More than half of taxpayers hire a professional when it’s time to file a tax return. Even if you don’t prepare your own Form 1040, you’re still legally responsible for what is on it.
A tax return preparer is trusted with your most personal information. They know about your marriage, your income, your children and your Social Security numbers – all of the sensitive details of your financial life. If you pay someone to prepare your federal income tax return, the IRS urges you to choose that person wisely. To do that, take some time to understand a few essentials.
Most tax return preparers provide outstanding service. However, each year, some taxpayers are hurt financially because they choose the wrong tax return preparer. Well-intentioned taxpayers can be misled by preparers who don’t understand taxes or who mislead people into taking credits or deductions they aren’t entitled to in order to increase their fee. Every year, these types of tax preparers face everything from penalties to even jail time for defrauding their clients.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when choosing a tax preparer:
- Check to be sure the preparer has an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Anyone with a valid 2015 PTIN is authorized to prepare federal tax returns. Tax return preparers, however, have differing levels of skills, education and expertise. An important difference in the types of practitioners is “representation rights”. You can learn more about the several different types of return preparers on IRS.gov/chooseataxpro.
- Ask the tax preparer if they have a professional credential (enrolled agent, certified public accountant, or attorney), belong to a professional organization or attend continuing education classes. A number of tax law changes, including the Affordable Care Act provisions, can be complex. A competent tax professional needs to be up-to-date in these matters. Tax return preparers aren’t required to have a professional credential, but make sure you understand the qualifications of the preparer you select.
- Check on the service fees upfront. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who say they can get larger refunds than others can.
- Always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into your bank account. Taxpayers should not deposit their refund into a preparer’s bank account.
- Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file and ask that your return be submitted to the IRS electronically. Any tax professional who gets paid to prepare and file more than 10 returns generally must file the returns electronically. It’s the safest and most accurate way to file a return, whether you do it alone or pay someone to prepare and file for you.
- Make sure the preparer will be available. Make sure you’ll be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return – even after the April 15 due date. This may be helpful in the event questions come up about your tax return.
- Provide records and receipts. Good preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They’ll ask you questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not rely on a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
- Never sign a blank return. Don’t use a tax preparer that asks you to sign an incomplete or blank tax form.
- Review your return before signing. Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions if something is not clear. Make sure you’re comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.
- Ensure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN. Paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.
- Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. You can report abusive tax return preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or changed the return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. You can get these forms on IRS.gov.
IRS FS-2014-11, December 2014
With the complications associated with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) it is very important for you to get assistance with filing your tax return this season. Please give us a call with any questions concerning your return preparation. We have PROFESSIONALS on staff that know the answers!
Tax Season 2014 has come and gone and now it’s time to think about tax planning for tax year 2014. Items which could impact your 2014 taxes include certain life events and expired tax provisions.
Certain Life Events
Have you recently had a birth, adoption or death in your family? Have you gotten married, divorced, retired, or changed jobs this year? If any of these life events occur in 2014, we need to discuss the potential impact on your 2014 taxes. For example:
- For Qualifying Children under the age of 17, a tax credit up to $1,000 per qualifying child may be allowed (which may be refundable.)
- If you have retired (or are planning on retiring), we need to analyze how your change in income resulting from receiving IRA or pension distributions, and/or Social Security benefits will impact your tax liability.
- A divorce or marriage could impact your tax situation in multiple ways (for example, alimony paid or received, deductions for mortgage interest and real estate taxes on your home, QDROs (qualified domestic relations orders) and potential changes in the standard deduction and personal exemptions allowed.)Given the current political climate, it is not known if or when an agreement on extending the Expiring Tax Provisions (“extenders”) may be reached. These extenders have made tax planning a challenge for both taxpayers and tax professionals. Therefore, if any of these provisions impact you, it is important that you contact me so that we may discuss the possible tax consequences:
- Sales Tax Deduction: Prior to 01/01/2014, taxpayers may have been eligible to deduct state and local general sales taxes instead of state and local income taxes as an itemized deduction on Schedule A. This included the sales tax paid on the purchase of a vehicle. This deduction is no longer available to individuals.
