IRS Repeats Warning about Phone Scams

The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration continue to hear from taxpayers who have received unsolicited calls from individuals demanding payment while fraudulently claiming to be from the IRS.

Based on the 90,000 complaints that TIGTA has received through its telephone hotline, to date, TIGTA has identified approximately 1,100 victims who have lost an estimated $5 million from these scams.

“There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations.
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies.

Potential phone scam victims may be told that they owe money that must be paid immediately to the IRS or they are entitled to big refunds. When unsuccessful the first time, sometimes phone scammers call back trying a new strategy.

Other characteristics of these scams include:

  • Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
  • Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.
  • Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
  • Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
  • Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
  • After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to phishing@irs.gov.

To report a scam directly to the IRS, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam or need more information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS, don’t hesitate to contact us immediately.

Job Search Expenses May Lower Your Taxes

September is often a time of transition, when people decide to make major life decisions–such as changing jobs. If you’re looking for a new job, then you may be able to claim a tax deduction for some of your job hunting expenses–as long as it’s in your same line of work.

Here’s what you need to know about deducting these costs:

1. Same Occupation. Your expenses must be for a job search in your current occupation. You may not deduct expenses related to a search for a job in a new occupation.

2. Reimbursed Costs. If your employer or another party reimburses you for an expense, you may not deduct it.

3. Placement Agency. You can deduct employment and job placement agency fees you pay while looking for a job.

4. Resume Costs. You can deduct the cost of preparing and mailing copies of your resume to prospective employers.

5. Travel Expenses. If you travel to look for a new job, you may be able to deduct your travel expenses. However, you can only deduct them if the trip is primarily to look for a new job.

6. Work-Search Break. You can’t deduct job search expenses if there was a substantial break between the end of your last job and the time you began looking for a new one.

7. First Job. You can’t deduct job search expenses if you’re looking for a job for the first time.

8. Schedule A. You usually deduct your job search expenses on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. You’ll claim them as a miscellaneous deduction. You can deduct the total miscellaneous deductions that are more than two percent of your adjusted gross income.

9. Premium Tax Credit. If you receive advance payment of the premium tax credit in 2014 it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. Advance payments of the premium tax credit provide financial assistance to help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Reporting changes will help you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance so you can avoid getting too much or too little in advance.

Give us a call if you have any questions about tax deductions related to a job search.

What You Need to Know About Obamacare’s 18 Taxes

Obamacare created a new entitlement through its exchange subsidies and vastly expanded another one, Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office expects these two pieces of the law to cost over $1.8 trillion over the next decade.

To offset some of this new spending, the law includes 18 new or increased taxes and fees that are estimated to bring in nearly $800 billion in new revenue from 2013-2022.

>>> Chart: These 6 Firms Behind Obamacare Website Got Most of Your Money

Many of Obamacare’s taxes fall directly on the middle class, breaking the president’s promise to the contrary, while others will affect taxpayers indirectly through increased costs for goods, higher insurance premiums or lost wages.

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One of these taxes (#3 in the table) has garnered media attention this week because it is going to be assessed on the federal and state governments. This tax, the health insurer tax, must be paid by each insurer based on the insurer’s share of the market. Thus, private Medicaid managed care companies that are paid by both the federal and state governments, must pay the tax as well. Altogether, the tax is expected to bring in $8 billion in revenue this year and about $100 billion in new revenue over a decade.

Of course, it is the taxpayer that will end up paying this tax. However, any taxpayers that are also enrolled in private insurance will likely pay for this particular tax twice–once through state and federal taxes and then again via increased premiums as their health insurer is likely to pass on the cost of the tax in this way.

Affordable Care Act – Individuals

New IRS Publication Helps You Find out if You Qualify for a Health Coverage Exemption

Taxpayers who might qualify for an exemption from having qualifying health coverage and making a payment should review a new IRS publication for information about these exemptions. Publication 5172, Health Coverage Exemptions, which includes information about how you get an exemption, is available on IRS.gov/aca.

The Affordable Care Act calls for each individual to have qualifying health insurance coverage for each month of the year, have an exemption, or make an individual shared responsibility payment when filing his or her federal income tax return.

You may be exempt if you:

  • Have no affordable coverage options because the minimum amount you must pay for the annual premiums is more than eight percent of your household income,
  • Have a gap in coverage for less than three consecutive months, or
  • Qualify for an exemption for one of several other reasons, including having a hardship that prevents you from obtaining coverage or belonging to a group explicitly exempt from the requirement.

Special Tax Benefits for Armed Forces Personnel

Special tax benefits apply to members of the U. S. Armed Forces. For example, some types of pay are not taxable. And special rules may apply to some tax deductions, credits and deadlines. Here are ten of those benefits:

1. Deadline Extensions. Some members of the military, such as those who serve in a combat zone, can postpone some tax deadlines. If this applies to you, you can get automatic extensions of time to file your tax return and to pay your taxes.

2. Combat Pay Exclusion. If you serve in a combat zone, certain combat pay you get is not taxable. You won’t need to show the pay on your tax return because combat pay isn’t included in the wages reported on your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Service in support of a combat zone may qualify for this exclusion.

3. Earned Income Tax Credit. If you get nontaxable combat pay, you may choose to include it to figure your EITC. You would make this choice if it increases your credit. Even if you do, the combat pay stays nontaxable.

4. Moving Expense Deduction. You may be able to deduct some of your unreimbursed moving costs. This applies if the move is due to a permanent change of station.

5. Uniform Deduction. You can deduct the costs of certain uniforms that regulations prohibit you from wearing while off duty. This includes the costs of purchase and upkeep. You must reduce your deduction by any allowance you get for these costs.

6. Signing Joint Returns. Both spouses normally must sign a joint income tax return. If your spouse is absent due to certain military duty or conditions, you may be able to sign for your spouse. In other cases when your spouse is absent, you may need a power of attorney to file a joint return.

7. Reservists’ Travel Deduction. If you’re a member of the U.S. Armed Forces Reserves, you may deduct certain costs of travel on your tax return. This applies to the unreimbursed costs of travel to perform your reserve duties that are more than 100 miles away from home.

8. Nontaxable ROTC Allowances. Active duty ROTC pay, such as pay for summer advanced camp, is taxable. But some amounts paid to ROTC students in advanced training are not taxable. This applies to educational and subsistence allowances.

9. Civilian Life. If you leave the military and look for work, you may be able to deduct some job hunting expenses. You may be able to include the costs of travel, preparing a resume and job placement agency fees. Moving expenses may also qualify for a tax deduction.

10. Tax Help. Although most military bases offer free tax preparation and filing assistance during the tax filing season, you may need to contact an accounting professional during other times of the year. We’re here to help, so don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you have about your taxes–no matter what time of the year it is.

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.