Thursday, July 20, 2017

Taxpayers Should Review Their Withholding; Avoid Having Too Much or Too Little Federal Income Tax Withheld

The Internal Revenue Service today encouraged taxpayers to consider checking their tax withholding, keeping in mind several factors that could affect potential refunds or taxes they may owe in 2018.

Reviewing the amount of taxes withheld can help taxpayers avoid having too much or too little federal income tax taken from their paychecks. Having the correct amount taken out helps to move taxpayers closer to a zero balance at the end of the year when they file their tax return, which means no taxes owed or refund due.

During the year, changes sometimes occur in a taxpayer’s life, such as in their marital status, that impacts exemptions, adjustments or credits that they will claim on their tax return. When this happens, they need to give their employer a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to change their withholding status or number of allowances.

Employers use the form to figure the amount of federal income tax to be withheld from pay. Making these changes in the late summer or early fall can give taxpayers enough time to adjust their withholdings before the tax year ends in December.

The withholding review takes on even more importance now that federal law requires the IRS to hold refunds a few weeks for some early filers claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit. In addition, the steps the IRS and state tax administrators are now taking to strengthen protections against identity theft and refund fraud mean some tax returns could face additional review time next year.

So far in 2017, the IRS has issued more than 106 million tax refunds out of the 142 million total individual tax returns processed, with the average refund well over $2,700. Historically, refund dollar amounts have increased over time.

Making a Withholding Adjustment

In many cases, a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, is all that is needed to make an adjustment. Taxpayers submit it to their employer, and the employer uses the form to figure the amount of federal income tax to be withheld from their employee’s pay.

The IRS offers several online resources to help taxpayers bring taxes paid closer to what they owe. They are available anytime on IRS.gov. They include:

Self-employed taxpayers, including those involved in the sharing economy, can use the Form 1040-ES worksheet to correctly figure their estimated tax payments. If they also work for an employer, they can often forgo making these quarterly payments by instead having more tax taken out of their pay.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Reduce Certain Summertime Costs with the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

Many parents send their children to summer day camps while they work or look for work. The IRS urges those who do to save their paperwork for the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Eligible taxpayers may be able claim it on their taxes in 2018 if they paid for day camp or for someone to care for a child, dependent or spouse during 2017.

Here are a few key facts to know about this credit:
  1. Qualifying Person. The care must have been for “qualifying persons.” A qualifying person can be a child under age 13. A qualifying person can also be a spouse or dependent who lived with the taxpayer for more than half the year and is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.
  2. Work-Related Expenses. The care must have been necessary so the taxpayer could work or look for work. For those who are married, the care also must have been necessary so a spouse could work or look for work. This rule does not apply if the spouse was disabled or a full-time student.
  3. Earned Income. The taxpayer -- and their spouse if married filing jointly -- must have earned income for the tax year. Special rules apply to a spouse who is a student or disabled.
  4. Credit Percentage/Expense Limits. The credit is worth between 20 and 35 percent of allowable expenses. The percentage depends on the income amount. Allowable expenses are limited to $3,000 for care of one qualifying person. The limit is $6,000 if the taxpayer paid for the care of two or more.
  5. Care Provider Information. The name, address and taxpayer identification number of the care provider must be included on the return. The childcare provider cannot be the taxpayer’s spouse, dependent or the child's parent.
  6. IRS Interactive Tax Assistant tool. Use Am I Eligible to Claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit? tool on IRS.gov to help determine if eligible to claim the credit.
  7. Dependent Care Benefits. Special rules apply for people who get dependent care benefits from their employer. See Form 2441, Child and Dependent Care Expenses, has more on these rules. File the form with a tax return.
  8. Special Circumstances. Since every family is different, the IRS has a series of exceptions to the rules in the qualification process. These exceptions allow a greater number of families to take advantage of the credit. For more information, see IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
Even if the childcare provider is a sitter in the home, taxpayers may qualify for the credit. Taxpayers who pay someone to come to their home and care for their dependent or spouse may be a household employer. They may have to withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare tax and pay federal unemployment tax. Find more on that in IRS Publication 926, Household Employer's Tax Guide.

