Eight Facts to Know if You Receive an IRS Letter

The IRS sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. Many of these letters and notices can be easily dealt with without having to call or visit an IRS office. Here are nine things you should know about if you receive a notice or letter from the IRS.

1. There are a number of reasons why the IRS might send you a notice. Notices may request payment, notify you of account changes, or request additional information. A notice normally covers a very specific issue about your account or tax return.

2. Each letter and notice offers specific instructions on what action you need to take.

3. If you receive a correction notice, you should review the correspondence and compare it with the information on your tax return.

4. If you agree with the correction to your account, then usually no reply is necessary unless a payment is due or the notice directs otherwise.

5. If you do not agree with the correction the IRS made, it is important to contact us before responding. We’ll help you to prepare a written explanation to send to the IRS of why you disagree and make sure it includes any information and documents the IRS should consider that support your case. You should hear from the IRS within 30 days regarding your correspondence.

6. Most correspondence can be handled without calling or visiting an IRS office. In order to handle any issues that arise more quickly, we ask that you please have a copy of your tax return, as well as any correspondence from the IRS available when you speak to us.

7. It’s important to keep copies of any correspondence with your other tax records.

8. IRS notices and letters are sent by mail. The IRS does not correspond by email about taxpayer accounts or tax returns.

If you have received a letter or notice from the IRS and have questions or concerns don’t hesitate to call us.

IRS creates $36K per-worker Obamacare fine

If you were planning on sending workers out onto the insurance exchanges with a lump-sum of cash for premium costs, you’ll want to read the feds’ latest warning.

But the feds don’t want employers to think they can simply shift their workforces onto the exchanges.

So the IRS is reminding firms – via the most expense health reform penalty to date – that such a strategy isn’t a wise move.

Per-worker penalty up to $36K

In a new FAQ, the feds clarified that if firms set up a plan that contributes un-taxed money an employee can use to pay for insurance premiums, it violates the health reform law.

And the feds could slap firms with a $100 per day, per employee fine for setting up such a plan, which is also known as a stand-alone health reimbursement arrangement (HRA).

End result: a potential $36,5000 annual per employee fine.
This ruling means that employers can’t offer any tax-free money to pay for insurance premiums for non-employer-sponsored healthcare plans.

This type of arrangement is prohibited because the stand-alone plans with set limits (the maximum amount of money the company promises to contribute) violates the Affordable Care Act’s lifetime and annual limits on coverage ban.

‘Integrated’ HRAs, taxed funds OK

There are, however, a few things the IRS says employers can do. Firms can offer “integrated” HRAs, which are HRAs that are combined with a employer’s group health plan.

Many firms have set up high-deductible health plans for reimbursing co-pays and deductibles.

But the feds also made it very clear that an HRA will only be considered integrated with a health plan if the employee who uses it is enrolled in that health plan.

And employers can still provide their workers with a set amount of money to buy insurance on their own, which many firms feel is cheaper than sponsoring a group health plan.

They just can’t offer this option untaxed. Employers that choose to offer a lump sum must do it by increasing employees’ taxable wages.

Six Tips on Making Estimated Tax Payments

If you don’t have taxes withheld from your pay, or you don’t have enough tax withheld, then you may need to make estimated tax payments. If you’re self-employed you normally have to pay your taxes this way.

Here are six tips you should know about estimated taxes:

1. You should pay estimated taxes in 2014 if you expect to owe $1,000 or more when you file your federal tax return. Special rules apply to farmers and fishermen.

2. Estimate the amount of income you expect to receive for the year to determine the amount of taxes you may owe. Make sure that you take into account any tax deductions and credits that you will be eligible to claim. Life changes during the year, such as a change in marital status or the birth of a child, can affect your taxes.

3. You normally make estimated tax payments four times a year. The dates that apply to most people are April 15, June 16 and Sept. 15 in 2014, and Jan. 15, 2015.

4. You may pay online or by phone. You may also pay by check or money order, or by credit or debit card. If you mail your payments to the IRS, use the payment vouchers that come with Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals. Or, you may also electronic payment options on IRS.gov. The Electronic Filing Tax Payment System is a free and easy way to make your payments electronically.

6. Use Form 1040-ES and its instructions to figure your estimated taxes.

Questions about estimated tax payments? Give us a call. We’re here to help you with these and all of your tax needs.

