Thursday, February 28, 2013

IRS Expands Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program; Relief From Past Payroll Taxes Available to More Employers Who Reclassify Their Workers As Employees

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service has expanded its Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) paving the way for more taxpayers to take advantage of this low-cost option for achieving certainty under the law by reclassifying their workers as employees for future tax periods.

The IRS is modifying several eligibility requirements thus making it possible for many more interested employers, especially larger ones, to apply for this program. Thus far, nearly 1,000 employers have applied for the VCSP which provides partial relief from federal payroll taxes for eligible employers who are treating their workers or a class or group of workers as independent contractors or other nonemployees and now want to treat them as employees. Businesses, tax-exempt organizations and government entities may qualify.

Under the revamped program, employers under IRS audit, other than an employment tax audit, can qualify for the VCSP. Furthermore, employers accepted into the program will no longer be subject to a special six-year statute of limitations, rather than the usual three years that normally applies to payroll taxes. These and other permanent modifications to the program are described in Announcement 2012-45 and in questions and answers, posted on

Normally, employers are barred from the VCSP if they failed to file required Forms 1099 with respect to workers they are seeking to reclassify for the past three years. However, for the next few months, until June 30, 2013, the IRS is waiving this eligibility requirement. Details on this temporary change are in Announcement 2012-46.

To be eligible for the VCSP, an employer must currently be treating the workers as nonemployees; consistently have treated the workers in the past as nonemployees, including having filed any required Forms 1099; and not currently be under audit on payroll tax issues by the IRS. In addition, the employer cannot currently be under audit by the Department of Labor or a state agency concerning the classification of these workers or contesting the classification of the workers in court.
Interested employers can apply for the program by filing Form 8952, Application for Voluntary Classification Settlement Program, at least 60 days before they want to begin treating the workers as employees.

Employers accepted into the program will generally pay an amount effectively equaling just over one percent of the wages paid to the reclassified workers for the past year. No interest or penalties will be due, and the employers will not be audited on payroll taxes related to these workers for prior years. Employers applying for the temporary relief program available for those who failed to file Forms 1099 will pay a slightly higher amount, plus some penalties, and will need to file any unfiled Forms 1099 for the workers they are seeking to reclassify.

More information is available on, keyword “VCSP.”

Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center Provides Online Tools and Resources

You don’t need to be a tax expert when you’re running a business, but you may need to know the basics so your business can run smoothly. The Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center has useful tax information and services for business owners.

The tax center can help whether you are starting, operating or closing a business. You can apply for an Employer Identification Number online or get a form you need. If you want employment tax information, the center has it. It also offers tools and resources:
  • IRS Video Portal.  Watch helpful videos and webinars on a variety of topics from filing and paying your taxes to understanding the IRS audit process. 
  • Online Tools.  The Tax Calendar for Small Businesses and Self-Employed features e-filing and e-paying options, alerts for important filing dates and tax tips. You can order a wall calendar or install the IRS CalendarConnector and access important tax dates for small businesses right from your desktop. 
  • Small Business Events and Educational Products.  The online Virtual Small Business Tax Workshop has nine interactive lessons designed to help you understand and meet your federal tax obligations. You can also find free IRS small business workshops and other events planned in your state.
Go to the Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center and use the A-Z index to find whatever you need.

First-Time Homebuyer Credit Look-up Tool Helps Taxpayers Who Must Repay the Credit

The IRS no longer mails reminder letters to taxpayers who have to repay the First-Time Homebuyer Credit. To help taxpayers who must repay the credit, the IRS website has a user-friendly look-up tool. Here are four reminders about repaying the credit and using the tool:

1. Who needs to repay the credit?  If you bought a home in 2008 and claimed the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, the credit is similar to a no-interest loan. You normally must repay the credit in 15 equal annual installments. You should have started to repay the credit with your 2010 tax return.
You are usually not required to pay back the credit for a main home you bought after 2008. However, you may have to repay the entire credit if you sold the home or stopped using it as your main home within 36 months from the date of purchase. This rule also applies to homes bought in 2008.

2. How to use the tool. You can find the First-Time Homebuyer Credit Lookup tool at under the ‘Tools’ menu. You will need your Social Security number, date of birth and complete address to use the tool. If you claimed the credit on a joint return, each spouse should use the tool to get their share of the account information. That’s because the law treats each spouse as having claimed half of the credit for repayment purposes.

