menu MENU

Archive for February, 2010

Seven Things You Should Know About Checking the Status of Your Refund

February 26th, 2010

Are you expecting a tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service this year?  If so, here are seven things you should know about checking the status of your refund once you have filed your federal tax return.

1. Online Access to Refund Information Where’s My Refund? or ¿Dónde está mi reembolso? are interactive tools on IRS.gov and the fastest, easiest way to get information about your federal income tax refund.  Whether you split your refund among several accounts, opted for direct deposit into one account, used part of your refund to buy U.S. savings bonds or asked the IRS to mail you a check, Where’s My Refund? and ¿Dónde está mi reembolso? give you online access to your refund information nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s quick, easy and secure.

2. When to Check Refund Status If you e-file, you can get refund information 72 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of your return.  If you file a paper return, refund information will generally be available three to four weeks after mailing your return. 

3. What You Need to Check Refund Status When checking the status of your refund, have your federal tax return handy.  To get your personalized refund information you must enter:

  • Your Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
  • Your filing status which will be Single, Married Filing Joint Return, Married Filing Separate Return, Head of Household, or Qualifying Widow(er)
  • Exact whole dollar refund amount shown on your tax return

4. What the Online Tool Will Tell You Once you enter your personal information, you could get several responses, including:

  • Acknowledgement that your return was received and is in processing.
  • The mailing date or direct deposit date of your refund.
  • Notice that the IRS could not deliver your refund due to an incorrect address. In this instance, you may be able to change or correct your address online using Where’s My Refund?.

5. Customized Information Where’s My Refund? also includes links to customized information based on your specific situation.  The links guide you through the steps to resolve any issues affecting your refund.  For example, if you do not get the refund within 28 days from the original IRS mailing date shown on Where’s My Refund?, you may be able to start a refund trace.

6. Visually Impaired Taxpayers Where’s My Refund? is also accessible to visually impaired taxpayers who use the Job Access with Speech screen reader used with a Braille display and is compatible with different JAWS modes.

7. Toll-free Number If you do not have internet access, you can check the status of your refund in English or Spanish by calling the IRS Refund Hotline at 800-829-1954 or the IRS TeleTax System at 800-829-4477.  When calling, you must provide your or your spouse’s Social Security number, filing status and the exact whole dollar refund amount shown on your return.

Refund checks are normally sent out weekly on Fridays.  If you check the status of your refund and are not given the date it will be issued, please wait until the next week before checking back.

Four Facts Every Parent Should Know about Their Child’s Investment Income

February 24th, 2010

The IRS wants parents to be aware of the tax rules that affect their children’s investment income. The following four facts will help parents determine whether their child’s investment income will be taxed at the parents’ rate or the child’s rate.

1. Investment Income Children with investment income may have part or all of this income taxed at their parents’ tax rate rather than at the child’s rate. Investment income includes interest, dividends, capital gains and other unearned income.

2. Age Requirement The child’s tax must be figured using the parents’ rates if the child has investment income of more than $1,900 and meet one of three age requirements for 2009:

  • The child was born after January 1, 1992.
  • The child was born after January 1, 1991, and before January 2, 1992, and has earned income that does not exceed one-half of their own support for the year.
  • The child was born after January 1, 1986, and before January 2, 1991, and a full-time student with earned income that does not exceed one-half of the child’s support for the year.

3. Form 8615 To figure the child’s tax using the parents’ rate for the child’s return, fill out Form 8615, Tax for Certain Children Who Have Investment Income of More Than $1,900, and attach it to the child’s federal income tax return.

4. Form 8814 When certain conditions are met, a parent may be able to avoid having to file a tax return for the child by including the child’s income on the parent’s tax return. In this situation, the parent would file Form 8814, Parents’ Election To Report Child’s Interest and Dividends.

More information can be found in IRS Publication 929, Tax Rules for Children and Dependents.

Gambling Winnings Are Always Taxable Income

February 22nd, 2010

Gambling winnings are fully taxable and must be reported on your tax return. Here are the top seven facts the Internal Revenue Service wants you to know about gambling winnings.