Tax Obligations for U.S. Citizens Living Abroad

U.S. citizens and resident aliens, including those with dual citizenship who have lived or worked abroad during all or part of 2013, may have a U.S. tax liability and a filing requirement in 2014.

The filing deadline is Monday, June 16, 2014, for U.S. citizens and resident aliens living overseas, or serving in the military outside the U.S. on the regular due date of their tax return.

Eligible taxpayers get one additional day because the normal June 15 extended due date falls on Sunday this year. To use this automatic two-month extension, taxpayers must attach a statement to their return explaining which of these two situations applies.

Nonresident aliens who received income from U.S. sources in 2013 also must determine whether they have a U.S. tax obligation. The filing deadline for nonresident aliens can be April 15 or June 16 depending on sources of income.

Federal law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income, including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to fill out and attach Schedule B to their tax return. Certain taxpayers may also have to fill out and attach to their return Form 8938, Statement of Foreign Financial Assets.

Part III of Schedule B asks about the existence of foreign accounts, such as bank and securities accounts, and usually requires U.S. citizens to report the country in which each account is located.

Generally, U.S. citizens, resident aliens and certain nonresident aliens must report specified foreign financial assets on Form 8938 if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds. Please call us for details.

Separately, taxpayers with foreign accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2013 must file electronically with the Treasury Department a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).

This form replaces TD F 90-22.1, the FBAR form used in the past. It is due to the Treasury Department by June 30, 2014, must be filed electronically and is only available online through the BSA E-Filing System website. For details regarding the FBAR requirements, please contact us.

If you are a U.S. taxpayer living here or abroad and have questions about your U.S. tax obligations, please don’t hesitate to call us. We’re happy to assist you.

Expect More Tax Refund Delays

In 2012, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), collected nearly $242 million as a result of the Delinquent Return Refund Hold Program. Under the program, the IRS can hold onto income tax refunds for up to six months while it investigates return delinquencies from other tax years. If it turns out that a taxpayer owes money, the refund can be used to offset any balance due. If it turns out that there is no balance due or if the refund is greater than the amount due, the balance is released to the taxpayer.

In a recent report, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) found that “holding refunds encourages taxpayers to take action and resolve their delinquent filing obligations earlier.” That finding was the result of a TIGTA audit to determine whether the program was an effective means of encouraging filing compliance. Statistically, when taxpayer refunds were held, taxpayers were significantly more likely to make an effort to resolve outstanding tax delinquencies.

According to IRS procedure, when a taxpayer meets the criteria for an offset, the taxpayer is notified and allowed time to resolve the delinquency. If the taxpayer does not respond in a timely fashion, the IRS will issue a 90-day letter. After the 90-day letter, the normal procedures apply: the taxpayer may either respond to the 90-day letter or file a petition in Tax Court. If there’s no response, collections actions proceed.

The result, according to TIGTA, has been impressive. The threat of offset has caused more taxpayers to file previously unfiled returns – and when taxpayers have not paid up, refunds have been seized to satisfy liabilities. Over the past five calendar years, the program held an average of 156,422 refunds per year. During that same time, refund offset transactions have averaged about $232 million per year, which works out to 26% of refund dollars held.

The results weren’t all about offset dollars: for 2011 and 2012, taxpayers whose refunds were held paid up an additional $1.2 million after delinquent returns were filed. From 2008 to 2012, an average of 64,222 delinquent returns per year were filed by taxpayers affected by the program.

What does all of this mean? TIGTA concluded that the program was an effective way to increase compliance and collections with relatively few resources – something IRS is familiar with these days. As a result, TIGTA suggested that the IRS expand the program.

IRS management has agreed with the idea of growing the program without offering specifics. One area of concern, noted TIGTA, is that the IRS doesn’t have any established benchmarks for the program: TIGTA wants to see some measuring sticks. Without those benchmarks, there’s no easy way for IRS management to monitor how well the program is actually performing.

What does this mean for taxpayers? Those taxpayers that have liabilities – or have failed to file past returns – may have cause to worry. And that is exactly the point of the program…

 

Sell your Home but Keep the Profits

If you’re looking to sell your home this year, then it may be time to take a closer look at the exclusion rules and cost basis of your home in order to reduce your taxable gain on the sale of a home.

The IRS home sale exclusion rule allows an exclusion of a gain up to $250,000 for a single taxpayer or $500,000 for a married couple filing jointly. This exclusion can be used over and over during your lifetime (but not more frequently than every 24 months), as long as you meet certain ownership and use tests.

