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Archive for January, 2010

Get Your Refund Faster – Choose Direct Deposit

January 29th, 2010

If you want to get your refund as quickly as possible, just tell the IRS to deposit your refund directly into your bank account. By choosing Direct Deposit, you can get your refund much sooner than if you chose to have a paper check mailed to you.

Here are the main reasons 73 million taxpayers chose Direct Deposit in 2009:

  1. Security Thousands of paper checks are returned to the IRS by the U.S. Post Office every year as undeliverable mail. Direct Deposit eliminates the possibility you won’t receive your check and prevents your refund from being stolen.
  2. Convenience The money goes directly into your bank account. You won’t have to make a special trip to the bank to deposit the money yourself.
  3. Ease When you’re preparing your return, simply follow the instructions on your return. Make sure you enter the correct bank account and bank routing numbers on your tax form and you’ll receive your refund quicker than ever.
  4. Options You can also deposit your refund into multiple accounts. With the split refund option, taxpayers can divide their refunds among as many as three checking or savings accounts and up to three different U.S. financial institutions. Use IRS Form 8888, Direct Deposit of Refund to More Than One Account, to divide your refund among different accounts. A word of caution: some financial institutions do not allow a joint refund to be deposited into an individual account. Check with your bank or other financial institution to make sure your Direct Deposit will be accepted.

For more information about direct deposit of your tax refund and the split refund option, check the instructions for your tax form. Helpful tips are also available in IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax. To get a copy of Publication 17 or Form 8888, visit the Forms and Publications section of IRS.gov, or call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Do I have to File a Tax Return?

January 27th, 2010

You must file a tax return if your income is above a certain level. The amount varies depending on filing status, age and the type of income you receive.

Check the Individuals section of IRS.gov or consult the instructions for Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ for specific details that may affect your need to file a tax return with the IRS this year.

Even if you don’t have to file, here are eight reasons why you may want to file:

  1. Federal Income Tax Withheld If you are not required to file, you should file to get money back if Federal Income Tax was withheld from your pay, you made estimated tax payments, or had a prior year overpayment applied to this year’s tax.
  2. Making Work Pay Credit You may be able to take this credit if you have earned income from work. The maximum credit for a married couple filing a joint return is $800 and $400 for other taxpayers.
  3. Government Retiree Credit You may be eligible for this credit if you received a government pension or annuity payment in 2009. However, the amount of this credit reduces any making work pay credit you receive.
  4. Earned Income Tax Credit You may qualify for EITC if you worked, but did not earn a lot of money. EITC is a refundable tax credit; which means you could qualify for a tax refund.
  5. Additional Child Tax Credit This credit may be available to you if you have at least one qualifying child and you did not get the full amount of the Child Tax Credit.
  6. Refundable American Opportunity Credit This education tax credit is available for 2009 and 2010. The maximum credit per student is $2,500 and the first four years of postsecondary education qualify.
  7. First-Time Homebuyer Credit The credit is a maximum of $8,000 or $4,000 if your filing status is married filing separately. The credit applies to homes bought anytime in 2009 and on or before April 30, 2010. However, you have until on or before June 30, 2010, if you entered into a written binding contract before May 1, 2010. If you bought a home after November 6, 2009, you may be able to qualify and claim the credit even if you already owned a home. In this case, the maximum credit for long-time residents is $6,500, or $3,250 if your filing status is married filing separately.
  8. Health Coverage Tax Credit Certain individuals, who are receiving Trade Adjustment Assistance, Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance, or pension benefit payments from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, may be eligible for a Health Coverage Tax Credit worth 80 percent of monthly health insurance premiums when you file your 2009 tax return.

For more information about filing requirements and your eligibility to receive tax credits, visit IRS.gov.

Everyone Can Use Free File

January 25th, 2010

The IRS Free File service provides free federal income tax return preparation and electronic filing for all taxpayers. All you need is access to a computer and the Internet and you can prepare and e-file your federal tax return for free.

Free File is offered through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a group of private-sector tax software companies. Since Free File’s debut in 2003, more than 27 million returns have been prepared and e-filed through this program.

