Five Basic Tax Tips for New Businesses

If you start a business, one key to success is to know about your federal tax obligations. Not only will you probably need to know about income taxes, you may also need to know about payroll taxes as well. Here are five basic tax tips that can help get your business off to a good start.

1. Business Structure. As you start out, you’ll need to choose the structure of your business. Some common types include sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation. You may also choose to be an S corporation or Limited Liability Company. You’ll report your business activity using the IRS forms which are right for your business type.

2. Business Taxes. There are four general types of business taxes. They are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax and excise tax. The type of taxes your business pays usually depends on which type of business you choose to set up. You may need to pay your taxes by making estimated tax payments.

3. Employer Identification Number. You may need to get an EIN for federal tax purposes. Give us a call to find out if you need this number. If you do need one, we are available to guide you through the process of applying for it online.

4. Accounting Method. An accounting method is a set of rules that determine when to report income and expenses. Your business must use a consistent method. The two that are most common are the cash method and the accrual method. Under the cash method, you normally report income in the year that you receive it and deduct expenses in the year that you pay them. Under the accrual method, you generally report income in the year that you earn it and deduct expenses in the year that you incur them. This is true even if you receive the income or pay the expenses in a future year.

5. Employee Health Care. The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit helps small businesses and tax-exempt organizations pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. A small employer is eligible for the credit if it has fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time. Beginning in 2014, the maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers, such as charities.

For 2015 and after, employers employing at least a certain number of employees (generally 50 full-time employees or a combination of full-time and part-time employees that is equivalent to 50 full-time employees) will be subject to the Employer Shared Responsibility provision.

Have a business idea? Call us first. We’ll make sure you have everything in place to make your new business a successful one.

What Entities Will the IRS Target for 2014 and 2015 Audits?

The GAO says that since FY 2010, the IRS has lost 10,000 employees and had its budget cut by $900 million. More cuts are proposed for the 2015 IRS budget. Identity theft issues, foreign asset reporting, and Affordable Care Act (ACA) responsibilities will continue to absorb personnel and resources. This budget reality will hamper IRS audit goals, but there are still many audit targets that you will want to discuss with your business clients in the next few months.

The rich and their entities. High-income taxpayers will continue to receive audit attention (at about a 9% rate for those reporting income of $1 million to $5 million). Since these taxpayers often have complex tax returns with income and losses from many flow-through entities, the audit of the owner will often lead to an expansion of the IRS examination into the various entities.

Partnership returns. Partnerships are the fastest-growing segment of all tax returns filed. The IRS hopes to expand its audits of partnership and LLC returns. Flow-through losses from developers and real estate investors will get special attention. The audit rate of partnerships and LLCs was a dismal .42% for FY 2013. The IRS did special training this year to increase the number of auditors with a specialized knowledge in partnership law.

Employment taxes. Employment taxes are a focus this year, and this includes a continuing look by the IRS at:

  1. Employee versus independent contractor,
  2. Form 1099 compliance, and
  3. S corporation reasonable compensation issues.

Remember that when the ACA’s employer mandate takes effect in 2015 and 2016, the employee versus independent contractor determination will become more important. Employer ACA penalties can be up to $3,000 for each misclassified employee.

Cash businesses. The tax gap remains a hot item, so cash-intensive businesses will receive a little more attention from the IRS. The IRS is using Form 1099-K to help it select some of these businesses for audit.

One more item of news on business audits. Ninety-four percent of small businesses use QuickBooks software for their accounting records, but the IRS does not have the budget to update its QuickBooks software yearly. Thus, it is unable to accept electronic records from many of the small businesses it is auditing. Without access to electronic records, the audit will be less efficient. Is that good or bad news for the taxpayer and/or the tax practitioner? We will talk about this at our fall Federal & California Tax Update classes.

A SIMPLE Retirement Plan for the Self-Employed

Of all the retirement plans available to small business owners, the SIMPLE IRA plan (Savings Incentive Match PLan for Employees) is the easiest to set up and the least expensive to manage.

These plans are intended to encourage small business employers to offer retirement coverage to their employees. SIMPLE IRA plans work well for small business owners who don’t want to spend a lot of time and pay high administration fees associated with more complex retirement plans.

SIMPLE IRA plans really shine for self-employed business owners. Here’s why…

Self-employed business owners are able to contribute both as employee and employer, with both contributions made from self-employment earnings.

SIMPLE IRA plans calculate contributions in two steps:

1. Employee out-of-salary contribution
The limit on this “elective deferral” is $12,000 in 2014, after which it can rise further with the cost of living.

Catch-up. Owner-employees age 50 or older can make an additional $2,500 deductible “catch-up” contribution (for a total of $14,500) as an employee in 2014.

