Tag Archives: Income Tax

IRS Offers Tips for Teenage Taxpayers with Summer Jobs

Students and teenagers often get summer jobs. This is a great way to earn extra spending money or to save for later. The IRS offers a few tax tips for taxpayers with a summer job:

  1. Withholding and Estimated Tax. Students and teenage employees normally have taxes withheld from their paychecks by the employer.  Some workers are considered self-employed and may be responsible for paying taxes directly to the IRS. One way to do that is by making estimated tax payments during the year.
  2. New Employees. When a person gets a new job, they need to fill out a Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Employers use this form to calculate how much federal income tax to withhold from the employee’s pay. The IRS Withholding Calculator tool on IRS.gov can help a taxpayer fill out the form.
  3. Self-Employment. A taxpayer may engage in types of work that may be considered self-employment. Money earned from self-employment is taxable. Self-employment work can be jobs like baby-sitting or lawn care. Keep good records on money received and expenses paid related to the work.  IRS rules may allow some, if not all, costs associated with self-employment to be deducted. A tax deduction generally reduces the taxes you pay.
  4. Tip Income. Employees should report tip income. Keep a daily log to accurately report tips. Report tips of $20 or more received in cash in any single month to the employer.
  5. Payroll Taxes. Taxpayers may earn too little from their summer job to owe income tax. Employers usually must withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from their pay. If a taxpayer is self-employed, then Social Security and Medicare taxes may still be due and are generally paid by the taxpayer, in a timely manner.
  6. Newspaper Carriers. Special rules apply to a newspaper carrier or distributor. If a person meets certain conditions, then they are self-employed. If the taxpayer does not meet those conditions, and are under age 18, they may be exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes.
  7. ROTC Pay. If a taxpayer is in a ROTC program, active duty pay, such as pay for summer advanced camp, is taxable. Other allowances the taxpayer may receive may not be taxable, see Publication 3 for details.
  8. Use IRS Free File. Taxpayers can prepare and e-file their federal income tax return for free using IRS Free File. Free File is available only on IRS.gov. Some taxpayers may not earn enough money to have to file a federal tax return, by law, but may want to if taxes were withheld. For example, a taxpayer may want to file a tax return because they would be eligible for a tax refund or a refundable credit.  IRS Free File can help with these issues.

Visit IRS.gov for more about the tax rules for students.

IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2017-02, July 5, 2017

 

Last-Minute Savings for Tax Year 2016

Attention last minute savers! There’s still time to reduce your tax burden for 2016.

Have you funded a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, or SEP this year? The deadline for contributions to IRAs is April 18, 2017 — this year’s filing deadline. For self-employed taxpayers, contributions to a SEP may be postponed until October 16, 2017 if a tax return extension has been filed.

Increasing your 401(k) contribution so that you are putting in the maximum amount of money allowed is a smart way to lower taxes. If you can’t afford the maximum contribution, $18,000 for 2016, $24,000 if you are age 50 or over, you should still contribute the full amount that will be matched by employer contributions – no reason to leave money on the table!

If you are currently enrolled in an employer sponsored retirement plan, your contribution to a traditional IRA will not be tax deductible, but you will be able to take advantage of tax-deferred interest compounding. The cap for contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA in 2016 is $5,500 for taxpayers under 50 and $6,500 for those over 50.

If you have reason to believe you’ll be in the same or a lower tax bracket next year, it may make sense to defer income by taking capital gains in 2017 instead of in 2016. If you are self-employed or freelancing and can push revenue into a lower earning year, it may be wise to do so. Winding up in a higher tax bracket can result in a big surprise in your tax bill. Your forecast for personal income this year vs. next year is an important issue to discuss with your tax professional.

Charitable deductions are another great way to lower your taxes before year’s end. Just make sure that the charity to which you are donating is recognized by the IRS as being tax-exempt, and that you document and photograph all items donated.

“Loss harvesting” is the practice of selling stocks and mutual funds with the goal of realizing losses. Those losses can offset taxable gains you have realized during the year, dollar for dollar. This is another good conversation to have with your enrolled agent.

To make sure you’re taking advantage of all available tax savings, tax credits and deductions for 2016, be sure to bring the right documents to your tax professional. Along with any Forms W-2 from your employer, bring Forms 1099 declaring misc. income, mortgage interest information, and K-1 forms showing income from a partnership, small business or trust. Bring documentation of any student loans you may be paying off, and money spent on child care.

