IRS Fresh Start Program Helps Taxpayers Who Owe the IRS
The IRS Fresh Start program makes it easier for taxpayers to pay back taxes and avoid tax liens. Even small business taxpayers may benefit from Fresh Start. Here are three important features of the Fresh Start program:
• Tax Liens. The Fresh Start program increased the amount that taxpayers can owe before the IRS generally will file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien. That amount is now $10,000. However, in some cases, the IRS may still file a lien notice on amounts less than $10,000.
When a taxpayer meets certain requirements and pays off their tax debt, the IRS may now withdraw a filed Notice of Federal Tax Lien. Taxpayers must request this in writing using Form 12277, Application for Withdrawal.
Some taxpayers may qualify to have their lien notice withdrawn if they are paying their tax debt through a Direct Debit installment agreement. Taxpayers also need to request this in writing by using Form 12277.
If a taxpayer defaults on the Direct Debit Installment Agreement, the IRS may file a new Notice of Federal Tax Lien and resume collection actions.
• Installment Agreements. The Fresh Start program expanded access to streamlined installment agreements. Now, individual taxpayers who owe up to $50,000 can pay through monthly direct debit payments for up to 72 months (six years). While the IRS generally will not need a financial statement, they may need some financial information from the taxpayer. The easiest way to apply for a payment plan is to use the Online Payment Agreement tool at IRS.gov. If you don’t have Web access you may file Form 9465, Installment Agreement, to apply.
Taxpayers in need of installment agreements for tax debts more than $50,000 or longer than six years still need to provide the IRS with a financial statement. In these cases, the IRS may ask for one of two forms: either Collection Information Statement, Form 433-A or Form 433-F.
• Offers in Compromise. An Offer in Compromise is an agreement that allows taxpayers to settle their tax debt for less than the full amount. Fresh Start expanded and streamlined the OIC program. The IRS now has more flexibility when analyzing a taxpayer’s ability to pay. This makes the offer program available to a larger group of taxpayers.
Generally, the IRS will accept an offer if it represents the most the agency can expect to collect within a reasonable period of time. The IRS will not accept an offer if it believes that the taxpayer can pay the amount owed in full as a lump sum or through a payment agreement. The IRS looks at several factors, including the taxpayer’s income and assets, to make a decision regarding the taxpayer’s ability to pay. Use the Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool on IRS.gov to see if you may be eligible for an OIC.
Eight Facts on Late Filing and Late Payment Penalties
April 15 was the annual deadline for most people to file their federal income tax return and pay any taxes they owe. By law, the IRS may assess penalties to taxpayers for both failing to file a tax return and for failing to pay taxes they owe by the deadline.
Here are eight important points about penalties for filing or paying late.
1. A failure-to-file penalty may apply if you did not file by the tax filing deadline. A failure-to-pay penalty may apply if you did not pay all of the taxes you owe by the tax filing deadline.
2. The failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty. You should file your tax return on time each year, even if you’re not able to pay all the taxes you owe by the due date. You can reduce additional interest and penalties by paying as much as you can with your tax return. You should explore other payment options such as getting a loan or making an installment agreement to make payments. The IRS will work with you.
3. The penalty for filing late is normally 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late. That penalty starts accruing the day after the tax filing due date and will not exceed 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.
4. If you do not pay your taxes by the tax deadline, you normally will face a failure-to-pay penalty of ½ of 1 percent of your unpaid taxes. That penalty applies for each month or part of a month after the due date and starts accruing the day after the tax-filing due date.
5. If you timely requested an extension of time to file your individual income tax return and paid at least 90 percent of the taxes you owe with your request, you may not face a failure-to-pay penalty. However, you must pay any remaining balance by the extended due date.
6. If both the 5 percent failure-to-file penalty and the ½ percent failure-to-pay penalties apply in any month, the maximum penalty that you’ll pay for both is 5 percent.
7. If you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.
8. You will not have to pay a late-filing or late-payment penalty if you can show reasonable cause for not filing or paying on time.
Ten Facts on Filing an Amended Tax Return
What should you do if you already filed your federal tax return and then discover a mistake? Don’t worry; you have a chance to fix errors by filing an amended tax return. This year you can use the new IRS tool, ‘Where's My Amended Return?’ to easily track the status of your amended tax return. Here are 10 facts you should know about filing an amended tax return.
1. Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to file an amended tax return. An amended return cannot be e-filed. You must file it on paper.
2. You should consider filing an amended tax return if there is a change in your filing status, income, deductions or credits.
