Monday, October 16, 2017

Gifts to Charity: Six Facts About Written Acknowledgements

Throughout the year, many taxpayers contribute money or gifts to qualified organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. Taxpayers who plan to claim a charitable deduction on their tax return must do two things:
  • Have a bank record or written communication from a charity for any monetary contributions.
  • Get a written acknowledgment from the charity for any single donation of $250 or more.
Here are six things for taxpayers to remember about these donations and written acknowledgements:
  • Taxpayers who make single donations of $250 or more to a charity must have one of the following:
    • A separate acknowledgment from the organization for each donation of $250 or more.
    • One acknowledgment from the organization listing the amount and date of each contribution of $250 or more.
  • The $250 threshold doesn’t mean a taxpayer adds up separate contributions of less than $250 throughout the year.
    • For example, if someone gave a $25 offering to their church each week, they don’t need an acknowledgement from the church, even though their contributions for the year are more than $250.
  • Contributions made by payroll deduction are treated as separate contributions for each pay period.
  • If a taxpayer makes a payment that is partly for goods and services, their deductible contribution is the amount of the payment that is more than the value of those goods and services.
  • A taxpayer must get the acknowledgement on or before the earlier of these two dates:
    • The date they file their return for the year in which they make the contribution.
    • The due date, including extensions, for filing the return.
  • If the acknowledgment doesn't show the date of the contribution, the taxpayers must also have a bank record or receipt that does show the date.
More Information:

Friday, October 13, 2017

IRS Issues Reminder to Taxpayers as Scams Continue Across the Nation

The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers to remain vigilant to scams as they continue to be reported around the country. Phishing, phone scams and identity theft top the list of items normally reported. However, following hurricanes and other disasters, the IRS urged taxpayers to be on the lookout for schemes stemming from these recent events.

“These scams evolve over time and adjust to reflect events in the news, but they all typically are variations on a familiar theme,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Recognizing these schemes and taking some simple steps can protect taxpayers against these con artists.”

While individuals and businesses deal with the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and wildland fires in the West, criminals may take advantage of this situation by creating fake charities to get money or personal information from sympathetic taxpayers. They may also attempt to con victims by impersonating a relief agency or charity that will provide relief. Such fraudulent scams and solicitations for donations may involve contact by telephone, social media, e-mail or in person.

Below are some of the more typical scams the IRS has seen:

Email Phishing Scams

The IRS has recently seen email schemes that target tax professionals, payroll professionals and human resources personnel in addition to individual taxpayers.

In email phishing attempts, criminals pose as a person or organization that taxpayers trust and recognize. They may hack an email account and send mass emails under another person’s name. They may pose as a bank, credit card company, tax software provider or government agency. If a person clicks on the link in these emails, it takes them to fake websites created by fraudsters to appear legitimate but contain phony login pages. These criminals hope victims will take the bait and provide money, passwords, Social Security numbers and other information that can lead to identity theft.

Scam emails and websites also can infect computers with malware without the user knowing it. The malware can give the criminal access to the device, enabling them to access sensitive files or track keyboard strokes, exposing logins and other sensitive information.

If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or a program closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.  Learn more by going to the Report Phishing and Online Scams page.

The IRS generally 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. The IRS has information online that can help protect taxpayers from email scams.

Phone Scams

The IRS does not call and leave prerecorded, urgent messages asking for a call back. In this tactic, the victim is told if they do not call back, a warrant will be issued for their arrest.

The IRS recently began sending letters to taxpayers whose overdue federal tax accounts are being assigned to one of four private-sector collection agencies. Because of this, taxpayers should be on the lookout for scammers posing as private collection firms. The IRS-authorized firms will only be calling about a tax debt the person has had – and has been aware of – for years. Taxpayers also would have been previously contacted by the IRS about their tax debt.

How to Know It’s Really the IRS Calling or Knocking on Your Door

The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service.

However, there are special circumstances in which the IRS will call or come to a home or business, such as when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, to secure a delinquent tax return or delinquent employment tax payment, or to tour a business as part of an audit or during criminal investigations.

Even then, taxpayers will usually first receive several letters (called “notices”) from the IRS in the mail. For more information, visit “How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door” on IRS.gov.

Tax Refund Fraud -- Identity Theft

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses a stolen Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.

In 2015, the IRS joined forces with representatives of the software industry, tax preparation firms, payroll and tax financial product processors and state tax administrators to combat identity-theft refund fraud and protect the nation's taxpayers. This group -- the Security Summit -- has held a series of public awareness campaigns directed at taxpayers called "Taxes.Security.Together."  For tax professionals, the “Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself” and “Don’t Take the Bait” campaigns encourage the tax community to take steps to protect themselves from identity thieves and cybercriminals.