During the 5-year period ending on the date of the sale, you must have:

  • Owned the house for at least two years – Ownership Test
  • Lived in the house as your main home for at least two years – Use Test
  • During the 2-year period ending on the date of the sale, you did not exclude gain from the sale of another home.

Tip: The Ownership and Use periods need not be concurrent. Two years may consist of a full 24 months or 730 days within a 5-year period. Short absences, such as for a summer vacation, count in the period of use. Longer breaks, such as a 1-year sabbatical, do not.

If you own more than one home, you can exclude the gain only on your main home. The IRS uses several factors to determine which home is a principal residence: place of employment, location of family members’ main home, mailing address on bills, correspondence, tax returns, driver’s license, car registration, voter registration, location of banks you use, and location of recreational clubs and religious organizations you belong to.

 

Tip: As we mentioned earlier, the exclusion can be used repeatedly, every time you reestablish your primary residence. When you do change homes, let us know your new address so we can ensure the IRS has your current address on file.

Note: Only taxable gain on the sale of your home needs to be reported on your taxes. Further, loss on the sale of your main home cannot be deducted. Ask us for details.

Improvements Increase the Cost Basis

Additionally, when selling your home, consider all improvements made to the home over the years. Improvements will increase the cost basis of the home, thereby reducing the capital gain.

Additions and other improvements that have a useful life of more than one year can also be added to the cost basis of your home.

Examples of improvements include the following: building an addition; finishing a basement; putting in a new fence or swimming pool; paving the driveway; landscaping; or installing new wiring, new plumbing, central air, flooring, insulation, or security system.

Example: Jack and Mary Kelly purchased their primary residence in 2002 for $200,000. They paved the unpaved driveway, added a swimming pool, and made several other home improvements adding up to a total of $75,000. The adjusted cost basis of the house is now $275,000. The house is then sold in 2014 for $550,000. It costs them $40,000 in commissions, advertising, and legal fees to sell the house.

These selling expenses are subtracted from the sales price to determine the amount realized. The amount realized in this example is $510,000. That amount is then reduced by the adjusted basis (cost plus improvements) to determine the gain. The gain in this case is $235,000. After considering the exclusion, there is no taxable gain on the sale of this primary residence and, therefore, no reporting of the sale on their 2014 personal tax return.

Tip: Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit. This tax credit helps individual taxpayers pay for qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, solar electricity equipment and wind turbines. The credit expires on December 31, 2016 and is 30 percent of the cost of qualified property. There is no cap on the amount of credit available, except for fuel cell property.

Generally, you may include labor costs when figuring the credit and you can carry forward any unused portions of this credit. Qualifying equipment must have been installed on or in connection with your home located in the United States; fuel cell property qualifies only when installed on or in connection with your main home located in the United States.

Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify so be sure you have the manufacturer’s tax credit certification statement, which can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website or with the product packaging.

Please contact us for more information about residential energy tax credits.

Partial Use of the Exclusion Rules

Even if you do not meet the ownership and use tests, you may be allowed to exclude a portion of the gain realized on the sale of your home if you sold your home because of health reasons, a change in place of employment, or certain unforeseen circumstances. Unforeseen circumstances include, for example, divorce or legal separation, natural or man-made disasters resulting in a casualty to your home, or an involuntary conversion of your home. If one of these situations applies to you, please call us for additional details.

Recordkeeping

Good recordkeeping is essential for determining the adjusted cost basis of your home. Ordinarily, you must keep records for 3 years after the filing due date. However, you should keep records proving your home’s cost basis for as long as you own your house.

The records you should keep include:

  • Proof of the home’s purchase price and purchase expenses
  • Receipts and other records for all improvements, additions, and other items that affect the home’s adjusted cost basis
  • Any worksheets or forms you filed to postpone the gain from the sale of a previous home before May 7, 1997

Starting a Business? Five Things You Must Know

Starting a new business is a very exciting and busy time. There is so much to be done and so little time to do it in. If you expect to have employees, there are a variety of federal and state forms and applications that will need to be completed to get your business up and running. That’s where we can help.

Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Securing an Employer Identification Number (also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number) is the first thing that needs to be done, since many other forms require it. EINs are issued by the IRS to employers, sole proprietors, corporations, partnerships, nonprofit associations, trusts, estates, government agencies, certain individuals, and other business entities for tax filing and reporting purposes.

