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Archive for February, 2012

Mortgage Debt Forgiveness: 10 Key Points

February 29th, 2012

Canceled debt is normally taxable to you, but there are exceptions. One of those exceptions is available to homeowners whose mortgage debt is partly or entirely forgiven during tax years 2007 through 2012.

The IRS would like you to know these 10 facts about Mortgage Debt Forgiveness:

1. Normally, debt forgiveness results in taxable income. However, under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, you may be able to exclude up to $2 million of debt forgiven on your principal residence.

2. The limit is $1 million for a married person filing a separate return.

3. You may exclude debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as mortgage debt forgiven in a foreclosure.

4. To qualify, the debt must have been used to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence and be secured by that residence.

5. Refinanced debt proceeds used for the purpose of substantially improving your principal residence also qualify for the exclusion.

6. Proceeds of refinanced debt used for other purposes – for example, to pay off credit card debt – do not qualify for the exclusion.

7. If you qualify, claim the special exclusion by filling out Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness, and attach it to your federal income tax return for the tax year in which the qualified debt was forgiven.

8. Debt forgiven on second homes, rental property, business property, credit cards or car loans does not qualify for the tax relief provision. In some cases, however, other tax relief provisions – such as insolvency – may be applicable. IRS Form 982 provides more details about these provisions.

9. If your debt is reduced or eliminated you normally will receive a year-end statement, Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, from your lender. By law, this form must show the amount of debt forgiven and the fair market value of any property foreclosed.

10. Examine the Form 1099-C carefully. Notify the lender immediately if any of the information shown is incorrect. You should pay particular attention to the amount of debt forgiven in Box 2 as well as the value listed for your home in Box 7.

 

Six Tips on a Tax Credit for Retirement Savings

February 24th, 2012

If you make eligible contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan or to an individual retirement arrangement, you may be eligible for a tax credit, depending on your age and income.

Here are six things the IRS wants you to know about the Savers Credit:

1. Income limits The Savers Credit, formally known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, applies to individuals with a filing status and 2011 income of:

  • Single, married filing separately, or qualifying      widow(er), with  income up to $28,250
  • Head of Household with income up to $42,375
  • Married Filing Jointly, with incomes up to $56,500

2. Eligibility requirements To be eligible for the credit you must be at least 18 years of age, you cannot have been a full-time student during the calendar year and cannot be claimed as a dependent on another person’s return.

3. Credit amount If you make eligible contributions to a qualified IRA, 401(k) and certain other retirement plans, you may be able to take a credit of up to $1,000 ($2,000 if filing jointly). The credit is a percentage of the qualifying contribution amount, with the highest rate for taxpayers with the least income.

4. Distributions When figuring this credit, you generally must subtract distributions you received from your retirement plans from the contributions you made. This rule applies to distributions received in the two years before the year the credit is claimed, the year the credit is claimed, and the period after the end of the credit year but before the due date – including extensions – for filing the return for the credit year.

5. Other tax benefits The Retirement Savings Contributions Credit is in addition to other tax benefits you may receive for retirement contributions. For example, most workers at these income levels may deduct all or part of their contributions to a traditional IRA. Contributions to a regular 401(k) plan are not subject to income tax until withdrawn from the plan.

6. Forms to use To claim the credit use Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions.

Ten Things to Know About Capital Gains and Losses

February 22nd, 2012

Did you know that almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes is a capital asset? Capital assets include a home, household furnishings and stocks and bonds held in a personal account. When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you paid for the asset and its sales price is a capital gain or capital loss.

Here are 10 facts from the IRS about how gains and losses can affect your federal income tax return.

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 only deduct capital losses on investment property, not on personal-use property.

5. Capital gains and losses are classified as long-term or short-term. If you hold the property more than one year, your capital gain or loss is long-term. If you hold it one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.

6. If you have long-term gains in excess of your long-term losses, the difference is normally a net capital gain. Subtract any short-term losses from the net capital gain to calculate the net capital gain you must report.