3. You normally do not need to file an amended return to correct math errors. The IRS will automatically make those changes for you. Also, do not file an amended return because you forgot to attach tax forms, such as W-2s or schedules. The IRS normally will send a request asking for those.
4. Generally, you must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original tax return or within two years of the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. Be sure to enter the year of the return you are amending at the top of Form 1040X.
5. If you are amending more than one tax return, prepare a 1040X for each return and mail them to the IRS in separate envelopes. You will find the appropriate IRS address to mail your return to in the Form 1040X instructions.
6. If your changes involve the need for another schedule or form, you must attach that schedule or form to the amended return.
7. If you are filing an amended tax return to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original tax refund before filing Form 1040X. Amended returns take up to 12 weeks to process. You may cash your original refund check while waiting for the additional refund.
8. If you owe additional taxes with Form 1040X, file it and pay the tax as soon as possible to minimize interest and penalties.
9. You can track the status of your amended tax return three weeks after you file with the IRS’s new tool called, ‘Where’s My Amended Return?’ The automated tool is available on IRS.gov and by phone at 866-464-2050. The online and phone tools are available in English and Spanish. You can track the status of your amended return for the current year and up to three prior years.
10. To use either ‘Where’s My Amended Return’ tool, just enter your taxpayer identification number (usually your Social Security number), date of birth and zip code. If you have filed amended returns for more than one year, you can select each year individually to check the status of each.
IRS Warns Donors about Charity Scams
Following Recent Tragedies in Boston and Texas
It’s sad but true. Following major disasters and tragedies, scam artists impersonate charities to steal money or get private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Fraudulent schemes involve solicitations by phone, social media, email or in-person.
Scam artists use a variety of tactics. Some operate bogus charities that contact people by telephone to solicit money or financial information. Others use emails to steer people to bogus websites to solicit funds, allegedly for the benefit of tragedy victims. The fraudulent websites often mimic the sites of legitimate charities or use names similar to legitimate charities. They may claim affiliation with legitimate charities to persuade members of the public to send money or provide personal financial information. Scammers then use that information to steal the identities or money of their victims.
The IRS offers the following tips to help taxpayers who wish to donate to victims of the recent tragedies at the Boston Marathon and a Texas fertilizer plant:
More information about tax scams and schemes is available at IRS.gov using the keywords “scams and schemes.”
Six Facts on Tax Refunds and Offsets
Certain financial debts from your past may affect your current federal tax refund. The law allows the use of part or all of your federal tax refund to pay other federal or state debts that you owe.
Here are six facts from the IRS that you should know about tax refund ‘offsets.’
1.A tax refund offset generally means the U.S. Treasury has reduced your federal tax refund to pay for certain unpaid debts.
2.The Treasury Department’s Financial Management Service is the agency that issues tax refunds and conducts the Treasury Offset Program.
3.If you have unpaid debts, such as overdue child support, state income tax or student loans, FMS may apply part or all of your tax refund to pay that debt.
4.You will receive a notice from FMS if an offset occurs. The notice will include the original tax refund amount and your offset amount. It will also include the agency receiving the offset payment and that agency’s contact information.
5.If you believe you do not owe the debt or you want to dispute the amount taken from your refund, you should contact the agency that received the offset amount, not the IRS or FMS.
6.If you filed a joint tax return, you may be entitled to part or all of the refund offset. This rule applies if your spouse is solely responsible for the debt. To request your part of the refund, file Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation. Form 8379 is available on IRS.gov or by calling 1-800-829-3676.
IRS Offers Tips for Dealing with Notices
Each year, the IRS sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. Here are ten things you should know about IRS notices in case one shows up in your mailbox.
1. Don’t panic. Many of these letters require a simple response.
2. There are many reasons why the IRS sends correspondence. If you receive an IRS notice, it will typically cover a very specific issue about your account or tax return. Notices may require payment, notify you of changes to your account or ask you to provide more information.
3. Each notice offers specific instructions on what you need to do to satisfy the inquiry.
4. If you receive a notice advising you that the IRS has corrected your tax return, you should review the correspondence and compare it with the information on your return.
5. If you agree with the correction to your account, then usually no reply is necessary unless a payment is due or the notice directs otherwise.
6. If you do not agree with the correction the IRS made, it is important that you respond as requested. You should send a written explanation of why you disagree. Include any information and documents you want the IRS to consider with your response. Mail your reply with the bottom tear-off portion of the IRS letter to the address shown in the upper left-hand corner of the notice. Allow at least 30 days for a response.
7. You should be able to resolve most notices that you receive without calling or visiting an IRS office. If you do have questions, call the telephone number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice. Have a copy of your tax return and the notice with you when you call. This will help the IRS answer your inquiry.
