may delay processing your return while it verifies your information.

 

 

IRS Intensifies National Crackdown on Identity Theft; Part of Wider Effort to Protect Taxpayers, Prevent Refund Fraud

WASHINGTON — Continuing a year-long enforcement push against refund fraud and identity theft, the Internal Revenue Service today announced the results of a massive national sweep in recent weeks targeting identity theft suspects in 32 states and Puerto Rico, which involved 215 cities and surrounding areas.

The coast-to-coast effort against 389 identity theft suspects led to 734 enforcement actions in January, including indictments, informations, complaints and arrests. The effort comes on top of a growing identity theft effort that led to 2,400 other enforcement actions against identity thieves during fiscal year 2012.

The January crackdown, a joint effort with the Department of Justice and local U.S. Attorneys offices, unfolded as the IRS opened the 2013 tax season. IRS Criminal Investigation expanded its efforts during January, pushing the total number of identity theft investigations to more than 1,460 since the start of the federal 2012 fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2011.

“As tax season begins this year, we want to be clear that there is a heavy price to pay for perpetrators of refund fraud and identity theft,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller. “We have aggressively stepped up our efforts to pursue and prevent refund fraud and identity theft, and we will continue to intensely focus on this area. This is part of a much wider effort underway for the 2013 tax season to stop fraud.”

The national effort with the Justice Department and other federal, state and local agencies is part of a larger, comprehensive identity theft strategy the IRS has embarked on that is focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible.

The identity theft effort — which intensified in January as the 2013 filing season opened — involved 734 enforcement actions related to identity theft and refund fraud. The effort led to actions taking place throughout the country involving 389 individuals. The effort included 109 arrests, 189 indictments, informations and complaints, as well as 47 search warrants.

In addition to the criminal actions, IRS auditors and criminal investigators conducted a special compliance effort starting on Jan. 28 to visit 197 money service businesses to help make sure these businesses are not assisting identity theft or refund fraud when they cash checks.  The compliance visits occurred in 17 high-risk places identified by the IRS covering areas in and surrounding New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, El Paso, Tucson, Birmingham, Detroit, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

A map of the locations and additional details on the January enforcement actions and compliance visits are available on IRS.gov. The latest updates on the identity theft enforcement efforts and individual cases are available on a special Identity Theft Schemes page on IRS.gov. More information on enforcement actions can be found on a DOJ Tax Division page.

The identity theft push over the last several weeks reflects a wider effort underway at the IRS. Among the highlights:

  • The number of IRS criminal investigations into identity theft issues more than tripled in fiscal year 2012. The IRS started 276 investigations in fiscal year 2011, a number that jumped to 898 in fiscal year 2012. So far in fiscal year 2013, there have been more than 560 criminal identity theft investigations opened.
  • Total enforcement actions continue to rapidly increase against identity thieves. This category covers actions ranging from indictments and arrests to search warrants. In fiscal year 2012, enforcement actions totaled 2,400 against 1,310 suspects. After just four months in fiscal 2013, enforcement actions totaled 1,703 against 907 suspects.
  • Sentencings of convicted identity thieves continue to increase. There were 80 sentencings in fiscal year 2011, which increased to 223 in fiscal year 2012.
  • Jail time is increasing for identity thieves. The average sentence in fiscal year 2012 was four years or 48 months – a four-month increase from the average in fiscal year 2011. So far this fiscal year, sentences have ranged from 4 to 300 months.

More information on IRS Criminal Investigation efforts is available on IRS fact sheet FS-2013-4.

In addition to the national “sweeps” effort announced today, IRS work on identity theft and refund fraud continues to grow. For the 2013 filing season, the IRS has expanded these efforts to better protect taxpayers and help victims.

To stop identity thieves up front, the IRS has made a significant increase for the 2013 tax season in the number and quality of identity theft screening filters that spot fraudulent tax returns before refunds are issued. The IRS has dozens of identity theft screens now in place to protect tax refunds.

These efforts helped the IRS in 2012 protect $20 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft, compared with $14 billion in 2011.

By late 2012, the IRS assigned more than 3,000 IRS employees — over double from 2011 — to work on identity theft-related issues. IRS employees are working to prevent refund fraud, investigate identity theft-related crimes and help taxpayers who have been victimized by identity thieves. In addition, the IRS has trained 35,000 employees who work with taxpayers to recognize identity theft indicators and help people victimized by identity theft.

“We are strengthening our processing systems to watch for identity theft and detect refund fraud before it occurs,” Miller said. “And we continue to put more resources on helping people who are victims of identity theft and resolve these complex cases as quickly as possible.”

Taxpayers can encounter identity theft involving their tax returns in several ways. One instance is where identity thieves try filing fraudulent refund claims using another person’s identifying information, which has been stolen. Innocent taxpayers are victimized because their refunds are delayed.

