The tax code provides a variety of tax incentives for families who are paying higher education costs or are repaying student loans. You may be able to claim an American Opportunity Credit (formerly called the Hope Credit) or Lifetime Learning Credit for the qualified tuition and related expenses of the students in your family (i.e. you, your spouse, or dependent) who are enrolled in eligible educational institutions. Different rules apply to each credit and the ability to claim the credit phases out at higher income levels.
If you don't qualify for the credit, you may be able to claim the "tuition & fees deduction" for qualified educational expenses. You cannot claim this deduction if your filing status is married filing separately or if another person can claim an exemption for you as a dependent on his or her tax return. This deduction phases out at higher income levels.
You may be able to deduct interest you pay on a qualified student loan. The deduction is claimed as an adjustment to income so you do not have to itemize your deductions on Schedule A Form 1040. However, this deduction is also phased out at higher income levels.
Check Withholding to Avoid a Tax Surprise
If you owed tax last year or received a large refund you may want to adjust your tax withholding. Owing tax at the end of the year could result in penalties being assessed. On the other end, if you had a large refund you lost out on having the money in your pocket throughout the year. Changing jobs, getting married or divorced, buying a home or having children can all result in changes in your tax calculations.
The IRS withholding calculator on IRS.gov can help compute the proper tax withholding. The worksheets in Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax can also be used to do the calculation. If the result suggests an adjustment is necessary, you can submit a new W-4, Withholding Allowance Certificate, to your employer.
5 Tips For Early Preparation
Earlier is better when it comes to working on your taxes. The IRS encourages everyone to get a head start on tax preparation. Not only do you avoid the last-minute rush, early filers also get a faster refund.
There are five easy ways to get a good jump on your taxes long before the April 15 deadline rolls around:
Gather your records in advance. Make sure you have all the records you need, including W-2s and 1099s. Don't forget to save a copy for your files.
Get the right forms. They're available around the clock on IRS.gov in the Forms and Publications section.
Take your time. Don't forget to leave room for a coffee break when filling out your tax return. Rushing can mean making a mistake - and that can be expensive!
Double-check your math and Social Security number. These are among the most common errors on tax returns. Taking care on these reduces your chances of hearing from the IRS.
Get the fastest refund. When you file early, you get your refund faster. Using e-filing with direct deposit gets you a refund in half the time as paper filing.
Oops! You've discovered an error after your tax return has been filed. What should you do? You may need to amend your return.
The IRS usually corrects math errors or requests missing forms (such as W-2s) or schedules. In these instances, do not amend your return. However, do file an amended return if any of the following were reported incorrectly:
Your filing status
Your total income
Your deductions or credits
Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to correct a previously filed paper or electronically-filed Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ return. Be sure to enter the year of the return you are amending at the top of Form 1040X. If you are amending more than one tax return, use a separate 1040X for each year and mail each in a separate envelope to the IRS processing center for your state. The 1040X instructions list the addresses for the centers.
Form 1040X has three columns. Column A is used to show original or adjusted figures from the original return. Column C is used to show the corrected figures. The difference between the figures in Columns A and C is shown in Column B. You should explain the items you are changing and the reason for each change on the back of the form.
If the changes involve another schedule or form, attach it to the 1040X. For example, if you are filing a 1040X because you have a qualifying child and now want to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, you must complete and attach a Schedule EIC to the amended return.
If you are filing to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original refund before filing Form 1040X. You may cash that check while waiting for any additional refund. If you owe additional tax for the prior year, Form 1040X must be filed and the tax paid by April 15 of this year, to avoid any penalty and interest.
You generally must file Form 1040X to claim a refund within three years from the date you filed your original return, or within two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. Please contact us for more!
Ayuda en Espanol
If you need federal tax information, the IRS provides free Spanish language products and services. Pages on IRS.gov, tax topics, refund information, tax publications and toll-free telephone assistance are all available in the Spanish-language. The Spanish-language page has links to tax information such as forms and publications, warnings about tax scams that victimize taxpayers, information on the Earned Income, child and various other tax credits, and more. Look for a new interactive tool called EITC Assistant to help you learn if you are eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit. TeleTax is a toll-free, automated telephone service available in English and Spanish. TeleTax provides the status of an amended return and refund information. TeleTax can help you if it has been at least four weeks since you filed your tax return and you want to check on the status of your federal refund. Having a copy of the tax return handy will help you respond to the prompts on the automated system. TeleTax is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-829-4477.
Filing an Extension
If you can't meet the April 15 deadline to file your tax return, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file from the IRS. The extension will give you extra time to get the paperwork into the IRS, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due. You will owe interest on any amounts not paid by the April deadline, plus a late payment penalty if you have paid less than 90 percent of your total tax by that date.
You must make an accurate estimate of any tax due when you request an extension. You may also send a payment for the expected balance due, but this is not required to obtain the extension.
To get the automatic extension, file Form 4868, Application for Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, with the IRS by the April 15 deadline, or make an extension-related electronic payment. You can file your extension request by computer or mail the paper Form 4868 to the IRS.
The system will give you a confirmation number to verify that the extension request has been accepted. Put this confirmation number on your copy of Form 4868 and keep it for your records. Do not send the form to the IRS. As this is the area of our expertise, please contact us for more detailed information on how to file an extension properly!
The IRS reminds taxpayers that specific rules apply for taking a tax deduction for donating cars to charities. If the claimed value of the donated motor vehicle, boat or plane exceeds $500, you can deduct the smaller of the vehicle's FMV on the date of the contribution or the gross proceeds received from the sale of the vehicle.
People who want to take a deduction for the donation of their vehicle on their tax return should take quite a few steps, but here is the most obvious: Check that the Organization is Qualified.