Some other things to consider: if you collected unemployment benefits at any time during the year, that money is generally taxable and you will need to bring a form 1099-G. For state filing, you’ll want to remember to include any personal property tax paid – for example, on your automobile. Did you collect Social Security, rent a property, receive self-employment income or pay alimony? Cancelled checks and receipts can help to document expenses you wish to claim, such as those related to a home office. Job search expenses, moving expenses and college expenses may all be deductible under certain circumstances. Medical expenses might be deductible, but the bar is high.

As with everywhere else in life, often what the large print giveth the small print taketh away. For instance, IRA contributions — both traditional and Roth — have some tricky limitations (and some workarounds, too). Enrolled agents (“EAs”), America’s tax experts, are well placed to help you navigate. Please feel free to call my office at xxx-xxx-xxxx to schedule an appointment.

 

About Enrolled Agents

To earn the EA license from the US Department of Treasury, candidates must pass a background check and a stringent three-part exam on tax administered by the IRS. To maintain the license, they must complete annual continuing education that is reported to the IRS. Members of the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) are obligated to complete additional continuing education and adhere to a code of ethics and rules of professional conduct.

Be Smart About Security at Tax Time

Although the IRS reports a 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents during the 2016 tax season, there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourself.

Here are nine hints that can help:

  1. Beware of IRS Impersonators. Some crooks call taxpayers to say they must settle their “tax bill.” These are fake calls and often demand payment on prepaid debit cards, gift cards or wire transfers. Also, students should know there’s no “Federal Student Tax.” If you get any unexpected calls, e-mails, letters or texts from someone claiming to be from the IRS, remember, the IRS never calls to demand immediate payment using a specific method nor will it threaten you with local law enforcement.
  2. Understand and Use Security Software. Security software helps protect computers against digital threats online. Generally, the operating system will include security software or you can access free security software from well-known companies or Internet providers. Essential tools include a firewall, virus and malware protection, and file encryption. Don’t buy security software offered as an unexpected pop-up ad on your computer or e-mail. It’s likely from a scammer.
  3. Let Security Software Update Automatically. Malware—malicious software—evolves constantly and your security software suite updates routinely to keep pace.
  4. Look for the “S.” When shopping or banking online, see that the site uses encryption to protect your information. Look for “https” at the beginning of the Web address. The “s” is for secure. Additionally, make sure the https carries through on all pages, not just the sign-on page.
  5. Use Strong Passwords. Use passwords of eight or more characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use your name, birth date or common words. Don’t use the same password for several accounts. Keep your password list in a secure place or use a password manager. Don’t share passwords with anyone. Calls, texts or e-mails pretending to be from legitimate companies or the IRS asking to update accounts or seeking personal financial information are almost always scams.
  6. Secure Wireless Networks. A wireless network sends a signal through the air that lets it connect to the Internet. If your home or business Wi-Fi is unsecured, it also lets any computer within range access your wireless and potentially steal information from your computer. Criminals can also use your wireless to send spam or commit crimes that would be traced back to you. Always encrypt your wireless. Generally, you must turn on this feature and create a password.
  7. Be Cautious When Using Public Wireless Networks. Public Wi-Fi hot spots are convenient but often not secure. Tax or financial information you send though websites or mobile apps may be accessed by someone else. If a public Wi-Fi hot spot doesn’t require a password, it’s probably not secure.
  8. Avoid E-mail Phishing Attempts. Never reply to e-mails, texts or pop-up messages asking for personal, tax or financial information. One com-mon trick by criminals is to impersonate a business such as your financial institution, tax software provider or the IRS, asking you to update your account and providing a link. They ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information, which could be used to file false tax returns. The sites may also infect your computer. Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust. Go directly to the organization’s website. Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through unsecured channels.
  9. Get Professional Advice. To make sure you can take advantage of all allowable tax-deferred savings, tax credits and deductions, consult with a licensed tax professional, your enrolled agent (EA). EAs are the only federally licensed tax professionals with unlimited rights of representation before the IRS. EAs abide by a code of ethics and must complete many hours of continuing education each year to ensure they are up-to-date on the constantly changing tax code.

