The News Reporter | Tax Tips | 1
Tax Tips 2013
The News Reporter
January 17, 2013
Getting Ready For Tax Season The News Reporter | Tax Tips | 2
A new year not only brings a host of new opportunities, but it also brings a host of familiar obligations. One such obligation is paying taxes, which doesn’t have to be done until mid-April. But waiting until the last minute with respect to taxes can make the process even more difficult, and putting it off certainly won’t help those people who vowed to stop procrastinating in the new year. Getting a headstart on tax season can be beneficial in numerous ways, not the least of which is avoiding the last-minute rush to file your return come the filing deadline. Even if you have yet to receive your W-2 (which you should have in hand by January 31), there are steps you can take to get ready for the coming tax season. * Gather your documents. Your W-2 is likely not the only document you will need to prepare your tax return. Statements regarding your investments, student loan payments, mortgage and a host of other documents might be necessary for you to fill out your return. You should start receiving these documents in January, so gather them as they come in and keep them in a convenient place. This will ensure you don’t get frustrated when
filling out your return while increasing the chances you earn all of the credits and deductions you deserve. * Examine past returns. Many people have questions when filling out their tax returns, but those who wait until the waning days of tax season to prepare their returns ignore those questions in an effort to make the filing deadline. When you start preparing for tax season early, examine past returns and see if there are any questions you wanted to ask in the past that you didn’t have time for. Write these questions down as you comb through your past returns and bring the questions to your tax preparer when the time comes. If you don’t plan on hiring a professional to prepare your taxes, you can contact the IRS with your questions, and the earlier you do so, the more quickly you are likely to have your questions answered. * Take your time. When you decide to get an early start on your taxes, you allow yourself to take your time preparing your return. This reduces the likelihood of getting stressed when filing your return. Many people get a bit nervous when filing a tax return, but that stress can be even greater if you leave everything until the last minute. If you’re starting early,
take your time when working on your return and don’t succumb to any potential stressors. * Consider hiring a professional. Starting early also gives you an opportunity to determine if preparing your own return is too tall a task. If that’s the case, consider hiring a professional to prepare your return. If you decide to hire a professional,
do so early so that person has more time to devote to your return. If you wait too long, chances are the tax preparer will be buried with many other customers’ returns and won’t be able to devote as much time to preparing your return as you would like. More information about getting ready for tax season is available at www.irs.gov.
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9 Things To Do When The New Year Arrives People across the globe anxiously await the arrival of the new year. Different cultures and religions celebrate their own new year at different times, but for much of the world, January 1 marks the date for change and renewal. With so much emphasis placed on what people will be doing for the last day of the year, little thought may be given to what to do after the clock strikes 12. Each minute afterward opens up the possibilities to begin fresh with new goals and tasks. For those wondering how to commence the new year, there are many ways to tackle the first day and thereafter -- after you have recovered from the New Year’s Eve celebration, that is. Take down holiday decorations. While there are some people who prefer to leave up their Christmas decorations until after the celebration of the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, by January 1 many are ready to say goodbye to the holiday season for another year. Having the day off of work and school enables you to spend time removing decorations from the house and taking down the tree, especially before dried-out pine needles become more than you can handle. Shop post-holiday sales. After spending several months buying for every person on your list, this could be a time that you focus on picking up some things for yourself or the household. Stores may need to liquidate holiday stock and other inventory to make room for spring styles. Many shoppers find the deals hard to pass up when shopping in the early days of January. Check online to comparison shop, and scour the Internet for any printable coupons that can earn you even bigger discounts. Visit family and friends. This time of year may
be happy for some, but for those far from members of the family or seniors who may have lost many close companions, the winter and post-holiday season could bring on the blues. Visiting extended family you may not have seen during the holidays is one way to pass the day. You also can volunteer some of your time at a senior center or assisted-living facility to spread some post-holiday cheer. Discard expired foods and medicines. Take this opportunity to throw out any medications that expire this year, which will give you a head start on spring cleaning as well. Toss out old makeup and cosmetic products and make a list of new items to buy. Also, take inventory of the refrigerator and freezer, cleaning out any items that are no longer recognizable or that are past the recommended date. Head to the movies. Go to the movie theater and take in a flick with the family. January is not the most active time for new releases, but there are some films released in the first month of the year. You can enjoy a lazy day with some cinematic magic and a bag of popcorn. Make a folder to store tax preparation paperwork. Tax season is just around the corner. Use this time to collect any paperwork you already may have received and put it in a safe place. Expect new statements of past earnings, any information about interest earned on bank statements and other pertinent tax documents to start arriving. Also, if you use an accountant to help file your taxes, call his or her office and book an appointment before his or her schedule fills up. Watch a football game. After weeks of running around at a break-neck pace, use this day to lounge
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9 Things To Do When The New Year Arrives
around and recharge. Chances are you can find a football game on television. Order in a pizza and cheer on your favorite team. Encourage the kids to put down the toys and pick up a book. Many students will be
returning to school soon after an extended winter recess. Have them get back into the swing of things by brushing up on lessons last touched on in December. Host a post-holiday pot luck. Clean out
the refrigerator of those salvageable leftovers from your New Year’s Eve bash. Invite others over with their own foods and host one last party before you have to get back to the daily grind.
