Make a Wise Choice when Selecting a Tax Preparer

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While there is still time before the next tax filing season, choosing a return preparer now allows more time for taxpayers to consider appropriate options and to find and talk with prospective tax preparers rather than during tax season when they’re most busy.

Furthermore, it enables taxpayers to do some wise tax planning for the rest of the year. If a taxpayer prefers to pay someone to prepare their return, the Internal Revenue Service encourages them to choose that person wisely as the taxpayer is legally responsible for all the information included on the return.

Below are some tips taxpayers can keep in mind when selecting a tax professional:

  • Select an ethical preparer. Taxpayers entrust some of their most vital personal data with the person preparing their tax return, including income, investments and Social Security numbers.
  • Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund or those who say they can get larger refunds than others. Taxpayers need to ensure that any refund due is sent to them or deposited into their bank account, not into a preparer’s account.
  • Be sure to use a preparer with a preparer tax identification number (PTIN). Paid tax return preparers must have a current PTIN to prepare a tax return. It is also a good idea to ask the preparer if they belong to a professional organization and attend continuing education classes.
  • Research the preparer’s history. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has a questionable history. For the status of an enrolled agent’s license, check with the IRS Office of Enrollment (enrolled agents are licensed by the IRS and are specifically trained in federal tax planning, preparation and representation). For certified public accountants, verify with the state board of accountancy; for attorneys, check with the state bar association.
  • Ask for e-file. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients generally must file the returns electronically.
  • Provide tax records. A good preparer will ask to see records and receipts. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file a return using the latest pay stub instead of the Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
  • Make sure the preparer is available after the filing due date. This may be helpful if questions come up about the tax return. Taxpayers can designate their paid tax return preparer or another third party to speak to the IRS concerning the preparation of their return, payment/refund issues and mathematical errors. The third party authorization check box on Form 1040, Form 1040A and Form 1040EZ gives the designated party the authority to receive and inspect returns and return information for one year from the original due date of the return (without regard to extensions).
  • Review the tax return and ask questions before signing. Taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their return, regardless of whether someone else prepared it. Make sure it’s accurate before signing it.
  • Never sign a blank tax return. If a taxpayer signs a blank return the preparer could then put anything they want on the return — even their own bank account number for the tax refund.
  • Preparers must sign the return and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give the taxpayer a copy of the return.

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IRS Offers Tips for Year-End Giving

Individuals and businesses making contributions to charity should keep in mind several important tax law provisions that have taken effect in recent years. Some of these changes include the following:

Special Tax-Free Charitable Distributions for Certain IRA Owners
This provision, currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2013, offers older owners of individual retirement arrangements (IRAs) a different way to give to charity. An IRA owner, age 70½ or over, can directly transfer tax-free up to $100,000 per year to an eligible charity. This option, first available in 2006, can be used for distributions from IRAs, regardless of whether the owners itemize their deductions. Distributions from employer-sponsored retirement plans, including SIMPLE IRAs and simplified employee pension (SEP) plans, are not eligible.
To qualify, the funds must be transferred directly by the IRA trustee to the eligible charity. Distributed amounts may be excluded from the IRA owner’s income – resulting in lower taxable income for the IRA owner. However, if the IRA owner excludes the distribution from income, no deduction, such as a charitable contribution deduction on Schedule A, may be taken for the distributed amount.
Not all charities are eligible. For example, donor-advised funds and supporting organizations are not eligible recipients.
Amounts transferred to a charity from an IRA are counted in determining whether the owner has met the IRA’s required minimum distribution. Where individuals have made nondeductible contributions to their traditional IRAs, a special rule treats amounts distributed to charities as coming first from taxable funds, instead of proportionately from taxable and nontaxable funds, as would be the case with regular distributions. See Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), for more information on qualified charitable distributions.
Rules for Charitable Contributions of Clothing and Household Items
To be tax-deductible, clothing and household items donated to charity generally must be in good used condition or better. A clothing or household item for which a taxpayer claims a deduction of over $500 does not have to meet this standard if the taxpayer includes a qualified appraisal of the item with the return.
Donors must get a written acknowledgement from the charity for all gifts worth $250 or more that includes, among other things, a description of the items contributed. Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens.
Guidelines for Monetary Donations
To deduct any charitable donation of money, regardless of amount, a taxpayer must have a bank record or a written communication from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, bank or credit union statements, and credit card statements. Bank or credit union statements should show the name of the charity, the date, and the amount paid. Credit card statements should show the name of the charity, the date, and the transaction posting date.
Donations of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. For payroll deductions, the taxpayer should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document furnished by the employer showing the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.
These requirements for the deduction of monetary donations do not change the long-standing requirement that a taxpayer obtain an acknowledgment from a charity for each deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. However, one statement containing all of the required information may meet both requirements.
Reminders
To help taxpayers plan their holiday-season and year-end giving, the IRS offers the following additional reminders:
  • Contributions are deductible in the year made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2013 count for 2013. This is true even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until 2014. Also, checks count for 2013 as long as they are mailed in 2013.
  • Check that the organization is eligible. Only donations to eligible organizations are tax-deductible. Exempt Organization Select Check, a searchable online database available on IRS.gov, lists most organizations that are eligible to receive deductible contributions. In addition, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations, even if they are not listed in the database.
  • For individuals, only taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A can claim deductions for charitable contributions. This deduction is not available to individuals who choose the standard deduction, including anyone who files a short form (Form 1040A or 1040EZ). A taxpayer will have a tax savings only if the total itemized deductions (mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, etc.) exceed the standard deduction. Use the 2013 Form 1040 Schedule A to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.
  • For all donations of property, including clothing and household items, get from the charity, if possible, a receipt that includes the name of the charity, date of the contribution, and a reasonably-detailed description of the donated property. If a donation is left at a charity’s unattended drop site, keep a written record of the donation that includes this information, as well as the fair market value of the property at the time of the donation and the method used to determine that value. Additional rules apply for a contribution of $250 or more.
  • The deduction for a car, boat or airplane donated to charity is usually limited to the gross proceeds from its sale. This rule applies if the claimed value is more than $500. Form 1098-C or a similar statement, must be provided to the donor by the organization and attached to the donor’s tax return.
  • If the amount of a taxpayer’s deduction for all noncash contributions is over $500, a properly-completed Form 8283 must be submitted with the tax return.
  • And, as always it’s important to keep good records and receipts.