You can save money and trouble if you follow professional advice and your own good sense when taking care of taxes.

10 Year-End Tax-Planning Tips for Individuals

  1. Accelerate Deductions and Defer Income

It sometimes makes sense to accelerate deductions and defer income. There are plenty of income items and expenses you may be able to control. Consider deferring bonuses, consulting income or self-employment income. On the deduction side, you may be able to accelerate state and local income taxes, interest payments and real estate taxes.

  1. Bunch Itemized Deductions

Many expenses can be deducted only if they exceed a certain percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Bunching itemized deductible expenses into one year can help you exceed these AGI floors. Consider scheduling your costly non-urgent medical procedures in a single year to exceed the 10 percent AGI floor for medical expenses (7.5 percent for taxpayers age 65 and older). This may mean moving a procedure into this year or postponing it until next year. To exceed the 2 percent AGI floor for miscellaneous expenses, bunch professional fees like legal advice and tax planning, as well as unreimbursed business expenses such as travel and vehicle costs.

  1. Make Up a Tax Shortfall with Increased Withholding

Don’t forget that taxes are due throughout the year. Check your withholding and estimated tax payments now while you have time to fix a problem. If you’re in danger of an underpayment penalty, try to make up the shortfall by increasing withholding on your salary or bonuses. A bigger estimated tax payment can leave you exposed to penalties for previous quarters, while withholding is considered to have been paid ratably throughout the year.

  1. Leverage Retirement Account Tax Savings

It’s not too late to increase contributions to a retirement account. Traditional retirement accounts like a 401(k) or individual retirement accounts (IRAs) still offer some of the best tax savings. Contributions reduce taxable income at the time that you make them, and you don’t pay taxes until you take the money out at retirement. The 2016 contribution limits are $18,000 for a 401(k) and $5,500 for an IRA (not including catch-up contributions for those 50 years of age and older).

  1. Reconsider a Roth IRA Rollover

It has become very popular in recent years to convert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. This type of rollover allows you to pay tax on the conversion in exchange for no taxes in the future (if withdrawals are made properly). If you converted your account this year, reexamine the rollover. If the value went down, you have until your extended filing deadline to reverse the conversion. That way, you may be able to perform a conversion later and pay less tax.

  1. Get Your Charitable House in Order

If you plan on giving to charity before the end of the year, remember that a cash contribution must be documented to be deductible. If you claim a charitable deduction of more than $500 in donated property, you must attach Form 8283. If you are claiming a deduction of $250 or more for a car donation, you will need a contemporaneous written acknowledgement from the charity that includes a description of the car. Remember, you cannot deduct donations to individuals, social clubs, political groups or foreign organizations.

  1. Give Directly from an IRA

Congress finally made permanent a provision that allow taxpayers 70½ and older to make tax-free charitable distributions from IRAs. Using your IRA distributions for charitable giving could save you more than taking a charitable deduction on a normal gift. That’s because these IRA distributions for charitable giving won’t be included in income at all, lowering your AGI. You’ll see the difference in many AGI-based computations where the below-the-line deduction for charitable giving doesn’t have any effect. Even better, the distribution to charity will still count toward the satisfaction of your minimum required distribution for the year.

  1. Zero out AMT

Some high-income taxpayers must pay the alternative minimum tax (AMT) because the AMT removes key deductions. The silver lining is that the top AMT tax rate is only 28 percent. So you can “zero out” the AMT by accelerating income into the AMT year until the tax you calculate for regular tax and AMT are the same. Although you will have paid tax sooner, you will have paid at an effective tax rate less than the top regular tax rate of 39.6 percent. But be careful, this can backfire if you are in the AMT phase-out range or the additional income affects other tax benefits.

  1. Don’t Squander Your Gift Tax Exclusion

You can give up to $14,000 to as many people as you wish in 2016, free of gift or estate tax. You get a new annual gift tax exclusion every year, so don’t let it go to waste. You and your spouse can use your exemptions together to give up to $28,000 per beneficiary.

