The Affordable Care Act and You

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 resulted in several changes to the U.S. tax code that affect individuals purchasing health care insurance through the health care exchanges. Let’s take a closer look at what it all means for you.

Individual Shared Responsibility Payment

Starting January 2014, United States citizens and legal residents must obtain minimum essential health care coverage for themselves and their dependents, have an exemption from coverage, or make a payment when filing a 2014 tax return in 2015. The Individual Mandate is also known as the Individual Shared Responsibility Payment.

The payment varies and is based on income level. In 2014, the basic penalty for an individual (no dependents) is $95 or 1 percent of your yearly income (whichever is higher), with substantial increases in subsequent years. For example, in 2015, the penalty is $325 or approximately 2 percent of income, whichever is higher. In 2016, it increases to $695 or 2.5 percent of income (again, whichever is higher), indexed for inflation thereafter.

The individual shared responsibility payment is capped at the cost of the national average premium for the bronze level health plan available through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2014. You will make the payment when you file your 2014 federal income tax return in 2015.

For example, a single adult under age 65 with household income less than $19,650 (but more than $10,150) would pay the $95 flat rate. However, a single adult under age 65 with household income greater than $19,650 would pay an annual payment based on the 1 percent rate.

For any month in 2014 that you or any of your dependents don’t maintain coverage and don’t qualify for an exemption, you will need to make an individual shared responsibility payment with your 2014 tax return filed in 2015.

However, if you went without coverage for less than three consecutive months during the year you may qualify for the short coverage gap exemption and will not have to make a payment for those months. If you have more than one short coverage gap during a year, the short coverage gap exemption only applies to the first.

Most people already have qualifying health care coverage and will not need to do anything more than maintain that coverage throughout 2014. Self-insured ERISA policies used by larger employers, as well as Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), and all of the health insurance plans offered by the exchanges, fall under the category of minimum essential health care coverage.

Qualifying coverage does not include coverage that may provide limited benefits, such as coverage only for vision care or dental care, workers’ compensation, or coverage that only covers a specific disease or condition.

Note: Certain individuals are exempt from the tax and include: (1) people with religious objections; (2) American Indians with coverage through the Indian Health Service; (3) undocumented immigrants; (4) those without coverage for less than three months; (5) those serving prison sentences; (6) those for whom the lowest-cost plan option exceeds 8 percent of annual income; and (7) those with incomes below the tax filing threshold who do not file a tax return($10,000 for singles and $20,000 for couples under 65 in 2013).

A special hardship exemption applies to individuals who purchase their insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace during the initial enrollment period for 2014 but due to the enrollment process have a coverage gap at the beginning of 2014.

Premium Tax Credit

Effective in 2014, certain taxpayers will be able to use a refundable tax credit to offset the cost of health insurance premiums so that their insurance premium payments do not exceed a specific percentage of their income. Qualified individuals are those with incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. A sliding scale based on family size will be used to determine the amount of the credit. In addition, married taxpayers must file joint returns to qualify.

If you purchased coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace (sometimes referred to as health care exchanges), you may be eligible for the premium tax credit. This refundable tax credit helps people with moderate incomes afford health insurance coverage they purchase through the exchange.

The premium tax credit can help make purchasing health insurance coverage more affordable for people with moderate incomes. To be eligible for the credit, you generally need to satisfy three rules.

First, you need to get your health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. The open enrollment period to purchase health insurance coverage for 2014 through the Health Insurance Marketplace runs from October 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014.

Second, you need to have household income between one and four times the federal poverty line. For a family of four for tax year 2014, that means income from $23,550 to $94,200.

Third, you can’t be eligible for other coverage, such as Medicare, Medicaid, or sufficiently generous employer-sponsored coverage.

If you are eligible for the credit, you can choose to “get it now” by having some or all of the credit paid in advance. These payments go directly to your insurance company to lower what you pay out-of-pocket for your monthly premiums during 2014. Or you “get it later” by waiting to get the credit when you file your 2014 tax return in 2015.