3. What the tool does. The tool provides important account information to help you report the repayment on your tax return. It shows the original amount of the credit, annual repayment amounts, total amount paid and the remaining balance. You can print your account page to share with your tax preparer and to keep for your records.

4. How to repay the credit.  To repay the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, add the amount you have to repay to any other tax you owe on your federal tax return. This could result in additional tax owed or a reduced refund. You report the repayment on line 59b on Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. If you are repaying the credit because the home stopped being your main home, you must attach Form 5405, Repayment of the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, to your tax return.

Additional IRS Resources:
IRS YouTube Videos:
IRS Podcasts:
  • First-Time Homebuyer Credit Account Look-Up Tool - English | Spanish

Friday, February 22, 2013

Parents and Students: Check Out College Tax Benefits for 2012 and Years Ahead

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today reminded parents and students that now is a good time to see if they qualify for either of two college education tax credits or any of several other education-related tax benefits.

In general, the American opportunity tax credit, lifetime learning credit and tuition and fees deduction are available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. Eligible students include the primary taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse or a dependent of the taxpayer.

Though a taxpayer often qualifies for more than one of these benefits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in a particular year. The benefits are available to all taxpayers – both those who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and those who claim a standard deduction. The credits are claimed on Form 8863 and the tuition and fees deduction is claimed on Form 8917.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act, enacted Jan. 2, 2013, extended the American opportunity tax credit for another five years until the end of 2017. The new law also retroactively extended the tuition and fees deduction, which had expired at the end of 2011, through 2013. The lifetime learning credit did not need to be extended because it was already a permanent part of the tax code.

For those eligible, including most undergraduate students, the American opportunity tax credit will yield the greatest tax savings.  Alternatively, the lifetime learning credit should be considered by part-time students and those attending graduate school. For others, especially those who don’t qualify for either credit, the tuition and fees deduction may be the right choice.

All three benefits are available for students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. None of them can be claimed by a nonresident alien or married person filing a separate return. In most cases, dependents cannot claim these education benefits.

Normally, a student will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by the end of January of the following year. This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other information. However, amounts shown on this form may differ from amounts taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax benefits. Taxpayers should see the instructions to Forms 8863 and 8917 and Publication 970 for details on properly figuring allowable tax benefits.

Many of those eligible for the American opportunity tax credit qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Here are some key features of the credit:
  • The credit targets the first four years of post-secondary education, and a student must be enrolled at least half time. This means that expenses paid for a student who, as of the beginning of the tax year, has already completed the first four years of college do not qualify. Any student with a felony drug conviction also does not qualify.
  • Tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other required course materials generally qualify. Other expenses, such as room and board, do not.
  • The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000. That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.
  • The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
  • Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit is refundable. This means that even people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible student. Other education-related credits and deductions do not provide a benefit to people who owe no tax.
The lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and undergraduate students. Unlike the American opportunity tax credit, the limit on the lifetime learning credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Though the half-time student requirement does not apply, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills. Other features of the credit include:
  • Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance qualify as do other fees required for the course. Additional expenses do not.
  • The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.
  • Income limits are lower than under the American opportunity tax credit. For 2012, the full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $52,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $104,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $124,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $62,000 or more.
Like the lifetime learning credit, the tuition and fees deduction is available for all levels of post-secondary education, and the cost of one or more courses can qualify. The annual deduction limit is $4,000 for joint filers whose MAGI is $130,000 or less and other taxpayers whose MAGI is $65,000 or less. The deduction limit drops to $2,000 for couples whose MAGI exceeds $130,000 but is no more than $160,000, and other taxpayers whose MAGI exceeds $65,000 but is no more than $80,000.

Eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these provisions during the year by having less tax taken out of their paychecks. They can do this by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer.

There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many taxpayers. They include:
  • Scholarship and fellowship grants—generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.
  • Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.
  • Savings bonds used to pay for college—though income limits apply, interest is usually tax-free if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.
  • Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or save for a child’s college education.
Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the earned income tax credit.

The general comparison table in Publication 970 can be a useful guide to taxpayers in determining eligibility for these benefits. Details can also be found in the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center on