Free File offers two options. The first is Traditional Free File, which includes approximately 20 tax preparation software products from which to choose. Taxpayers with 2009 incomes of $57,000 or less are eligible for this service. The second option is Free File Fillable Forms, which is an electronic version of IRS paper forms. All taxpayers can use Free File Fillable Forms to prepare and file tax forms electronically.

Use the following steps to file your return through IRS Free File:

Step 1. Get Started Access IRS.gov and click the Free File logo or go to www.irs.gov/freefile. You must access Free File companies through the official IRS Web site to qualify for the free service.

Step 2. Determine Your Eligibility If your 2009 income was $57,000 or less, you’re eligible for Traditional Free File’s easy-to-use, step-by-step software. If your income was higher, you are eligible for Free File Fillable Forms.

Step 3. Link to Free File Company Service If you opt for Traditional Free File, you can choose one of the approximate 20 offerings by reviewing which one fits your situation. You can click “I Will Choose A Free File Company” or “Help Me Find A Free File Company.” To get started with Free File Fillable Forms, just click the “Choose Free File Fillable Forms” button.

Step 4. Prepare and e-file your Federal Income Tax Return Either Traditional Free File or Free File Fillable Forms will allow you to file your return electronically, for free.

Both the fillable-forms option and the “full service” Free File offerings are only available through IRS.gov. Whether you are new to Free File or a returning taxpayer, you must access Free File through IRS.gov; otherwise, the provider may charge a fee.

IRS Announces Qualified Disaster Treatment for Haiti

January 24th, 2010

The Internal Revenue Service issued guidance that designates the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 as a qualified disaster for federal tax purposes. The guidance allows recipients of qualified disaster relief payments to exclude those payments from income on their tax returns. Also, the guidance allows employer-sponsored private foundations to assist victims in areas affected by the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti without affecting their tax-exempt status.

Charities usually fall into one of two categories — public charities or private foundations. Under the tax law, a private foundation that is employer-sponsored may make qualified disaster relief payments to employees affected by a qualified disaster. These payments generally include amounts to cover necessary personal, family, living or funeral expenses that were not covered by insurance. They also include expenses to repair or rehabilitate personal residences or repair or replace the contents to the extent that they were not covered by insurance. Again, these payments would not be included in the individual recipient’s gross income.

Qualified disasters include Presidentially declared disasters and any other event that the Secretary of the Treasury determines to be catastrophic. The IRS has determined that the earthquake in Haiti that occurred this month is an event of catastrophic nature for purposes of the federal tax law.

The IRS will presume that qualified disaster relief payments made by a private foundation to employees and their family members in areas affected by the earthquake in Haiti to be consistent with the foundation’s charitable purposes.

Ten Things You Should Know about the Making Work Pay Tax Credit

January 22nd, 2010

Many working taxpayers are eligible for the Making Work Pay Tax Credit, a provision created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in early 2009.

Here are 10 things the IRS wants you to know about this tax credit to ensure you receive the entire amount for which you are eligible.

1. In 2009 and 2010, the Making Work Pay provision provides a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for individuals and up to $800 for married taxpayers filing joint returns.

2. For taxpayers who receive a paycheck and are subject to withholding, the credit will typically be handled by their employers through automated withholding changes.

3. Taxpayers receiving less than the full amount of the allowable credit through reduced withholding will be entitled to claim any remaining credit when they file their tax return.

4. The amount of the credit actually received during 2009 in the form of reduced withholding will be reported on your 2009 tax return. Taxpayers who do not have taxes withheld by an employer during the year can claim the credit on their 2009 tax return filed in 2010.

5. Taxpayers who file Form 1040 or 1040A will use Schedule M, Making Work Pay and Government Retiree Credits to figure the Making Work Pay Tax Credit. Completing Schedule M will help taxpayers determine whether they have already received the full credit in their paycheck or are due more money as a result of the credit.

6. Taxpayers who file Form 1040-EZ will use the worksheet for Line 8 on the back of the 1040-EZ to figure their Making Work Pay Tax Credit.

7. In 2010, you may notice that your paychecks are slightly lower than in 2009. The slight decrease may be because of the Making Work Pay Credit. Most of the credit  for wage earners is distributed through reduced withholding. The credit – which was spread out over nine months last year – is being spread over 12 months this year.  A little less credit in each paycheck means slightly higher withholding.  But don’t worry,  in the end it all adds up.