Taxpayers must make certain that they contribute their car to an eligible organization; otherwise, their donation will not be tax deductible. Taxpayers can search Exempt Organizations Select Check online tool to check that an organization is qualified. In addition, taxpayers can call IRS Tax Exempt/Government Entities Customer Service at 1-877-829-5500. Be sure to have the organization's correct name and its headquarters location, if possible. Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and governments are not required to apply for this exemption in order to be qualified. Please contact us if you're considering a car donation for your tax return!
When preparing to file your federal tax return, don't forget your contributions to charitable organizations. Your donations can add up to a nice tax deduction for your corporation (if you are a member of a flow-through business entity) or your personal taxes if you itemize deductions on IRS Form 1040, Schedule A. Here are a few tips to help make sure your contributions pay off on your tax return:
You cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates, the value of your time or services and the cost of raffles, bingo, or other games of chance.
To be deductible, contributions must be made to qualified organizations.
Organizations can tell you if they are qualified and if donations to them are deductible.Taxpayers can also search the Exempt Organizations Select Check online tool, to check that an organization is qualified. In addition, taxpayers can call IRS Tax Exempt/Government Entities Customer Service at 1-877-829-5500. Be sure to have the organization's correct name and its headquarters location, if possible. Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and governments are not required to apply for this exemption in order to be qualified. Alternatively, contact us for more!
Plug-In Electric Vehicles (PEVs)
For vehicles acquired after December 31, 2009, the credit is equal to $2,500 plus, for a vehicle which draws propulsion energy from a battery with at least 5 kilowatt hours of capacity, $417, plus an additional $417 for each kilowatt hour of battery capacity in excess of 5 kilowatt hours. The total amount of the credit allowed for a vehicle is limited to $7,500.
The credit is available only to the original purchaser of a new qualifying vehicle, and the vehicle must be placed in service in the same year the credit is being claimed on the return. If the qualifying vehicle is leased the credit is available only to the leasing company. Also, the vehicle must be used primarily in the United States.
Additional conditions regarding qualified manufacturers and phase out rules may also apply in determining credit eligibility. To find out whether your car qualifies for the Qualified Plug-in Electric Drive Motor Vehicle tax credit, you can go to the IRS.gov website and search for "plug-in vehicles" or contact us for more information.
Earned Income Tax Credit for Certain Workers
Millions of Americans forgo critical tax relief each year by failing to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal tax credit for individuals who work but do not earn high incomes. Taxpayers who qualify and claim the credit could pay less federal tax, pay no tax or even get a tax refund.
The IRS estimates that 25 percent of people who qualify don't claim the credit and at the same time, there are millions of Americans who have claimed the credit in error, many of whom simply don't understand the criteria.
EITC is based on the amount of your earned income and the number of qualifying children in your household. If you have children, they must meet the relationship, age and residency requirements. And, you must file a tax return to claim the credit.
Are you eligible for any of these tax credits?
Taxpayers should consider claiming tax credits for which they might be eligible when completing their federal income tax returns, advises the IRS. A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of taxes owed. Some credits are refundable - taxes could be reduced to the point that a taxpayer would receive a refund rather than owing any taxes. Below are some of the credits taxpayers could be eligible to claim:
Earned Income Tax Credit This is a refundable credit for low-income working individuals and families. Income and family size determine the amount of the EITC. When the EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who claim and qualify for the credit. For more information, see IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit (EIC).
Child Tax Credit This credit is for people who have a qualifying child. The maximum amount of the credit is $1,000 for each qualifying child. This credit can be claimed in addition to the credit for child and dependent care expenses. For more information on the Child Tax Credit, see Pub. 972, Child Tax Credit.
Child and Dependent Care Credit This is for expenses paid for the care of children under age 13, or for a disabled spouse or dependent, to enable the taxpayer to work. There is a limit to the amount of qualifying expenses. The credit is a percentage of those qualifying expenses. For more information, see Pub. 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
Adoption Credit Adoptive parents can take a tax credit of up to $13,460 for 2016 and $13,570 for 2017 for qualifying expenses paid to adopt an eligible child. For more information, see Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses.
Credit for the Elderly and Disabled This credit is available to individuals who are either age 65 or older or are under age 65 and retired on permanent and total disability, and who are citizens or residents. There are income limitations. For more information, see Pub.524, Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled.
Education Credits There are two credits available, the American Opportunity Credit (formerly called the Hope Credit) and the Lifetime Learning Credit, for people who pay higher education costs. The American Opportunity Credit is for the payment of the first four years of tuition and related expenses for an eligible student for whom the taxpayer claims an exemption on the tax return. The Lifetime Learning Credit is available for all post-secondary education for an unlimited number of years. A taxpayer cannot claim both credits for the same student in one year. For more information, see Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.
Retirement Savings Contribution Credit Eligible individuals may be able to claim a credit for a percentage of their qualified retirement savings contributions, such as contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA or salary reduction contributions to a SEP or SIMPLE plan. To be eligible, you must be at least age 18 at the end of the year and not a full-time student or an individual for whom someone else claims a personal exemption. Also, your adjusted gross income (AGI) must be below a certain amount. For more information, see chapter three in Publication 590-A, Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).
There are other credits available to eligible taxpayers. Please contact us so we may realize your specific situation, and offer advice.
Refinancing Your Home
Taxpayers who refinanced their homes may be eligible to deduct some costs associated with their loans.
Generally, for taxpayers who itemize, the "points" paid to obtain a home mortgage may be deductible as mortgage interest. Points paid to obtain an original home mortgage can be, depending on circumstances, fully deductible in the year paid. However, points paid solely to refinance a home mortgage usually must be deducted over the life of the loan.