Avoid scams. The IRS will never initiate contact using social media or text message. First contact generally comes in the mail. Those wondering if they owe money to the IRS can view their tax account information on IRS.gov to find out.

Additional IRS Resources:

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Do you need to make a tax payment?

If you owe taxes, schedule the earliest payment date to minimize penalties and interest. The IRS offers electronic payment options that are easy and secure. Making tax payments online or with your mobile device is much quicker than paying by mail, and you get immediate confirmation after you submit your payment.

Use the IRS electronic payment option that’s right for you. You can pay your taxes online, by phone or with your mobile device. Visit the payments page for telephone numbers and instructions. If you can’t pay in full immediately, you may qualify for an online payment agreement.

You can securely pay your tax bill or estimated taxes directly from your checking or savings accounts at no cost to you with IRS Direct Pay. You can use the Look Up a Payment feature to view your payment details and status. You can also modify or cancel a payment up until two business days before the payment is scheduled.

From your mobile device try our IRS2Go app and pay with either IRS Direct Pay for free or by debit or credit card through an IRS payment processor for a fee. You can download IRS2Go from Google Play, the Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store.

Another payment option for both individuals and businesses is the Electronic FederalTax Payment System. After you enroll, you can log on to EFTPS and pay various types of federal taxes year-round. Visit eftps.gov or call 800-555-4477 to make your payment.

If cash is your only option, you can use PayNearMe. With Official Payments and PayNearMe, you can pay your taxes at a participating 7-Eleven in your area. Visit IRS.gov/paywithcash for instructions.

You can use your online account to view your amount owed. It’s safe, secure and available through the IRS.gov/payments page. After you log in, you can view your amount owed, 18 months of payment history, access payment options or apply for an installment agreement.

For more information about making payments, online payment agreements and offers in compromise, click the Payments tab on IRS.gov or go to IRS.gov/payments.

If you’re bartering and trading, each transaction is taxable to both parties

Sometimes, when the right opportunity presents itself, people are able to “pay” for goods and services that they need or want by trading goods that they own or providing a service that they can perform in return. For example, a person who owns a lawn maintenance company may receive legal services from an attorney and “pay” for those services by providing an agreed upon amount of mowing and maintenance services at the attorney’s home or place of business. In this scenario, the fair market value of the legal services provided is taxable to the lawn maintenance company owner. At the same time, the fair market value of the lawn and maintenance services provided is taxable to the attorney or his firm.

This type of transaction — bartering or trading — can prove to be useful when cash-flow circumstances would otherwise hinder a person’s ability to secure needed goods and/or services. And while there is no exchange of cash or credit, the fair market value of the goods and/or services that were exchanged are taxable to both parties and must be claimed as income on an individual or business’s income tax return.

When considering record keeping requirements, barter and trade transactions are treated just like any other financial transaction or exchange. The original cost of goods being bartered or traded, transaction dates, fair market value at the time of the transaction, and other pertinent details will need to be recorded to assist in the preparation of your income tax return. These records should be held for a period of three years in accordance with other documents and receipts that are used to substantiate income and expenses.

For more details on barter and trade transactions, please visit the Bartering Tax Center at IRS.gov.

Tips to Know for Deducting Losses from a Disaster

The IRS wants taxpayers to know it stands ready to help in the event of a disaster. If a taxpayer suffers damage to their home or personal property, they may be able to deduct the loss they incur on their federal income tax return. If their area receives a federal disaster designation, they may be able to claim the loss sooner.

Ordinarily, a deduction is available only if the loss is major and not covered by insurance or other reimbursement.

Here are 10 tips taxpayers should know about deducting casualty losses:

1. Casualty loss.  A taxpayer may be able to deduct a loss based on the damage done to their property during a disaster. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event. This may include natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. It can also include losses from fires, accidents, thefts or vandalism.

2. Normal wear and tear.  A casualty loss does not include losses from normal wear and tear. It does not include progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

3. Covered by insurance.  If a taxpayer insured their property, they must file a timely claim for reimbursement of their loss. If they don’t, they cannot deduct the loss as a casualty or theft. Reduce the loss by the amount of the reimbursement received or expected to receive.