Security Reminders for Taxpayers

The IRS and its Summit partners remind taxpayers they can do their part to help in this effort. Taxpayers and tax professionals should:

  • Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Make sure the security software is always turned on and can automatically update. Encrypt sensitive files such as tax records stored on computers and devices. Use strong passwords.  
  • Learn to recognize phishing emails, threatening phone calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations, such as a bank, credit card company and government agencies. Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
  • Protect personal data. Don’t routinely carry Social Security cards, and make sure tax records are secure. Treat personal information like cash; don’t leave it lying around.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What Taxpayers Can Do Now Before Filing Their Return in 2018

While taxpayers will not start filing their tax returns for a few months, there are a few things they can do to make the process easier next year. Here are two things that could affect the 2017 returns they will file in 2018.  

  1. Report name changes. Recently married or divorced taxpayers who change their name should notify the Social Security Administration. They should also notify the SSA if a dependent’s name changed.  Taxpayers need to do this so that when the taxpayer files next year, the new name on the tax return matches A mismatch between the name shown on their tax return and the SSA records can cause problems in the processing of their tax return and may even delay their tax refund.
  2. Renew Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers. Taxpayers who use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number should check to see if their number expired in 2016 or will expire this year. If so, and they need to file a return in 2018, they should apply now to renew their ITIN to avoid certain disallowed tax credits and processing delays next year. Taxpayers who have not used their ITIN to file a federal return at least once in the last three years will see their number expire Dec. 31, 2017. Additionally, ITINs with middle digits 70, 71, 72 or 80 will also expire at the end of the year. Only taxpayers with expiring ITINs need to take any action. To renew an ITIN, a taxpayer must complete a Form W-7 and submit required documentation. No tax return is required when submitting an application to renew.

Fake Insurance Tax Form Scam Aims at Stealing Data from Tax Pros, Clients

The Internal Revenue Service today alerted tax professionals and their clients to a fake insurance tax form scam that is being used to access annuity and life insurance accounts.

Cybercriminals currently are combining several tactics to create a complex scheme through which both tax professionals and taxpayers have been victimized.

There may be variations but here’s how one scam works: The cybercriminal, impersonating a legitimate cloud-based storage provider, entices a tax professional with a phishing email. The tax professional, thinking they are interacting with the legitimate cloud-based storage provider, provides their email credentials including username and password.

With access to the tax professional’s account, the cybercriminal steals client email addresses. The cybercriminal then impersonates the tax professional and sends emails to their clients, attaching a fake IRS insurance form and requesting that the form be completed and returned. The cybercriminal receives replies by fax and/or by an email very similar to the tax professional’s email – using a different email service provider or a slight variation to the tax pro’s address.

The subject line varies but may be “urgent information” or a similar request. The awkwardly worded text of the email states:

Dear Life Insurance Policy Owner,
Kindly fill the form attached for your Life insurance or Annuity contract details and fax back to us for processing in order to avoid multiple (sic) tax bill (sic).

The cybercriminal, using data from the completed form, impersonates the client and contacts the individual’s insurance company. The cybercriminal then attempts to obtain a loan or make a withdrawal from those accounts.

The IRS reminds tax professionals to be aware of phishing emails, free offers and other common tricks by scammers. Those tax professionals who have data breaches should contact the IRS immediately through their Stakeholder Liaison. See Data Theft Information for Tax Professionals.

Individuals who receive the insurance tax form scam email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov and then delete it. Individuals who completed and returned the fake tax form should contact their insurance carrier for assistance.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Don’t Take the Bait: e-Services Scam Alert

The IRS is warning all e-Services users to beware of a new phishing scam that tries to trick tax professionals into “signing” a new  e-Services user agreement. The phishing scam seeks to steal passwords and data.
All tax professionals should be aware that as e-Services begins its move later this month to Secure Access authentication and its two-factor protections, cybercriminals likely will make last-ditch efforts to steal passwords and data prior to the transition.
The scam email claims to be from “e-Services Registration” and uses “Important Update about Your e-Services Account” in the subject line. It states, in part, “We are rolling out a new user agreement and all registered users must accept its revised terms to have access to e-Services and its products.” It asks you to review and accept the agreement but takes you to a fake site instead.
If you have clicked on this link, you should perform a deep scan with your security software, contact your office’s IT/cybersecurity personnel and contact the IRS e-Help Desk.

To read more about what the IRS is doing to protect your accounts with Secure Access authentication, go directly to the main e-Services landing page on IRS.gov.

Consumer Alert: IRS Warns Taxpayers, Tax Pros of New e-Services Scam

The IRS today warned all e-Services users to beware of a new phishing scam that tries to trick tax professionals into “signing” a new e-Services user agreement. The phishing scam seeks to steal passwords and data.