There are many ways to start off the new year on the right foot. Get a head start on cleaning or organizing, or relax once more with friends and family.
Know Which Financial Papers To Toss & Which To Keep Many homeowners recognize that they have quite a number of things around the house that serve no practical purpose. Paperwork can accumulate seemingly overnight, turning a once-organized home into a messy monument to clutter. Oftentimes, uncertainty about which financial documents to keep and which to discard causes homeowners to keep everything, which can lead to unnecessary clutter. According to financial expert David Bach, author of the book, “Start Over, Finish Rich,” many people keep too much information for too long. Even though a greater portion of transactions are taking place online, you still may feel more secure keeping paperwork in hard copy. But older bills and documents can likely be thrown away. As you begin your organizing detail, keep these pointers in mind.
What to Keep Purchase receipts, credit card statements and any other paperwork pertinent for filing taxes should be kept for a full year until
taxes are filed. Experts disagree as to what is the best period of time for keeping documents related to taxes after your return has been filed. Many people can safely shred tax documents within three years of filing. This is the end of the normal audit period for “good-faith” errors. If you do not have any reason to believe information on the returns is fraudulent, you can probably safely toss out these older returns once the three years is up. If you are self-employed or if you want to be extra cautious, you can save tax returns for seven years. You should keep certain important documents in a fire-resistant safe in the home rather than in a regular filing cabinet. These include warranty documents, insurance policies, copies of will and trust documents, medical history forms, copies of diplomas and school transcripts and an inventory of home items. Also keep important documents that pertain to your home purchase or rental agreement. These include leases, home title, home survey, and mortgage documents.
Many people opt to keep other essential items that need a bit more protection in a safety deposit box or a burglar-proof safe at home. Items inside should include a list of bank account and credit card account numbers, copies of identification cards, passports, social security cards, stock and bond certificates, IRA contribution records, certificates of deposit, and military documents, as well as divorce, marriage, adoption or any other important certificates.
What to Toss Most experts agree, including sources from Good Housekeeping, Consumer Reports and Kiplinger’s, that many receipts can be discarded shortly after purchase. ATM receipts can be thrown away as soon as they are reconciled against your bank statement. Bank and credit card statements can be shredded after they have been confirmed unless you need them for any specific tax-filing reasons. After a year, it is generally safe to do a
thorough clean-out of pay stubs, especially after you have received your tax-filing forms and have submitted tax information. Many people file away paid bills and keep them far longer than necessary. Again, once they have been checked for accuracy, they can generally be thrown out. If you want to err on the side of caution, then keep these paid bills for 2 to 3 months and then toss them out. Old insurance policies also can be thrown out when they are replaced by newer ones. However, keep the original statement showing the purchase date and price of the policy. If you have any warranties or instructions for household items that have been sold or donated, then these can be thrown out as well. Determining which financial paperwork should be saved and what is probably safe to get rid of just takes a little organizing and sorting. After you have culled through the documents, you have just freed up valuable space in your home.
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Where’s My Refund? 1. When to check...
-72 Hours after you e-file -4 Weeks after you mail your paper return
2. What you need... -Social security number -Filing status -Exact refund amount
-Get your refund status at Https://sa2.Www4.Irs.Gov/irfof/lang/en/irfofgetstatus.Jsp If you e-file, you can generally expect your refund in less than 21 days. There is no need to call our toll-free number unless “where’s my refund?” Specifically indicates that you should. Information courtesy of irs.gov
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Will Paper Money Become Obsolete? Is paper currency a dying breed? What about checks and savings bonds? Many of the currency that has survived throughout centuries may eventually go the way of the dinosaur. There’s no denying how daily life has been transformed by technology. With the proliferation of e-mail, online shopping, text messaging, social networking, and the myriad other digital avenues that fill up a person’s day, the concept of writing something on paper -- or paying for something with paper -- may seem archaic. After all, now you can wirelessly transfer funds from one bank account to another or pay for items with the click of a mouse. Still, the general public has been hard-pressed to give up on paper money altogether. But other alternatives are chomping at the bit, and it may not be too long before all money is digitalized, or before the world reverts back to gold, silver or another currency that has actual intrinsic value. Even now, some ATMs in areas like the United Arab Emirates and in India dispense gold and silver coins, diamonds and even jewelry. Just last year, Mumbai became the first city in the world to launch a machine that
dispenses diamonds. Consumers are increasingly turning to debit and credit cards to pay for products in stores and online. The rise of mobile credit card readers attached to smartphones and tablets has enabled everyone from small business owners to regular individuals to collect money by swiping a credit or debit card and having the funds automatically deposited into an account of choice. Wallets are being redesigned to be more compact for front-pocket use since many people now carry only cards in their wallets. Although it once seemed like paper currency would always be around, such a concept is quickly falling by the wayside. The United States Department of the Treasury announced that paper checks for Social Security payments would be a thing of the past starting in 2013. Recipients can have the money deposited electronically in a bank account. For those without accounts, deposits can be loaded on a Direct Express Debit MasterCard to be used for purchases just like any other debit/credit card. Many people already have witnessed the phasing out of government tax refund checks. A large number of people