4. When to deduct.  As a general rule, deduct a casualty loss in the year it occurred. However, if a taxpayer has a loss from a federally declared disaster, they may have a choice of when to deduct the loss. They can choose to deduct it on their return for the year the loss occurred or on an original or amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.

This means that if a disaster loss occurs in 2017, the taxpayer doesn’t need to wait until the end of the year to claim the loss. They can instead choose to claim it on their 2016 return. Claiming a disaster loss on the prior year's return may result in a lower tax for that year, often producing a refund.

5. Amount of loss.  Figure the amount of loss using the following steps:
  • Determine the adjusted basis in the property before the casualty. For property a taxpayer buys, the basis is usually its cost to them. For property they acquire in some other way, such as inheriting it or getting it as a gift, the basis is determined differently. For more information, see Publication 551, Basis of Assets.
  • Determine the decrease in fair market value, or FMV, of the property as a result of the casualty. FMV is the price for which a person could sell their property to a willing buyer. The decrease in FMV is the difference between the property's FMV immediately before and immediately after the casualty.
  • Subtract any insurance or other reimbursement received or expected to receive from the smaller of those two amounts.
6. $100 rule.  After figuring the casualty loss on personal-use property, reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty-loss event during the year. It does not matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.

7. 10 percent rule.  Reduce the total of all casualty or theft losses on personal-use property for the year by 10 percent of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income.

8. Future income.  Do not consider the loss of future profits or income due to the casualty.

9. Form 4684.  Complete Form 4684, Casualties and Thefts, to report the casualty loss on a federal tax return. Claim the deductible amount on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

10. Business or income property.  Some of the casualty loss rules for business or income property are different from the rules for property held for personal use.

Call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 for special help with disaster-related tax issues. For more on this topic and the special rules for federally declared disaster-area losses see Publication 547, Casualties, Disasters and Thefts. Get it and other IRS tax forms on IRS.gov/forms at any time.

Avoid scams. The IRS will never initiate contact using social media or text message. First contact generally comes in the mail. Those wondering if they owe money to the IRS can view their tax account information on IRS.gov to find out.

Additional IRS Resources:

Monday, June 26, 2017

IRS Cautions Taxpayers to Watch for Summertime Scams

The Internal Revenue Service today issued a warning that tax-related scams continue across the nation even though the tax filing season has ended for most taxpayers. People should remain on alert to new and emerging schemes involving the tax system that continue to claim victims.

“We continue to urge people to watch out for new and evolving schemes this summer,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Many of these are variations of a theme, involving fictitious tax bills and demands to pay by purchasing and transferring information involving a gift card or iTunes card. Taxpayers can avoid these and other tricky financial scams by taking a few minutes to review the tell-tale signs of these schemes.”

EFTPS Scam

A new scam which is linked to the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) has been reported nationwide. In this ruse, con artists call to demand immediate tax payment. The caller claims to be from the IRS and says that two certified letters mailed to the taxpayer were returned as undeliverable. The scammer then threatens arrest if a payment is not made immediately by a specific prepaid debit card. Victims are told that the debit card is linked to the EFTPS when, in reality, it is controlled entirely by the scammer. Victims are warned not to talk to their tax preparer, attorney or the local IRS office until after the payment is made.

“Robo-call” Messages

The IRS does not call and leave prerecorded, urgent messages asking for a call back. In this tactic, scammers tell victims that if they do not call back, a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Those who do respond are told they must make immediate payment either by a specific prepaid debit card or by wire transfer.

Private Debt Collection Scams

The IRS recently began sending letters to a relatively small group of taxpayers whose overdue federal tax accounts are being assigned to one of four private-sector collection agencies. 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. The IRS would have previously contacted taxpayers about their tax debt.

Scams Targeting People with Limited English Proficiency

Taxpayers with limited English proficiency have been recent targets of phone scams and email phishing schemes that continue to occur across the country. Con artists often approach victims in their native language, threaten them with deportation, police arrest and license revocation among other things. They tell their victims they owe the IRS money and must pay it promptly through a preloaded debit card, gift card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls” or via a phishing email.