To help taxpayers, the IRS has a special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft issues, including YouTube videos, tips for taxpayers and a special guide to assistance. For victims, the information includes how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit. For other taxpayers, there are tips on how taxpayers can protect themselves against identity theft.

If a taxpayer receives a notice from the IRS indicating identity theft, they should follow the instructions in that notice. A taxpayer who believes they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should contact the IRS immediately so the agency can take action to secure their tax account. The taxpayer should contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. The taxpayer will be asked to complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039, and follow the instructions on the back of the form based on their situation.

 

 

Ten Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

The Internal Revenue Service has some important information to share with individuals who have sold or are about to sell their home. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may qualify to exclude all or part of that gain from your income. Here are ten tips from the IRS to keep in mind when selling your home.

1.In general, you are eligible to exclude the gain from income if you have owned and used your home as your main home for two years out of the five years prior to the date of its sale.

2.If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 on a joint return in most cases).

3.You are not eligible for the exclusion if you excluded the gain from the sale of another home during the two-year period prior to the sale of your home.

4.If you can exclude all of the gain, you do not need to report the sale on your tax return.

5.If you have a gain that cannot be excluded, it is taxable. You must report it on Form 1040, Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses.

6.You cannot deduct a loss from the sale of your main home.

7.Worksheets are included in Publication 523, Selling Your Home, to help you figure the adjusted basis of the home you sold, the gain (or loss) on the sale, and the gain that you can exclude.

8.If you have more than one home, you can exclude a gain only from the sale of your main home. You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home. If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is ordinarily the one you live in most of the time.

9.If you received the first-time homebuyer credit and within 36 months of the date of purchase, the property is no longer used as your principal residence, you are required to repay the credit. Repayment of the full credit is due with the income tax return for the year the home ceased to be your principal residence, using Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit. The full amount of the credit is reflected as additional tax on that year’s tax return.

10.When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive refunds or correspondence from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS of your address change.

 

 

 

Taxable and Nontaxable Income

Most types of income are taxable, but some are not. Income can include money, property or services that you receive. Here are some examples of income that are usually not taxable:

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

Some income is not taxable except under certain conditions. Examples include:

  • Life insurance proceeds paid to you because of an insured person’s death are usually not taxable. However, if you redeem a life insurance policy for cash, any amount that is more than the cost of the policy is taxable.
  • Income you get from a qualified scholarship is normally not taxable. Amounts you use for certain costs, such as tuition and required course books, are not taxable. However, amounts used for room and board are taxable.

All income, such as wages and tips, is taxable unless the law specifically excludes it. This includes non-cash income from bartering - the exchange of property or services. Both parties must include the fair market value of goods or services received as income on their tax return.

If you received a refund, credit or offset of state or local income taxes in 2012, you may be required to report this amount. If you did not receive a 2012 Form 1099-G, check with the government agency that made the payments to you. That agency may have made the form available only in an electronic format. You will need to get instructions from the agency to retrieve this document. Report any taxable refund you received even if you did not receive Form 1099-G.

 

 

Treasury, Switzerland Sign Bilateral Agreement to Improve Tax Compliance, Combat International Tax Evasion and Implement FATCA

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced today that it has signed a bilateral agreement with Switzerland to facilitate the implementation of the information reporting and withholding tax provisions commonly known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

“Today’s announcement marks a significant step forward in our efforts to work collaboratively to combat offshore tax evasion,” said Acting Secretary of the Treasury Neal S. Wolin. “We are pleased that Switzerland has signed a bilateral agreement with us, and we look forward to quickly concluding agreements based on this model with other jurisdictions.”

Enacted by Congress in 2010, FATCA targets non-compliance by U.S. taxpayers using foreign accounts. The bilateral agreement signed today is the first based on the model published in November of 2012 – the second of two model agreements – and marks another important step in establishing a common approach to combatting tax evasion.

Switzerland is one of eight countries that have signed or initialed an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) which helps to facilitate the effective and efficient implementation of FATCA. In addition to the previously announced countries, Treasury initialed an IGA with Italy on January 24. Treasury is engaged with more than 50 countries and jurisdictions to curtail offshore tax evasion, and more signed agreements are expected to follow in the near future.

On January 17, 2013, the Treasury Department and the IRS finalized the regulations implementing FATCA, providing additional certainty for financial institutions and government counterparts about the process for U.S. account identification, information reporting, and withholding requirements for foreign financial institutions (FFIs), other foreign entities, and U.S. withholding agents.

 

 

Parents and Students: Check Out College Tax Benefits for 2012 and Years Ahead

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today reminded parents and students that now is a good time to see if they qualify for either of two college education tax credits or any of several other education-related tax benefits.