If you wait to get the credit, it will either increase your refund or lower your balance due. Your 2014 tax return will ask if you had insurance coverage or qualified for an exemption. If not, you may owe a shared responsibility payment when you file in 2015.

If you choose to receive the credit in advance, changes in your income or family size will affect the credit that you are eligible to receive. If the credit on your tax return you file in 2015 does not match the amount you have received in advance, you will have to repay any excess advance payment, or you may get a larger refund if you are entitled to more.

Reporting Changes

It is important to notify the Health Insurance Marketplace about changes in your income or family size as they happen during 2014 because these changes may affect your premium tax credit.

Changes in circumstances that you should report to the Health Insurance Marketplace include, but are not limited to:

  • an increase or decrease in your income
  • marriage or divorce
  • the birth or adoption of a child
  • starting a job with health insurance
  • gaining or losing your eligibility for other health care coverage
  • changing your residence

Reporting the changes will help you avoid getting too much or too little advance payment of the premium tax credit. Getting too much means you may owe additional money or get a smaller refund when you file your taxes. Getting too little could mean missing out on premium assistance to reduce your monthly premiums.

Repayments of excess premium assistance may be limited to an amount between $400 and $2,500 depending on your income and filing status. However, if advance payment of the premium tax credit was made but your income for the year turns out to be too high to receive the premium tax credit, you will have to repay all of the payments that were made on your behalf, with no limitation. Therefore, it is important that you report changes in circumstances that may have occurred since you signed up for your plan.

Changes in circumstances also may qualify you for a special enrollment period to change or get insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace. In most cases, if you qualify for the special enrollment period, you will have sixty days to enroll following the change in circumstances.

Don’t hesitate to call us if you need assistance navigating the complexities of the Affordable Care Act. We’re here for you!

How Obamacare subsidies could impact your tax refund

If you depend on your tax refund and you’re one of the millions of Americans getting tax credits to subsidize your health insurance premiums under President Barack Obama’s law, it’s not too early.

Here’s why: If your income for 2014 exceeds the estimate you provided when you applied for health insurance, then complex connections between the health law and the tax code can reduce or even eliminate your tax refund next year.

 

Maybe you’re collecting more sales commissions in an improving economy. Or your spouse got a promotion. It could trigger an unwelcome surprise.

The danger is that as your income grows, you don’t qualify for as much of a tax credit. Any difference will come out of your tax refund, unless you have promptly reported the changes.

“If you got too much of a subsidy, consumers will see money coming out of their refund,” Meg Sutton, a senior advisor for tax and healthcare services at H&R Block, told CBS News.

The tax credits are available to individuals with household incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, taking into account factors like family size. Nearly 7 million households have received subsidies, and major tax preparation companies say most of those consumers appear to be unaware of the risk.

“More than a third of tax credit recipients will owe some money back, and (that) can lead to some pretty hefty repayment liabilities,” said George Brandes, vice president for health care programs at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service.

Two basic statistics bracket the potential exposure:

The average tax credit for subsidized coverage on the new health insurance exchanges is $264 a month, or $3,168 for a full 12 months.

The average tax refund is about $2,690.

Having to pay back even as little as 10 percent of your tax credit can reduce your refund by several hundred dollars.

Tax giant H&R Block says consumers whose incomes grew as the year went on should act now and contact HealthCare.gov or their state insurance exchange to update their accounts.

They will pay higher health insurance premiums for the rest of this year, but they can avoid financial pain come spring.

“As time goes on, the ability to make adjustments diminishes,” warned Mark Ciaramitaro, H&R Block’s vice president of health care services. “Clients count on that refund as their biggest financial transaction of the year. When that refund goes down, it really has reverberations.”

The Obama administration says it’s constantly urging newly insured consumers to report changes that could affect their coverage.

But those messages don’t drive home the point about tax refunds.

“What probably isn’t clear is that there may be consequences at tax time,” said Ciaramitaro.

Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Health and Human Services department, said the administration plans to “ramp up” its efforts.

Concern about the complex connection between the health care law and taxes has increased recently, after the Internal Revenue Service released drafts of new forms to administer health insurance tax credits next filing season.

The forms set up a final accounting that ensures each household is getting the correct tax credit that the law provides. Various factors are involved, including income, family size, where you live and the premiums for a “benchmark” plan in your community.

Even experts find the forms highly complicated, requiring month-by-month computations for some taxpayers.

Taxpayers accustomed to filing a simplified 1040EZ will not be able to do so if they received health insurance tax credits this year.

Some highlights:

– You may have heard that the IRS cannot use liens and levies to collect the law’s penalty on people who remain uninsured. But there is no limitation on collection efforts in cases where consumers got too big a tax credit. If your refund isn’t large enough to cover the repayment, you will have to write the IRS a check. “They are not messing around,” Brandes said.

- Health insurance is expensive, and with that in mind, the repayment amount the IRS can collect is capped for most people. For individuals making less than $22,980 the IRS can only collect up to $300 in repayments. That rises to $750 for individuals making between $22,980 and $34,470. For individuals making between $34,470 and $45,960, the cap is $1,250.

For families, the cap is double the amount that individuals can be charged, but the income thresholds vary according to household size. An IRS table may help simplify computation, which is based on the federal poverty levels for 2013.

– There is no collection cap for households making more than four times the federal poverty level. They face the greatest financial risk from repayments, because they would be liable for the entire amount of the tax credit they received.

Those income thresholds are $45,960 and above for an individual, $78,120 and above for a family of three, and $94,200 for a family of four. Ciaramitaro says people facing that predicament should try to minimize their taxable income through legal means, such as putting money into an IRA. The IRS says it will work with taxpayers who can’t pay in full so they understand their options.

– If you overestimated your income and got too small a tax credit for health care, the IRS will increase your refund.

Funneling health insurance subsidies through the income-tax system was once seen as a political plus for Obama and congressional Democrats. It allowed the White House to claim that the Affordable Care Act is “the largest tax cut for health care in American history.”

But it also made an already complicated tax system more difficult for many consumers.

Back-to-School Tax Credits

Are you, your spouse or a dependent heading off to college? If so, here’s a quick tip from the IRS: some of the costs you pay for higher education can save you money at tax time. Here are several important facts you should know about education tax credits:

  • American Opportunity Tax Credit.  The AOTC can be up to $2,500 annually for an eligible student. This credit applies for the first four years of higher education. Forty percent of the AOTC is refundable. That means that you may be able to get up to $1,000 of the credit as a refund, even if you don’t owe any taxes.
  • Lifetime Learning Credit.  With the LLC, you may be able to claim a tax credit of up to $2,000 on your federal tax return. There is no limit on the number of years you can claim this credit for an eligible student.
  • One credit per student.  You can claim only one type of education credit per student on your federal tax return each year. If more than one student qualifies for a credit in the same year, you can claim a different credit for each student.  For example, you can claim the AOTC for one student and claim the LLC for the other student.
  • Qualified expenses.  You may include qualified expenses to figure your credit.  This may include amounts you pay for tuition, fees and other related expenses for an eligible student. Refer to IRS.gov for more about the additional rules that apply to each credit.
  • Eligible educational institutions.  Eligible schools are those that offer education beyond high school. This includes most colleges and universities. Vocational schools or other postsecondary schools may also qualify.
  • Form 1098-T.  In most cases, you should receive Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, from your school. This form reports your qualified expenses to the IRS and to you. You may notice that the amount shown on the form is different than the amount you actually paid. That’s because some of your related costs may not appear on Form 1098-T. For example, the cost of your textbooks may not appear on the form, but you still may be able to claim your textbook costs as part of the credit. Remember, you can only claim an education credit for the qualified expenses that you paid in that same tax year.
  • Nonresident alien.  If you are in the U.S. on an F-1 student visa, you usually file your federal tax return as a nonresident alien. You can’t claim an education credit if you were a nonresident alien for any part of the tax year unless you elect to be treated as a resident alien for federal tax purposes. To learn more about these rules see Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.
  • Income limits. These credits are subject to income limitations and may be reduced or eliminated, based on your income.