For a refinanced mortgage, the interest deduction for points is determined by dividing the points paid by the number of payments to be made over the life of the loan. This information is usually available from lenders. Taxpayers may deduct points only for those payments made in the tax year. For example, a homeowner who paid $2,000 in points and who would make 360 payments on a 30-year mortgage could deduct $5.56 per monthly payment, or a total of $66.72 if he or she made 12 payments in one year.
However, if part of the refinanced mortgage money was used to finance improvements to the home and if the taxpayer meets certain other requirements, the points associated with the home improvements may be fully deductible in the year the points were paid. Also, if a homeowner is refinancing a mortgage for a second time, the balance of points paid for the first refinanced mortgage may be fully deductible at pay off.
Other closing costs - such as appraisal fees and other non-interest fees - generally are not deductible. Additionally, the amount of Adjusted Gross Income can affect the amount of deductions that can be taken. Please contact us if you've recently refinanced, and we can be a big help!
Credit for the Elderly or Disabled
You may be able to take the Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled if you were age 65 or older at the end of last year, or if you are retired on permanent and total disability, according to the IRS. Like any other tax credit, it's a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax bill. The maximum amount of this credit is constantly changing.
You can take the credit for the elderly or the disabled if:
You are a qualified individual,
Your nontaxable income from Social Security or other nontaxable pension is less than $3,750 to $7,500 (also depending on your filing status).
Generally, you are a qualified individual for this credit if you are a U.S. citizen or resident at the end of the tax year and you are age 65 or older, or you are under 65, retired on permanent and total disability, received taxable disability income, and did not reach mandatory retirement age before the beginning of the tax year.
If you are under age 65, you can qualify for the credit only if you are retired on permanent and total disability. This means that:
You were permanently and totally disabled when you retired, and
You retired on disability before the end of the tax year.
Even if you do not retire formally, you are considered retired on disability when you have stopped working because of your disability. If you feel you might be eligible for this credit, please contact us for assistance.
Selling Your Home
If you sold your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of gain ($500,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly) from your federal tax return. This exclusion is allowed each time that you sell your main home, but generally no more frequently than once every two years.
To be eligible for this exclusion, your home must have been owned by you and used as your main home for a period of at least two out of the five years prior to its sale. You also must not have excluded gain on another home sold during the two years before the current sale.
If you and your spouse file a joint return for the year of the sale, you can exclude the gain if either of you qualify for the exclusion. But both of you would have to meet the use test to claim the $500,000 maximum amount.
To exclude gain, a taxpayer must both own and use the home as a principal residence for two of the five years before the sale. The two years may consist of 24 full months or 730 days. Short absences, such as for a summer vacation, count as periods of use. Longer breaks, such as a one-year sabbatical, do not.
If you do not meet the ownership and use tests, you may be allowed to exclude a reduced maximum amount of the gain realized on the sale of your home if you sold your home due to health, a change in place of employment, or certain unforeseen circumstances. Unforeseen circumstances include, for example, divorce or legal separation, natural or man-made disaster resulting in a casualty to your home, or an involuntary conversion of your home. Send us a message for more!
With more and more United States citizens earning money from foreign sources, the IRS reminds people that they must report all such income on their tax return, unless it is exempt under federal law. U.S. citizens are taxed on their worldwide income.
This applies whether a person lives inside or outside the United States. The foreign income rule also applies regardless of whether or not the person receives a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, or a Form 1099 (information return).
Foreign source income includes earned income, such as wages and tips, and unearned income, such as interest, dividends, capital gains, pensions, rents and royalties.
An important point to remember is that citizens living outside the U.S. may be able to exclude up to $101,300 for 2016 and $102,100 for 2017, of their foreign source income if they meet certain requirements. However, the exclusion does not apply to payments made by the U.S. government to its civilian or military employees living outside the U.S. Please contact us if you feel you may have earned foreign income to learn more!
Did you know that you may be able to deduct certain taxes on your federal income tax return? The IRS says you can if you file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A. Deductions decrease the amount of income subject to taxation. There are four types of deductible non-business taxes:
State and local income taxes, or general sales taxes;
Real estate taxes;
Personal property taxes; and
Foreign income taxes.
You can deduct any estimated taxes paid to state or local governments and any prior year's state or local income tax as long as they were paid during the tax year. If deducting sales taxes instead, you may deduct actual expenses or use optional tables provided by the IRS to determine your deduction amount, relieving you of the need to save receipts. Sales taxes paid on motor vehicles and boats may be added to the table amount, but only up to the amount paid at the general sales tax rate. Taxpayers will check a box on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, to indicate whether their deduction is for income or sales tax.
Deductible real estate taxes are usually any state, local, or foreign taxes on real property. If a portion of your monthly mortgage payment goes into an escrow account and your lender periodically pays your real estate taxes to local governments out of this account, you can deduct only the amount actually paid during the year to the taxing authorities. Your lender will normally send you a Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, at the end of the tax year with this information.
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To claim a deduction for personal property tax you paid, the tax must be based on value alone and imposed on a yearly basis. For example, the annual fee for the registration of your car would be a deductible tax, but only the portion of the fee that was based on the car's value.
If you gave any one person gifts valued at more than $14,000, it is necessary to report the total gift to the Internal Revenue Service. You may even have to pay tax on the gift.
The person who received your gift does not have to report the gift to the IRS or pay either gift or income tax on its value.
You make a gift when you give property, including money, or the use of or income from property, without expecting to receive something of equal value in return. If you sell something at less than its value or make an interest-free or reduced-interest loan, you may be making a gift.