2. Employer “matching” contribution
The employer match equals a maximum of 3 percent of employee’s earnings.

Example: A 52-year-old owner-employee with self-employment earnings of $40,000 could contribute and deduct $12,000 as employee, and an additional $2,500 employee catch-up contribution, plus $1,200 (3 percent of $40,000) employer match, for a total of $15,700.

SIMPLE IRA plans are an excellent choice for home-based businesses and ideal for full-time employees or homemakers who make a modest income from a sideline business.

If living expenses are covered by your day job (or your spouse’s job), you would be free to put all of your sideline earnings, up to the ceiling, into SIMPLE IRA plan retirement investments.

A Truly Simple Plan

A SIMPLE IRA plan is easier to set up and operate than most other plans. Contributions go into an IRA you set up. Those familiar with IRA rules – in investment options, spousal rights, creditors’ rights – don’t have a lot new to learn.

Requirements for reporting to the IRS and other agencies are negligible. Your plan’s custodian, typically an investment institution, has the reporting duties. And the process for figuring the deductible contribution is a bit easier than with other plans.

What’s Not So Good About SIMPLE IRA Plans

Once self-employment earnings become significant however, other retirement plans may be more advantageous than a SIMPLE IRA retirement plan.

Example: If you are under 50 with $50,000 of self-employment earnings in 2014, you could contribute $12,000 as employee to your SIMPLE IRA plan plus an additional 3 percent of $50,000 as an employer contribution, for a total of $13,500. In contrast, a 401(k) plan would allow a $30,000 contribution.

With $100,000 of earnings, it would be a total of $15,000 with a SIMPLE IRA plan and $42,500 with a 401(k).

Because investments are through an IRA, you’re not in direct control. You must work through a financial or other institution acting as trustee or custodian, and you will generally have fewer investment options than if you were your own trustee, as you would be in a 401(k).

It won’t work to set up the SIMPLE IRA plan after a year ends and still get a deduction that year, as is allowed with Simplified Employee Pension Plans, or SEPs. Generally, to make a SIMPLE IRA plan effective for a year, it must be set up by October 1 of that year. A later date is allowed where the business is started after October 1; here the SIMPLE IRA plan must be set up as soon thereafter as administratively feasible.

If the SIMPLE IRA plan is set up for a sideline business and you’re already vested in a 401(k) in another business or as an employee the total amount you can put into the SIMPLE IRA plan and the 401(k) combined (in 2014) can’t be more than $17,500 or $23,000 if catch-up contributions are made to the 401(k) by someone age 50 or over.

So someone under age 50 who puts $9,000 in her 401(k) can’t put more than $8,500 in her SIMPLE IRA plan for 2014. The same limit applies if you have a SIMPLE IRA plan while also contributing as an employee to a 403(b) annuity (typically for government employees and teachers in public and private schools).

How to Get Started with a SIMPLE IRA Plan

You can set up a SIMPLE IRA plan account on your own, but most people turn to financial institutions. SIMPLE IRA Plans are offered by the same financial institutions that offer any other IRAs and 401k plans.

You can expect the institution to give you a plan document and an adoption agreement. In the adoption agreement you will choose an “effective date” – the beginning date for payments out of salary or business earnings. That date can’t be later than October 1 of the year you adopt the plan, except for a business formed after October 1.

Another key document is the Salary Reduction Agreement, which briefly describes how money goes into your SIMPLE IRA plan. You need such an agreement even if you pay yourself business profits rather than salary.

Printed guidance on operating the SIMPLE IRA plan may also be provided. You will also be establishing a SIMPLE IRA plan account for yourself as participant.

401k, SEPs, and SIMPLE IRA Plans Compared

 