IRS Offers Tips for Year-End Giving

Individuals and businesses making contributions to charity should keep in mind some key tax provisions that have taken effect in recent years, especially those affecting donations of clothing and household items and monetary donations.

Rules for Clothing and Household Items

To be deductible, clothing and household items donated to charity generally must be in good used condition or better. A clothing or household item for which a taxpayer claims a deduction of over $500 does not have to meet this standard if the taxpayer includes a qualified appraisal of the item with the return. Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens.

Guidelines for Monetary Donations

To deduct any charitable donation of money, regardless of amount, a taxpayer must have a bank record or a written communication from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, bank or credit union statements, and credit card statements. Bank or credit union statements should show the name of the charity, the date, and the amount paid. Credit card statements should show the name of the charity, the date, and the transaction posting date.

Donations of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. For payroll deductions, the taxpayer should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document furnished by the employer showing the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

These requirements for the deduction of monetary donations do not change the long-standing requirement that a taxpayer obtain an acknowledgment from a charity for each deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. However, one statement containing all of the required information may meet both requirements.

Reminders

To help taxpayers plan their holiday-season and year-end giving, the IRS offers the following additional reminders:

  • Contributions are deductible in the year made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2012 count for 2012. This is true even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until 2013. Also, checks count for 2012 as long as they are mailed in 2012.
  • Check that the organization is qualified. Only donations to qualified organizations are tax-deductible. Exempt Organization Select Check, a searchable online database available on IRS.gov, lists most organizations that are qualified to receive deductible contributions. In addition, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations, even if they are not listed in the database.
  • For individuals, only taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A can claim deductions for charitable contributions. This deduction is not available to individuals who choose the standard deduction, including anyone who files a short form (Form 1040A or 1040EZ). A taxpayer will have a tax savings only if the total itemized deductions (mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, etc.) exceed the standard deduction. Use the 2012 Form 1040 Schedule A to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.
  • For all donations of property, including clothing and household items, get from the charity, if possible, a receipt that includes the name of the charity, date of the contribution, and a reasonably-detailed description of the donated property. If a donation is left at a charity’s unattended drop site, keep a written record of the donation that includes this information, as well as the fair market value of the property at the time of the donation and the method used to determine that value. Additional rules apply for a contribution of $250 or more.
  • The deduction for a motor vehicle, boat or airplane donated to charity is usually limited to the gross proceeds from its sale. This rule applies if the claimed value is more than $500. Form 1098-C, or a similar statement, must be provided to the donor by the organization and attached to the donor’s tax return.
  • If the amount of a taxpayer’s deduction for all noncash contributions is over $500, a properly-completed Form 8283 must be submitted with the tax return.
  • And, as always it’s important to keep good records and receipts.

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