There are some exceptions to the tax rules on gifts. The following gifts do not count against the annual limit:
Tuition or medical expenses that you pay directly to an educational or medical institution for someone's benefit
Gifts to your spouse
Gifts to a political organization for its use
Gifts to charities
If you are married, both you and your spouse can give separate gifts of up to the annual limit to the same person without making a taxable gift. Please contact us for more!
Marriage or Divorce
Newlyweds and the recently divorced should make sure that names on their tax returns match those registered with the Social Security Administration (SSA). A mismatch between a name on the tax return and a Social Security number (SSN) could cause your tax return to be rejected by the IRS.
For newlyweds, the tax scenario can begin when the bride says "I do" and takes her husband's surname, but doesn't tell the SSA about the name change. If the couple files a joint tax return with her new name, the IRS computers will not be able to match the new name with the SSN.
Similarly, after a divorce, a woman who had taken her husband's name and had made that change known to the SSA should contact the SSA if she reassumes a previous name.
It's easy to inform the SSA of a name change by filing Form SS-5 at a local SSA office. It usually takes two weeks to have the change verified. The form is available on the agency's Web site, www.ssa.gov, by calling toll free 1-800-772-1213 and at local offices. The SSA Web site provides the addresses of local offices. Alternatively, please contact us as we can be of even greater assistance with your spousal situation.
Affordable Care Act
The individual shared responsibility provision requires that you and each member of your family have qualifying health insurance, a health coverage exemption, or make a payment when you file. If you, your spouse and dependents had health insurance coverage all year, you will indicate this by simply checking a box on your tax return.
The provision applies to individuals of all ages, including children. The adult or married couple who can claim a child or another individual as a dependent for federal income tax purposes is responsible for making the payment if the dependent does not have coverage or an exemption.
If you have to make an individual shared responsibility payment, you will use the worksheets located in the instructions to Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, to figure the shared responsibility payment amount due. The amount due is reported on line 61 of Form 1040 in the Other Taxes section, and on the corresponding lines on Form 1040A and 1040EZ. You only make a payment for the months you did not have coverage or qualify for a coverage exemption.
Filing Deadline and Payment Options
If you're trying to beat the tax deadline, there are several options for last-minute help. If you need a form or publication, you can download copies from the IRS Forms page under Tax Tools on our website. If you find you need more time to finish your return, you can get a six month extension of time to file using Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. And if you have trouble paying your tax bill, the IRS has several payment options available.
The extension will give you extra time to get the paperwork to the IRS, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due. You have to make an accurate estimate of any tax due when you request an extension. You can also send a payment for the expected balance due, but this is not required to get the extension. However, you will owe interest on any amounts not paid by the April 15 deadline, plus a late payment penalty if you have paid less than 90 percent of your total tax by that date.
Refund, Where's My Refund?
Are you expecting a tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service this year? If you file a complete and accurate paper tax return, your refund should be issued in about six to eight weeks from the date IRS receives your return. If you file your return electronically, your refund should be issued in about half the time it would take if you filed a paper return - even faster when you choose direct deposit.
You can have a refund check mailed to you, buy up to $5,000 in U.S. Series I Savings Bonds with your refund, or you may be able to have your refund electronically deposited directly into your bank account (either in one account, or in multiple accounts). Direct deposit into a bank account is more secure because there is no check to get lost. And it takes the U.S. Treasury less time than issuing a paper check. If you prepare a paper return, fill in the direct deposit information in the "Refund" section of the tax form, making sure that the routing and account numbers are accurate. Incorrect numbers can cause your refund to be misdirected or delayed. Direct deposit is also available if you electronically file your return.
A few words of caution - some financial institutions do not allow a joint refund to be deposited into an individual account. Check with your bank or other financial institution to make sure your direct deposit will be accepted.
You may not receive your refund as quickly as you expected. A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example, a name and Social Security number listed on the tax return may not match the IRS records. You may have failed to sign the return or to include a necessary attachment, such as Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Or you may have made math errors that require extra time for the IRS to correct.
To check the status of an expected refund, use "Check your Federal Refund" an interactive tool available on our Links page. Simple online instructions guide you through a process that checks the status of your refund after you provide identifying information from your tax return. Once the information is processed, results could be one of several responses.
Ten Ways to Avoid Problems at Tax Time
Looking for ways to avoid the last-minute rush for doing your taxes? The IRS offers these tips:
Don't Procrastinate. Resist the temptation to put off your taxes until the last minute. Your haste to meet the filing deadline may cause you to overlook potential sources of tax savings and will likely increase your risk of making an error.
Organize Your Tax Records. Tax preparation time can be significantly reduced if you develop a system for organizing your records and receipts. Start with the income, deduction or tax credit items that were on last year's return.
Visit the IRS Online. Millions of taxpayers visited the IRS Web site last year, downloading nearly 600 million forms, publications and a variety of topic-oriented tax information. Anyone with Internet access can find tax law information and answers to frequently asked tax questions.
Take Advantage of Free Assistance. The IRS offers about 150 tax topics through its website at www.irs.gov/taxtopics. It also offers federal tax forms and publications at 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676). Some libraries, post offices, and banks carry the most widely requested forms and instructions. Libraries may also have reference sets of IRS publications. The IRS also staffs a tax Help Line for Individuals at 1-800-829-1040. Help for small businesses, corporations, partnerships and trusts which need information or assistance preparing business returns is available at 1-800-829-4933. Both lines are staffed on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. your local time (Alaska & Hawaii follow Pacific Time). Hearing-impaired individuals with access to TTY/TDD equipment may call 1-800-829-4059 to ask questions or to order forms and publications.
