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Archive for December, 2010

Tax Season Starts on Time for Most Taxpayers; Those Affected by Late Tax Breaks Can File in Mid- to Late February

December 30th, 2010

Following last week’s tax law changes, the Internal Revenue Service announced today the upcoming tax season will start on time for most people, but taxpayers affected by three recently reinstated deductions need to wait until mid- to late February to file their individual tax returns. In addition, taxpayers who itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A will need to wait until mid- to late February to file as well.

The start of the 2011 filing season will begin in January for the majority of taxpayers. However, last week’s changes in the law mean that the IRS will need to reprogram its processing systems for three provisions that were extended in the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 that became law on Dec. 17.

People claiming any of these three items — involving the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition and fees deduction and educator expenses deduction as well as those taxpayers who itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A — will need to wait to file their tax returns until tax processing systems are ready, which the IRS estimates will be in mid- to late February.

“The majority of taxpayers will be able to fill out their tax returns and file them as they normally do,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We will do everything we can to minimize the impact of recent tax law changes on other taxpayers. The IRS will work through the holidays and into the New Year to get our systems reprogrammed and ensure taxpayers have a smooth tax season.”

The IRS will announce a specific date in the near future when it can start processing tax returns impacted by the late tax law changes. In the interim, people in the affected categories can start working on their tax returns, but they should not submit their returns until IRS systems are ready to process the new tax law changes.

The IRS urged taxpayers to use e-file instead of paper tax forms to minimize confusion over the recent tax changes and ensure accurate tax returns.

Taxpayers will need to wait to file if they are within any of the following three categories:

  • Taxpayers claiming itemized deductions on Schedule A. Itemized deductions include mortgage interest, charitable deductions, medical and dental expenses as well as state and local taxes. In addition, itemized deductions include the state and local general sales tax deduction extended in the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 enacted Dec. 17, which primarily benefits people living in areas without state and local income taxes and is claimed on Schedule A, Line 5. Because of late Congressional action to enact tax law changes, anyone who itemizes and files a Schedule A will need to wait to file until mid- to late February.
  • Taxpayers claiming the Higher Education Tuition and Fees Deduction. This deduction for parents and students — covering up to $4,000 of tuition and fees paid to a post-secondary institution — is claimed on Form 8917. However, the IRS emphasized that there will be no delays for millions of parents and students who claim other education credits, including the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit.
  • Taxpayers claiming the Educator Expense Deduction. This deduction is for kindergarten through grade 12 educators with out-of-pocket classroom expenses of up to $250. The educator expense deduction is claimed on Form 1040, Line 23, and Form 1040A, Line 16.

For those falling into any of these three categories, the delay affects both paper filers and electronic filers.

The IRS emphasized that e-file is the fastest, best way for those affected by the delay to get their refunds. Those who use tax-preparation software can easily download updates from their software provider. The IRS Free File program also will be updated.

As part of this effort, the IRS will be working closely with the tax software industry and tax professional community to minimize delays and ensure a smooth tax season.

Updated information will be posted on IRS.gov. This will include an updated copy of Schedule A as well as updated state and local sales tax tables. Several other forms used by relatively few taxpayers are also affected by the recent changes, and more details are available on IRS.gov.

In addition, the IRS reminds employers about the new withholding tables released Friday for 2011. Employers should implement the 2011 withholding tables as soon as possible, but not later than Jan. 31, 2011. The IRS also reminds employers that Publication 15, (Circular E), Employer’s Tax Guide, containing the extensive wage bracket tables that some employers use, will be available on IRS.gov before year’s end.

In 2011, Many Tax Benefits Increase Slightly Due to Inflation Adjustments

December 28th, 2010

In 2011, personal exemptions and standard deductions will rise and tax brackets will widen due to inflation, the Internal Revenue Service announced today.

These inflation adjustments relate to eight tax provisions that were either modified or extended by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 that became law on Dec. 17. New dollar amounts affecting 2011 returns, filed by most taxpayers in early 2012, include the following:

  • The value of each personal and dependent exemption, available to most taxpayers, is $3,700, up $50 from 2010.
  • The new standard deduction is $11,600 for married couples filing a joint return, up $200, $5,800 for singles and married individuals filing separately, up $100, and $8,500 for heads of household, also up $100. The additional standard deduction for blind people and senior citizens is $1,150 for married individuals, up $50, and $1,450 for singles and heads of household, also up $50. Nearly two out of three taxpayers take the standard deduction, rather than itemizing deductions, such as mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes.
  • Tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status. For a married couple filing a joint return, for example, the taxable-income threshold separating the 15-percent bracket from the 25-percent bracket is $69,000, up from $68,000 in 2010.
  • The maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low- and moderate- income workers and working families rises to $5,751, up from $5,666 in 2010. The maximum income limit for the EITC rises to $49,078, up from $48,362 in 2010.The credit varies by family size, filing status and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.
  • The modified adjusted gross income threshold at which the lifetime learning credit begins to phase out is $102,000 for joint filers, up from $100,000, and $51,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $50,000.

Several tax benefits are unchanged in 2011. For example, the monthly limit on the value of qualified transportation benefits (parking, transit passes, etc.) provided by an employer to its employees, remains at $230. Details on these inflation adjustments can be found in Revenue Procedure 2011-12.

By law, the dollar amounts for a variety of tax provisions, affecting virtually every taxpayer, must be revised each year to keep pace with inflation. Most of the new dollar amounts, including retirement-plan-related adjustments, were announced in October. To avoid confusion, the eight provisions released today were not included in the October announcements, due to the anticipated impact of extender legislation.

IRS Offers New Guidance on FSA and HRA Debit Cards

December 25th, 2010

The Internal Revenue Service issued new guidance allowing the continued use of health flexible spending arrangement (FSA) and health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) debit cards for the purchase of prescribed over-the-counter medicines and drugs.

The new guidance modifies previous guidance to permit taxpayers to continue using FSA and HRA debit cards to purchase over-the-counter medications for which the taxpayer has a prescription. Effective after Jan. 15, 2011, in accordance with the new guidance, this use of debit cards must comply with procedures reflecting those that pharmacies currently follow when selling prescribed medicines or drugs.

The procedures include requirements that a prescription for the medication be presented to the pharmacy or the mail-order or web-based vendor that dispenses the medication and that proper records be retained.

In accordance with the Affordable Care Act, the cost of over-the-counter medicines or drugs can be reimbursed from a health FSA or HRA if a prescription has been obtained. The requirement to obtain a prescription does not apply to insulin.

The prescription requirement applies to purchases made on or after Jan. 1, 2011, and not to purchases made in 2010 even if reimbursed after Dec. 31, 2010. Because the requirement applies only to over-the-counter medications, it does not apply to other health care expenses such as medical devices, eye glasses or contact lenses.

The new guidance, IRS Notice 2011-5, as well as answers to frequently asked questions on IRS.gov, also contain further details on health FSA and HRA debit card purchases, including purchases from health care providers other than pharmacies and mail order and web-based vendors.