- Mortgage Insurance Premiums: Prior to 01/01/2014, taxpayers may have been eligible to deduct the amounts paid for qualified mortgage insurance premiums along with their mortgage interest (subject to adjusted gross income limitations). Effective 01/01/2014, no deduction is allowed for these premiums paid or accrued after this date.
- Tax-free Distributions from Individual Retirement Plans for Charitable Purposes: Prior to 01/01/2014, taxpayers over 70 ½ may have been eligible to exclude from their gross income distributions up to $100,000 from their IRA to a qualified charitable organization. This permitted taxpayers to satisfy their Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) and not include the amount in their income. As this reduced their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), which favorably impacted the taxable amount of Social Security benefits received, this was a large tax advantage for taxpayers. This special distribution provision is not available for distributions after 2013.
- Qualified Principal Residence Debt Exclusion: Prior to 01/01/2014, the discharge of principal residence debt (qualified mortgage on a taxpayer’s main home incurred to buy, build or substantially improve his or her main home) was generally excluded from gross income. As many taxpayers are still experiencing financial difficulties resulting in foreclosures, short sales or debt forgiveness on their primary residence, the tax ramifications for 2014 will have major tax consequences.
Other Steps to Consider Before the End of the Year
You should thoroughly review your situation before year end to determine the best tax strategies for 2014 and the impact on 2015 as well. Accelerating income/deferring deductions into 2014 or deferring income/accelerating deductions to 2015 are just a couple of approaches that could benefit you.
If you have any foreign assets, be aware that there are reporting and filing requirements for those assets. Noncompliance carries stiff penalties.
Please call me at your convenience to set up an appointment to estimate your tax liability for the year and discuss any questions you may have.
Millions of people enjoy hobbies that are also a source of income. Some examples include stamp and coin collecting, craft making, and horsemanship.
You must report on your tax return the income you earn from a hobby. The rules for how you report the income and expenses depend on whether the activity is a hobby or a business. There are special rules and limits for deductions you can claim for a hobby. Here are five tax tips you should know about hobbies:
- Is it a Business or a Hobby? A key feature of a business is that you do it to make a profit. You often engage in a hobby for sport or recreation, not to make a profit. You should consider nine factors when you determine whether your activity is a hobby. Make sure to base your determination on all the facts and circumstances of your situation. For more about ‘not-for-profit’ rules see Publication 535, Business Expenses.
- Allowable Hobby Deductions. Within certain limits, you can usually 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 appropriate for the activity.
- Limits on Hobby Expenses. Generally, you can only deduct your hobby expenses up to the amount of hobby income. If your hobby expenses are more than your hobby income, you have a loss from the activity. You can’t deduct the loss from your other income.
- How to Deduct Hobby Expenses. You must itemize deductions on your tax return in order to deduct hobby expenses. Your expenses may fall into three types of deductions, and special rules apply to each type. See of Publication 535 for the rules about how you claim them on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.
IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2014-15, August 6, 2014
If you rent a home to others, you usually must report the rental income on your tax return. But you may not have to report the income if the rental period is short and you also use the property as your home. In most cases, you can deduct the costs of renting your property. However, your deduction may be limited if you also use the property as your home. Here is some basic tax information that you should know if you rent out a vacation home:
- Vacation Home. A vacation home can be a house, apartment, condominium, mobile home, boat or similar property.
- Schedule E. You usually report rental income and rental expenses on Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss. Your rental income may also be subject to Net Investment Income Tax.
- Used as a Home. If the property is “used as a home,” your rental expense deduction is limited. This means your deduction for rental expenses can’t be more than the rent you received. For more about these rules, see Publication 527, Residential Rental Property (Including Rental of Vacation Homes).