The fastest way to apply for an EIN is online through the IRS website or by telephone. Applying by fax and mail generally takes one to two weeks. Please note that as of May 21, 2012 you can only apply for one EIN per day. The previous limit was 5.

State Withholding, Unemployment, and Sales Tax
Once you have your EIN, you need to fill out forms to establish an account with the State for payroll tax withholding, Unemployment Insurance Registration, and sales tax collections (if applicable).

Payroll Record Keeping
Payroll reporting and record keeping can be very time consuming and costly, especially if it isn’t handled correctly. Also keep in mind, that almost all employers are required to transmit federal payroll tax deposits electronically. Personnel files should be kept for each employee and include an employee’s employment application as well as the following:

Form W-4 is completed by the employee and used to calculate their federal income tax withholding. This form also includes necessary information such as address and social security number.

Form I-9 must be completed by you, the employer, to verify that employees are legally permitted to work in the U.S.

If you need help setting up the paperwork for your business, give us a call. Letting our experts handle this part of your business will allow you to concentrate on running your business.

People with High Incomes Paying Zero Federal Income Taxes

The Internal Revenue Service has released the spring 2014 edition of its quarterly Statistics of Income Bulletin, with statistics up through 2011 indicating there are still people who earn over $200,000 a year who pay no federal income taxes, although the number of them has been decreasing.

“For 2011, there were 4.8 million individual income tax returns with an expanded income of $200,000 or more, accounting for 3.3 percent of all returns for the year. Of these, 15,000 returns had no worldwide income tax liability,” according to one report in the bulletin by Justin Bryan. “This was a 6.7-percent decline in the number of returns with no worldwide income tax liability from 2010, and the second decrease in a row since reaching an all-time high of 19,551 returns in 2009.”

However, the advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice pointed out that the numbers are still high when looked at over a longer period.

“From the report’s first publication in 1977 through 2000, the number of high-income Americans paying no tax never exceeded 3,000,” said CTJ. “But the past four years have seen an explosion of high-end tax avoidance: in each of these years, the number of zero-tax Americans found in this report has exceeded 30,000. In 2011 (the latest year for which data are available), almost 33,000 people with incomes over $200,000 paid no federal income tax. For this group—less than one percent of all Americans with incomes over $200,000 in 2011—tax-exempt bond interest and itemized deductions are among the main tax breaks that make this tax-avoiding feat possible.”

In addition to the report on high-income tax returns through 2011, the spring 2014 Statistics of Income Bulletin also contains articles on individual income tax rates and shares, individual noncash contributions and individual foreign-earned income and foreign tax credits for 2011.

The IRS noted that of the 145 million individual tax returns filed in tax year 2011, 91.7 million were classified as taxable returns or returns with a total income tax greater than $0. Adjusted gross income (AGI) for taxable returns was nearly $7.7 trillion, up 6 percent from the prior year. Total income tax was more than $1 trillion. To be included in the top 1 percent of returns for 2011 required an AGI of $388,905.

For tax year 2011, there were more than 22 million individual taxpayers who reported a total of $43.6 billion in deductions for noncash charitable contributions. About a third (7.5 million) of these taxpayers reported nearly $39 billion in deductions for charitable contributions of $500 or more.
Nearly 450,000 U.S. taxpayers reported $54 billion of foreign-earned income for tax year 2011, representing growth in real terms of over 32 percent since the last study in 2006.

Claiming an Elderly Parent as a Dependent

Are you taking care of an elderly parent or relative? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 43.1 million people age 65 and older in the United States in 2012, nearly 15 percent of the total population.

Whether it’s driving to doctor appointments, paying for nursing home care or medical expenses, or handling their personal finances, dealing with an elderly parent or relative can be emotionally and financially draining, especially when you are taking care of your own family as well.

Fortunately, there is some good news: You may be able to claim your elderly relative as a dependent come tax time, as long as you meet certain criteria.

Here’s what you should know about claiming an elderly parent or relative as a dependent.

Who qualifies as a dependent?

The IRS defines a dependent as a qualifying child or relative. A qualifying relative can be your mother, father, grandparent, stepmother, stepfather, mother-in-law, or father-in-law, for example, and can be any age.

There are four tests that must be met in order for a person to be your qualifying relative: not a qualifying child test, member of household or relationship test, gross income test, and support test.