file their income taxes via the Internet, receiving any refunds electronically. Payroll and other benefits are increasingly becoming digital-only as well. Even paper savings bonds are being reduced. Private-sector employees can now join the federal employees who were able to invest in savings bonds by purchasing them through payroll deductions. Removing paper currency in all forms has its share of pros and cons. The U.S. government has said that taxpayers will save about $300 million the first five years after the changeover to digital social security checks. By not having to send out more than 100 million checks, the federal government will save millions on postage and printing costs. Electronic currency also benefits the environment. People may now notice that e-mail purchase receipts have started to appear with more frequency as well. Major retailers like Sears and K-mart enable shoppers to pick whether they want a digital or paper receipt. Smartphone apps are being created to store and organize receipts. In England, Peter Perkins, the general manager of the Tesbury’s grocery chain, has said the store plans to phase out paper receipts by 2020. Elec-
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tronic receipts and currency are poised to reduce human error and keep things organized. A significant concern with regard to electronic currency and receipts is the likelihood of identity theft, as data breaches occur with some frequency. In September 2012, some major financial institutions, including like Bank of America and PNC Bank, found their Web sites were sporadically inoperable due to a cyber attack that may have been tied to an Islamic terrorist group. This isn’t the first time a technical terrorist attack has occurred. These situations often open the eyes of people who realize how susceptible personal information can be when only backed by digital numbers and codes. It’s hard to stash zeros and ones under your mattress for safekeeping. Also, unlike paper money that limits what thieves can take, digital breaches can lead to entire accounts being wiped out if the breach is not noticed in time. Other personal information, such as spending habits and shopping patterns, may be deduced from electronic information stored with accounts, raising questions about privacy.
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Unemployment Compensation Unemployment compensation generally includes any amounts received under the unemployment compensation laws of the United States or of a state. It includes state unemployment insurance benefits and benefits paid to you by a state or the District of Columbia from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund. It also includes railroad unemployment compensation benefits, but not worker’s compensation. Supplemental unemployment benefits received from a company financed fund are not considered unemployment compensation for this purpose. These benefits are fully taxable as wages, and are reported on Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Unemployment benefits from a private fund to which you voluntarily contribute are taxable only if the amounts you receive are more than your total payments into the fund. This taxable amount is not unemployment compensation; it is reported as other income on Form 1040, Individual Income Tax Return. If you received unemployment compensation during the year, you should receive Form 1099-G, showing the amount you were paid. Any unemployment compensation received must be included in your income. If you received unemployment compensation, you may be required to make quarterly estimated tax payments. However, you can choose to have federal income tax withheld. For more information, refer to Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request.
Tips for Seniors in Preparing their Taxes Current research indicates that individuals are likely to make errors when preparing their tax returns. The following tax tips were developed to help you avoid some of the common errors dealing with the standard deduction for seniors, the taxable amount of Social Security benefits, and the Credit for the Elderly and Disabled. In addition, you’ll find links below to helpful publications as well as information on how to obtain free tax assistance. Standard Deduction for Seniors - If you do not itemize your deductions, you can get a higher standard deduction amount if you and/or your spouse are 65 years old or older. You can get an even higher standard deduction amount if either you or your spouse is blind. (See Form 1040 and Form 1040A instructions.) Taxable Amount of Social Security Benefits -When preparing your return, be especially careful when you calculate the taxable amount of your Social Security. Use the Social Security benefits worksheet found in the instructions for IRS Form 1040 and Form 1040A, and
then double-check it before you fill out your tax return. See Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits. Credit for the Elderly or Disabled You must file using Form 1040 or Form 1040A to receive the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. You cannot get the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled if you file using Form 1040EZ. Be sure to apply for the Credit if you qualify; please read below for details. Who Can Take the Credit: The Credit is based on your age, filing status and income. You may be able to take the Credit if: Age: You and/or your spouse are either 65 years or older; or under age 65 years old and are permanently and totally disabled. AND Filing Status: Your income on Form 1040 line 38 is less than $17,500, $20,000 (married filing jointly and only one spouse qualifies), $25,000 (married filing jointly and both qualify), or $12,500 (married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse for the en-
tire year). And, the non-taxable part of your Social Security or other nontaxable pensions, annuities or disability income is less than $5,000 (single, head of household, or qualifying widow/er with diependent child); $5,000 (married filing jointly and only one spouse qualifies); $7,500 (married filing jointly and both qualify); or $3,750 (married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse the entire year). Calculating the Credit: Use Schedule R (Form 1040 or 1040A), Credit for the Elderly or Disabled, to figure the amount of the credit. See the instructions for Schedule R (Forms 1040 or 1040A) if you want the IRS to figure this credit for you. Also see Publications 524 (Credit for the Elderly or Disabled); and 554 (Tax Guide for Seniors). Free IRS Tax Return Preparation IRS-sponsored volunteer tax assistance programs offer free tax help to seniors and to low- to moderate-income people who cannot prepare their own tax returns.