In general, the American opportunity tax credit, lifetime learning credit and tuition and fees deduction are available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. Eligible students include the primary taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse or a dependent of the taxpayer.

Though a taxpayer often qualifies for more than one of these benefits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in a particular year. The benefits are available to all taxpayers – both those who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and those who claim a standard deduction. The credits are claimed on Form 8863 and the tuition and fees deduction is claimed on Form 8917.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act, enacted Jan. 2, 2013, extended the American opportunity tax credit for another five years until the end of 2017. The new law also retroactively extended the tuition and fees deduction, which had expired at the end of 2011, through 2013. The lifetime learning credit did not need to be extended because it was already a permanent part of the tax code.

For those eligible, including most undergraduate students, the American opportunity tax credit will yield the greatest tax savings.  Alternatively, the lifetime learning credit should be considered by part-time students and those attending graduate school. For others, especially those who don’t qualify for either credit, the tuition and fees deduction may be the right choice.

All three benefits are available for students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. None of them can be claimed by a nonresident alien or married person filing a separate return. In most cases, dependents cannot claim these education benefits.

Normally, a student will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by the end of January of the following year. This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other information. However, amounts shown on this form may differ from amounts taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax benefits. Taxpayers should see the instructions to Forms 8863 and 8917 and Publication 970 for details on properly figuring allowable tax benefits.

Many of those eligible for the American opportunity tax credit qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Here are some key features of the credit:

  • The credit targets the first four years of post-secondary education, and a student must be enrolled at least half time. This means that expenses paid for a student who, as of the beginning of the tax year, has already completed the first four years of college do not qualify. Any student with a felony drug conviction also does not qualify.
  • Tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other required course materials generally qualify. Other expenses, such as room and board, do not.
  • The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000. That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.
  • The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
  • Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit is refundable. This means that even people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible student. Other education-related credits and deductions do not provide a benefit to people who owe no tax.

The lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and undergraduate students. Unlike the American opportunity tax credit, the limit on the lifetime learning credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Though the half-time student requirement does not apply, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills. Other features of the credit include:

  • Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance qualify as do other fees required for the course. Additional expenses do not.
  • The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.
  • Income limits are lower than under the American opportunity tax credit. For 2012, the full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $52,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $104,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $124,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $62,000 or more.

Like the lifetime learning credit, the tuition and fees deduction is available for all levels of post-secondary education, and the cost of one or more courses can qualify. The annual deduction limit is $4,000 for joint filers whose MAGI is $130,000 or less and other taxpayers whose MAGI is $65,000 or less. The deduction limit drops to $2,000 for couples whose MAGI exceeds $130,000 but is no more than $160,000, and other taxpayers whose MAGI exceeds $65,000 but is no more than $80,000.

Eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these provisions during the year by having less tax taken out of their paychecks. They can do this by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer.

There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many taxpayers. They include:

  • Scholarship and fellowship grants—generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.
  • Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.
  • Savings bonds used to pay for college—though income limits apply, interest is usually tax-free if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.
  • Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or save for a child’s college education.

Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the earned income tax credit.

The general comparison table in Publication 970 can be a useful guide to taxpayers in determining eligibility for these benefits. Details can also be found in the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center on IRS.gov.

 

 

Beware of Bogus IRS Emails

The IRS receives thousands of reports every year from taxpayers who receive emails out-of-the-blue claiming to be from the IRS. Scammers use the IRS name or logo to make the message appear authentic so you will respond to it. In reality, it’s a scam known as “phishing,” attempting to trick you into revealing your personal and financial information. The criminals then use this information to commit identity theft or steal your money.

The IRS has this advice for anyone who receives an email claiming to be from the IRS or directing you to an IRS site:

  • Do not reply to the message;
  • Do not open any attachments. Attachments may contain malicious code that will infect your computer; and
  • Do not click on any links in a suspicious email or phishing website and do not enter confidential information. Visit the IRS website and click on 'Identity Theft' at the bottom of the page for more information.

Here are five other key points the IRS wants you to know about phishing scams.

1. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or social media channels to request personal or financial information;

2. The IRS never asks for detailed personal and financial information like PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts;

3. The address of the official IRS website is www.irs.gov. Do not be misled by sites claiming to be the IRS but ending in .com, .net, .org or anything other than .gov. If you discover a website that claims to be the IRS but you suspect it is bogus, do not provide any personal information on their site and report it to the IRS;

4. If you receive a phone call, fax or letter in the mail from an individual claiming to be from the IRS but you suspect they are not an IRS employee, contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to determine if the IRS has a legitimate need to contact you. Report any bogus correspondence. Forward a suspicious email to phishing@irs.gov;

5. You can help the IRS and other law enforcement agencies shut down these schemes. Visit the IRS.gov website to get details on how to report scams and helpful resources if you are the victim of a scam. Click on "Reporting Phishing" at the bottom of the page.