Use IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers and Vounteer Programs. Free tax help is available at IRS offices nationwide. Also, check your newspaper or local IRS office to find locations for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly sites. To obtain the location, dates, and hours of the VITA or TCE volunteer site closest to you, call the IRS toll-free Tax Help Line for Individuals at 1-800-829-1040 or on the IRS website.
Have your accountant Double-Check Your Math and Data Entries. Review your return for possible math errors and make sure you have provided the names and correct (and legibly written) Social Security or other identification numbers for yourself, your spouse and your dependents.
Have Your Refund Deposited Directly to Your Bank Account. Another way to speed up your refund and reduce the chance of theft is to have the amount deposited directly to your bank account. Check the tax instructions for details on entering the routing and account numbers on your tax return. Make sure the numbers you enter are correct. Wrong numbers can cause your refund to be misdirected or delayed.
Don't Panic if You Can't Pay. If you can't immediately pay the taxes you owe, consider some stress-reducing alternatives. You can apply for an IRS installment agreement, suggesting your own monthly payment amount and due date, and getting a reduced late payment penalty rate. You also have various options for charging your balance on a credit card, either as part of an electronic return or directly through a processing agent, either by phone or online. Electronic filers with a balance due can file early and authorize the government's financial agent to take the money directly from their checking or savings account on the April 15 due date, with no fee. Note that if you file your tax return or a request for a filing extension on time, even if you can't pay, you avoid potential late filing penalties.
Have Your Accountant Request an Extension of Time to File - But Pay on Time. If the clock runs out, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file, to October 15. An extension of time to file does not give you an extension of time to pay, however. You can e-file a Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File, that is included in most tax preparation software, or send a paper Form 4868 to the IRS to request the extension. You will need the adjusted gross income and total tax amounts from last year's return if you request the extension by electronic filing. You may also get an extension by charging your expected balance on a credit card at Official Payments Corporation or Link2Gov Corporation. There is no IRS fee for credit card payments, but the processors charge a convenience fee.
The Tax Advocate Service, Provided by the IRS
Have you tried everything to resolve a tax problem with the IRS but are still experiencing delays? Are you facing what you consider to be an economic burden or hardship due to IRS collection or other actions? If so, you can seek the assistance of the Taxpayer Advocate Service.
You may request the assistance of the Taxpayer Advocate if you find that you can no longer provide for basic necessities such as housing, transportation or food because of IRS actions. You can also seek help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service if you own a business and are unable to meet basic expenses such as payroll because of IRS actions. A delay of more than 30 days to resolve a tax related problem or no response by the date promised may also qualify you for assistance.
Qualified taxpayers will receive personalized service from a knowledgeable Taxpayer Advocate. The Advocate will listen to your situation, help you understand what needs to be done to resolve it, and stay with you every step of the way until your problem is resolved to the fullest extent permitted by law.
The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS and can help clear up problems that resulted from previous contacts with the IRS. Taxpayer Advocates will ensure that your case is given a complete and impartial review. What's more, if your problem affects other taxpayers, the Taxpayer Advocate Service can work to change the system.
You can gain quick access to the Taxpayer Advocate Service by contacting us, or the IRS directly toll-free 1-877-777-4778.
Tips and Taxes
Do you work at a hair salon, barber shop, casino, golf course, hotel or restaurant or drive a taxicab? The tip income you receive as an employee from those services is taxable income, advises the IRS.
As taxable income, these tips are subject to federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and may be subject to state income tax as well.
You must keep a running daily log of all your tip income and tips paid out. This includes cash that you receive directly from customers, tips from credit card charges from customers that your employer pays you, the value of any non-cash tips such as tickets or passes that you receive, and the amount of tips you paid out to other employees through tip pools or tip splitting and the names of those employees.
You can use IRS Publication 1244, Employee's Daily Record of Tips and Report of Tips to Employer, to record your tip income. For a free copy of Publication 1244, call the IRS toll free at 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).
If you receive $20 or more in tips in any one month, you should report all your tips to your employer. Your employer is required to withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes and to report the correct amount of your earnings to the Social Security Administration (which will affect your benefits when you retire or if you become disabled, or your family's benefits if you die). Contact us so your wages are properly reported!
Tax Tips for Businesses
Domestic Production Deduction
If your business is engaged in a qualifying production activity you may be able to take a tax deduction for your U.S. based business activities. The deduction is limited to income arising from qualified production activities in whole or in part based in the United States. The following are qualified production activities.
Manufacturing based in the United States,
Selling, leasing, or licensing items that have been manufactured in the United States,
Selling, leasing, or licensing motion pictures that have been produced in the United States,
Construction services in the United States, including building and renovation of residential and commercial properties,
Engineering and architectural services relating to a US-based construction project,
Software development in the United States, including the development of video games.
If you have a business that falls into any of these categories and you are not looking at this deduction, you could be missing out on a valuable tax break. Contact us to see if this deduction is for you.
Organizational and Start Up Costs
Have you just started a new business? Did you know expenses incurred before a business begins operations are not allowed as current deductions? Generally, these start up costs must be amortized over a period of 180 months beginning in the month in which the business begins. However, based on the current tax provisions, you may elect to deduct up to $5,000 of business start-up and $5,000 of organizational costs paid or incurred. The $5,000 deduction is reduced by any start-up or organizational costs which exceed $50,000. If you want to deduct a larger portion of your start up cost in the first year, a new business will want to begin operations as early as possible and hold off incurring some of those expenses until after business begins. Contact us to help determine how you can maximize your deduction for start-up and/or organizational expenses. For additional information on what costs constitute start-up or organizational expenses, refer to IRS publication 535, Business Expenses.
