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Archive for March, 2011

Seven Facts about Injured Spouse Relief

March 25th, 2011

If you file a joint return and all or part of your refund is applied against your spouses’ past-due federal tax, state income tax, child or spousal support or federal nontax debt, such as a student loan, you may be entitled to injured spouse relief.

Here are seven facts the IRS wants you to know about claiming injured spouse relief:

  1. To be considered an injured spouse, you must have made and reported tax payments, such as federal income tax withheld from wages or estimated tax payments, or claimed a refundable tax credit, such as the earned income credit or additional child tax credit on the joint return, and not be legally obligated to pay the past-due amount.
  2. If you live in a community property state, special rules apply. For more information about the factors used to determine whether you are subject to community property laws, see IRS Publication 555, Community Property.
  3. If you filed a joint return and you’re not responsible for the debt, but you are entitled to a portion of the refund you may request your portion of the refund by filing Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation.
  4. You may file form 8379 along with your original tax return or your may file it by itself after you are notified of an offset.
  5. You can file the Form 8379 electronically. If you file a paper tax return you can include Form 8379 with your return, write “INJURED SPOUSE” at the top left corner of the Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ. IRS will process your allocation request before an offset occurs.
  6. If you are filing Form 8379 by itself, it must show both spouses’ social security numbers in the same order as they appeared on your income tax return. You, the “injured” spouse, must sign the form.
  7. Do not use Form 8379 if you are claiming innocent spouse relief. Instead, file Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief.  This relief from a joint liability applies only in certain limited circumstances. IRS Publication 971, Innocent Spouse Relief, explains who may qualify, and how to request this relief.

Eight Tips for Deducting Charitable Contributions

March 22nd, 2011

Charitable contributions made to qualified organizations may help lower your tax bill. The IRS has put together the following eight tips to help ensure your contributions pay off on your tax return.

  1. If your goal is a legitimate tax deduction, then you must be giving to a qualified organization. Also, you cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates. See IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, for rules on what constitutes a qualified organization.
  2. To deduct a charitable contribution, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A.
  3. If you receive a benefit because of your contribution such as merchandise, tickets to a ball game or other goods and services, then you can deduct only the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received.
  4. Donations of stock or other non-cash property are usually valued at the fair market value of the property. Clothing and household items must generally be in good used condition or better to be deductible. Special rules apply to vehicle donations.
  5. Fair market value is generally the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of all the relevant facts.
  6. Regardless of the amount, to deduct a contribution of cash, check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written communication from the organization containing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution and amount of the contribution. For text message donations, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.
  7. To claim a deduction for contributions of cash or property equaling $250 or more you must have a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written acknowledgment from the qualified organization showing the amount of the cash and a description of any property contributed, and whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the gift. One document may satisfy both the written communication requirement for monetary gifts and the written acknowledgement requirement for all contributions of $250 or more. If your total deduction for all noncash contributions for the year is over $500, you must complete and attach IRS Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, to your return.
  8. Taxpayers donating an item or a group of similar items valued at more than $5,000 must also complete Section B of Form 8283, which generally requires an appraisal by a qualified appraiser.

Employee Business Expenses

March 18th, 2011

If you itemize deductions and are an employee, you may be able to deduct certain work-related expenses. The IRS has put together the following facts to help you determine which expenses may be deducted as an employee business expense.

Expenses that qualify for an itemized deduction include:

  • Business travel away from home
  • Business use of car
  • Business meals and entertainment
  • Travel
  • Use of your home
  • Education
  • Supplies
  • Tools
  • Miscellaneous expenses

You must keep records to prove the business expenses you deduct. For general information on recordkeeping, see IRS Publication 552, Recordkeeping for Individuals available on the IRS website, http://www.irs.gov, or by calling 800-829-3676.

If your employer reimburses you under an accountable plan, you do not include the payments in your gross income, and you may not deduct any of the reimbursed amounts.

An accountable plan must meet three requirements:

  1. You must have paid or incurred expenses that are deductible while performing services as an employee.
  2. You must adequately account to your employer for these expenses within a reasonable time period, and
  3. You must return any excess reimbursement or allowance within a reasonable time period.

If the plan under which you are reimbursed by your employer is non-accountable, the payments you receive should be included in the wages shown on your Form W-2. You must report the income and itemize your deductions to deduct these expenses.

Generally, report expenses on IRS Form 2106 or IRS Form 2106-EZ to figure the deduction for employee business expenses and attach it to Form 1040. Deductible expenses are then reported on Form 1040, Schedule A, as a miscellaneous itemized deduction subject to 2% of your adjusted gross income rules. Only employee business expenses that are in excess of 2% of your adjusted gross income can be deducted.

Work From Home? Consider the Home Office Deduction

March 17th, 2011

Whether you are self-employed or an employee, if you use a portion of your home for business, you may be able to take a home office deduction.  Here are six things the IRS wants you to know about the Home Office deduction

1. Generally, in order to claim a business deduction for your home, you must use part of your home exclusively and regularly:

  • as your principal place of business, or
  • as a place to meet or deal with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of your business, or
  • in any connection with your trade or business where the business portion of your home is a separate structure not attached to your home.

2. For certain storage use, rental use, or daycare-facility use, you are required to use the property regularly but not exclusively.

3. Generally, the amount you can deduct depends on the percentage of your home used for business. Your deduction for certain expenses will be limited if your gross income from your business is less than your total business expenses.

4. There are special rules for qualified daycare providers and for persons storing business inventory or product samples.

5. If you are self-employed, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home to figure your home office deduction and report those deductions on line 30 of Form 1040 Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business.

6. If you are an employee, additional rules apply for claiming the home office deduction. For example, the regular and exclusive business use must be for the convenience of your employer.

Six Facts the IRS Wants You to Know about the Alternative Minimum Tax

March 8th, 2011

The Alternative Minimum Tax attempts to ensure that anyone who benefits from certain tax advantages pays at least a minimum amount of tax. The AMT provides an alternative set of rules for calculating your income tax. In general, these rules should determine the minimum amount of tax that someone with your income should be required to pay. If your regular tax falls below this minimum, you have to make up the difference by paying alternative minimum tax.

Here are six facts the Internal Revenue Service wants you to know about the AMT and changes for 2010.

1. Tax laws provide tax benefits for certain kinds of income and allow special deductions and credits for certain expenses. These benefits can drastically reduce some taxpayers’ tax obligations. Congress created the AMT in 1969, targeting higher-income taxpayers who could claim so many deductions they owed little or no income tax.

2. Because the AMT is not indexed for inflation, a growing number of middle-income taxpayers are discovering they are subject to the AMT.

3. You may have to pay the AMT if your taxable income for regular tax purposes plus any adjustments and preference items that apply to you are more than the AMT exemption amount.

4. The AMT exemption amounts are set by law for each filing status.

5. For tax year 2010, Congress raised the AMT exemption amounts to the following levels: 

  • $72,450 for a married couple filing a joint return and qualifying widows and  widowers;
  • $47,450 for singles and heads of household;
  • $36,225 for a married person filing separately.

6.  The minimum AMT exemption amount for a child whose unearned income is taxed at the parents’  tax rate has increased to $6,700 for 2010.