401k SEP SIMPLE
Plan type: Can be defined benefit or defined contribution (profit sharing or money purchase) Defined contribution only Defined contribution only
Number you can own: Owner may have two or more plans of different types, including an SEP, currently or in the past Owner may have SEP and 401k Generally, SIMPLE is the only current plan
Due dates: Plan must be in existence by the end of the year for which contributions are made Plan can be set up later – if by the due date (with extensions) of the return for the year contributions are made Plan generally must be in existence by October 1 of the year for which contributions are made
Dollar contribution ceiling (for 2014): $52,000 for defined contribution plan; no specific ceiling for defined benefit plan $52,000 $24,000
Percentage limit on contributions: 50% of earnings for defined contribution plans (100% of earnings after contribution). Elective deferrals in 401(k) not subject to this limit. No percentage limit for defined benefit plan. Lesser of $52,000 of 25% of eligible employee’s compensation ($260,000 in 2014). Elective deferrals in SEPs formed before 1997 not subject to this limit. 100% of earnings, up to $12,000 (for 2014) for contributions as employee; 3% of earnings, up to $12,000, for contributions as employer
Deduction ceiling: For defined contribution, lesser of $52,000 or 20% of earnings (25% of earnings after contribution). 401(k) elective deferrals not subject to this limit. For defined benefit, net earnings. Lesser of $52,000 or 25% of eligible employee’s compensation. Elective deferrals in SEPs formed before 1997 not subject to this limit. Same as percentage ceiling on SIMPLE contribution
Catch-up contribution age 50 or over: Up to $5,500 in 2014 for 401(k)s Same for SEPs formed before 1997 Half the limit for 401k and SEPs (up to $2,750 in 2014)
Prior years’ service can count in computing contribution No No
Investments: Wide investment opportunities. Owner may directly control investments. Somewhat narrower range of investments. Less direct control of investments. Same as SEP
Withdrawals: Some limits on withdrawal before retirement age No withdrawal limits No withdrawal limits
Permitted withdrawals before age 59 1/2 may still face 10% penalty Same as 401k rule Same as 401k rule except penalty is 25% in SIMPLE’s first two years
Spouse’s rights: Federal law grants spouse certain rights in owner’s plan No federal spousal rights No federal spousal rights
Rollover allowed to another plan (Keogh or corporate), SEP or IRA, but not a SIMPLE. Same as 401k rule Rollover after 2 years to another SIMPLE and to plans allowed under 401k rule
Some reporting duties are imposed, depending on plan type and amount of plan assets Few reporting duties Negligible reporting duties

Please contact us if you are a business owner interested in exploring retirement plan options, including SIMPLE IRA plans.

Renting Out a Vacation Home

Tax rules on rental income from second homes can be complicated, particularly if you rent the home out for several months of the year, but also use the home yourself.

There is however, one provision that is not complicated. Homeowners who rent out their property for 14 or fewer days a year can pocket the rental income, tax-free.

Known as the “Master’s exemption,” it is used by homeowners near the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, GA who rent out their homes during the Master’s Tournament (for as much as $20,000!). It is also used by homeowners who rent out their homes for movie productions or those whose residences are located near Super Bowl sites or national political conventions.

Tip: If you live close to a vacation destination such as the beach or mountains, you may be able to make some extra cash by renting out your home (principal residence) when you go on vacation–as long as it’s two weeks or less. And, although you can’t take depreciation or deduct for maintenance, you can deduct mortgage interest, property taxes, and casualty losses on Schedule A.

In general, income from rental of a vacation home for 15 days or longer must be reported on your tax return on Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss. Your rental income may also be subject to the net investment income tax. You should also keep in mind that the definition of a “vacation home” is not limited to a house. Apartments, condominiums, mobile homes, and boats are also considered vacation homes in the eyes of the IRS.

Further, the IRS states that a vacation home is considered a residence if personal use exceeds 14 days or more than 10 percent of the total days it is rented to others (if that figure is greater). When you use a vacation home as your residence and also rent it to others, you must divide the expenses between rental use and personal use, and you may not deduct the rental portion of the expenses in excess of the rental income.

Example: Let’s say you own a house in the mountains and rent it out during ski season, typically between mid-December and mid-April. You and your family also vacation at the house for one week in October and two weeks in August. The rest of the time the house is unused.

The family uses the house for 21 days and it is rented out to others for 121 days for a total of 142 days of use during the year. In this scenario, 85 percent of expenses such as mortgage interest, property taxes, maintenance, utilities, and depreciation can be written off against the rental income on Schedule E. As for the remaining 15 percent of expenses, only the owner’s mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible on Schedule A.

Questions about vacation home rental income? Give us a call. We’ll help you figure it out.

Suit Challenges IRS Right to Collect PTIN Fees

Two CPAs have filed suit against the Internal Revenue Service claiming its collection of annual fees for Preparer Tax Identification Numbers is not legal. Minnesota CPA Adam Steele and Georgia CPA Brittany Montrois seek to have their litigation certified as a class action suit. The plaintiffs are seeking to have the fees halted and receive refunds on those paid since they were implemented in 2010.

The IRS plan to require tax preparers be regulated was thrown out by a federal court early in 2013 and an appeal court agreed later the agency lacked the authority to enforce such regulations. CPAs, Enrolled Agents and tax attorneys were exempt from proposed requirements for competency testing and mandate education courses. However, the court rulings let the PTIN requirements stand, following the litigation brought by another group of preparers.

This year, the IRS began rolling out a voluntary plan for education and registration. That is being contested in court by the American Institute of CPAs, which says the IRS also lacks the authority to implement those procedures.

In the latest case, the plaintiffs are arguing that only a small portion of the PTIN fees are being used for that process and that the remainder are going to other IRS activities and therefore represent an illegal tax.

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.”