Business or Hobby?
It is generally accepted that people prefer to make a living doing something they like. A hobby is an activity for which you do not expect to make a profit. If you do not carry on your business or investment activity to make a profit, there is a limit on the deductions you can take. You must include on your return income from an activity from which you do not expect to make a profit. An example of this type of activity is a hobby or a farm you operate mostly for recreation and pleasure. You cannot use a loss from the activity to offset other income. Activities you do as a hobby, or mainly for sport or recreation, come under this limit. So does an investment activity intended only to produce tax losses for the investors.
The limit on not-for-profit losses applies to individuals, partnerships, estates, trusts, and S corporations. For additional information on these entities, refer to business structures. It does not apply to corporations other than S corporations. In determining whether you are carrying on an activity for profit, all the facts are taken into account. No one factor alone is decisive. Among the factors to consider are whether:
You carry on the activity in a business-like manner,
The time and effort you put into the activity indicate you intend to make it profitable,
You depend on income from the activity for your livelihood,
Your losses are due to circumstances beyond your control (or are normal in the start-up phase of your type of business),
You change your methods of operation in an attempt to improve profitability,
You, or your advisors, have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business,
You were successful in making a profit in similar activities in the past,
The activity makes a profit in some years, and
You can expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets used in the activity.
Business Eligibility for Schedule C-EZ
Your business may be eligible to use the abbreviated Schedule C-EZ instead of the longer Schedule C when reporting business profit and loss on your federal income tax return, according to the IRS. That's because the deductible business expense threshold for filing Schedule C-EZ of the Form 1040 is $5,000. This change allows an additional 500,000 small businesses to file the C-EZ rather than Schedule C.
Schedule C-EZ, Net Profit from Business (Sole Proprietorship), is the simplified version of Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business (Sole Proprietorship).
Schedule C-EZ consists of an instruction page and a one-page form with three short parts - General Information, Figure Your Net Profit, and Information on Your Vehicle. The instruction page includes a worksheet for figuring the amount of deductible expenses. If that amount does not exceed $5,000, you should be able to use the C-EZ instead of Schedule C. Contact us to learn more!
Deductible Home Offices
Whether you are self-employed or an employee, if you use a portion of your home exclusively and regularly for business purposes, you may be able to take a home office deduction.
You can deduct certain expenses if your home office is the principal place where your trade or business is conducted or where you meet and deal with clients or patients in the course of your business. If you use a separate structure not attached to your home for an exclusive and regular part of your business, you can deduct expenses related to it.
Your home office will qualify as your principal place of business if you use it exclusively and regularly for the administrative or management activities associated with your trade or business. There must be no other fixed place where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities. If you use both your home and other locations regularly in your business, you must determine which location is your principle place of business, based on the relative importance of the activities performed at each location. If the relative importance factor doesn't determine your principle place of business, you can also consider the time spent at each location.
If you are an employee, you have additional requirements to meet. You cannot take the home office deduction unless the business use of your home is for the convenience of your employer. Also, you cannot take deductions for space you are renting to your employer.
Generally, the amount you can deduct depends on the percentage of your home used for business. Your deduction will be limited if your gross income from your business is less than your total business expenses. Please contact us for more!
Filing Deadline and Payment Options
If you're trying to beat the tax deadline, there are several options for last-minute help. If you need a form or publication, you can download copies from the IRS Forms page under Tax Tools on our website. If you find you need more time to finish your return, you can get a five or six month extension of time to file using Form 7004, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File Certain Business Income Tax, Information, Other Returns. And if you have trouble paying your tax bill, the IRS has several payment options available.
The extension will give you extra time to get the paperwork to the IRS, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due. You have to make an accurate estimate of any tax due when you request an extension. You can also send a payment for the expected balance due, but this is not required to get the extension. However, you will owe interest on any amounts not paid by the March 15 deadline, plus a late payment penalty if you have paid less than 90 percent of your total tax by that date.
Refund, Where's My Refund?
Are you expecting a tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service this year? If you file a complete and accurate paper tax return, your refund should be issued in about six to eight weeks from the date IRS receives your return. If you file your return electronically, your refund should be issued in about half the time it would take if you filed a paper return - even faster when you choose direct deposit.
You can have a refund check mailed to you, or you may be able to have your refund electronically deposited directly into your bank account. Direct deposit into a bank account is more secure because there is no check to get lost. And it takes the U.S. Treasury less time than issuing a paper check. If you prepare a paper return, complete Form 8050, making sure that the routing and account numbers are accurate, and attach it to the corporation's tax return. Note that Form 8050 may only be filed with the original Form 1120 or 1120S, and the corporation is not eligible to receive direct deposit if the receiving financial institution is a foreign bank, or foreign branch of a U.S. bank. Incorrect numbers can cause your refund to be misdirected or delayed. Direct deposit is also available if you electronically file your return.
You may not receive your refund as quickly as you expected. A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example, a name or identification number and Social Security number listed on the tax return may not match the IRS records. You may have failed to sign the return or to include a necessary attachment, such as Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Or you may have made math errors that require extra time for the IRS to correct.
Your Appeal Rights
Are you in the middle of a disagreement with the IRS? One of the guaranteed rights for all taxpayers is the right to appeal. If you disagree with the IRS about the amount of your tax liability or about proposed collection actions, you have the right to ask the IRS Appeals Office to review your case.
IRS Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer, explains some of your most important taxpayer rights. During their contact with taxpayers, IRS employees are required to explain and protect these taxpayer rights, including the right to appeal.