Tell Tale Signs of a Scam:

The IRS (and its authorized private collection agencies) will never:
  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments. The IRS will usually first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury and checks should never be made payable to third parties.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
For anyone who doesn’t owe taxes and has no reason to think they do:
  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page. Alternatively, call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.
For anyone who owes tax or thinks they do:
How to Know It’s Really the IRS Calling or Knocking
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 a delinquent employment tax payment, or,
  • to tour a business as part of an audit or during criminal investigations.

Even then, taxpayers will generally 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.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

IRS Website Provides Tools to Help Small Businesses Understand Employment Taxes

The Internal Revenue Service reminds small businesses of the many free products available to help them understand and comply with the law. Products ranging from online calculators, printable calendars, step-by-step guides and a series of educational webinars are all available on IRS.gov.

Federal law requires most employers to withhold federal taxes from their employees' wages. IRS tools can help small businesses understand some of the requirements for withholding, reporting, and paying employment taxes. The IRS website, IRS.gov, provides easily accessible information and guides on what forms employers should use as well as how and when to deposit and report employment taxes.

Federal Income Tax- Small businesses first need to figure out how much tax to withhold. Small business employers can better understand the process by starting with an employee’s Form W-4 and the withholding tables described in Publication 15, Employer's Tax Guide.

Social Security and Medicare Taxes- Most employers also withhold social security and Medicare taxes from employees' wages and deposit them along with the employers’ matching share. In 2013, employers became responsible for withholding the Additional Medicare Tax on wages that exceed a threshold amount. There is no employer match for the Additional Medicare Tax and certain types of wages and compensation are not subject to withholding.

Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax- Employers report and pay FUTA tax separately from other taxes. Employees do not pay this tax or have it withheld from their pay. Businesses pay FUTA taxes from their own funds.

Depositing Employment Taxes- Generally, employers pay employment taxes by making federal tax deposits through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS). The amount of taxes withheld during a prior one-year period determines when to make the deposits. Publication 3151-A, The ABCs of FTDs: Resource Guide for Understanding Federal Tax Deposits and the IRS Tax Calendar for Businesses and Self-Employed are helpful tools.

Failure to make a timely deposit can mean being subject to a failure-to-deposit penalty of up to 15 percent. But the penalty can be waived if an employer has a history of filing required returns and making tax payments on time. For more information, see the Penalty Relief Due to First Time Penalty Abatement page on IRS.gov.

Reporting Employment Taxes - Generally, employers report wages and compensation paid to an employee by filing the required forms with the IRS. E-filing Forms 940, 941, 943, 944 and 945 is an easy, secure and accurate way to file employment tax forms. Employers filing quarterly tax returns with an estimated total of $1,000 or less for the calendar year may now request to file Form 944 annually instead. At the end of the year, the employer must provide employees with Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, to report wages, tips and other compensation. Small businesses file Forms W-2 and Form W-3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements, with the Social Security Administration and if required, state or local tax departments.

See Understanding Employment Taxes and Employment Taxes on IRS.gov for more.

Related Resources:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

IRS Now Accepting Renewal Applications for ITINs Set to Expire by End of 2017

The Internal Revenue Service is now accepting renewal applications for the Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) set to expire at the end of 2017. The agency urges taxpayers affected by changes to the ITIN program to submit their renewal applications as soon as possible to avoid the rush.

In the second year of the renewal program, the IRS has made changes to make the process smoother for taxpayers. The renewal process for 2018 is beginning now, more than three months earlier than last year.

“This is an important program, and the IRS is opening the renewal process several months earlier to help taxpayers and make the process smoother,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “We encourage taxpayers affected by the ITIN changes to review the program’s details and renew ITINs this summer to avoid delays that could affect their tax filing and refunds next year.”

Under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, ITINs that have not been used on a federal tax return at least once in the last three consecutive years will expire Dec. 31, 2017, and ITINs with middle digits 70, 71, 72 or 80 will also expire at the end of the year. Affected taxpayers who expect to file a tax return in 2018 must submit a renewal application.