  1. Leverage Historically Low Interest Rates

Many estate and gift tax strategies hinge on the ability of assets to appreciate faster than the interest rates prescribed by the IRS. An appreciating market and historically low rates create the perfect atmosphere for estate planning. The past several years presented a historically favorable time, and the low rates won’t last forever

 

Not sure what to do?  Give our office a call!!  663-8686

 

Combating Tax Return Fraud – What You Need to Know

WASHINGTON, DC (January 12, 2016) How do you know if someone has filed a tax return using your Social Security number? And what do you do then?

This is happening more and more—the latest General Accounting Office (GAO) report says that IRS paid out over $5.8 billion in fraudulent returns in 2013. IRS does have security measures in place to verify the accuracy of tax returns and the validity of Social Security numbers submitted, but that hasn’t stopped the bad guys from filing returns using other people’s identities—early and often!

“Filing your return early is actually a great way to thwart these fraudsters,” said Kerry Freeman, EA, of Freeman Income Tax Services in Anthem, AZ. “By filing later, you give the bad guys more time to file a false return in your name.”

If you receive a notice from the IRS that leads you to believe someone may have used your Social Security number fraudulently, or if your electronic filing is rejected, Freeman advises that you notify the IRS immediately by calling the IRS’ Identity Protection Specialized Unit (IPSU) at 800.908.4490. For the IRS to mark your account to identify any questionable activity, you must complete Form 14039, Identify Theft Affidavit. Mail or fax the form (one or the other, doing both will result in a delay) to the address or fax number listed on the form

The IRS is well aware of the uptick in fraudulent filings and is making efforts to prevent it, such as monitoring Internet “IP” addresses where multiple returns are filed and keeping track of the time it takes to fill out each return online. Scammers prepare returns in rapid succession, unlike most taxpayers, who typically put in time to make sure the information on their return is correct.

Freeman also noted that the IRS is providing increased protection with a personal pin number for taxpayers, known as an “IP PIN”—an identity protection pin.

“An IP PIN is a six-digit number the IRS will assign you if you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft that helps prevent the misuse of your Social Security number on fraudulent federal income tax returns. IRS is not giving out IP Pins to everyone, but if you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft you’ll need one.”

Many people feel safer having a licensed professional, such as an enrolled agent, prepare their returns. Enrolled agents (also known as “EAs”) receive their licenses from the IRS and are required to undergo a background check. They abide by a code of ethics and earn annual continuing education. You can find an enrolled agent in good standing on the directory of the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA): eatax.org.

The “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015”

Overview of the Provisions

PERMANENT PROVISIONS

The bill makes over 20 tax relief provisions permanent, including provisions from 11 different bills marked up by the Ways and Means Committee in 2015.

  • Research and Development Credit (base credit, 14% ASC, AMT and Payroll provisions)
  • Section 179 expensing ($500,000 and $2 million limits, no limitation on real estate)
  • State and local sales tax deduction
  • 15-year depreciation for leaseholds and improvements
  • International tax relief: Active finance exception
  • Deduction for teacher classroom expenses
  • 100% exclusion on gains from sale of small business stock
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit extenders: the 9% floor and military housing allowance
  • Employer wage credit for employees on active duty (expanded for all employers)
  • All three charitable extenders: food inventory, conservation easements, and IRA charitable rollover, and exemption for certain payments to a controlling exempt organization
  • Both S corporation provisions: 5-year built in gains tax and charitable contributions
  • Mass transit parity
  • Deduction for teacher classroom expenses (indexed for inflation)
  • Enhancements since 2001: Earned Income Tax Credit, Additional Child Tax Credit, and American Opportunity Tax Credit
  • Two provisions for mutual funds: treatment of RIC dividends for foreign investors and subjecting RICs to FIRPTA

FIVE-YEAR PROVISIONS

  • Bonus depreciation (50% for 2015-17, 40% in 2018, 30% in 2019)
  • International tax relief: Controlled foreign corporation look-through rule
  • The New Markets Tax Credit
  • The Work Opportunity Tax Credit