Vanessa Williams Faces IRS Tax Lien for $369,249

The Internal Revenue Service has reportedly filed a tax lien against actress, singer and model Vanessa Williams for $369,249 in unpaid taxes dating back to 2011.

The IRS filed the lien in New York City on August 13, according to CNN. Williams, 51, became the first African American to win the Miss America pageant in 1983, but was forced to give up the title after nude photos of her were published in Penthouse magazine.

She began a music career and released two hit albums in 1988 and 1991, generating hit songs like “Save the Best for Last” and “The Right Stuff.”

She also appeared on Broadway in 1994 in the musical version of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and then became a movie and TV actress, appearing in the films “Eraser,” “Soul Food,” “Dance with Me,” “Shaft,” “Johnson Family Vacation” and others. Williams also landed recurring roles in the TV series “Ugly Betty,” “Desperate Housewives” and “666 Park Avenue.”

IRS Recovers $576 Million in Erroneous Tax Refunds from Outside Leads

The Internal Revenue Service recovered $576 million in erroneously issued tax refunds last year thanks to outside tips provided by financial institutions and other sources such as tax preparers, more than double the amount from three years ago.

A new report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration examined the IRS’s External Leads Program, which receives leads about questionable tax refunds identified by a variety of organizations, including financial institutions, brokerage firms, government and law enforcement agencies, state agencies and tax preparers. The questionable tax refunds include Treasury checks, direct deposits and prepaid debit cards.

The program helps the IRS to recover erroneous tax refunds and save money, but the TIGTA report noted that improvements are needed to ensure that the IRS verifies the leads on a timely basis.

The External Leads Program has grown from 10 partner financial institutions returning $233 million in calendar year 2010 to 258 partner financial institutions and partner organizations returning more than $576 million in calendar year 2013, the report noted.

“The IRS’s External Leads Program has more than doubled the amount of questionable refunds returned over the past three years, thus saving tax dollars,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “However, opportunities exist to improve the program.”

Since taking over the External Leads Program in January 2010, the IRS’s Wage and Investment Division has performed outreach in an effort to continuously increase the number of organizations participating in this program. Participation and the number of questionable refunds returned and the dollars associated with them have grown significantly.

However, the IRS is not always verifying leads in a timely manner, and the verification time frame goals differ significantly based on the lead type, according to the report. The goals do not take into consideration the burden on legitimate taxpayers whose refunds are being held until verification is completed.

In addition, the IRS inconsistently tracked the leads in multiple inventory systems, and the inventory systems did not provide key information such as how the lead was resolved, that is, whether the refund was confirmed as erroneously issued or legitimate.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS establish more consistent time frames to verify the leads it receives based on an analysis of the current and historical lead verification data and, once established, communicate the verification time frames with its external partners. The report also suggested the IRS develop a process to ensure that leads are verified within established time frames. The IRS should also consolidate the current four lead inventory tracking systems into a single tracking system and ensure that key information is captured as to how each lead is resolved, according to the report.

The IRS agreed with TIGTA’s recommendations. The IRS said it is evaluating the treatment streams and work processes associated with the various types of referrals received in the External Leads Program to identify appropriate time frames. The agency is also completing other systemic and procedural enhancements to improve the effectiveness of existing reporting capabilities in evaluating program quality and timeliness. In addition, the IRS is evaluating the feasibility and potential benefits of consolidating the four independent inventory tracking databases into one system.