Not a Qualifying Child

Your parent (or relative) cannot be claimed as a qualifying child on anyone else’s tax return.

Residency

He or she must be U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico; however, a parent or relative doesn’t have to live with you in order to qualify as a dependent.

If your qualifying parent or relative does live with you however, you may be able to deduct a percentage of your mortgage, utilities and other expenses when you figure out the amount of money you contribute to his or her support.

Income

To qualify as a dependent, income cannot exceed the personal exemption amount, which in 2014 is $3,950. In addition, your parent or relative, if married, cannot file a joint tax return with his or her spouse unless that joint return is filed only to claim a refund of withheld income tax or estimated tax paid.

Support

You must provide more than half of a parent’s total support for the year such as costs for food, housing, medical care, transportation and other necessities.

 

Claiming the Dependent Care Credit

You may be able to claim the child and dependent care credit if you paid work-related expenses for the care of a qualifying individual. The credit is generally a percentage of the amount of work-related expenses you paid to a care provider for the care of a qualifying individual. The percentage depends on your adjusted gross income. Work-related expenses qualifying for the credit are those paid for the care of a qualifying individual to enable you to work or actively look for work.

In addition, expenses you paid for the care of a disabled dependent may also qualify for a medical deduction (see next section). If this is the case, you must choose to take either the itemized deduction or the dependent care credit. You cannot take both.

Claiming the Medical Deduction

If you claim the deduction for medical expenses, you still must provide more than half your parent’s support; however, your parent doesn’t have to meet the income test.

The deduction is limited to medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (7.5 percent if either you or your spouse was born before January 2, 1949), and you can include your own unreimbursed medical expenses when calculating the total amount. If, for example, your parent is in a nursing home or assisted-living facility. Any medical expenses you paid on behalf of your parent are counted toward the 10 percent figure. Food or other amenities however, are not considered medical expenses.

What if you share caregiving responsibilities?

If you share caregiving responsibilities with a sibling or other relative, only one of you–the one proving more than 50 percent of the support–can claim the dependent. Be sure to discuss who is going to claim the dependent in advance to avoid running into trouble with the IRS if both of you claim the dependent on your respective tax returns.

Sometimes, however, neither caregiver pays more than 50 percent. In that case you’ll need to fill out IRS Form 2120, Multiple Support Declaration, as long as you and your sibling both provide at least 10 percent of the support towards taking care of your parent.

The tax rules for claiming an elderly parent or relative are complex. If you have any questions, please give us a call. We’re here to help you.

Tax Information for Students Who Take a Summer Job

Many students take a job in the summer after school lets out. If it’s your first job it gives you a chance to learn about the working world. That includes taxes we pay to support the place where we live, our state and our nation. Here are eight things that students who take a summer job should know about taxes:

  1. Don’t be surprised when your employer withholds taxes from your paychecks. That’s how you pay your taxes when you’re an employee. If you’re self-employed, you may have to pay estimated taxes directly to the IRS on certain dates during the year. This is how our pay-as-you-go tax system works.
  2. As a new employee, you’ll need to fill out a Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Your employer will use it to figure how much federal income tax to withhold from your pay. The IRS Withholding Calculator tool on IRS.gov can help you fill out the form.
  3. Keep in mind that all tip income is taxable. If you get tips, you must keep a daily log so you can report them. You must report $20 or more in cash tips in any one month to your employer. And you must report all of your yearly tips on your tax return.
  4. Money you earn doing work for others is taxable. Some work you do may count as self-employment. This can include jobs like baby-sitting and lawn mowing. Keep good records of expenses related to your work. You may be able to deduct (subtract) those costs from your income on your tax return. A deduction may help lower your taxes.
  5. If you’re in ROTC, your active duty pay, such as pay you get for summer camp, is taxable. A subsistence allowance you get while in advanced training isn’t taxable.
  6. You may not earn enough from your summer job to owe income tax. But your employer usually must withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from your pay. If you’re self-employed, you may have to pay them yourself. They count toward your coverage under the Social Security system.
  7. If you’re a newspaper carrier or distributor, special rules apply. If you meet certain conditions, you’re considered self-employed. If you don’t meet those conditions and are under age 18, you are usually exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes.
  8. You may not earn enough money from your summer job to be required to file a tax return. Even if that’s true, you may still want to file. For example, if your employer withheld income tax from your pay, you’ll have to file a return to get your taxes refunded.