- Divide Expenses. If you personally use your property and also rent it to others, special rules apply. You must divide your expenses between the rental use and the personal use. To figure how to divide your costs, you must compare the number of days for each type of use with the total days of use.
- Personal Use. Personal use may include use by your family. It may also include use by any other property owners or their family. Use by anyone who pays less than a fair rental price is also personal use.
- Schedule A. Report deductible expenses for personal use on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. These may include costs such as mortgage interest, property taxes and casualty losses.
- Rented Less than 15 Days. If the property is “used as a home” and you rent it out fewer than 15 days per year, you do not have to report the rental income.
IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2014-13, August 1, 2014
If you start a business, one key to success is to know about your federal tax obligations. You may need to know not only about income taxes but also about payroll taxes. Here are five basic tax tips that can help get your business off to a good start.
- Business Structure. As you start out, you’ll need to choose the structure of your business. Some common types include sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation. You may also choose to be an S corporation or Limited Liability Company. You’ll report your business activity using the IRS forms which are right for your business type.
- Business Taxes. There are four general types of business taxes. They are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax and excise tax. The type of taxes your business pays usually depends on which type of business you choose to set up. You may need to pay your taxes by making estimated tax payments.
- Employer Identification Number. You may need to get an EIN for federal tax purposes. Search “do you need an EIN” on IRS.gov to find out if you need this number. If you do need one, you can apply for it online.
- Accounting Method. An accounting method is a set of rules that determine when to report income and expenses. Your business must use a consistent method. The two that are most common are the cash method and the accrual method. Under the cash method, you normally report income in the year that you receive it and deduct expenses in the year that you pay them. Under the accrual method, you generally report income in the year that you earn it and deduct expenses in the year that you incur them. This is true even if you receive the income or pay the expenses in a future year.
- Employee Health Care. The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit helps small businesses and tax-exempt organizations pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. A small employer is eligible for the credit if it has fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time. Beginning in 2014, the maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers, such as charities.
For 2015 and after, employers employing at least a certain number of employees (generally 50 full-time employees or a combination of full-time and part-time employees that is equivalent to 50 full-time employees) will be subject to the Employer Shared Responsibility provision.
IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2014-09, July 23, 2014
When it comes to filing a federal tax return, many people discover that they either get a larger refund or owe more tax than they expected. But this type of tax surprise doesn’t have to happen to you. One way to prevent it is to change the amount of tax withheld from your wages. You can also change the amount of estimated tax you pay. Here are some tips to help you bring the amount of tax that you pay in during the year closer to what you’ll actually owe:
- New Job. When you start a new job, you must fill out a Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Your employer will use the form to figure the amount of federal income tax to withhold from your pay. Use the IRS Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov to help you fill out the form. This tool is easy to use and it’s available 24/7.
- Estimated Tax. If you get income that’s not subject to withholding you may need to pay estimated tax. This may include income such as self-employment, interest, dividends or rent. If you expect to owe a thousand dollars or more in tax, and meet other conditions, you may need to pay this tax. You normally pay it four times a year. Use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure the tax.
- Life Events. Make sure you change your Form W-4 or change the amount of estimated tax you pay when certain life events take place. A change in your marital status, the birth of a child or buying a new home can change the amount of taxes you owe. You can usually submit a new Form W–4 anytime.
- Changes in Circumstances. If you receive advance payment of the premium tax credit in 2014 it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. You should also notify the Marketplace when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace plan. Advance payments of the premium tax credit provide financial assistance to help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Reporting changes will help you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance so you can avoid getting too much or too little in advance.
IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2014-10, July 25, 2014
Taxes may not be high on your summer wedding plan checklist. But you should be aware of the tax issues that come along with marriage. Here are some basic tips that can help keep those issues to a minimum:
- Name change. The names and Social Security numbers on your tax return must match your Social Security Administration records. If you change your name, report it to the SSA. To do that, file Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. You can get the form on SSA.gov, by calling 800-772-1213 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-772-1213 FREE end_of_the_skype_highlighting or from your local SSA office.