The scam email claims to be from “e-Services Registration” and uses “Important Update about Your e-Services Account” in the subject line. It states, in part, “We are rolling out a new user agreement and all registered users must accept its revised terms to have access to e-Services and its products.” It asks the individual to review and accept the agreement but takes them to a fake site instead.

All tax professionals should be aware that as e-Services begins its move later this month to Secure Access authentication and its two-factor protections, cybercriminals likely will make last-ditch efforts to steal passwords and data prior to the transition. As the IRS has warned over the past few years, these sophisticated schemes are adaptive in nature and everyone should be cautious before clinking on a link or entering sensitive personal information.

For those who may have clicked onto this link, perform a deep scan with security software, contact IT/cybersecurity personnel and the IRS e-Help Desk.


To read more about what the IRS is doing to protect accounts with Secure Access authentication, go directly to the main e-Services landing page on IRS.gov.

Tips for Business Owners Who Need to Reconstruct Records After a Disaster

After a disaster, many business owners might need to reconstruct records to prove a loss. This may be essential for tax purposes, getting federal assistance, or insurance reimbursement.

Here are four tips for businesses that need to reconstruct their records:
  • To create a list of lost inventories, business owners can get copies of invoices from suppliers. Whenever possible, the invoices should date back at least one calendar year.
  • For information about income, business owners can get copies of last year’s federal, state and local tax returns. These include sales tax reports, payroll tax returns, and business licenses from the city or county. These will reflect gross sales for a given period.
  • Owners should check their mobile phone or other cameras for pictures and videos of their building, equipment and inventory.
  • Business owners who don’t have photographs or videos can simply sketch an outline of the inside and outside of their location. For example, for the inside the building, they can draw out where equipment and inventory was located. For the outside of the building, they can map out the locations of items such as shrubs, parking, signs, and awnings.
More Information:

Friday, October 6, 2017

Tax Relief for Hurricane Victims

As the hurricane season continues, IRS is providing relief to tax professionals and their clients. Extensions of time to file and other forms of tax relief are available to victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Check www.irs.gov/hurricaneharvey, www.irs.gov/hurricaneirma and www.irs.gov/hurricanemaria for the latest updates.

Extension Filers Should Review Tax Credits Before Filing

Taxpayers who requested an extension of time to file their federal tax returns have until Oct.16 to double-check their returns for tax benefits that people often overlook. These taxpayers still have time to see if they can benefit from these four credits.


The Earned Income Tax Credit – also known as EITC and EIC –  benefits people who work and who have low-to-moderate incomes. This credit reduces the amount of tax owed and may result in a refund. To qualify for this credit, a person must meet certain requirements. They must also file a tax return.


This is a credit of up to $1,000 per qualifying child. Taxpayers who claim this credit – but who do not qualify for the full amount – may also be able to take the additional child tax credit.


This credit helps low-to-moderate-income workers save for retirement. It is also known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit.


A credit for tuition, enrollment fees, and class material for the first four years of higher education. The amount of this credit is up to $2,500 per eligible student per year.

Taxpayers should check IRS.gov/credits-deductions to learn more about other credits they may be qualified to claim when they file. Taxpayers who must file their 2016 taxes by October 16 should consider filing electronically using IRS e-file or the Free File system.

Additional filing information for taxpayers in disaster areas and combat zones:

Although Oct. 16 is the last day for most people to file, some still have more time. This includes taxpayers in places recently hit by hurricanes that are federally-declared disaster areas. It also includes members of the military and others serving in a combat zone who have at least 180 days after they leave the combat zone to file returns and pay their taxes due.

More Information:

Tax Filing Extension Expires Oct. 16 for Millions of Taxpayers; Check Eligibility for Overlooked Tax Benefits

The Internal Revenue Service today urged taxpayers who have a filing extension through Oct. 16 to check their returns for often-overlooked tax benefits. When they are ready to file, the IRS recommends they file their return electronically using IRS e-file or the Free File system. Both are still available for taxpayers who still need to file their return.

Although Oct. 16 is the last day for most people to file, some individuals -- such as members of the military serving in a combat zone -- are allowed more time to file. Typically, they have until 180 days after they leave the combat zone to both file their return and pay any taxes due.

In addition, taxpayers who have a valid extension and are in or affected by a federally declared disaster area may be allowed more time to file. Currently, taxpayers in parts of Michigan, West Virginia and those impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma  and Maria qualify for this relief. See the disaster relief page on IRS.gov for details.