8. Remember to keep copies of any notices you receive with your other income tax records.
9. The IRS sends notices and letters by mail. The agency never contacts taxpayers about their tax account or tax return by email.
10. For more information about IRS notices and bills, visit IRS.gov. Click on the link ‘Responding to a Notice’ at the bottom left of the home page. Also, see Publication 594, The IRS Collection Process. The publication is available on IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Tips to Start Planning Next Year's Tax Return
For most taxpayers, the tax deadline has passed. But planning for next year can start now. The IRS reminds taxpayers that being organized and planning ahead can save time and money in 2014. Here are six things you can do now to make next April 15 easier.
1. Adjust your withholding. Each year, millions of American workers have far more taxes withheld from their pay than is required. Now is a good time to review your withholding to make the taxes withheld from your pay closer to the taxes you’ll owe for this year. This is especially true if you normally get a large refund and you would like more money in your paycheck. If you owed tax when you filed, you may need to increase the federal income tax withheld from your wages. Use the IRS Withholding Calculator at IRS.gov to complete a new Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate.
2. Store your return in a safe place. Put your 2012 tax return and supporting documents somewhere safe. If you need to refer to your return in the future, you’ll know where to find it. For example, you may need a copy of your return when applying for a home loan or financial aid. You can also use it as a helpful guide for next year's return.
3. Organize your records. Establish one location where everyone in your household can put tax-related records during the year. This will avoid a scramble for misplaced mileage logs or charity receipts come tax time.
4. Shop for a tax professional. If you use a tax professional to help you with tax planning, start your search now. You’ll have more time when you're not up against a deadline or anxious to receive your tax refund. Choose a tax professional wisely. You’re ultimately responsible for the accuracy of your own return regardless of who prepares it. Find tips for choosing a preparer at IRS.gov.
5. Consider itemizing deductions. If you usually claim a standard deduction, you may be able to reduce your taxes if you itemize deductions instead. If your itemized deductions typically fall just below your standard deduction, you can ‘bundle’ your deductions. For example, an early or extra mortgage payment or property tax payment, or a planned donation to charity could equal some tax savings. See the Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, instructions for the list of items you can deduct. Planning an approach now that works best for you can pay off at tax time next year.
6. Keep up with changes. Find out about tax law changes, helpful tips and IRS announcements all year by subscribing to IRS Tax Tips through IRS.gov or IRS2Go, the mobile app from the IRS. The IRS issues tips regularly during the summer and tax filing season.
Tax Breaks for Families and Students
Recent legislation made permanent or extended several tax breaks for families. In addition, several education breaks were made permanent or extended.
Child Credit. For 2013 and beyond, the maximum credit for an eligible under-age-17 child (Child Credit) was scheduled to drop from $1,000 to only $500. The legislation permanently installs the $1,000 maximum credit.
Adoption Expenses. The Bush tax cut package included a major liberalization of the adoption tax credit and also established tax-free employer adoption assistance payments. These taxpayer-friendly provisions were scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. The credit would have been halved and limited to only special needs children. Tax-free adoption assistance payments from employers would have disappeared. The legislation permanently extends the more-favorable Bush-era rules.
Education Credit. The American Opportunity Credit, worth up to $2,500, can be claimed for up to four years of undergraduate education and is 40% refundable. It was scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. The legislation extends the American Opportunity Credit through 2017.
College Tuition Deduction. This write-off, which can be as much as $4,000 at lower income levels and as much as $2,000 at higher income levels, expired at the end of 2011. The legislation retroactively restores the deduction for 2012 and extends it through 2013.
Student Loan Interest Deduction. The student loan interest write-off can be as much as $2,500 (whether the taxpayer itemizes or not). Less favorable rules were scheduled to kick in for 2013 and beyond. The legislation permanently extends the more favorable rules that have applied in recent years.
Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. For 2013 and beyond, the maximum contribution to federal-income-tax-free Coverdell college savings accounts was scheduled to drop from $2,000 to only $500, and a stricter phase-out rule would have limited contributions by many married filing joint couples. The legislation makes permanent the favorable rules that have applied in recent years.
Increased Medicare Payroll Tax
The Medicare payroll tax is the primary source of financing for Medicare, which generally pays medical bills for individuals who are 65 or older or disabled. Wages paid through December 31, 2012, were subject to a 2.9% Medicare payroll tax. Workers and employers pay 1.45% each. Self-employed individuals pay both halves of the tax, but are allowed to deduct the employer-equivalent portion (i.e., 1.45%) for income tax purposes. Unlike the social security payroll tax, which applies to earnings up to an annual ceiling ($113,700 for 2013), the Medicare tax is levied on all of an employee’s wages subject to FICA taxes.