TWO-YEAR PROVISIONS

  • Exclusion of discharged mortgage debt relief from gross income (modified)
  • Mortgage insurance premiums treated as qualified residence interest
  • Above the line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses
  • Indian Employment Tax Credit
  • Railroad Track Maintenance Credit (modified)
  • Mine Rescue Team Training Credit
  • Qualified Zone Academy Bonds
  • Race horses: 3-year recovery period
  • Motorsports complexes; 7-year recovery period
  • Accelerated depreciation for business property on Indian reservations (modified)
  • Election to expense mine safety equipment
  • Film and television expensing (modified to include live theater)
  • Section 199 deduction for activities in Puerto Rico
  • Empowerment Zone tax incentives (modified)
  • Temporary increase in rum cover over
  • American Samoa economic development credit
  • Nonbusiness energy property credit
  • Alternative fuel vehicle refueling property credit
  • 2-wheeled plug-in electric motor credit
  • Second generation biofuel producer credit
  • Biodiesel and renewable diesel incentives credit
  • Indian Coal Production Tax Credit (modified)
  • Credit for facilities producing energy from certain renewable resources
  • Credit for energy-efficient new homes
  • Special allowance for second generation biofuel plant property
  • Energy efficient commercial buildings deduction
  • Special rule for sales or dispositions to implement FERC or State electric restructuring policy for qualified electric utilities
  • Credits relating to alternative fuels
  • Credit for new qualified fuel cell motor vehicles
  • Medical device tax moratorium

EXCISE TAXES

  • Medical device tax moratorium
  • Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act

PROGRAM INTEGRITY

  • Modification of filing dates of returns and statements relating to employee wage information and nonemployee compensation to improve compliance
  • Safe harbor for de minimis errors on information returns and payee statements
  • Requirements for the issuance of ITINs.
  • Prevention of retroactive claims of earned income credit after issuance of social security number.
  • Prevention of retroactive claims of child tax credit. Sec. 206. Prevention of retroactive claims of American opportunity tax credit
  • Procedures to reduce improper claims. Sec. 208. Restrictions on taxpayers who improperly claimed credits in prior year
  • Treatment of credits for purposes of certain penalties.
  • Increase the penalty applicable to paid tax preparers who engage in willful or reckless conduct.
  • Employer identification number required for American opportunity tax credit.
  • Higher education information reporting only to include qualified tuition and related expenses actually paid.

MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS

Family Tax Relief

  • Exclusion for amounts received under the Work Colleges Program
  • Improvements to section 529 accounts
  • Elimination of residency requirement for qualified ABLE programs
  • Exclusion for wrongfully incarcerated individuals.
  • Clarification of special rule for certain governmental plans
  • Rollovers permitted from other retirement plans into simple retirement accounts
  • Technical amendment relating to rollover of certain airline payment amounts
  • Treatment of early retirement distributions for nuclear materials couriers, United States Capitol Police, Supreme Court Police, and diplomatic security special agents
  • Prevention of extension of tax collection period for members of the Armed Forces who are hospitalized as a result of combat zone injuries

Real Estate Investment Trusts

  • Restriction on tax-free spinoffs involving REITs
  • Reduction in percentage limitation on assets of REIT which may be taxable REIT subsidiaries
  • Prohibited transaction safe harbors
  • Repeal of preferential dividend rule for publicly offered REITs
  • Authority for alternative remedies to address certain REIT distribution failures Limitations on designation of dividends by REITs
  • Debt instruments of publicly offered REITs and mortgages treated as real estate assets
  • Asset and income test clarification regarding ancillary personal property
  • Hedging provisions.
  • Modification of REIT earnings and profits calculation to avoid duplicate taxation
  • Treatment of certain services provided by taxable REIT subsidiaries
  • Exception from FIRPTA for certain stock of REITs
  • Exception for interests held by foreign retirement or pension funds
  • Increase in rate of withholding of tax on dispositions of United States real property interests
  • Interests in RICs and REITs not excluded from definition of United States real property interests
  • Dividends derived from RICs and REITs ineligible for deduction for United States source portion of dividends from certain foreign corporations

Additional Provisions

  • Deductibility of charitable contributions to agricultural research organizations
  • Removal of bond requirements and extending filing periods for certain taxpayers with limited excise tax liability
  • Modifications to alternative tax for certain small insurance companies
  • Treatment of timber gains
  • Modification of definition of hard cider
  • Church plan clarification

Revenue Provisions

  • Updated ASHRAE standards for energy efficient commercial buildings deduction
  • Excise tax credit equivalency for liquified petroleum gas and liquified natural gas
  • Exclusion from gross income of certain clean coal power grants to non-corporate taxpayers
  • Clarification of valuation rule for early termination of certain charitable remainder unitrusts
  • Prevention of transfer of certain losses from tax indifferent parties
  • Treatment of certain persons as employers with respect to motion picture projects