“The IRS is committed to the proactive detection of fraudulent refund claims and preventing their payment from occurring,” wrote Debra Holland, commissioner of the IRS’s Wage and Investment Division, in response to the report. “Unfortunately, those individuals who commit fraud against the U.S. taxpayers continually modify their tactics to evade or avoid detection, which sometimes results in the issuance of erroneous refunds. Since 2010, the IRS has reached out to financial institutions, government entities, federal agencies, software providers and other stakeholders to develop processes whereby those partners may alert the IRS to suspected refund fraud, and return those funds to the Treasury when the suspected fraud is confirmed.”

Early Retirement Plan Withdrawals and your Taxes

Taking money out early from your retirement plan may trigger an additional tax. Here are seven things that you should know about early withdrawals from retirement plans:

1. An early withdrawal normally means taking money from your plan before you reach age 59 1/2.

2. If you made a withdrawal from a plan last year, you must report the amount you withdrew to the IRS. You may have to pay income tax as well as an additional 10 percent tax on the amount you withdrew.

3. The additional 10 percent tax does not apply to nontaxable withdrawals. Nontaxable withdrawals include withdrawals of your cost to participate in the plan. Your cost includes contributions that you paid tax on before you put them into the plan.

4. A rollover is a type of nontaxable withdrawal. Generally, a rollover is a distribution to you of cash or other assets from one retirement plan that you contribute to another retirement plan. You usually have 60 days to complete a rollover to make it tax-free.

5. There are many exceptions to the additional 10 percent tax such as using the money for qualified higher education expenses or unreimbursed medical expenses in excess of 10 percent of adjusted gross income. Some of the exceptions for retirement plans are different from the rules for IRAs.

6. If you make an early withdrawal, you may need to file Form 5329, Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts, with your federal tax return.

The rules for retirement plans can be complex, but we’re here to help. Give us a call today. We’ll make sure you file the right tax forms and help you get the tax benefits you’re entitled to.

Getting Married Can Affect Your Premium Tax Credit

The IRS reminds newlyweds to add a health insurance review to their to-do list. This is particularly important if you receive premium assistance through advance payments of the premium tax credit through a Health Insurance Marketplace.

If you, your spouse or a dependent gets health insurance coverage through the Marketplace, you need to let the Marketplace know you got married. Informing the Marketplace about changes in circumstances, such as marriage or divorce, allows the Marketplace to help make sure you have the right coverage for you and your family and adjust the amount of advance credit payments that the government sends to your health insurer.

Reporting the changes will help you avoid having too much or not enough premium assistance paid to reduce your monthly health insurance premiums. Getting too much premium assistance means you may owe additional money or get a smaller refund when you file your taxes. Getting too little could mean missing out on monthly premium assistance that you deserve. You should also check whether getting married affects your, your spouse’s, or your dependents’ eligibility for coverage through your employer or your spouse’s employer, because that will affect your eligibility for the premium tax credit.

Other changes in circumstances that you should report to the Marketplace include:

  • the birth or adoption of a child,
  • divorce,
  • getting or losing a job,
  • moving to a new address, gaining or losing eligibility for employer or government sponsored health care coverage, and
  • any other changes that might affect family composition, family size, income or your enrollment.

In addition, certain life events – like marriage – give you and your spouse the opportunity to sign up for health care during a special enrollment period. That means that if one or both of you is uninsured, you may be able to get coverage now.  In most cases, the special enrollment period for Marketplace coverage is open for 60 days from the date of the life event.

Taxpayers’ Income Hit $9.1T in 2012

U.S. taxpayers reported $9.1 trillion in adjusted gross income (less deficit) for tax year 2012, according to the most recent IRS Statistics of Income Bulletin.

Statistics of Income – 2012, Individual Income Tax Returns, which was released on Friday, reported that taxpayers filed 144.9 million individual tax returns for 2012, down 0.3 percent from 2011. The AGI less deficit of $9.1 trillion represents an 8.7 percent increase from the previous year.

The SOI includes estimates on sources of income, AGI, exemptions, deductions, taxable income and more.

The report, Publication 1304, is available for download on the IRS Tax Stats page.