Tax Credits for Higher Education Expenses Read IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education to see which federal income tax benefits might apply to your situation. Here are some highlights: Two tax credits help offset the costs (tuition, fees, books, supplies, equipment) of college or career school by reducing the amount of your income tax: The American Opportunity Credit allows you to claim up to $2,500 per student per year for the first four years of school as the student works toward a degree or similar credential. The Lifetime Learning Credit allows you to claim up to $2,000 per student per year for any college or career school tuition and fees, as well as for books, supplies, and equipment that were required for the course and had to be purchased from the school. Even if you normally wouldn’t file a tax return because of your income level, be sure to do so! If you don’t, you’ll miss out on tax credits that would put money
in your pocket. Coverdell Education Savings Account A Coverdell Education Savings Account allows up to $2,000 a year to be put aside for a student’s education expenses (elementary, secondary, or college). Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs; also known as 529 Plans) A QTP/529 plan is established by a state or school so that you can either prepay or save up to pay education-related expenses. Once you’re in college or career school and you withdraw money from your account to pay your education expenses, the money you withdraw will not be taxed. Learn more about state 529 plans. To find out whether the college you plan to attend participates in a QTP, ask the financial aid or admissions staff.
Student Loan Interest Deduction You can take a tax deduction for the interest paid on student loans that you took out for yourself, your spouse, or your dependent. This benefit applies to all loans (not just federal student loans) used to pay for higher education expenses. The maximum deduction is $2,500 a year. Using IRA Withdrawals for College Costs -You may withdraw from an IRA to pay higher education expenses for yourself, your spouse, your child, or your grandchild. -You will owe federal income tax on the amount withdrawn, but won’t be subject to the early withdrawal penalty.
The News Reporter | Tax Tips | 8
Rental Income and Expenses
Generally, cash or the fair market value of property you receive for the use of real estate or personal property is taxable to you as rental income. You can generally deduct expenses of renting property from your rental income. Income and expenses related to real estate rentals are usually reported on Form 1040, Schedule E (PDF). If you provide substantial services that are primarily for your tenant’s convenience, you report your income and expenses on Form 1040, Schedule C (PDF). Income and expenses related to personal property rentals are reported on Form 1040 (PDF). Most individuals operate on a cash basis, which means they count their rental income as income when it is actually or constructively received, and deduct their expenses as they are paid. Some specific types of income are: Amounts paid to cancel a lease – If a tenant pays you to cancel a lease, this money is also rental income and is reported in the year you receive it.
Advance rent – Generally you include any advance rent paid in income in the year you receive it regardless of the period covered or the method of accounting you use. Expenses paid by a tenant – If your tenant pays any of your expenses, those payments are rental income. You may be allowed to deduct the expenses if they are considered deductible expenses. Security deposits – Do not include a security deposit in your income if you may be required to return it to the tenant at the end of the lease. But if you keep part or all of the security deposit because the tenant did not live up to the terms of the lease, this money is taxable income in the year the determination is made. If you keep the security deposit because the tenant damaged the property, the security deposit is not taxable to you. If the security deposit is to be used as the tenant’s final month’s rent, you include the money as income when you
receive it, rather than when you apply it to the last month’s rent. Some examples of expenses that may be deducted from your total rental income are: Depreciation – You begin to depreciate your rental property when you place it in service. You can recover some or all of your original acquisition cost and improvements by using Form 4562 (PDF) (to report depreciation) beginning in the year your rental property is first placed in service, and beginning in any year you make improvements or add furnishings. Repairs – Repairs just keep your property in good working condition but do not add to the value of the property. Operating Expenses Uncollected rents – If you are a cash basis taxpayer, you cannot deduct uncollected rents as an expense because you have not included those rents in income. For information on depreciation,
refer to Publication 946, How To Depreciate Property. Repair costs, such as materials, are usually deductible. For a discussion of the difference between repairs and improvements, refer to Publication 527, Residential Rental Property (Including Rental of Vacation Homes). There are special rules relating to the rental of real property that you also use as your main home or your vacation home. For information on income from these rentals, or from renting at an amount less than the fair market value, refer to Topic 415. If you do not use the rental property as a home and you are renting to make a profit, your deductible rental expenses can be more than your gross rental income, subject to certain limits. For information on these limitations, refer to Topic 425. For more information on rental income and expenses, including passive activity loss limits, refer to Publication 527.