- Change tax withholding. A change in your marital status means you must give your employer a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. If you and your spouse both work, your combined incomes may move you into a higher tax bracket. Use the IRS Withholding Calculator tool at IRS.gov to help you complete a new Form W-4. See Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, for more information.
- Changes in circumstances. If you receive advance payment of the premium tax credit in 2014, it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. You should also notify the Marketplace when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace plan. Advance payments of the premium tax credit provide financial assistance to help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Reporting changes will help you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance so you can avoid getting too much or too little in advance.
- Address change. Let the IRS know if your address changes. To do that, file Form 8822, Change of Address, with the IRS. You should also notify the U.S. Postal Service. You can ask them online at USPS.com to forward your mail. You may also report the change at your local post office.
- Change in filing status. If you’re married as of Dec. 31, that’s your marital status for the whole year for tax purposes. You and your spouse can choose to file your federal income tax return either jointly or separately each year. You may want to figure the tax both ways to find out which status results in the lowest tax.
Note for same-sex married couples: If you are legally married in a state or country that recognizes same-sex marriage, you generally must file as married on your federal tax return. This is true even if you and your spouse later live in a state or country that does not recognize same-sex marriage. See irs.gov for more information on this topic.
IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2014-02, July 7, 2014
Are you looking for a hard and fast rule about what income is taxable and what income is not taxable? The fact is that all income is taxable unless the law specifically excludes it.
Taxable income includes money you receive, such as wages and tips. It can also include noncash income from property or services. For example, both parties in a barter exchange must include the fair market value of goods or services received as income on their tax return.
Some types of income are not taxable except under certain conditions, including:
- Life insurance proceeds paid to you are usually not taxable. But if you redeem a life insurance policy for cash, any amount that is more than the cost of the policy is taxable.
- Income from a qualified scholarship is normally not taxable. This means that amounts you use for certain costs, such as tuition and required books, are not taxable. However, amounts you use for room and board are taxable.
- If you got a state or local income tax refund, the amount may be taxable. You should have received a 2013 Form 1099-G from the agency that made the payment to you. If you didn’t get it by mail, the agency may have provided the form electronically. Contact them to find out how to get the form. Report any taxable refund you got even if you did not receive Form 1099-G.
Here are some types of income that are usually not taxable:
- Gifts and inheritances
- Child support payments
- Welfare benefits
- Damage awards for physical injury or sickness
- Cash rebates from a dealer or manufacturer for an item you buy
- Reimbursements for qualified adoption expenses
Do you have questions?? Give us a call and we can answer them for you! 205-663-8686
IRS Tax Tip 2014-12
IRS Warns of Tax-time Scams
IRS Special Edition Tax Tip 2014-02, January 23, 2014
It’s true: tax scams proliferate during the income tax filing season. This year’s season opens on Jan. 31. The IRS provides the following scam warnings so you can protect yourself and avoid becoming a victim of these crimes:
- Be vigilant of any unexpected communication purportedly from the IRS at the start of tax season.
- Don’t fall for phone and phishing email scams that use the IRS as a lure. Thieves often pose as the IRS using a bogus refund scheme or warnings to pay past-due taxes.
- The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of e-communication, such as text messages and social media channels.
- The IRS doesn’t ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential information for credit card, bank or other accounts.
- If you get an unexpected email, don’t open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the email to email@example.com. For more about how to report phishing scams involving the IRS visit the genuine IRS website, IRS.gov.
Here are several steps you can take to help protect yourself against scams and identity theft:
- Don’t carry your Social Security card or any documents that include your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
- Don’t give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
- Protect your financial information.
- Check your credit report every 12 months.
- Secure personal information in your home.
- Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing passwords for Internet accounts.
- Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact and are sure of the recipient.
- Be careful when you choose a tax preparer. Most preparers provide excellent service, but there are a few who are unscrupulous.
If you have questions concerning this topic, please give me a call.