7. The tax rates that apply to net capital gain are generally lower than the tax rates that apply to other income. For 2011, the maximum capital gains rate for most people is 15 percent. For lower-income individuals, the rate may be 0 percent on some or all of the net capital gain. Rates of 25 or 28 percent may apply to special types of net capital gain.

8. If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, you can deduct the excess on your tax return 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. This year, a new form, Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, will be used to calculate capital gains and losses. Use Form 8949 to list all capital gain and loss transactions. The subtotals from this form will then be carried over to Schedule D (Form 1040), where gain or loss will be calculated.

Early Distribution from Retirement Plans May Have a Tax Impact

February 21st, 2012

Taxpayers may sometimes find themselves in situations when they need to withdraw money from their retirement plan early. What they may not realize is that that transaction may mean a tax impact when they file their return.
Here are 10 facts from the IRS about the tax implications of an early distribution from your retirement plan.
1. Payments you receive from your Individual Retirement Arrangement before you reach age 59 ½ are generally considered early or premature distributions.
2. Early distributions are usually subject to an additional 10 percent tax.
3. Early distributions must also be reported to the IRS.
4. Distributions you roll over to another IRA or qualified retirement plan are not subject to the additional 10 percent tax. You must complete the rollover within 60 days after the day you received the distribution.
5. The amount you roll over is generally taxed when the new plan makes a distribution to you or your beneficiary.
6. If you made nondeductible contributions to an IRA and later take early distributions from your IRA, the portion of the distribution attributable to those nondeductible contributions is not taxed.
7. If you received an early distribution from a Roth IRA, the distribution attributable to your prior contributions is not taxed.
8. If you received a distribution from any other qualified retirement plan, generally the entire distribution is taxable unless you made after-tax employee contributions to the plan.
9. There are several exceptions to the additional 10 percent early distribution tax, such as when the distributions are used for the purchase of a first home (up to $10,000), for certain medical or educational expenses, or if you are totally and permanently disabled.
10. For more information about early distributions from retirement plans, the additional 10 percent tax and all the exceptions, see IRS Publication 575, Pension and Annuity Income and Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). Both publications are available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Links:
• Publication 575, Pensions and Annuities (PDF 227K)
• Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) (PDF 449K)
• Form 5329, Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (including IRAs) and Other Tax Favored Accounts (PDF 72K)
• Form 5329 Instructions (PDF 40K)

Four Things to Know About Bartering

February 20th, 2012

In today’s economy, small business owners sometimes save money through bartering to get products or services they need. The IRS wants to remind small business owners that the fair market value of property or services received through barter is taxable income.

Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another. Usually there is no exchange of cash. However, the fair market value of the goods and services exchanged must be reported as income by both parties.

Here are four facts on bartering :

1. Organized barter exchanges A barter exchange functions primarily as the organizer of a marketplace where members buy and sell products and services among themselves. Whether this activity operates out of a physical office or is internet-based, a barter exchange is generally required to issue Form 1099-B, Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions, annually to their clients or members and to the IRS.

2. Barter income Barter dollars or trade dollars are identical to real dollars for tax reporting purposes. If you conduct any direct barter – barter for another’s products or services – you must report the fair market value of the products or services you received on your tax return.

3. Tax implications of bartering Income from bartering is taxable in the year it is performed. Bartering may result in liabilities for income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax or excise tax. Your barter activities may result in ordinary business income, capital gains or capital losses, or you may have a nondeductible personal loss.

4. How to report The rules for reporting barter transactions may vary depending on which form of bartering takes place. Generally, you report this type of business income on Form 1040, Schedule C Profit or Loss from Business, or other business returns such as Form 1065 for Partnerships, Form 1120 for Corporations or Form 1120-S for Small Business Corporations.

Dirty Dozen Tax Scams

February 17th, 2012

The Internal Revenue Service has issued its annual “Dirty Dozen” tax scams list, reminding taxpayers to use caution during tax season to protect themselves against a wide range of schemes ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud.