Home Office Deduction Not Precluded by Minor Personal Use

The Tax Court sided with the plaintiff in a recent case involving the rules surrounding the home office deduction. The deduction is allowed for the portion of a residence that is used exclusively and on a regular basis as the principal place of business for a taxpayer.

Setting aside an area of the dwelling for exclusive use is not always easy, however. In Lauren Miller’s case, the IRS challenged her deduction for the expenses allocable to one-third of her New York City studio apartment of 700 square feet.

Miller was employed by BrandingIron Worldwide (BIW), a company that provides public relations, advertising, and marketing services. BIW is headquartered in Los Angeles, while at the time she was hired, Miller was BIW’s only employee in New York.

Miller used part of her apartment as an office throughout 2009. BIW listed her apartment address and telephone number on its Web site as the address and phone number for its New York office.  Miller usually worked weekdays between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., but was generally expected to be available at all times.

Miler’s studio apartment, a single room, was divided into three equal sections: an entryway, a bathroom, and a kitchen area; office space, including a desk, two shelving units, a bookcase, and a sofa; and a bedroom area including a platform bed and dressers. Miller has to pass through the office space to get to the bedroom area.

Miller frequently met with BIW clients in the office space, and she performed work for BIW using a computer on the desk. The bookcase and shelving units were used to store books, magazines, supplies and samples related to her work for BIW and its clients. Although she used the office space primarily for business purposes, she occasionally used the space for personal purposed. BIW did not reimburse Miller for any of the expenses related to her apartment.

The Tax Court, in Summary Opinion 2014-74, noted that if the taxpayer is an employee, the deduction for a home office is only allowable if the exclusive use of the office space is for the convenience of the taxpayer’s employer. In Miller’s case, BIW listed her apartment address on its Web site as its New York office address, and Miller “testified credibly that she regularly used one-third of her apartment space as an office to conduct BIW business, she met with clients there, and she was expected to be available to work well into the evening.”

The court agreed with Miller that her apartment was her principal place of business, that she was obliged to use the space as an office for the convenience of her employer, and that BIW was not able or willing to reimburse her for any of her apartment-related expenses.

“Although Petitioner admitted that she used portions of the office space for nonbusiness purposes, we find that her personal use of the space was de minimis and wholly attributable to the practicalities of living in a studio apartment of such modest dimensions.”

Therefore, the court concluded that Miller was entitled to the home office deduction.

Tips on Deducting Charitable Contributions

If you are looking for a tax deduction, giving to charity can be a “win-win” situation–good for them and good for you. Here are eight things you should know about deducting your gifts to charity:

1. You must donate to a qualified charity if you want to deduct the gift. You can’t deduct gifts to individuals, political organizations or candidates.

2. In order for you to deduct your contributions, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions. File Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, with your federal tax return.

3. If you get a benefit in return for your contribution, your deduction is limited. You can only deduct the amount of your gift that’s more than the value of what you got in return. Examples of such benefits include merchandise, meals, tickets to an event or other goods and services.

4. If you give property instead of cash, the deduction is usually that item’s fair market value. Fair market value is generally the price you would get if you sold the property on the open market.

5. Used clothing and household items generally must be in good condition to be deductible. Special rules apply to vehicle donations.

6. You must file Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, if your deduction for all noncash gifts is more than $500 for the year.

7. You must keep records to prove the amount of the contributions you make during the year. The kind of records you must keep depends on the amount and type of your donation. For example, you must have a written record of any cash you donate, regardless of the amount, in order to claim a deduction. It can be a cancelled check, a letter from the organization, or a bank or payroll statement. It should include the name of the charity, the date and the amount donated. A cell phone bill meets this requirement for text donations if it shows this same information.

8. To claim a deduction for donated cash or property of $250 or more, you must have a written statement from the organization. It must show the amount of the donation and a description of any property given. It must also say whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the gift.

Questions about charitable donations? Don’t hesitate to give us a call.