  1. Gambling income includes – but is not limited to – winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse and dog races and casinos, as well as the fair market value of prizes such as cars, houses, trips or other noncash prizes.
  2. Depending on the type and amount of your winnings, the payer might provide you with a Form W-2G and may have withheld federal income taxes from the payment.
  3. The full amount of your gambling winnings for the year must be reported on line 21 of IRS Form 1040. You may not use Form 1040A or 1040EZ. This rule applies regardless of the amount and regardless of whether you receive a Form W-2G or any other reporting form.
  4. If you itemize deductions, you can deduct your gambling losses for the year on line 28 of Schedule A, Form 1040.
  5. You cannot deduct gambling losses that are more than your winnings.
  6. It is important to keep an accurate diary or similar record of your gambling winnings and losses.
  7. To deduct your losses, you must be able to provide receipts, tickets, statements or other records that show the amount of both your winnings and losses.

For more information see IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions, or Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income.

10 Facts About Capital Gains and Losses

February 19th, 2010

Have you heard of capital gains and losses? If not, you may want to read up on them because they might have an impact on your tax return. The IRS wants you to know these ten facts about gains and losses and how they could affect your tax situation.

  1. Almost everything you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset.
  2. When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you sell it for and your basis – which is usually what you paid for it – is a capital gain or a capital loss.
  3. You must report all capital gains.
  4. You may deduct capital losses only on investment property, not on property held for personal use.
  5. Capital gains and losses are classified as long-term or short-term, depending on how long you hold the property before you sell it. If you hold it more than one year, your capital gain or loss is long-term. If you hold it one year or less, your capital gain or loss is short-term.
  6. If you have long-term gains in excess of your long-term losses, you have a net capital gain to the extent your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, if any.
  7. The tax rates that apply to net capital gain are generally lower than the tax rates that apply to other income. For 2009, the maximum capital gains rate for most people is15%. For lower-income individuals, the rate may be 0% on some or all of the net capital gain. Special types of net capital gain can be taxed at 25% or 28%.
  8. If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, the excess can be deducted on your tax return and used to reduce other income, such as wages, up to an annual limit of $3,000, or $1,500 if you are married filing separately.
  9. If your total net capital loss is more than the yearly limit on capital loss deductions, you can carry over the unused part to the next year and treat it as if you incurred it in that next year.
  10. Capital gains and losses are reported on Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses, and then transferred to line 13of Form 1040.

For more information about reporting capital gains and losses, see the Schedule D instructions, Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses or Publication 17.

Four Steps to Follow If You Are Missing a W-2

February 15th, 2010

Getting ready to file your tax return?  Make sure you have all your documents before you start. You should receive a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement from each of your employers.  Employers have until February 1, 2010 to send you a 2009 Form W-2 earnings statement. If you haven’t received your W-2, follow these four steps:

1. Contact your employer If you have not received your W-2, contact your employer to inquire if and when the W-2 was mailed.  If it was mailed, it may have been returned to the employer because of an incorrect or incomplete address.  After contacting the employer, allow a reasonable amount of time for them to resend or to issue the W-2.

2. Contact the IRS If you do not receive your W-2 by February 16th, contact the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040. When you call, you must provide your name, address, city and state, including zip code, Social Security number, phone number and have the following information:

  • Employer’s name, address, city and state, including zip code and phone   number
  • Dates of employment
  • An estimate of the wages you earned, the federal income tax withheld, and when you worked for that employer during 2009. The estimate should be based on year-to-date information from your final pay stub or leave-and-earnings statement, if possible.

3. File your return You still must file your tax return or request an extension to file by April 15, even if you do not receive your Form W-2. If you have not received your Form W-2 by April 15th, and have completed steps 1 and 2, you may use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Attach Form 4852 to the return, estimating income and withholding taxes as accurately as possible.  There may be a delay in any refund due while the information is verified.

4. File a Form 1040X On occasion, you may receive your missing W-2 after you filed your return using Form 4852, and the information may be different from what you reported on your return. If this happens, you must amend your return by filing a Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Five Ways to Offset Education Costs

February 12th, 2010

College can be very expensive. To help students and their parents, the IRS offers the following five ways to offset education costs.