The Dirty Dozen listing, compiled by the IRS each year, lists a variety of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any point during the year. But many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns.

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division works closely with the Department of Justice to shut down scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

Here are five of the Dirty Dozen tax scams for 2012:

Identity theft  In response to growing identity theft concerns, the IRS has embarked on a comprehensive strategy focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible. In addition to the law-enforcement crackdown, the IRS has stepped up its internal reviews to spot false tax returns before tax refunds are issued and is working to help victims of identity theft refund schemes.

Identity theft cases are among the most complex ones the IRS handles, but the agency is committed to working with taxpayers who have become victims of identity theft.

The IRS is increasingly seeing identity thieves looking for ways to use a legitimate taxpayer’s identity and personal information to file a tax return and claim a fraudulent refund.

An IRS notice informing a taxpayer that more than one return was filed in the taxpayer’s name or that the taxpayer received wages from an unknown employer may be the first tip off the individual receives that he or she has been victimized. Anyone who believes his or her personal information has been stolen and used for tax purposes should immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit. For more information, visit the special identity theft page on this website.

Phishing  These scams are typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure potential victims into providing valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial theft.

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

It is important to keep in mind the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS has information that can help you protect yourself from email scams.

Return preparer fraud  About 60 percent of taxpayers will use tax professionals this year to prepare and file their tax returns. Most return preparers provide honest service to their clients. But as in any other business, there are also some who prey on unsuspecting taxpayers.

Questionable return preparers have been known to skim off their clients’ refunds, charge inflated fees for return preparation services and attract new clients by promising guaranteed or inflated refunds. Taxpayers should choose carefully when hiring a tax preparer. Federal courts have issued hundreds of injunctions ordering individuals to cease preparing returns, and the Department of Justice has pending complaints against many others.

In 2012, every paid preparer needs to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and must enter it on the returns he or she prepares.

Signals to watch for when you are dealing with an unscrupulous return preparer would include that they:

  • Do not sign the return or will not include a Preparer      Tax identification Number on it.
  • Do not give you a copy of your tax return.
  • Promise larger-than-normal tax refunds.
  • Charge a percentage of the refund amount as preparation fee.
  • Require you to split the refund to pay the preparation fee.
  • Add forms to the return you have never filed before.
  • Encourage you to place false information on your return, such as false income, expenses and/or credits.

For advice on how to find a competent tax professional, see Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer.

Hiding income offshore  Over the years, numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities and then using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.

The IRS uses information gained from its investigations to pursue taxpayers with undeclared accounts, as well as the banks and bankers suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas. The IRS works closely with the Department of Justice to prosecute tax evasion cases.

While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting and disclosure requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.

“Free money” from the IRS & tax scams involving Social Security  Fliers and advertisements for free money from the IRS, suggesting that the taxpayer can file a tax return with little or no documentation, have been appearing in community churches around the country. These schemes are also often spread by word of mouth as unsuspecting and well-intentioned people tell their friends and relatives. Scammers prey on low-income individuals and the elderly. They build false hopes and charge people good money for bad advice. In the end, the victims discover their claims are rejected. Meanwhile, the promoters are long gone. The IRS warns all taxpayers to remain vigilant.

There are a number of tax scams involving Social Security. For example, scammers have been known to lure the unsuspecting with promises of non-existent Social Security refunds or rebates. In another situation, a taxpayer may really be due a credit or refund but the scammer uses inflated amounts to complete the return for a larger refund they’ll run off with.

These are some of the Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2012. For a complete list, see IRS Releases the Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2012.