Beginning in 2013, individuals who have wage and/or self-employment income exceeding $200,000 ($250,000 if married, filing a joint return; $125,000 if married, filing separately) are subject to an additional 0.9% Medicare tax (i.e., 2.35% total) on their earned income exceeding the applicable threshold. The employer portion of the Medicare tax is not increased. However, employers are required to withhold and remit the additional tax for any employee to whom it pays over $200,000. Companies are not responsible for determining whether a worker's combined income with his or her spouse makes the employee subject to the additional tax. Therefore, many individuals (especially those who are married with each earning less than $200,000, but earning more than $250,000 combined) should adjust their federal income tax withholding (FITW) by submitting a new Form W-4 to the employer or make quarterly estimated tax payments to be sure they are not hit with an underpayment penalty when filing their income tax return each year.
Self-employed individuals who pay both halves of the Medicare tax (i.e., 2.9%) will pay a total Medicare tax of 3.8% on earnings above the thresholds. The additional 0.9% tax is not deductible for income tax purposes. Self-employed individuals should adjust their quarterly estimated income tax payments to account for this additional tax.
Married couples with combined incomes approaching $250,000 should keep tabs on their total earnings to avoid an unexpected tax bill when filing their individual income tax return. At this time, the threshold amounts ($200,000/$250,000) are not adjusted for inflation. Therefore, it is likely that increasingly more people will be subject to the higher payroll taxes in coming years.
Qualified Plan Distributions Exempt from the NIIT
Beginning in 2013, a new 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) applies to the net investment income (NII) of high-income taxpayers. The tax is levied on single individuals with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above $200,000 and on joint filers with MAGI over $250,000. The $250,000 threshold also applies to a surviving spouse. Married individuals who file a separate return have a $125,000 threshold. (MAGI is adjusted gross income plus any excluded net foreign earned income.) The amounts are not indexed for inflation.
NII generally includes gross income from interest, dividends, royalties, and rents; gross income from a trade or business involving passive activities; and net gain from the disposition of property (other than property held in a trade or business), reduced by deductions properly allocable to such income. The new tax applies to the lesser of total NII or MAGI over the applicable threshold. For example, if a couple has $200,000 of wage income and $100,000 of interest and dividend income (i.e., MAGI totaling $300,000), the NIIT applies to the $50,000 that is over the $250,000 MAGI threshold.
Distributions from the following types of retirement plans are not included in NII:
Example: IRA distribution exempt from NIIT.
Linda, a single taxpayer, has 2013 MAGI of $223,000, including interest of $3,350 and a taxable distribution of $26,000 from her IRA. Her income subject to the NIIT of $197,000 ($223,000 – $26,000) is under the $200,000 threshold. Therefore, Linda does not owe NIIT for 2013. However, the IRA distribution will be subject to ordinary income taxation and any penalty for early distribution (applicable, unless an exception applies).
Observation: If included in MAGI, qualified plan distributions may push the taxpayer over the threshold that would cause other types of investment income to be subject to the NIIT.
An individual with investable funds who is not contributing the maximum permissible amount to a 401(k) plan or IRA should consider doing so rather than investing the difference in a regular investment account. Not only will the individual get the income tax advantages of the qualified plan or IRA for the additional contributed amounts but, in the future, he or she may save some NIIT that could have been triggered had the funds been invested in a regular investment account.
Finally, the NIIT makes Roth IRAs more attractive. Qualified distributions from Roth IRAs are tax-free and thus will neither be subject to the NIIT nor be included in MAGI for purposes of that tax. Distributions from regular IRAs (except to the extent of after-tax contributions) will be included in MAGI, although they will not be subject to the NIIT.
Nonspouse IRA Beneficiaries
It is increasingly common for individuals to inherit IRAs. By inheriting an IRA, we mean that you become entitled to some or all of the balance in a deceased account owner’s traditional IRA or Roth IRA by virtue of being designated as an account beneficiary.
In this scenario, you may think your share of the inherited IRA balance can be distributed to you and then rolled over tax-free into your own IRA before the familiar 60-day deadline for rollovers has passed. While this seems like a reasonable assumption, it is wrong—unless you are the deceased IRA owner’s surviving spouse. In other words, only a surviving spouse is allowed to roll over a distribution from an inherited IRA into his or her own IRA. Nobody else can.