TAX ADMINISTRATION

Internal Revenue Service Reforms

  • Duty to ensure that IRS employees are familiar with and act in ac- cord with certain taxpayer rights
  • IRS employees prohibited from using personal email accounts for official business
  • Release of information regarding the status of certain investigations
  • Administrative appeal relating to adverse determinations of tax-exempt status of certain organizations
  • Organizations required to notify Secretary of intent to operate under 501(c)(4)
  • Declaratory judgments for 501(c)(4) and other exempt organizations
  • Termination of employment of Internal Revenue Service employees for taking official actions for political purposes
  • Gift tax not to apply to contributions to certain exempt organizations
  • Extend Internal Revenue Service authority to require truncated Social Security numbers on Form W-2
  • Clarification of enrolled agent credentials
  • Partnership audit rules

United States Tax Court

  • Filing period for interest abatement cases
  • Small tax case election for interest abatement cases
  • Venue for appeal of spousal relief and collection cases
  • Suspension of running of period for filing petition of spousal relief and collection cases
  • Application of Federal rules of evidence
  • Judicial conduct and disability procedures
  • Administration, judicial conference, and fees
  • Clarification relating to United States Tax Court

Tax Penalties and How to Avoid Them

The only thing worse than owing a tax bill: owing even more when the IRS tacks on penalty charges.

The IRS has many ways to collect extra money. There are tax penalties for:

  • Not having health insurance.
  • Filing what the IRS considers a frivolous tax return.
  • A variety of retirement account actions or inactions.

Most taxpayers, however, tend to encounter basic tax penalties for these 3 offenses:

  • Not paying what is owed.
  • Not filing a tax return at all.
  • Not paying enough tax throughout the year.

Nonfiling penalty

If you don’t file a Form 1040 or an extension to file using Form 4868 by April 15, the penalty for not filing starts accruing the very next day.

The assessment is 5% per month of any tax balance due. The full monthly charge for failing to file applies for any part of a month you’re late in sending in your tax return. So if you file on May 1, you still are assessed the monthly 5% penalty for that month.

Many taxpayers, says enrolled agent Alan Pinck, fall into the ostrich routine, especially if they owe and can’t afford to pay the due tax. They just ignore filing.

That’s not a good idea for many reasons.

First, says Pinck, “you’re just prolonging the inevitable.” Even if you get an extension until Oct. 15 to submit your Form 1040, you’ll have to make that October deadline or the nonfiling penalty will begin.

Plus, the IRS considers not filing at all the more serious offense. “It’s way worse than if you didn’t pay,” says Stephen DeFilippis, an enrolled agent in Wheaton, Illinois.

There is one bit of good news about the nonfiling penalty: It maxes out at 25% of your unpaid taxes.

Still, 25% is a hefty fee to pay just because you didn’t fill out the form on time.

 

Nonpayment penalty

As for those unpaid taxes, they have their own penalty.

Even if you file a return or an extension by April 15 but don’t pay what you owe in April, you’ll face the nonpayment penalty. The penalty is 0.5% of your due tax.

Again, this penalty is assessed for every month, or any part of a month, that your tax bill is outstanding. And like the nonfiling penalty, the nonpayment penalty can grow until it reaches 25% of your unpaid tax bill.

What if you don’t owe any or very much tax? Tax law still requires you to file.

If you are due a refund, filing is the only way to get that money.

And if you owe only a small amount but wait more than 60 days to file a tax return, the minimum failure-to-file penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100% of the unpaid tax.

Percentage break for both penalties

If you did not file on time and did not pay any tax you owed, you are subject to both penalties. However, the IRS actually gives you a bit of a break in these cases.

The combined penalty for failure to file and failure to pay is 5%, the total of the 4.5% late filing charge and 0.5% for the late payment for each month or part of a month that your return is late, up to 25%.

But don’t push it. If, after 5 months, you still have not filed or paid, the failure-to-file penalty will max out, but the 0.5% failure-to-pay penalty continues until the tax is paid — up to 25%.