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If you need an exact copy of a previously filed and processed tax return and all attachments (including Form W-2), you should complete Form 4506 (PDF), Request for Copy of Tax Return, and mail it to the address listed in the instructions, along with a $57.00 fee for each tax return requested. The check or money order for the fee should be made payable to the “United States Treasury,” also enter your SSN or EIN and “Form 4506 request” on your check or money order. Copies are generally available for returns filed in the current and past six years. Copies of jointly filed tax returns may be requested by either spouse and only one signature is required. Allow 60 calendar days to receive your copies. Most needs for tax return information can be met with a computer printout of
your return information called a “transcript.” A transcript may be an acceptable substitute for an exact copy of a return by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and lending agencies for student loans and mortgages. A “tax return transcript” will show most line items contained on the return as it was originally filed. If you need a statement of your tax account, which shows changes that you or the IRS made after the original return was filed, however, you must request a “tax account transcript.” Both transcripts are generally available for the current and past three years and are provided free of charge. The period in which you will receive the transcript varies from within five to ten business days from the time the IRS receives your request for the tax return or tax account
transcript. You can obtain a free transcript on the IRS.gov website by going to the Order a Transcript page. Transcripts may also be ordered by calling 800-908-9946 and following the prompts in the recorded message, or by completing and mailing a request for a transcript to the address listed in the instructions. The IRS has created Form 4506T-EZ (PDF), Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript, to order a transcript of a Form 1040 series return. The IRS created this streamlined form to help those taxpayers trying to obtain, modify or refinance a home mortgage. Transcripts may also be mailed to a third party, such as a mortgage institution, if specified on the form. You must sign and date the form giving your consent for
the disclosure. Businesses, partnerships or individuals who need transcript information from other forms, such as Form W-2 or Form 1099, can use Form 4506T (PDF), Request for Transcript of Tax Return, to obtain the information. These transcripts may also be mailed to a third party if there is consent for the disclosure. Forms can be downloaded from the IRS.gov website or ordered by calling 800-908-9946. If you are a taxpayer impacted by a federally declared disaster, the IRS waives the usual fees and expedites requests for copies of tax returns for people who need them to apply for benefits or to file amended returns claiming disaster-related losses. For additional information, refer to Topic 107, or call the IRS Disaster Assistance Hotline at 866-562-5227.
What to Do if You Haven’t Filed Your Tax Return You may not have filed your federal income tax return for this year or previous years. Regardless of your reason for not filing a required return, file your tax return as soon as possible. If you need help, the IRS is ready to assist you. If you are not sure you are required to file a return, refer to Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax. If you are required to file a return, but you cannot pay all of the tax due on your return, the IRS may be able to assist you with establishing a payment agreement. For additional information on tax payment options, refer to Topic 202. If your return was not filed by the due date (including extensions of time to file), you may be subject to the failure to file penalty, unless you have reasonable cause for your failure to file timely. If you did not pay your tax in full by the due date of the return (excluding extensions of time to file), you may also be subject to the failure to pay penalty, unless you have reasonable cause for your failure to pay timely, or the IRS has approved your application for extension of time for payment of the tax due to undue hardship (refer to Form 1127 (PDF), Application for Extension of Time for Payment of Tax Due to Undue Hardship). Additionally, interest is charged on taxes not paid by the due date, even if you have an extension of time to file. Interest is also charged on penalties. There is no penalty for failure to file if you are due a refund. But, if you wait to file a return or otherwise claim a refund, you risk losing a refund altogether. An original return claiming a refund must be filed within 3 years of its due date for a refund to be allowed in most instances. After the expiration of the three-year window, the refund statute prevents the issuance of a refund check and the application of any credits, including overpayments of estimated or withholding taxes, to other tax years that are underpaid. However, the statute of limitations for the IRS to assess and collect any outstanding balances does not start until a return has been filed. In other words, there is no statute of limitations for assessing and collecting the tax if no return has been filed. For answers to your tax questions, information about payment arrangements, or any other tax-related inquiries visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov or call the IRS Tax Help Line at 800-829-1040.
The News Reporter | Tax Tips | 10
Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft We know identity theft is a frustrating process for victims. We take this issue very seriously and continue to expand on our robust screening process in order to stop fraudulent returns. What is identity theft? Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number (SSN) or other identifying information, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. How do you know if your tax records have been affected? Usually, an identity thief uses a legitimate taxpayer’s identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund. Generally, the identity thief will use a stolen SSN to file a forged tax return and attempt to get a fraudulent refund early in the filing season. You may be unaware that this has happened until you file your return later in the filing season and discover that two returns have been filed using the same SSN. Be alert to possible identity theft if you receive an IRS notice or letter that states that: More than one tax return for you was
filed, You have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return, or IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer unknown to you. What to do if your tax records were affected by identity theft? If you receive a notice from IRS, respond immediately. If you believe someone may have used your SSN fraudulently, please notify IRS immediately by responding to the name and number printed on the notice or letter. You will need to fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039. For victims of identity theft who have previously been in contact with the IRS and have not achieved a resolution, please contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, toll-free, at 1-800908-4490. How can you protect your tax records? If your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft, but you believe you may be at risk due to a lost/stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, etc., contact the
IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. How can you minimize the chance of becoming a victim? Don’t carry your Social Security card or any document(s) with your SSN on it. Don’t give a business your SSN 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, anti-spam/virus software, update security patches, and change 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 or you are sure you know who you are dealing with. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.