  1. The American Opportunity Credit This credit can help parents and students pay part of the cost of the first four years of college. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act modifies the existing Hope Credit for tax years 2009 and 2010, making it available to a broader range of taxpayers. Eligible taxpayers may qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Generally, 40 percent of the credit is refundable, which means that you may be able to receive up to $1,000, even if you owe no taxes.
  2. The Hope Credit The credit can help students and parents pay part of the cost of the first two years of college. This credit generally applies to 2008 and earlier tax years. However, for tax year 2009 a special expanded Hope Credit of up to $3,600 may be claimed for a student attending college in a Midwestern disaster area as long as you do not claim an American Opportunity Tax Credit for any other student in 2009.
  3. The Lifetime Learning Credit This credit can help pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses – including courses to improve job skills – regardless of the number of years in the program.  Eligible taxpayers may qualify for up to $2,000 – $4,000 if a student in a Midwestern disaster area – per tax return.
  4. Enhanced benefits for 529 college savings plans Certain computer technology purchases are now added to the list of college expenses that can be paid for by a qualified tuition program, commonly referred to as a 529 plan.  For 2009 and 2010, the law expands the definition of qualified higher education expenses to include expenses for computer technology and equipment or Internet access and related services.
  5. Tuition and fees deduction Students and their parents may be able to deduct qualified college tuition and related expenses of up to $4,000. This deduction is an adjustment to income, which means the deduction will reduce the amount of your income subject to tax. The Tuition and Fees Deduction may be beneficial to you if you do not qualify for the American opportunity, Hope, or lifetime learning credits.

You cannot claim the American Opportunity and the Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits for the same student in the same year. You also cannot claim any of the credits if you claim a tuition and fees deduction for the same student in the same year. To qualify for an education credit, you must pay post-secondary tuition and certain related expenses for yourself, your spouse or your dependent. The credit may be claimed by the parent or the student, but not by both. Students who are claimed as a dependent cannot claim the credit.

For more information, see Publication 970.

February 10th, 2010

If you purchased a home in 2009 or early 2010, you may be eligible to claim the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, whether you are a first-time homebuyer or a long-time resident purchasing a new home.

Here are seven things the IRS wants you to know about claiming the credit:

  1. You must buy – or enter into a binding contract to buy – a principal residence located in the United States on or before April 30, 2010. If you enter into a binding contract by April 30, 2010, you must close on the home on or before June 30, 2010.
  2. To be considered a first-time homebuyer, you and your spouse – if you are married – must not have jointly or separately owned another principal residence during the three years prior to the date of purchase.
  3. To be considered a long-time resident homebuyer you and your spouse – if you are married – must have lived in the same principal residence for any consecutive five-year period during the eight-year period that ended on the date the new home is purchased. Additionally, your settlement date must be after November 6, 2009.
  4. The maximum credit for a first-time homebuyer is $8,000. The maximum credit for a long-time resident homebuyer is $6,500.
  5. You must file a paper return and attach Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit with additional documents to verify the purchase. Therefore, if you claim the credit you will not be able to file electronically.
  6. New homebuyers must attach a copy of a properly executed settlement statement used to complete such purchase. Buyers of a newly constructed home, where a settlement statement is not available, must attach a copy of the dated certificate of occupancy. Mobile home purchasers who are unable to get a settlement statement must attach a copy of the retail sales contract.
  7. If you are a long-time resident claiming the credit, the IRS recommends that you also attach any documentation covering the five-consecutive-year period, including Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement or substitute mortgage interest statements, property tax records or homeowner’s insurance records.

5 Tax Changes for 2009

February 8th, 2010

As you get ready to prepare your 2009 tax return, the Internal Revenue Service wants to make sure you have all the details about tax law changes that may impact your tax return.

Here are the top five changes that may show up on your 2009 return.

1. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

ARRA provides several tax provisions that affect tax year 2009 individual tax returns due April 15, 2010. The recovery law provides tax incentives for first-time homebuyers, people who purchased new cars, those that made their homes more energy efficient, parents and students paying for college, and people who received unemployment compensation.

2. IRA Deduction Expanded

You may be able to take an IRA deduction if you were covered by a retirement plan and your 2009 modified adjusted gross income is less than $65,000 or $109,000 if you are married filing a joint return.

3. Standard Deduction Increased for Most Taxpayers

The 2009 basic standard deductions all increased. They are:

  • $11,400 for married couples filing a joint return and qualifying widows and widowers
  • $5,700 for singles and married individuals filing separate returns
  • $8,350 for heads of household

Taxpayers can now claim an additional standard deduction based on the state or local sales or excise taxes paid on the purchase of most new motor vehicles purchased after February 16, 2009. You can also increase your standard deduction by the state or local real estate taxes paid during the year or net disaster losses suffered from a federally declared disaster.