Check for Tax Benefits

Before filing, the IRS encourages taxpayers to take a moment to see if they qualify for these and other significant credits and deductions:
  • Benefits for low- and moderate-income workers and families, especially the Earned Income Tax Credit, can increase a taxpayer’s refund and lower the amount of taxes they pay. The EITC Assistant can help taxpayers see if they’re eligible.
  • Savers credit, claimed on Form 8880, for low- and moderate-income workers who contributed to a retirement plan, such as an IRA or 401(k).
  • American Opportunity Tax Credit, claimed on Form 8863, and other education tax benefits for parents and college students.
E-file and Free File

The IRS urges taxpayers to choose the speed and convenience of electronic filing and direct deposit for their refunds. Fast, accurate and secure, filing electronically is an ideal option for those rushing to meet the Oct. 16 deadline. The IRS verifies receipt of an e-filed return and people who file electronically make fewer mistakes. Of the 145.3 million returns received by the IRS so far this year, approximately 87.5 percent -- or 127.2 million -- have been e-filed.

Everyone can use Free File, either the brand-name software, offered by the IRS’s commercial partners to individuals and families with incomes of $64,000 or less, or online fillable forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms available to taxpayers at all income levels. IRS Free File remains available either online at IRS.gov/FreeFile or through the mobile app, IRS2Go.

More than eight of 10 taxpayers enjoy the convenience of direct deposit. Taxpayers can choose to have their refunds deposited into as many as three accounts. See Form 8888 for details.

Free Tax Help

Free face-to-face tax help is still available across the country. The IRS sponsors free tax preparation assistance through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program. Both programs provide IRS-certified volunteers to prepare federal and state tax returns electronically for people with low- to-moderate income, seniors, disabled individuals or people who speak English as a second language. More information on available locations, times and what to bring can be found by typing “free tax preparation” in the search box on IRS.gov.

Quick and Easy Payment Options

IRS Direct Pay offers taxpayers a fast and easy way to pay what they owe. Direct Pay is free and allows individuals to securely pay their tax bills or make quarterly estimated tax payments online directly from checking or savings accounts without any fees or pre-registration.

Taxpayers can also pay by debit or credit card. While the IRS does not charge a fee for this service, the payment processer will. Other payment options include the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (enrollment is required) and Electronic Funds Withdrawal which is available when e-filing. Taxpayers can also pay what they owe using the IRS2Go mobile app. All of the electronic payment options are quick, easy and secure and much faster than mailing in a check or money order. Those choosing to pay by check or money order should make the payment out to the “United States Treasury.”

Taxpayers with extensions should file their returns by Oct. 16, even if they can’t pay the full amount due. By doing so, taxpayers will avoid the late-filing penalty, normally 5% per month, that would otherwise apply to any unpaid balance after Oct. 16. However, interest, currently at the rate of 4% per year compounded daily, and late-payment penalties, normally .5% per month, will continue to accrue.

Help for Struggling Taxpayers

In many cases, those struggling to pay taxes qualify for one of several relief programs. Most people can set up a payment agreement with the IRS online in a matter of minutes. Those who owe $50,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest can use the Online Payment Agreement to set up a monthly payment agreement for up to 72 months or request a short-term payment plan. Taxpayers can choose this option even if they have not yet received a bill or notice from the IRS.

Alternatively, taxpayers can request a payment agreement by filing Form 9465. This form can be downloaded from IRS.gov and mailed along with a tax return, bill or notice.

Some may qualify for an Offer-in-Compromise.This is an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the taxpayer’s tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed. Generally, an offer will not be accepted if the IRS believes the liability can be paid in full as a lump sum or through a payment agreement. The IRS looks at the taxpayer’s income and assets to make a determination regarding the taxpayer’s ability to pay. To help determine eligibility, use the Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier, a free online tool available on IRS.gov.

Planning Ahead for 2018

Taxpayers can begin taking steps now to ensure smooth processing of their 2017 tax return next year. The IRS offers these reminders:                                                         

  • All taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.
  • Check withholding. If not enough tax is withheld, a taxpayer will owe tax and may have to pay interest and a penalty. If too much tax is withheld, a taxpayer loses the use of that money until they get their refund. A taxpayer can reduce the refund amount and boost take-home pay by claiming additional withholding allowances on the Form W-4 they give to their employer. Anyone who owes tax can have additional tax withheld or make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS. For help, use the Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov.
  • Like last year, the IRS cautions taxpayers not to count on getting a refund by a certain date, especially when making major purchases or paying other financial obligations. Although the IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days, some returns are held for further review. Beginning in 2017, a new law approved by Congress requires the IRS to hold refunds on tax returns claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit until mid-February. The IRS must hold the entire refund — even the portion not associated with the EITC and ACTC.
  • Employers are required to file their copies of Forms W-2 and certain Forms 1099 with the federal government by Jan. 31. This change began last year. The Jan. 31 deadline has long applied to employers furnishing copies of these forms to their employees.