IRS Withholding Calculator If you are an employee, the Withholding Calculator can help you determine whether you need to give your employer a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate to avoid having too much or too little Federal income tax withheld from your pay. You can use your results from the calculator to help fill out the form. Who Can Benefit From The Withholding Calculator? Employees who would like to change their withholding to reduce their tax refund or their balance due; Employees whose situations are only approximated by the worksheets on the paper W-4 (e.g., anyone with concurrent jobs, or couples in which both are employed; those entitled to file as Head of Household; and those with several children eligible for the Child Tax Credit); Employees with non-wage income in excess of their adjustments and deductions, who would prefer to have tax on that income withheld from their paychecks rather than make periodic separate payments through the estimated tax procedures. CAUTION: If you will be subject to alternative minimum tax, self-employment tax, or other taxes; you will probably achieve more accurate withholding by following the instructions in Pub 505: Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax.
Tips For Using This Program Have your most recent pay stubs handy. Have your most recent income tax return handy. Estimate values if necessary, remembering that the results can only be as accurate as the input you provide. To Change Your Withholding: Use your results from this calculator to help you complete a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate.
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Your Appeal Rights The News Reporter | Tax Tips | 11
The IRS has an administrative appeals process that works with taxpayers to try to settle tax disputes in an effort to avoid formal court hearings. The role of Appeals is to make an independent review of a tax dispute and to consider the positions taken by both the taxpayer and the Service. The Appeals unit strives to resolve tax disputes in a fair way and remain impartial to both parties.
rolled to practice before the IRS, represent you. If you do not reach agreement with the Appeals or Settlement Officer, or you do not wish to appeal within the IRS, you may appeal certain actions through the courts. For further information on the appeals process and information on how to stop interest from accruing on any anticipated liability, refer to Publication 5 (PDF), Your Appeal Rights and How To Prepare A Protest If You Don’t Agree, and Publication 556, Examination of Returns, Appeal Rights and Claims for Refund. You can also refer to Publication 1660 (PDF), Collection Appeal Rights. Learn more about Appeals on IRS.gov where you will find information about alternative dispute resolution processes, technical guidance, international programs, and more.
The IRS will send you a report and/or letter that will explain the proposed adjustments or proposed or taken collection action. The letter also tells you of your right to request a conference with an Appeals or Settlement Officer, as well as how to make your request for a conference. In addition to examination adjustments, many other things can be appealed such as penalties, interest, trust fund recovery penalties, offers in compromise, liens, and levies. If you request an Appeals conference, be prepared You can also learn more about the Appeals process by reviewing with records and documentation to support your position. The Appeals Examination Process and The Appeals Collection Process YouTube videos. Get the latest Appeals news, informaAppeals conferences are informal meetings. You may represent tion, and settlement guidelines by following the IRS News and yourself or have an attorney, accountant, or an individual en- IRS Tax Professionals Twitter accounts as well.
Don’t Let April 17th Pass You By By Mary B. Williamson, State Farm® Agent April 17 has long been considered a date to avoid. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do something to lower your federal income tax burden instead of mailing a big check on April 17? With a traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA), you may be able to do just that. A contribution of the 2011 maximum of $5,000 by April 17, 2012 could reduce your taxable income, making your fed-
eral tax burden less for the year. If you were 50 or older by the end of 2011, you can add a $1,000 catch-up contribution to potentially reduce the tax burden even more. If you already have a traditional IRA, plan to make a contribution by the April 17 deadline. If not, talk to a financial professional as soon as possible to start one. There are restrictions governing who may deduct contributions to a
traditional IRA. If you don’t qualify for a traditional IRA deduction, consider a Roth IRA. You won’t get the federal tax deduction now, but qualified withdrawals can be made free of federal income tax during your retirement years. Either way, having a plan for retirement is important. You owe it to yourself to make the best plan as soon as possible.