Ten Things to Know about Free IRS Volunteer Tax Help

February 16th, 2012

Millions of taxpayers qualify for free tax preparation assistance from IRS-sponsored community-based, volunteer programs.
Here are 10 things the IRS wants you to know about these volunteer programs.
1. The IRS sponsors both the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs.
2. The IRS VITA program offers free tax help to people who earn less than $50,000. Most locations offer free electronic filing.
3. The TCE program offers free tax help to people who are age 60 or older.
4. The IRS certifies community volunteers so they can help eligible persons with tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the Credit for the Elderly.
5. Some volunteer sites have language specialists to assist people with limited English proficiency.
6. More than 12,000 free tax preparation sites are open nationwide this year as the IRS continues to expand its partnerships with nonprofit and community organizations performing these vital tax preparation services.
7. As part of the TCE program, AARP operates the Tax-Aide free tax preparation program during the filing season. Trained and certified AARP Tax-Aide volunteers help taxpayers with low-to-moderate income, with special attention paid to those 60 and older.
8. IRS partners with the military to provide free tax assistance to military personnel and their families. The Armed Forces Tax Council consists of the tax program coordinators for the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Volunteers are trained and equipped to address military-specific tax issues, such as combat zone tax benefits.
9. Taxpayers can typically find locations and hours for these volunteer tax preparation services through city information hotlines and local community organizations.
10. Local VITA site information is also available through a new online tool on the IRS Website – www.irs.gov Taxpayers can search the word “VITA” in IRS.gov and click on the option “Free Tax Return Preparation For You by Volunteers,” followed by ”Find a VITA site near you” to access the tool. Site information is also available by calling the IRS toll-free number 1-800-906-9887. To locate the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, visit www.aarp.org or call 1-888-227-7669.

Eight Things to Know about Medical and Dental Expenses and Your Taxes

February 15th, 2012

If you, your spouse or dependents had significant medical or dental costs in 2011, you may be able to deduct those expenses when you file your tax return. Here are eight things the IRS wants you to know about medical and dental expenses and other benefits.

1. You must itemize You deduct qualifying medical and dental expenses if you itemize on Form 1040, Schedule A.

2. Deduction is limited You can deduct total medical care expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income for the year. You figure this on Form 1040, Schedule A.

3. Expenses must have been paid in 2011 You can include the medical and dental expenses you paid during the year, regardless of when the services were provided. You’ll need to have good receipts or records to substantiate your expenses.

4. You can’t deduct reimbursed expenses Your total medical expenses for the year must be reduced by any reimbursement. Normally, it makes no difference if you receive the reimbursement or if it is paid directly to the doctor or hospital.

5. Whose expenses qualify You may include qualified medical expenses you pay for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Some exceptions and special rules apply to divorced or separated parents, taxpayers with a multiple support agreement or those with a qualifying relative who is not your child.

6. Types of expenses that qualify You can deduct expenses primarily paid for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, or treatment affecting any structure or function of the body. For drugs, you can only deduct prescription medication and insulin. You can also include premiums for medical, dental and some long-term care insurance in your expenses. Starting in 2011, you can also include lactation supplies.

7. Transportation costs may qualify You may deduct transportation costs primarily for and essential to medical care that qualify as medical expenses. You can deduct the actual fare for a taxi, bus, train, plane or ambulance as well as tolls and parking fees. If you use your car for medical transportation, you can deduct actual out-of-pocket expenses such as gas and oil, or you can deduct the standard mileage rate for medical expenses, which is 19 cents per mile for 2011.

8. Tax-favored saving for medical expenses Distributions from Health Savings Accounts and withdrawals from Flexible Spending Arrangements may be tax free if used to pay qualified medical expenses including prescription medication and insulin.

For additional information, see Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses or Publication 969, Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans, available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

The Child Tax Credit: 11 Key Points

February 13th, 2012

The Child Tax Credit is available to eligible taxpayers with qualifying children under age 17. The IRS would like you to know these eleven facts about the child tax credit.

1. Amount With the Child Tax Credit, you may be able to reduce your federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child under age 17.

2. Qualification A qualifying child for this credit is someone who meets the qualifying criteria of seven tests: age, relationship, support, dependent, joint return, citizenship and residence.