That means your total penalty for failure to file and pay can be as much as 47.5% — a 22.5% late filing tax penalty and another 25% in late payment charges.

Underpayment penalty

U.S. taxes are collected on a pay-as-you-earn system. If you don’t meet that requirement, you’ll be hit with a tax underpayment penalty.

Most of us comply, thanks to income tax withholding from our paychecks. But if you’re an independent contractor, either full time or as a side job to your salaried employment, you are responsible for covering the tax due on those earnings through estimated tax payments.

The same timely tax-paying applies to other income, such as prize winnings, investment earnings and even stock options, an income source Pinck sees often at his San Jose, California-based firm A. Pinck and Associates.

Sometimes, people who receive these various types of untaxed income pay what they owe the IRS in 1 lump sum when they file their taxes. That won’t cut it.

The IRS wants its portion of your earnings when you get the money. Fail to do that and you could owe an underpayment penalty, even if you ultimately paid the full tax due.

Avoiding the underpayment penalty

There are a few ways to get around the tax underpayment penalty.

First, you can meet 1 of 2 estimated tax-filing safe harbors. Pay estimated taxes that are the lesser of 100% of your prior year’s tax liability or 90% of your current year’s tax liability. Most taxpayers, says DeFilippis, opt for the prior year safe harbor. “100% is a fixed target; 90% is a moving target,” he says.

Just make sure when you look at your previous year’s taxes, you note the correct amount to use as your safe harbor. For example, let’s say your tax liability was $20,000 and you paid $18,000 during the tax year through withholding, tax credits and estimated taxes; then your tax due was $2,000. Your estimated tax safe harbor amount this year is the 20 grand, not the $2,000.

If you have a salaried job, you also can make up for a coming estimated tax shortfall by increasing your withholding there, says DeFilippis. Married couples get an extra option here. If they file jointly, a spouse’s withholding will cover any shortage of estimated taxes due on the husband’s or wife’s untaxed income.

Or you can annualize your income. Here you file Form 2210, breaking down income and deductions by estimated tax period, showing that you paid as you should have for each. “If you got a big chunk at the end of the year, it only counts for the 4th quarter,” says DeFilippis. “Annualizing shows you had the correct amount in the first 3 (quarters) and only needed to pay the higher estimated amount in the last quarter.”

Other penalty options plus interest

If you face a tax penalty for the 1st time, the IRS might be lenient.

“A first-time abatement request can be made, and a lot of time the taxpayer will prevail,” says Pinck. Basically, you show the IRS that you’ve been good for your taxes in the past and promise to be compliant in the future.

Remember, though, even if the IRS grants some penalty relief, you’ll still face interest charges on unpaid taxes.

“Interest is statutory, so it’s usually not abated,” says Pinck. For general nonpayment, nonfiling situations, the current interest rate is 3%. It is adjusted quarterly, and the rate is posted on the IRS website.

A 3% rate doesn’t sound like much, but Pinck points out that it is compounded quarterly, not annually. “It can add up pretty quick,” he says.

So can the tax penalties for not filing, not paying or paying too little throughout the year. To stay out of those costly situations, file your 1040 on time, pay any taxes due with that form and keep track of and pay enough estimated taxes on your other earnings. That will ensure that Uncle Sam doesn’t get any more of your money than he should.

By Kay Bell

 

 

If You Get an IRS Notice, Here’s What to Do

 

 

Each year the IRS mails millions of notices and letters to taxpayers. If you receive a notice from the IRS, here is what you should do:

  • Don’t Ignore It.  You can respond to most IRS notices quickly and easily. It is important that you reply right away.
  • Focus on the Issue.  IRS notices usually deal with a specific issue about your tax return or tax account. Understanding the reason for your notice is important before you can comply.
  • Follow Instructions.  Read the notice carefully. It will tell you if you need to take any action to resolve the matter. You should follow the instructions.
  • Correction Notice.  If it says that the IRS corrected your tax return, you should review the information provided and compare it to your tax return.

    If you agree, you don’t need to reply unless a payment is due.

    If you don’t agree, it’s important that you respond to the IRS. Write a letter that explains why you don’t agree. Make sure to include information and any documents you want the IRS to consider. Include the bottom tear-off portion of the notice with your letter. Mail your reply to the IRS at the address shown in the lower left part of the notice. Allow at least 30 days for a response from the IRS.