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The News Reporter | Tax Tips | 12
Tax Relief in Disaster Situations For taxpayers impacted by a disaster, the tax code may provide necessary relief. The law permits the IRS to grant taxpayers affected by a federally declared disaster additional time to perform certain time sensitive acts, including filing returns and paying taxes when the original or extended due date of the return falls within the disaster period. In addition, affected individual and business taxpayers in a federally declared disaster area can more quickly obtain a refund by claiming losses related to the disaster on the tax return for the previous year, usually by filing an amended return. For more information on how to calculate and claim a disaster loss, please refer to Publication 547, Casualties, Disasters and Thefts, Form 4684 (PDF), Casualties and Thefts, and Publication 584, Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook (Personal-Use-Property). You may also refer to Publication 2194 (PDF), Disaster Resource Guide for Individuals and Businesses, or you may visit the IRS.gov website, Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief for Individuals and Businesses for a listing of covered disaster areas and tax relief provided in response to a federally declared disaster.
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Armed Forces Tax Information The tax law provides some special benefits for active members of the U.S. Armed Forces and certain benefits for individuals serving in combat zones. For more information on the various tax benefits available to members of the U.S. Armed Forces, please refer to Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide. For federal tax purposes, the U.S. Armed Forces includes commissioned officers, warrant officers, and enlisted personnel in all regular and reserve units controlled by the Secretaries of Defense, the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Coast Guard is also included, but not the U.S. Merchant Marine or the American Red Cross. However, these and other support personnel serving in a combat zone may qualify for certain tax deadline extensions normally available to individuals in the U.S. Armed Forces serving in a combat zone. For more information on benefits available to individuals serving in a combat zone (including non-military individuals), please refer to Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, or go to Tax Information for Members of the Military on the IRS.gov website.
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The News Reporter | Tax Tips | 13
Alien Tax Clearance If you are either a resident or a nonresident alien departing the United States, you will usually have to show that you have complied with the U.S. income tax laws before departing from the United States. You do this by obtaining a tax clearance document, commonly called a “Departure Permit” or “Sailing Permit” from the IRS. There are six categories of people not required to obtain a departure permit or sailing permit: -Category 1. Representative of foreign government with diplomatic passports, members of their household, and servants accompanying them. -Category 2. Employees of international organizations and foreign government (other than those exempt under category 1) and members of their households. -Category 3. Alien students, industrial trainees, and exchange visitors, including their spouses and children, who enter on an F-1, F-2, H-3, H-4, J-1, J-2, or Q visa. -Category 4. Alien students, including their spouses and children, who enter on an M-1 or M-2 visa. -Category 5. Certain other aliens temporarily in the United States who have received no taxable income during the tax year up to and including the date of departure or during the preceding tax year. -Category 6. Alien residents of Canada or Mexico who frequently commute between that country and the United States for employment. To find out whether you belong in one of these excluded categories, refer to Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens. If you do not fall into one of the above categories you must obtain a departure or sailing permit. To obtain a permit, file Form 1040-C (PDF) or Form 2063 (PDF) (whichever applies) with your local IRS office before you leave the United States. Form 2063 This is a short form that asks for certain information but does not include a tax computation. The following departing aliens can get their departure or sailing permits by filing Form 2063: Aliens, whether resident or nonresident, who have had no taxable income for the tax year up to and including the date of departure and for the preceding year, if the period for filing the income tax return for that year has not expired. Resident aliens who have received taxable income during the tax year or preceding year and whose departure will not hinder the collection of any tax. However, if the IRS has information indicating that the aliens are leaving to avoid paying their income tax, they must file a Form 1040-C. Aliens in either of these categories who have not filed an income tax return or paid income tax for any tax year must file the return and pay the income tax before they can be issued a departure or sailing permit on Form 2063. Form 1040-C If you must get a departure or sailing per-
mit and you do not qualify to file Form 2063, you must file Form 1040-C. Ordinarily, all income received or reasonably expected to be received during the tax year up to and including the date of departure must be reported on Form 1040-C and the tax on it must be paid. When you pay any tax shown as due on the Form 1040-C, and you file all returns and pay all tax due for previous years, you will receive a departure or sailing permit. However, the IRS may permit you to furnish a bond guaranteeing payment instead of paying the taxes for certain years. When and How to Apply for a Departure or Sailing Permit You must obtain your departure or sailing permit before you leave the United States. You should apply for the departure or sailing permit no earlier than 30 days before you plan to leave, but at least two weeks in advance of your departure. To get your departure permit, visit your nearest Taxpayer Assistance Center (walk-in IRS office). If you are married to an alien who is leaving the country with you, both of you must go to the IRS office. For information on the location of the Taxpayer Assistance Center nearest to you, call 800829-1040, or visit www.irs.gov. You must bring with you all the following records and information for the current year that apply to you: -A valid passport and your alien registration card or visa. -Copies of the last two years’ U.S. income tax returns with proof of payment of any balances due. -Proof of any payments of estimated tax for the past year and this year. -Substantiation of deductions for business expenses and itemized deductions claimed. -Documentation for dependents claimed. -A statement from each employer showing the wages paid and tax withheld from January 1st to the date of departure (For this statement, you can use a payroll deduction slip for your last paycheck, if it shows this information). -If you are self-employed, you must bring a profit and loss statement for the current year up to the date of departure. -Documents showing any gain or loss from the sale of personal and/or real property, including capital assets and merchandise. -Documents concerning scholarships or fellowship grants. -Documents indicating that you qualify for any special tax treaty benefits. -Document verifying your date of departure from the United States, such as an airline ticket. -Document verifying your U.S. taxpayer identification number, such as a social security card or an IRS issued CP 565 showing your individual taxpayer identification (ITIN) number. If you have these documents and pay any tax due you should receive your departure or sailing permit immediately. For additional rules and information, refer to Publication 519.
