Category Archives: income tax advice

Tips to Keep Your Tax Records Secure; Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

If you’re still keeping old tax returns and receipts stuffed in a shoe box stuck in the back of the closet, you might want to rethink that approach.

The IRS has teamed up with state revenue departments and the tax industry to make sure you understand the dangers to your personal and financial data. Taxes. Security. Together. Working in partnership with you, we can make a difference.

You should keep your tax records safe and secure, whether they are stored on paper or kept electronically. The same is true for any financial or health records you store, especially any document bearing Social Security numbers.

You should keep always keep copies of your tax returns and supporting documents for several years to support claims for tax credits and deductions.

Because of the sensitive data, the loss or theft of these documents could lead to identity theft and have an economic impact. These documents contain the Social Security numbers of you, your spouse and dependents, old W-2 income and bank account information. A burglar could easily turn your old shoe box full of documents into a tax-related identity theft crime.

Here are just a few of the easy and practical steps to better protect your tax records:

  • Always retain a copy of your completed federal and state tax returns and their supporting materials. These prior-year returns will help you prepare your next year’s taxes, and receipts will document any credits or deductions you claim should question arise later.
  • If you retain paper records, you should keep them in a secure location, preferably under lock and key, such as a secure desk drawer or a safe.
  • If you retain you records electronically on your computer, you should always have an electronic back-up, in case your hard drive crashes. You should encrypt the files both on your computer and any back-up drives you use. You may have to purchase encryption software to ensure the files’ security.
  • Dispose of old tax records properly. Never toss paper tax returns and supporting documents into the trash. Your federal and state tax records, as well as any financial or health records should be shredded before disposal.
  • If you are disposing of an old computer or back-up hard drive, keep in mind there is sensitive data on these. Deleting stored tax files will not remove them from your computer. You should wipe the drives of any electronic product you trash or sell, including tablets and mobile phones, to ensure you remove all personal data. Again, this may require special disk utility software.

The IRS recommends retaining copies of your tax returns and supporting documents for a minimum of three years to a maximum of seven years. Remember to keep records relating to property you own for three to seven years after the year in which you dispose of the property. Three years is a timeframe that allows you to file amended returns, or if questions arise on your tax return, and seven years is a timeframe that allows filing a claim for adjustment in a case of bad debt deduction or a loss from worthless securities.

To learn additional steps you can take to protect your personal and financial data, visit Taxes. Security. Together. You also can read Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers.

Forget Something on Your Tax Return? Amend it!

If you realize you forgot something on your tax return, you can amend that return after it has been filed.

There are many reasons individuals need to amend their returns, whether it is for the just-filed 2014 return or prior year returns. Here are some key points when considering whether to file an amended federal (Form 1040X) or state income tax return:

  • If you are amending for a refund, be aware that refunds generally won’t be paid for returns if the three-year statute of limitations from the filing due date has expired. Except for amending a return to carry back a business net operating loss (NOL), the IRS will pay refunds only on returns from 2012 through 2014. Some states have a longer statute. The last day to file a federal amended 2012 return for a refund is April 16, 2016.
  • Generally, you do not need to file an amended return to correct math errors you made on the return. The IRS or state agency will automatically make those corrections.
  • If you are filing to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original refund before filing Form 1040X. You may cash that check while waiting for any additional refund.
  • If you amend returns and owe additional tax, you will be subject to interest and penalty charges. Interest is charged on any tax not paid by the due date of the original return, without regard to extensions.
  • If you amend multiple year returns, mail them in separate envelopes to be sure each is received and processed and not overlooked in the multiple return envelope.
  • A detailed explanation of the changes must also be attached to any amended return. This is required to explain to the processing staff the reason for the amendment. An insufficient explanation can lead to additional correspondence and delays.
  • Depending on why you file an amended federal return, you may be required to amend your state return.

An amended return can be more complicated than the original, so its often best to contact a tax professional for assistance in preparing your amended returns.

Phone scam targeting tax payers continues

The Internal Revenue Service issued a consumer alert providing taxpayers with additional tips to protect themselves from telephone scam artists calling and pretending to be with the IRS.

These callers may demand money or may say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request.

“These telephone scams are being seen in every part of the country, and we urge people not to be deceived by these threatening phone calls,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “We have formal processes in place for people with tax issues. The IRS respects taxpayer rights, and these angry, shake-down calls are not how we do business.”

The IRS reminds people that they can know pretty easily when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam. The IRS will never:

  1. Call to demand immediate payment, nor will we call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill..
  2. Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  3. Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  4. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  5. Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

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

  • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or atwww.tigta.gov.
  • You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

Remember, too, the IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

Additional information about tax scams are available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube and Tumblr where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

 

IRS Newswire

Top Eight Tax Tips about Deducting Charitable Contributions

When you give a gift to charity, it helps the lives of others in need. It may also help you at tax time. You may be able to claim the gift as a deduction that may lower your tax. Here are eight tax tips you should know about deducting your gifts to charity:

1. Qualified Charities.  You must donate to a qualified charity if you want to deduct the gift. You can’t deduct gifts to individuals, political organizations or candidates. To check the status of a charity, use the IRS Select Check tool.