Fortunately, there are ways to finesse the "no-rollover-allowed rule" so that you can take control of your share of an inherited IRA without adverse tax consequences. However, to make this strategy work, you must follow some important rules, one of which is that you cannot receive a distribution check payable to you personally from the inherited IRA. If you do so and you are not the deceased IRA owner’s surviving spouse, you cannot put the money back into an IRA and continue earning tax-deferred income (or tax-free income, in the case of an inherited Roth IRA). Furthermore, if you are not the deceased IRA owner’s surviving spouse, you must include it in your taxable income. Depending on the circumstances, a distribution from a Roth IRA may result in taxable income as well.
A nonspouse beneficiary can, however, make a direct (trustee-to-trustee) transfer of an inherited IRA into a specially titled receiving IRA that is still in the deceased account owner's name (e.g., First Bank, Custodian for Jack Jones, Deceased, Jane Smith, Beneficiary). This does not count as a rollover for purposes of the no-roll-over-allowed rule. The receiving IRA must be a brand-new IRA set up for the specific purpose of receiving the inherited IRA. It cannot be combined with other IRAs. When the inherited IRA is a traditional IRA, the receiving IRA must be a traditional IRA. When the inherited IRA is a Roth IRA, the receiving IRA must be a Roth IRA. Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) will generally need to be made over the beneficiary's life expectancy starting the year after the IRA owner's death.
By taking advantage of this favorable rule, the balance in an inherited IRA with a sole beneficiary, who is a nonspouse, can be transferred tax-free into a receiving IRA controlled by the beneficiary. Similarly, an IRA with several nonspousal beneficiaries can be transferred tax-free into several receiving IRAs, one for each beneficiary. Thus, each beneficiary can pursue his or her own investment strategy with the inherited money.
What every student should know about summer jobs and taxes
Planning a summer job during your break from school? That’s great, but keep in mind that you do have to pay taxes on the money you earn from that job. Here are a few tips about earning money and paying taxes.
Be sure you fill out Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Your employer uses this form to determine the amount of tax to withhold from your paycheck. If you have more than one job, you should make sure all your employers are withholding enough taxes to cover your total income tax liability. To ensure your withholding is correct, use the IRS Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov.
When determining how much income to report, include all the money you earned while working. This usually means wages, salaries and tips.
In some jobs, like waiting tables, you may receive tips from customers. Tips are considered income, just like your hourly wages. Therefore, you must pay tax on them. This includes tips customers give you directly, tips customers charge on credit cards and your share of the tips you split with your co-workers. For more information about reporting your tips, read Publication 531, Reporting Tip Income.
Many students do odd jobs over the summer to make extra cash. Earnings you receive from self-employment – including jobs like babysitting and lawn mowing – are subject to income tax.
If you have net income of $400 or more from self-employment, you will have to pay self-employment tax. This pays for your Social Security and Medicare benefits, which are normally paid for by withholding from wages. The self-employment tax is figured on Form 1040, Schedule SE. Net income is the money you earned after any deductions are subtracted, such as business expenses.
If you are in the ROTC and participated in advanced training, the subsistence allowance you received is not taxable. However, active duty pay, such as pay received during summer advanced camp, is taxable.
Now that you’re working this summer, you may be wondering whether you’ll have to file a tax return. The answer depends on a number of factors from how much you’re making to whether or not your parents claim you as their dependent. You can read the rules and dollar thresholds in Publication 501,
Summer Day Camp Expenses May Qualify for a Tax Credit
Along with the lazy, hazy days of summer come some extra expenses, including summer day camp for working parents. But, there’s some good news. If you paid someone to care for a child or a dependent so you could work, you may be able to reduce your federal income tax by claiming the credit for child and dependent care expenses on your tax return.
This credit is available to people who, in order to work or to look for work, have to pay for childcare services for dependents under age 13. The credit is also available if you paid for the care of a spouse or a dependent, of any age, who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.
The Child and Dependent Care Credit is available for childcare expenses incurred during the summer and throughout the rest of the year. Here are five facts to remember about this credit:
The cost of day camp may count as an expense toward the Child and Dependent Care Credit.
Expenses for overnight camps do not qualify.
Whether your childcare provider is a sitter at your home or a daycare facility outside the home, you may get some tax benefit if you qualify for the credit. You will need the name of the childcare provider, the address, the identification number (i.e. Social Security number or employer identification number) and the total amount paid.
The credit can be up to 35 percent of your qualifying expenses, depending on your income.
You may use up to $3,000 of the unreimbursed expenses paid in a year for one qualifying individual or $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals to figure the credit.
For more information check out IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses. This publication is available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
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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