3. Age test To qualify, a child must have been under age 17 – age 16 or younger – at the end of 2011.

4. Relationship test To claim a child for purposes of the Child Tax Credit, the child must be your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister or a descendant of any of these individuals, which includes your grandchild, niece or nephew. An adopted child is always treated as your own child. An adopted child includes a child lawfully placed with you for legal adoption.

5. Support test In order to claim a child for this credit, the child must not have provided more than half of his/her own support.

6. Dependent test You must claim the child as a dependent on your federal tax return.

7. Joint return test The qualifying child can not file a joint return for the year (or files it only as a claim for refund).

8. Citizenship test To meet the citizenship test, the child must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or U.S. resident alien.

9. Residence test The child must have lived with you for more than half of 2011. There are some exceptions to the residence test, found in IRS Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.

10. Limitations The credit is limited if your modified adjusted gross income is above a certain amount. The amount at which this phase-out begins varies by filing status. For married taxpayers filing a joint return, the phase-out begins at $110,000. For married taxpayers filing a separate return, it begins at $55,000. For all other taxpayers, the phase-out begins at $75,000. In addition, the Child Tax Credit is generally limited by the amount of the income tax and any alternative minimum tax you owe.

11. Additional Child Tax Credit If the amount of your Child Tax Credit is greater than the amount of income tax you owe, you may be able to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit.

Tax Law Changes for 2011 Federal Tax Returns

February 10th, 2012

Before you file your 2011 federal income tax return in 2012, you should be aware of a few important tax changes that took effect in 2011. Check www.IRS.gov before you file for updates on any new legislation that may affect your tax return.

Due date of return. File your federal tax return by April 17, 2012. The due date is April 17, instead of April 15, because April 15 is a Sunday and April 16 is the Emancipation Day holiday in the District of Columbia.

New forms. In most cases, you must report your capital gains and losses on the new Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets. Then, you report certain totals from that form on Schedule D (Form 1040). If you had foreign financial assets in 2011, you may have to file the new Form 8938, Statement of Foreign Financial Assets, with your return.

Standard mileage rates. The 2011 rates for mileage are different for January 1 through June 30 than for July 1 through December 31. For business use of your car, you can deduct 51 cents a mile for miles driven the first half of the year and 55 ½ cents for the second half. Medical and moving mileage are both 19 cents per mile for the early half of the year and 23 ½ cents in the latter half.

Standard deduction and exemptions increased.

  • The standard deduction increased for some taxpayers who      do not itemize deductions on IRS Schedule A (Form 1040). The amount      depends on your filing status.
  • The amount you can deduct for each exemption has      increased $50 to $3,700 for 2011.

Self-employed health insurance deduction. This deduction is no longer allowed on Schedule SE (Form 1040), but you can still take it on Form 1040, line 29.

Alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption amount increased. The AMT exemption amount has increased to $48,450 ($74,450 if married filing jointly or a qualifying widow(er); $37,225 if married filing separately).

Health savings accounts (HSAs) and Archer MSAs. The additional tax on distributions from HSAs and Archer MSAs not used for qualified medical expenses increased to 20 percent. Beginning in 2011, only prescribed drugs or insulin are qualified medical expenses.

Roth IRAs. If you converted or rolled over an amount from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA or designated Roth in 2010 and did not elect to report the taxable amount on your 2010 return, you generally must report half of it on your 2011 return and the rest on your 2012 return.

Alternative motor vehicle credit. You can claim the alternative motor vehicle credit for a 2011 purchase only if the vehicle is a new fuel cell motor vehicle.

First-time homebuyer credit. The credit expired for most taxpayers for 2011. Some military personnel and members of the intelligence community can still claim the credit in 2011 for qualified purchases.

Health coverage tax credit. Recent legislation changed the amount of this credit, which pays qualified health insurance premiums for eligible individuals and their families. Participants who received the 65 percent tax credit in any month from March to December 2011 may claim an additional 7.5 percent retroactive credit when they file their 2011 tax return.

Mailing a return. The IRS changed the filing location for several areas. If you’re mailing a paper return, see the Form 1040 instructions for the correct address.