As a reminder, ITINs with middle digits of 78 and 79 already expired last year. Taxpayers with these ITIN numbers can renew at any time.
ITINs are used by people who have tax filing or payment obligations under U.S. law but who are not eligible for a Social Security number. ITIN holders who have questions should visit the ITIN information page on IRS.gov and take a few minutes to understand the guidelines.
Last year, the IRS launched a wider education effort to share information with ITIN holders. To help taxpayers, the IRS has a variety of informational materials, including flyers and fact sheets, available in several languages on IRS.gov.
The IRS continues to work with partner groups and others in the ITIN community to share information widely about these important changes.  
Who Should Renew an ITIN
Taxpayers whose ITIN is expiring and who need to file a tax return in 2018 must submit a renewal application. Others do not need to take any action.
  • ITINs with the middle digits 70, 71, 72, or 80 (For example: 9NN-70-NNNN; NNN-71-NNNN; 9NN-72-NNNN; 9NN-80-NNNN) need to be renewed even if the taxpayer has used it in the last three years. The IRS will begin sending the CP-48 Notice, You must renew your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file your U.S. tax return, later this summer to affected taxpayers. The notice explains the steps to take to renew the ITIN if it will be included on a U.S. tax return filed in 2018. Taxpayers who receive the notice after taking action to renew their ITIN do not need to take further action unless another family member is affected.
  • Taxpayers can also renew their ITINs with middle digits 78 and 79 that have already expired.
Family Option Remains Available

Taxpayers with an ITIN with middle digits 70, 71, 72 or 80 have the option to renew ITINs for their entire family at the same time. Those who have received a renewal letter from the IRS can choose to renew the family’s ITINs together even if family members have an ITIN with middle digits other than 70, 71, 72 or 80. Family members include the tax filer, spouse and any dependents claimed on the tax return.

How to Renew an ITIN

To renew an ITIN, a taxpayer must complete a Form W-7 and submit all required documentation. Taxpayers submitting a Form W-7 to renew their ITIN are not required to attach a federal tax return. However, taxpayers must still note a reason for needing an ITIN on the Form W-7. See the Form W-7 instructions for detailed information.

The IRS began accepting ITIN renewals today. There are three ways to submit the W-7 application package:
  • Mail the Form W-7, along with original identification documents or copies certified by the agency that issued them, to the IRS address listed on the Form W-7 instructions. The IRS will review the identification documents and return them within 60 days.
  • Taxpayers have the option to work with Certified Acceptance Agents (CAAs) authorized by the IRS to help them apply for an ITIN. CAAs can certify all identification documents for primary and secondary taxpayers and certify that an ITIN application is correct before submitting it to the IRS for processing. A CAA can also certify passports and birth certificates for dependents. This saves taxpayers from mailing original documents to the IRS.
  • In advance, taxpayers can call and make an appointment at a designated IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center instead of mailing original identification documents to the IRS.
Avoid Common Errors Now and Prevent Delays Next Year

Federal returns that are submitted in 2018 with an expired ITIN will be processed. However, exemptions and/or certain tax credits will be disallowed. Taxpayers will receive a notice in the mail advising them of the change to their tax return and their need to renew their ITIN. Once the ITIN is renewed, any applicable exemptions and credits will be restored and any refunds will be issued.

Additionally, several common errors can slow down and hold some ITIN renewal applications. The mistakes generally center on missing information and/or insufficient supporting documentation. The IRS urges any applicant to check over their form carefully before sending it to the IRS.

As a reminder, the IRS no longer accepts passports that do not have a date of entry into the U.S. as a stand-alone identification document for dependents from a country other than Canada or Mexico, or dependents of U.S. military personnel overseas. The dependent’s passport must have a date of entry stamp, otherwise the following additional documents to prove U.S. residency are required:
  • U.S. medical records for dependents under age 6,
  • U.S. school records for dependents under age 18, and
  • U.S. school records (if a student), rental statements, bank statements or utility bills listing the applicant’s name and U.S. address, if over age 18

IRS Encourages More Applicants for the Acceptance Agent Program to Expand ITIN Services
To increase the availability of ITIN services nationwide, particularly in communities with high ITIN usage, the IRS is actively recruiting Certified Acceptance Agents, and applications are now accepted year-round. Interested individuals, community outreach partners and volunteers at tax preparation sites are encouraged to review all program changes and requirements.

For more information, visit the ITIN information page on IRS.gov