The IRS appeals system is for people who do not agree with the results of an examination of their tax returns or other adjustments to their tax liability. In addition to examinations, you can appeal many other things, including:
Collection actions such as liens, levies, seizures, installment agreement terminations and rejected offers-in-compromise
Penalties and interest
Employment tax adjustments and the trust fund recovery penalty
Appeals conferences are informal meetings. The local Appeals Office, which is independent of the IRS office that proposed the disputed action, can sometimes resolve an appeal by telephone or through correspondence.
The IRS also offers an option called Fast Track Mediation, during which an appeals or settlement officer attempts to help you and the IRS reach a mutually satisfactory solution. Most cases not docketed in court qualify for Fast Track Mediation. You may request Fast Track Mediation at the conclusion of an audit or collection determination, but prior to your request for a normal appeals hearing. Fast Track Mediation is meant to promote the early resolution of a dispute. It doesn't eliminate or replace existing dispute resolution options, including your opportunity to request a conference with a manager or a hearing before Appeals. You may withdraw from the mediation process at any time.
When attending an informal meeting or pursuing mediation, you may represent yourself or you can be represented by an attorney, certified public accountant or individual enrolled to practice before the IRS.
If you and the IRS appeals officer cannot reach agreement, or if you prefer not to appeal within the IRS, in most cases you may take your disagreement to federal court. But taxpayers can settle most differences without expensive and time-consuming court trials.
For more information on the appeals process, please contact us!
Information About IRS Notices
It's a moment any taxpayer dreads. An envelope arrives from the IRS - and it's not a refund check. But don't panic. Many IRS letters can be dealt with simply and painlessly.
Each year, the IRS sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers to request payment of taxes, notify them of a change to their account or request additional information. The notice you receive normally covers a very specific issue about your account or tax return. Each letter and notice provides specific instructions explaining what you should do if action is necessary to satisfy the inquiry. Most notices also give a phone number to call if you need further information.
Most correspondence can be handled without calling or visiting an IRS office, if you follow the instructions in the letter or notice. However, if you have questions, call the telephone number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice, or call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. Have a copy of your tax return and the correspondence available when you call so your account can be readily accessed.
Before contacting the IRS, review the correspondence and compare it with the information on your return. If you agree with the correction to your account, no reply is necessary unless a payment is due. If you do not agree with the correction the IRS made, it is important that you respond as requested. Write an explanation why you disagree, and include any documents and information you wish the IRS to consider. Mail your information along with the bottom tear-off portion of the notice to the address shown in the upper left-hand corner of the IRS correspondence. Allow at least 30 days for a response.
Sometimes, the IRS sends a second letter or notice requesting additional information or providing additional information to you. Be sure to keep copies of any correspondence with your records. If you've received a notice and are confused about what to do next, please contact us and we can help!
When preparing to file your federal tax return, don't forget your contributions to charitable organizations. Your donations (up to 10% of taxable income) can add up to a nice tax deduction for your corporation.
Here are a few tips to help make sure your contributions pay off on your tax return:
You cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates, the value of your time or services and the cost of raffles, bingo, or other games of chance. To be deductible, contributions must be made to qualified organizations. Cash contributions must be substantiated by a bank record, or a receipt, letter or other written communication from the donee organization indicating the name of the organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. In addition, if the contribution is $250 or more, a written acknowledgement showing the amount of cash contributed, any property contributed, and a description and a good faith estimate of the value of any goods or services provided in return for the contribution or statement that no goods or services were provided in return for the contribution, is required. Non-cash contributions over $500 must be supported by an attachment to the return which states the kind of property contributed, along with the method used to determine its fair market value. Form 8283, Non-cash Charitable Contributions is required for contributions with a claimed value of more than $5,000. Contributions which exceed the 10% limitation can be carried over for five years.
Organizations can tell you if they are qualified and if donations to them are deductible. IRS.gov has an Exempt Organizations Select Check online tool to help you see if an organization is qualified. In addition, taxpayers can call IRS Tax Exempt/Government Entities Customer Service at 1-877-829-5500. Be sure to have the organization's correct name and its headquarters location, if possible. Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and governments are not required to apply for this exemption in order to be qualified. Alternatively, contact us for more information!
Tax Tips for Finance
Tax Saving Techniques
Following are some generally recognized financial planning tools that may help you reduce your tax bill.
Charitable Giving - Instead of selling your appreciated long-term securities, donate the stock instead and avoid paying tax on the unrealized gain while still getting a charitable tax deduction for the full fair market value.
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) - If you have a high deductible medical plan you can open an HSA and make tax deductible contributions to your account to pay for medical expenses. Unlike flexible spending arrangements (FSAs), the contributions can carry over for medical expenses in future years.
ROTH IRAs - Contributions to a ROTH IRA are not tax deductible but the qualified distributions, including earnings are tax-free.
Municipal Bonds - Interest earned on these types of investments is tax-exempt.
Own a home - most of the cost of this type of investment is financed and the interest (on mortgages up to $1,000,000) is tax deductible. When the property is sold, individuals may exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 if married jointly) of the gain.
Retirement Plans - Participate in your employer sponsored retirement plan, especially if there is a matching component. You will receive a current tax deduction and the tax-deferred compounding can add up to a large retirement savings.
Deducting Mortgage Interest
If you own a home, and you itemize your deductions on Schedule A, you can claim a deduction for the interest paid. To be deductible, the interest you pay must be on a loan secured by your main home or a second home (including a second home that is also rented out for part of the year, so long as the personal use requirement is met). The loan can be a first or second mortgage, a home improvement loan, or a home equity loan. To be deductible, the loan must be secured by your home but the proceeds can be used for other than home improvements. You can refinance and use the proceeds to pay off credit card debt, go on vacation or buy a car and the interest will remain deductible. There are other financial reasons for not wanting to do this but it will not disqualify the deduction.