2. Itemized Deduction.  To deduct your contributions, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions. File Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, with your federal tax return.

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

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

5. Clothing and Household Items.  Used clothing and household items must be in at least good condition to be deductible in most cases. Special rules apply to cars, boats and other types of property donations. See Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, for more on these rules.

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

7. Records to Keep.  You must keep records to prove the amount of the contributions you made during the year. The kind of records you must keep depends on the amount and type of your donation. For example, you must have a written record of any cash you donate, regardless of the amount, in order to claim a deduction. For more about what records to keep refer to Publication 526.

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

Also refer to Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property.

Name changes and your tax return

What You Should Know if You Changed Your Name

Did you change your name last year? If you did, it can affect your taxes. All the names on your tax return must match Social Security Administration records. A name mismatch can delay your refund.

Here’s what you should know if you changed your name:

  • Report Name Changes.  Did you get married and are now using your new spouse’s last name or hyphenated your last name? Did you divorce and go back to using your former last name? In either case, you should notify the SSA of your name change. That way, your new name on your IRS records will match up with your SSA records.
  • Dependent Name Change.  Notify the SSA if your dependent had a name change. For example, this could apply if you adopted a child and the child’s last name changed.

If you adopted a child who does not have a SSN, you may use an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number on your tax return. An ATIN is a temporary number. You can apply for an ATIN by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions, with the IRS.

You can visit IRS.gov to view, download, print or order the form at any time.

Get a New Card.  File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, to notify SSA of your name change. You can get the form on SSA.gov or call 800-772-1213 to order it. Your new card will show your new name with the same SSN you had before.

Report Changes in Circumstances in 2015.  If you purchase health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace you may get advance payments of the premium tax credit in 2015. If you do, be sure to report changes in circumstances, such as a name change, a new address and a change in your income or family size to your Marketplace throughout the year. Reporting changes will help make sure that you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance and will help you avoid getting too much or too little in advance.

IRS Can Help if W-2s Are Missing‏

In most cases you get your W-2 forms by the end of January. Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, shows your income and the taxes withheld from your pay for the year. You need your W-2 form to file an accurate tax return.

If you haven’t received your form by mid-February, here’s what you should do:

  • Contact your employer.  Ask your employer (or former employer) for a copy. Be sure that they have your correct address.
  • After Feb. 23.  If you can’t get a copy from your employer, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 after Feb. 23. The IRS will send a letter to your employer on your behalf. You’ll need the following when you call:
    • Your name, address, Social Security number and phone number;
    • Your employer’s name, address and phone number;
    • The dates you worked for the employer; and
    • An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld in 2014. You can use your final pay stub for these amounts.

Social Security benefits and taxes

Commonly asked question:
Do I have to pay taxes on my Social Security benefits?

Answer:

Social Security benefits include monthly retirement, survivor and disability benefits. They do not include supplemental security income (SSI) payments, which are not taxable. The amount of Social Security benefits that must be included on your income tax return and used to calculate your income tax liability depends on the total amount of your income and benefits for the taxable year.

To find out whether any of your benefits may be taxable, compare the base amount for your filing status with the total of:

  • One-half of your benefits.
  • All of your other income, including tax-exempt interest.

The base amount for your filing status is:

  • $25,000 if you are single, head of household or qualifying widow(er),
  • $25,000 if you are married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse for the entire year,
  • $32,000 if you are married filing jointly,
  • $0 if you are married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time during the tax year.

If you are married and file a joint return, you and your spouse must combine your incomes and Social Security benefits when figuring the taxable portion of your benefits. Even if your spouse did not receive any benefits, you must add your spouse’s income to yours when figuring on a joint return if any of your benefits are taxable.

IRS Six Tips on Who Should File a 2014 Tax Return

Most people file their tax return because they have to, but even if you don’t, there are times when you should. You may be eligible for a tax refund and not know it. This year, there are a few new rules for some who must file. Here are six tax tips to help you find out if you should file a tax return:

  1. General Filing Rules. Whether you need to file a tax return depends on a few factors. In most cases, the amount of your income, your filing status and your age determine if you must file a tax return. For example, if you’re single and 28 years old you must file if your income was at least $10,150. Other rules may apply if you’re self-employed or if you’re a dependent of another person. There are also other cases when you must file. Go to IRS.gov/filing to find out if you need to file.
  2. New for 2014: Premium Tax Credit. If you bought health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2014, you may be eligible for the new Premium Tax Credit. You will need to file a return to claim the credit. If you purchased coverage from the Marketplace in 2014 and chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit sent directly to your insurer during the year you must file a federal tax return. You will reconcile any advance payments with the allowable Premium Tax Credit. You should receive Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, by early February. The new form will have information that will help you file your tax return.
  3. Tax Withheld or Paid. Did your employer withhold federal income tax from your pay? Did you make estimated tax payments? Did you overpay last year and have it applied to this year’s tax? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you could be due a refund. But you have to file a tax return to get it.
  4. Earned Income Tax Credit. Did you work and earn less than $52,427 last year? You could receive EITC as a tax refund if you qualify with or without a qualifying child. You may be eligible for up to $6,143. Use the 2014 EITC Assistant tool on IRS.gov to find out if you qualify. If you do, file a tax return to claim it.
  5. Additional Child Tax Credit. Do you have at least one child that qualifies for the Child Tax Credit? If you don’t get the full credit amount, you may qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit.
  6. American Opportunity Credit.  The AOTC is available for four years of post secondary education and can be up to $2,500 per eligible student.  You or your dependent must have been a student enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify. However, you must complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file a return to claim the credit. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you can claim the credit. Learn more by visiting the IRS’ Education Credits Web page.

The instructions for Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ list income tax filing requirements. You can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you need to file. The tool is available 24/7 to answer many tax questions.

 

* IRS Tax Tips — January 22, 2015 — Issue Number: Revised IRS Tax Tip 2015-03

Common tax return errors

We all make mistakes. It’s a part of life. Sometimes mistakes are something you can laugh off and learn from. In other cases, mistakes can be costly. Errors on your tax return generally land in the last category.

Below are three of the most common mistakes made when filing tax returns.

Getting your Social Security numbers wrong

It’s that 9 digit number you’ve had to use everywhere. Your probably know it as well as the telephone number you had growing up. Nonetheless, the IRS lists wrong and missing Social Security numbers at the top of “most common mistakes” made by tax return filers.

Remember, every member of your household listed on your return needs to have a social security number. Make sure to double check all the numbers before submitting your return to ensure there aren’t any transposed or missing digits.

Spelling your name wrong

Laugh all you want, but this is on the IRS list of common tax mistakes.

There are plenty of scenarios in which people can, and do, misspell their names on their income tax forms. That simple error can lead to rejected returns and delayed refunds.

Remember! You need the name on your forms to match the name listed in Social Security records. So that means you can’t use your nickname, nor can you just use your middle name (if that’s what you go by in your day-to-day life.) Further, if you recently married or divorced and haven’t registered a name change with the Social Security Administration, you must use your old name to file your return.

Failing to claim all your income

A very common mistake is believing you don’t need to claim income unless you receive a W-2 or 1099 form for your work. In reality, you need to claim ALL income for the year, regardless of whether someone paid you $20 or $2,000 for a side job.

While most people are aware they must include wages, salaries, interest, dividends, tips and commissions as income on their tax returns, many don’t realize that they must also report most other income, such as:

  • cash earned from side jobs
  • barter exchanges of goods or services
  • awards, prizes, contest winnings
  • gambling proceeds.

Cheating the IRS may seem like a victimless crime, but you could be seriously hurting yourself if you are ever audited.

Top Four Year-End IRA Reminders

Individual Retirement Accounts are an important way to save for retirement. If you have an IRA or may open one soon, there are some key year-end rules that you should know. Here are the top four reminders on IRAs from the IRS:

1. Know the limits. You can contribute up to a maximum of $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older) to a traditional or Roth IRA. If you file a joint return, you and your spouse can each contribute to an IRA even if only one of you has taxable compensation. In some cases, you may need to reduce your deduction for traditional IRA contributions. This rule applies if you or your spouse has a retirement plan at work and your income is above a certain level. You have until April 15, 2015, to make an IRA contribution for 2014.

2. Avoid excess contributions. If you contribute more than the IRA limits for 2014, you are subject to a six percent tax on the excess amount. The tax applies each year that the excess amounts remain in your account. You can avoid the tax if you withdraw the excess amounts from your account by the due date of your 2014 tax return (including extensions).

3. Take required distributions. If you’re at least age 70½, you must take a required minimum distribution, or RMD, from your traditional IRA. You are not required to take a RMD from your Roth IRA. You normally must take your RMD by Dec. 31, 2014. That deadline is April 1, 2015, if you turned 70½ in 2014. If you have more than one traditional IRA, you figure the RMD separately for each IRA. However, you can withdraw the total amount from one or more of them. If you don’t take your RMD on time you face a 50 percent excise tax on the RMD amount you failed to take out.

4. Claim the saver’s credit. The formal name of the saver’s credit is the retirement savings contributions credit. You may qualify for this credit if you contribute to an IRA or retirement plan. The saver’s credit can increase your refund or reduce the tax you owe. The maximum credit is $1,000, or $2,000 for married couples. The credit you receive is often much less, due in part because of the deductions and other credits you may claim.