8. Certain taxpayers should review their tax withholding to ensure enough tax is being withheld in 2010.  Those who should pay particular attention to their withholding include: married couples with two incomes, individuals with multiple jobs, dependents, pensioners, Social Security recipients who also work, and workers without valid Social Security numbers.

Having too little tax withheld could result in potentially smaller refunds or – in limited instances – small balance due rather than an expected refund.

9. To ensure your current withholding is appropriate for your individual situation, you can review Publication 919, How Do I Adjust My Tax Withholding? You can also perform a quick check of your withholding using the interactive IRS Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov.

10. If you find you need to adjust your withholding, submit a revised Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate to your employer.

Visit IRS.gov for more information about the making Work Pay Tax Credit, Schedule M, Form W-4 or Publication 919. You can also call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) to order forms and publications.

IRS Seeks Comments from Government Agencies at Upcoming Public; Forum on Proposals to Advance Tax Preparer Performance Standards

January 17th, 2010

The Internal Revenue Service announced the second in a series of public forums will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 2, in Washington, D.C., and feature a panel of federal and state officials, moderated by IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman.

The panel will include representatives from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Representatives from the states of California, Maryland, Oregon and New York will also participate on the panel.

Shulman announced a far-reaching review of paid preparers on June 4 to produce a comprehensive set of recommendations by the end of this year to boost taxpayer compliance and strengthen industry standards.

“This is the next important step in our open dialogue with interested parties in this effort,” Shulman said. “I’m very pleased with the quality of the feedback we’ve received so far. I’m confident these forums will ensure that all ideas are on the table when it’s time to form our recommendations.”

The forum will convene at 9 a.m. ET in the IRS Headquarters at 1111 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20224. Anyone interested in attending should confirm attendance by sending an e-mail message to CL.NPL.Communications@irs.gov.

The first public forum was held on July 30 in Washington, D.C., and featured a panel of consumer groups and another panel of tax professional organizations. A third forum will be held in Chicago on Sept. 30 featuring independent return preparers and software industry representatives.

The IRS issued Notice 2009-60 on July 24 as an added call for public comments to ensure that all interested individuals and entities have the opportunity to contribute ideas.

Written comments must be received by Aug. 31, 2009.  They should be submitted to CCPA:LPD:PR (Notice 2009-60), Room 5203, Internal Revenue Service, P.O. Box 7604, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, D.C. 20044.

Comments may also be e-mailed to Notice.Comments@irscounsel.treas.gov. Please include “Notice 2009-60” in the subject line of any e-mail messages. More details can be found in the notice.

Eight Important Questions for Hobbyists

January 12th, 2010

Hobbies – such as woodworking, stamp collecting and scrapbooking – are often done for pleasure, but can result in a profit.

If your favorite activity does make a profit every year or so, there may be tax implications. You must report income to the IRS from almost all sources, including hobbies.

Here are eight questions that will help determine if your activity is a hobby or a business.

  1. Is the purpose of your activity to make a profit? Generally, your activity is considered a business if it is carried on with the reasonable expectation of earning a profit.
  2. Do you participate in your activity just for fun? Hobbies – also called not-for-profit activities – are those activities that are not pursued for profit. 
  3. Do you depend on income from the activity? If so, your activity is likely considered a business.
  4. Have you changed methods of operation to improve profitability? If so, your hobby may actually be a business.
  5. Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business? People who carry out hobbies just for fun, often don’t have the business acumen to turn their not-for-profit activity into a profitable business venture.
  6. Have you made a profit in similar activities in the past? This may indicate your activity is a business rather than a not-for-profit hobby. An activity is presumed carried on for profit if it makes a profit in at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year – or at least two of the last seven years for activities that consist primarily of breeding, showing, training or racing horses.
  7. Does the activity make a profit in some years? Even if your activity does not make a profit every year, it still may be considered a business.
  8. Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity? This indicates your activity may be a business rather than a hobby.

If your activity is not carried on for profit, allowable deductions cannot exceed the gross receipts for the activity. If you are conducting a trade or business you may deduct your ordinary and necessary expenses.

More information about not-for-profit activities is available in Publication 535, Business Expenses, available on the IRS.gov Web site or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).