 

 

Save Money with the Child Tax Credit

If you have a child under age 17, the Child Tax Credit may save you money at tax-time. Here are some facts the IRS wants you to know about the credit.

  • Amount.  The non-refundable Child Tax Credit may help reduce your federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child you claim on your return.
  • Qualifications.  For this credit, a qualifying child must pass seven tests:

1. Age test.  The child must have been under age 17 at the end of 2012.

2. Relationship test.  The child must be your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister. A child may also be a descendant of any of these individuals, including your grandchild, niece or nephew. You would always treat an adopted child as your own child. An adopted child includes a child lawfully placed with you for legal adoption.

3. Support test.  The child must not have provided more than half of their own support for the year.

4. Dependent test.  You must claim the child as a dependent on your federal tax return.

5. Joint return test.  The child cannot file a joint return for the year, unless the only reason they are filing is to claim a refund.

6. Citizenship test.  The child must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or U.S. resident alien.

7. Residence test.  In most cases, the child must have lived with you for more than half of 2012.

  • Limitations.  The Child Tax Credit is subject to income limitations, and may be reduced or eliminated depending on your filing status and income.
  • Additional Child Tax Credit.  If you qualify and get less than the full Child Tax Credit, you could receive a refund even if you owe no tax with the refundable Additional Child Tax Credit.
  • Schedule 8812.  If you qualify to claim the Child Tax Credit make sure to check whether you must complete and attach the new Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, with your return. If you qualify to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit, you must complete and attach Schedule 8812.

 

Five Facts to Know about AMT

The Alternative Minimum Tax may apply to you if your income is above a certain amount. Here are five facts the IRS wants you to know about the AMT:

1. You may have to pay the tax if your taxable income plus certain adjustments is more than the AMT exemption amount for your filing status.

2. The 2012 AMT exemption amounts for each filing status are:

  • Single and Head of Household = $50,600;
  • Married Filing Joint and Qualifying Widow(er) = $78,750; and
  • Married Filing Separate = $39,375.

3. AMT attempts to ensure that some individuals and corporations who claim certain exclusions, tax deductions and tax credits pay a minimum amount of tax.

4. You should use IRS e-file to prepare and file your tax return. You figure AMT using different rules than those you use to figure your regular income tax. IRS e-file software will determine if you owe AMT, and if you do, it will figure the tax for you.

5. If you file a paper return, use the AMT Assistant tool on IRS.gov to find out if you may need to pay the tax.

 

Important Reminders about Tip Income

If your pay from your job includes tips, the IRS has a few important reminders about tip income:

  • Tips are taxable. Individuals must pay federal income tax on any tips they receive. The value of non-cash tips, such as tickets, passes or other items of value are also subject to income tax.
  • Include all tips on your return. You must include all tips that you receive during the year on your income tax return. This includes tips you received directly from customers, tips added to credit cards and your share of tips received under a tip-splitting agreement with other employees.
  • Report tips to your employer. If you receive $20 or more in cash tips in any one month, you must report your tips for that month to your employer. Your employer is required to withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on the reported tips.
  • Keep a daily log of tips. You can use IRS Publication 1244, Employee's Daily Record of Tips and Report to Employer, to record your tips.

 

 

Safeguard Your Refund – Choose Direct Deposit

Direct deposit is the fast, easy and safe way to receive your tax refund. Whether you file electronically or on paper, direct deposit gives you access to your refund faster than a paper check.

Here are four reasons more than 80 million taxpayers chose direct deposit in 2012:

1. Security.  Every year the U.S. Postal Service returns thousands of paper checks to the IRS as undeliverable. Direct deposit eliminates the possibility of a lost, stolen or undeliverable refund check.

2. Convenience.  With direct deposit, the money goes directly into your bank account. You will not have to make a special trip to the bank to deposit the money yourself.

3. Ease.  It’s easy to choose direct deposit. When you are preparing your tax return, simply follow the instructions on the tax return or in the tax software. Make sure you enter the correct bank account and bank routing transit numbers.

4. Options.  You can deposit your refund into more than one account. With the split refund option, taxpayers can divide their refunds among as many as three checking or savings accounts and up to three different U.S. financial institutions. Use IRS Form 8888, Allocation of Refund (Including Savings Bond Purchases), to divide your refund. If you are designating part of your refund to pay your tax preparer, you should not use Form 8888. You should only deposit your refund directly into accounts that are in your own name, your spouse’s name or both if it’s a joint account.

Some banks require both spouses’ names on the account to deposit a tax refund from a joint return. Check with your bank for their direct deposit requirements.

 

Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and is not intended to provide professional tax, legal, or financial advice. To determine how this or other information in this newsletter might apply to your specific situation, contact us for more details and counsel.

 

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