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The News Reporter | Tax Tips | 14
Did You Know?
Primary mortgage insurance, or PMI, protects lenders in the event that borrowers default on their primary mortage by ceasing to make payments, resulting in homes ending up in foreclosure. But all borrowers do not have to pay PMI. Typically, home buyers must make a 20 percent down payment on a home when they buy it. However, some borrowers are unable to put down 20 percent. In such instances, the lender will require they pay PMI. This is because the lender views a borrower who cannot make an initial 20 percent down payment as a riskier investment, and lenders charge PMI in an effort to protect themselves should the borrower prove worthy of their skepticism. PMI will be factored into the monthly mortgage payment, but borrowers should know they do not have to continue paying PMI once they have paid enough toward the principal amount of the loan. For most, this means once they have paid 20 percent of the principal, then they can ask that the monthly PMI payment be removed. Manyborrowers are unaware of this or even forget to ask, but it’s within their rights as borrowers and can save a substantial amount of money over the course of the mortgage loan.
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Leaving an estate to charity
The News Reporter | Tax Tips | 15
Donating an estate to charity means leaving a legacy after death. When movie producer David Gundlach passed away suddenly from a heart attack in October 2011, few people knew he intended to leave his massive personal fortune to a local charity in his hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. Gundlach gave away all of his $125 million to the Elkhart County Community Foundation. One doesn’t have to be a famous movie producer or sports star to donate assets to charity in wills. Individuals sometimes make the choice to leave a portion of their estate to a favorite charity to create a legacy that helps the unfortunate. Such a decision may surprise family members, so it may be wise to discuss plans when drafting wills and ensuring that the correct method of bequeathing estates to charities is followed. When a will is written, it is typically in a person’s best interest to consult with an estate-planning attorney prior to making any decisions. When working in conjunction with a financial planner, an attorney can help you grow your estate and ensure your assets will be distributed according to your wishes. When writing a will that includes charitable donations, be very precise in the verbiage and specify your wishes and intents so they are carried out correctly. Just like feisty family members, charities can be quite aggressive in their pursuits of funding, particularly if they have reason to believe that money will be coming their way as part of a person’s will. In order to prevent unnecessary battling among attorneys, it is best to have all of your wishes clearly explained and spelled out so the people and organizations who matter the most to you receive the money -- and that you’re not simply funding legal bills. Leaving money to a charity can have financial advantages for the other benefactors of your will. A bequest to a charity reduces the size of your estate, meaning less money is subject to estate taxes. While you cannot benefit from an income-tax deduction while you are alive, you will cut down on taxes afterward, which would normally take away money that was left to family and friends. Despite the advantage to bequeathing money to a charity, it is not something that is very common. According to Russell N. James III, a professor at Texas Tech University who conducted a study that analyzed 20,000 Americans over the age of 50 from 1995 to 2006, only around 9.5 percent of those who donated more than $500 a year to charity planned on making a charitable bequest after their deaths. Those who want to save money in a tax-efficient way upon making a charitable donation can choose to donate an IRA account to charity. This will save your heirs money in income taxes that they otherwise would have to pay when the IRA is distributed. There are some gray areas in doing this properly, so it is best to consult with a tax advisor. Donating a portion or all of your estate to charity can be a way to leave a legacy and support an organization that has special meaning to you.
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Did You Know? Tithes have become synonymous with religious giving, but tithing was not always connected to religion.
“Tithe” comes from the Old English word “teogoa,” which means “tenth.” It evolved to refer to a percentage of an individual’s income that is paid in dues, primarily to a church. A tithe also referred to a group of 10 households that lived close to one another and acted as sureties to the king. Some suggest the religious tithe concept was established in ancient Hebrew and Old Testament teachings. While there may be mentions of tithing in religious documents, most scholars confirm that New Testament scriptures are most responsible for the concept of religious tithing. The Christian Church didn’t officially adopt tithing until the year 787 under Pope Adrian I. Tithing actually can be traced back even further than the beginnings of Christianity and Judaica, however. There are references to tithes as early as ancient Mesopotamian times and other eras of the Ancient Near East. A tithe may be an amount voluntarily held aside for charitable giving. It also may be a tax or levy placed on a person’s income. To keep with the ancient concept of tithing, many people tithe 10 percent of their income.
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The News Reporter | Tax Tips | 16
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