4. 2009 Standard Mileage Rates

The standard mileage rates changed for 2009. The standard mileage rates for business use of a vehicle:

  • 55 cents per mile

The standard mileage rates for the cost of operating a vehicle for medical reasons or a deductible move:

  • 24 cents per mile

The standard mileage rate for using a car to provide services to charitable organizations remains at 14 cents per mile.

5. Kiddie Tax Change

The amount of taxable investment income a child can have without it being subject to tax at the parent’s rate has increased to $1,900 for 2009.

For more information about these and other changes for tax year 2009, visit IRS.gov.

Is this Income Taxable?

February 6th, 2010

While most income you receive is generally considered taxable, there are some situations when certain types of income are partially taxed or not taxed at all.

To ensure taxpayers are familiar with the difference between taxable and non-taxable income, the Internal Revenue Service offers these common examples of items that are not included in your income:

  • Adoption Expense Reimbursements for qualifying expenses
  • Child support payments
  • Gifts, bequests and inheritances
  • Workers’ compensation benefits
  • Meals and Lodging for the convenience of your employer
  • Compensatory Damages awarded for physical injury or physical sickness
  • Welfare Benefits
  • Cash Rebates from a dealer or manufacturer

Some income may be taxable under certain circumstances, but not taxable in other situations. Examples of items that may or may not be included in your income are:

  • Life Insurance If you surrender a life insurance policy for cash, you must include in income any proceeds that are more than the cost of the life insurance policy. Life insurance proceeds, which were paid to you because of the insured person’s death, are not taxable unless the policy was turned over to you for a price.
  • Scholarship or Fellowship Grant If you are a candidate for a degree, you can exclude amounts you receive as a qualified scholarship or fellowship. Amounts used for room and board do not qualify.
  • Non-cash Income Taxable income may be in a form other than cash. One example of this is bartering, which is an exchange of property or services. The fair market value of goods and services exchanged is fully taxable and must be included as income on Form 1040 of both parties.

All other items—including income such as wages, salaries and tips—must be included in your income unless it is specifically excluded by law.

Seven Tax Tips for Disabled Taxpayers

February 5th, 2010

Taxpayers with disabilities may qualify for a number of IRS tax credits and benefits. Parents of children with disabilities may also qualify. Listed below are seven tax credits and other benefits that are available if you or someone else listed on your federal tax return is disabled.

  1. Standard Deduction Taxpayers who are legally blind may be entitled to a higher standard deduction on their tax return.
  2. Gross Income Certain disability-related payments, Veterans Administration disability benefits, and Supplemental Security Income are excluded from gross income.
  3. Impairment-Related Work Expenses Employees, who have a physical or mental disability limiting their employment, may be able to claim business expenses in connection with their workplace. The expenses must be necessary for the taxpayer to work.
  4. Credit for the Elderly or Disabled This credit is generally available to certain taxpayers who are 65 and older as well as to certain disabled taxpayers who are younger than 65 and are retired on permanent and total disability.
  5. Medical Expenses If you itemize your deductions using Form 1040 Schedule A, you may be able to deduct medical expenses. See IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses.
  6. Earned Income Tax Credit EITC is available to disabled taxpayers as well as to the parents of a child with a disability. If you retired on disability, taxable benefits you receive under your employer’s disability retirement plan are considered earned income until you reach minimum retirement age. The EITC is a tax credit that not only reduces a taxpayer’s tax liability but may also result in a refund. Many working individuals with a disability who have no qualifying children, but are older than 25 and younger than 65 do — in fact — qualify for EITC. Additionally, if the taxpayer’s child is disabled, the age limitation for the EITC is waived. The EITC has no effect on certain public benefits. Any refund you receive because of the EITC will not be considered income when determining whether you are eligible for benefit programs such as Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.
  7. Child or Dependent Care Credit Taxpayers who pay someone to come to their home and care for their dependent or spouse may be entitled to claim this credit. There is no age limit if the taxpayer’s spouse or dependent is unable to care for themselves.

For more information on tax credits and benefits available to disabled taxpayers, see Publication 3966, Living and Working with Disabilities or Publication 907, Tax Highlights for Persons with Disabilitiesavailable.