  • Premium Tax Credit.  The IRS may send you a letter asking you to clarify or verify your premium tax credit information. The letter may ask for a copy of your Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement.  You should follow the instructions on the letter that you receive. This will help the IRS verify information and issue the appropriate refund.
  • No Need to Visit IRS.  You can handle most notices without calling or visiting the IRS. If you do have questions, call the phone number in the upper right corner of the notice. You should have a copy of your tax return and the notice with you when you call.
  • Keep the Notice.  Keep a copy of the notice you get from the IRS with your tax records.
  • Watch Out for Scams.  Don’t fall for phone and phishing email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS first contacts people about unpaid taxes by mail – not by phone. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text or social media.
  • The Right to Retain Representation.   The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TBOR, takes many of your rights in our tax laws and groups them into 10 broad categories. For instance, you have the right to retain an authorized representative to represent you in your dealings with the IRS. You also have the right to seek assistance from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic if you can’t afford representation. For more, visit IRS.gov and type TBOR in the search box.

IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2015-05, July 13, 2015

Five Tax Tips about Hobbies that Earn Income

 

Millions of people enjoy hobbies. They can also be a source of income. Some of these types of hobbies include stamp or coin collecting, craft making and horse breeding. You must report any income you get from a hobby on your tax return. How you report the income is different than how you report income from a business. There are special rules and limits for deductions you can claim for a hobby. Here are five basic tax tips you should know if you get income from your hobby:

  1. Business versus Hobby.  A key feature of a business is that you do the activity to make a profit. This differs from a hobby that you may do for sport or recreation. There are nine factors to consider when you determine if you do the activity to make a profit. Make sure you base your decision on all the facts and circumstances of your situation. Refer to Publication 535, Business Expenses to learn more. You can also visit IRS.gov and type “not-for-profit” in the search box.
  2. Allowable Hobby Deductions.  You may be able to deduct ordinary and necessary hobby expenses. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted for the activity. A necessary expense is one that is helpful or appropriate. See Publication 535 for more on these rules.
  3. Limits on Expenses.  As a general rule, you can only deduct your hobby expenses up to the amount of your hobby income. If your expenses are more than your income, you have a loss from the activity. You can’t deduct that loss from your other income.
  4. How to Deduct Expenses.  You must itemize deductions on your tax return in order to deduct hobby expenses. Your costs may fall into three types of expenses. Special rules apply to each type. See Publication 535 for how you should report them on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.
  5. Use IRS Free File.  Hobby rules can be complex. IRS Free File can make filing your tax return easier. IRS Free File is available until Oct. 15. If you make $60,000 or less, you can use brand-name tax software. If you earn more, you can use Free File Fillable Forms, an electronic version of IRS paper forms. You can only access Free File through IRS.gov.

IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2015-08, July 20, 2015

Keep Track of Miscellaneous Deductions

Miscellaneous deductions can cut taxes. These may include certain expenses you paid for in your work if you are an employee. You must itemize deductions when you file to claim these costs. So if you usually claim the standard deduction, think about itemizing instead. You might pay less tax if you itemize.  Here are some IRS tax tips you should know that may help you reduce your taxes:

Deductions Subject to the Limit.  You can deduct most miscellaneous costs only if their sum is more than two percent of your adjusted gross income. These include expenses such as

  • Unreimbursed employee expenses.
  • Job search costs for a new job in the same line of work.
  • Some work clothes and uniforms.
  • Tools for your job.
  • Union dues.
  • Work-related travel and transportation.
  • The cost you paid to prepare your tax return. These fees include the cost you paid for tax preparation software. They also include any fee you paid for e-filing of your return.

Deductions Not Subject to the Limit.  Some deductions are not subject to the two percent limit. They include:

  • Certain casualty and theft losses. In most cases, this rule applies to damaged or stolen property you held for investment.  This may include property such as stocks, bonds and works of art.
  • Gambling losses up to the total of your gambling winnings.
  • Losses from Ponzi-type investment schemes.

There are many expenses that you can’t deduct. For example, you can’t deduct personal living or family expenses. You claim allowable miscellaneous deductions on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. For more about this topic see Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions. You can get it on IRS.gov/forms at any time.

IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2015-09, July 22, 2015