The interest deduction for home acquisition debt (that is, a loan taken out after October 13, 1987 to buy, build, or substantially improve a qualified home) is limited to debt of $1 million ($500,000 if married filing separately). The interest deduction from your home equity loan is also not unlimited. You can generally deduct interest you pay on the first $100,000 of a home equity loan. Debt which you incurred to buy, build or substantially improve your home that is in excess of the $1 million home acquisition debt limit may also qualify as home equity debt.
In addition to the deduction for mortgage interest, points paid on the original purchase of your residence are also generally deductible. Taxpayers who are required to pay mortgage insurance premiums may also be able to deduct this amount subject to certain income limits. For more information about the mortgage interest deduction, see IRS Publication 936.
Capital Gains and Losses
Almost everything you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset. The IRS says when you sell a capital asset, such as stocks, the difference between the amount you sell it for and your basis, which is usually what you paid for it, is a capital gain or a capital loss. While you must report all capital gains, you may deduct only your capital losses on investment property, not personal property.
While you must report all capital gains, you may deduct only your capital losses on investment property, not personal property. A "paper loss" - a drop in an investment's value below its purchase price - does not qualify for the deduction. The loss must be realized through the capital asset's sale or exchange.
Capital gains and losses are classified as long-term or short-term, depending on how long you hold the property before you sell it. If you hold it more than one year, your capital gain or loss is long-term. If you hold it one year or less, your capital gain or loss is short-term. For more information on the tax rates, refer to IRS Publication 544, Sales and Other Dispositions of Assets. If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, the excess is subtracted from other income on your tax return, up to an annual limit of $3,000 ($1,500 if you are married filing separately). Unused capital losses can be carried over indefinitely to future years to net against capital gains, however the annual limit still applies.
Capital gains and losses are reported on Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, summarized on Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses, and then transferred to line 13 of Form 1040. Accounting and planning for the sale and purchase of capital assets is usually a very complicated matter, so please contact us so that you may receive the professional advice you deserve.
Coverdell Savings Accounts
A Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) is a savings account created as an incentive to help parents and students save for education expenses.
The total contributions for the beneficiary (who is under age 18 or is a special needs beneficiary) of this account in any year cannot be more than $2,000, no matter how many accounts have been established. The beneficiary will not owe tax on the distributions if, for a year, the distributions from an account are not more than a beneficiary's qualified education expenses at an eligible education institution. This benefit applies to higher education expenses as well as to elementary and secondary education expenses.
Generally, any individual (including the beneficiary) can contribute to a Coverdell ESA if the individual's modified adjusted gross (MAGI) income is less than an annual, constantly changing maximum. Usually, MAGI for the purpose of determining your maximum contribution limit is the adjusted gross income (AGI) shown on your tax return increased by the following exclusion from your income: foreign earned income of U.S. citizens or residents living abroad, housing costs of U.S. citizens or residents living abroad, and income from sources within Puerto Rico or American Samoa. Contributions to a Coverdell ESA may be made until the due date of the contributor's return, without extensions.
One popular tax savings outlet available to taxpayers today is the Individual Retirement Account, more commonly referred to as an IRA. There are several options you have when deciding which type of IRA account to enter into. You may be able to take a tax deduction for the contributions to a traditional IRA, depending on whether you or your spouse, if filing jointly, are covered by an employer's pension plan and how much total income you have. Conversely, you cannot deduct Roth IRA contributions, but the earnings on a Roth IRA may be tax-free if you meet the conditions for a qualified distribution.
Generally, you can contribute a percentage of your earnings for the current year or a larger, catch-up contribution if you are age 50 or older. You can fund a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA (if you qualify), or both, but your total contributions cannot be more than these annual amounts (currently $5,500, or $6,500 if you are age 50 or older).
You can file your tax return claiming a traditional IRA deduction before the contribution is actually made. However, the contribution must be made by the due date of your return, not including extensions. If you haven't contributed funds to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) for last tax year, or if you've put in less than the maximum allowed, you still have time to do so. You can contribute to either a traditional or Roth IRA until the April 15 due date for filing your tax return for last year, not including extensions.
Be sure to tell the IRA trustee that the contribution is for last year. Otherwise, the trustee may report the contribution as being for this year, when they get your funds.
If you report a contribution to a traditional IRA on your return, but fail to contribute by the deadline, you must file an amended tax return by using Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. You must add the amount you deducted to your income on the amended return and pay the additional tax accordingly.
ROTH IRA Contributions
Confused about whether you can contribute to a Roth IRA? The IRS suggests checking these simple rules:
Income To contribute to a Roth IRA, you must have compensation (e.g., wages, salary, tips, professional fees, bonuses). Your modified adjusted gross income must be less than:
$196,000 - Married Filing Jointly.
$10,000 - Married Filing Separately (and you lived with your spouse at any time during the year).
$133,000 - Single, Head of Household, or Married Filing Separately (and you did not live with your spouse during the year).
Age There is no age limitation for Roth IRA contributions. Unlike traditional IRAs, you can be any age and still qualify to contribute to a Roth IRA.
Contribution Limits In general, if your only IRA is a Roth IRA, the maximum current year contribution limit is the lesser of your taxable compensation or $5,500 ($6,500 for those age 50 or over). The maximum contribution limit phases out if your modified adjusted gross income is within these limits:
Contributions to Spousal Roth IRA You can make contributions to a Roth IRA for your spouse provided you meet the income requirements.
* Note - threshold amounts listed above are for tax year 2017.