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Archive for March, 2012

Taxpayers Get More Time to Contribute to IRAs in 2012

March 30th, 2012

You have two extra days this year to make contributions to your Individual Retirement Arrangements. That’s because April 15 falls on a weekend and Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in the District of Columbia, will be observed on Monday, April 16. That means the due date for filing your tax return and making contributions to your 2011 IRA is Tuesday, April 17.

Here are the top 10 things the IRS wants you to know about setting aside retirementmoney in a traditional IRA.

1. You may be able to deduct some or all of your contributions to your IRA. You may also be eligible for the Savers Credit, formally known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit.

2. Contributions can be made to your traditional IRA at any time during the year or by the due date for filing your return for that year, not including extensions. For most people, this means you must make contributions for 2011 by April 17, 2012. If you contribute between Jan. 1 and April 17, you should designate the year targeted for the contribution.

3. The funds in your IRA are generally not taxed until you receive distributions from it.

4. Use the worksheets in the instructions for either Form 1040A or Form 1040 to figure your deduction for your IRA contributions.

5. For 2011, the most you can contribute to your traditional IRA is generally the smaller of the following amounts: $5,000 for most taxpayers, $6,000 for taxpayers who were 50 or older at the end of 2011 or the amount of your taxable compensation for the year.

6. Use Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions, to determine whether you are also eligible for a tax credit equal to a percentage of your contribution.

7. You must use either Form 1040A or Form 1040 to deduct your IRA contribution or claim the Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions.

8. You must be under age 70 1/2 at the end of the tax year in order to contribute to a traditional IRA.

9. To contribute to an IRA, you must have taxable compensation, such as wages, salaries, commissions, tips, bonuses, or net income from self-employment. If you file a joint return, generally only one spouse needs to have taxable compensation. However, see Spousal IRA Limits in IRS Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements, for additional rules.

10. Refer to IRS Publication 590 for more information on contributing to your IRA account.

Tax Refunds May Be Applied to Offset Certain Debts

March 28th, 2012

Past due financial obligations can affect your current federal tax refund. The Department of Treasury’s Financial Management Service, which issues IRS tax refunds, can use part or all of your federal tax refund to satisfy certain unpaid debts.

Here are eight important facts the IRS wants you to know about tax refund offsets:

1. If you owe federal or state income taxes, your refund will be offset to pay those taxes. If you had other debt such as child support or student loan debt that was submitted for offset, FMS will apply as much of your refund as is needed to pay off the debt and then issue any remaining refund to you.

2. You will receive a notice if an offset occurs. The notice will include the original refund amount, your offset amount, the agency receiving the payment and its contact information.

3. If you believe you do not owe the debt or you are disputing the amount taken from your refund, you should contact the agency shown on the notice, not the IRS.

4. 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 IRS Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation. Attach Form 8379 to your original Form 1040, Form 1040A, or Form 1040EZ or file it by itself after you are notified of an offset. Form 8379 can be downloaded from the IRS website at www.irs.gov.

5. You can file 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 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. Do not attach the previously filed Form 1040 to the Form 8379. Send Form 8379 to the IRS Service Center where you filed your original return.

7. The IRS will compute the injured spouse’s share of the joint return. Contact the IRS only if your original refund amount shown on the FMS offset notice differs from the refund amount shown on your tax return.

8. Follow the instructions on Form 8379 carefully and be sure to attach the required forms to avoid delays. If you don’t receive a notice, contact the Financial Management Service at 800-304-3107, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central Time).

Eight Tax-Time Errors To Avoid

March 26th, 2012

If you make a mistake on your tax return, it can take longer to process, which in turn, may delay your refund. Here are eight common errors to avoid.


1. Incorrect or missing Social Security numbers When entering SSNs for anyone listed on your tax return, be sure to enter them exactly as they appear on the Social Security cards.

2. Incorrect or misspelling of dependent’s last name When entering a dependent’s last name on your tax return, make sure to enter it exactly as it appears on their Social Security card.

3. Filing status errors Choose the correct filing status for your situation. There are five filing statuses: Single, Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Separately, Head of Household and Qualifying Widow(er) With Dependent Child. See Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information, to determine the filing status that best fits your situation.

4. Math errors When preparing paper returns, review all math for accuracy. Or file electronically; the software does the math for you!

5. Computation errors Take your time. Many taxpayers make mistakes when figuring their taxable income, withholding and estimated tax payments, Earned Income Tax Credit, Standard Deduction for age 65 or over or blind, the taxable amount of Social Security benefits and the Child and Dependent Care Credit.

6. Incorrect bank account numbers for direct deposit Double check your bank routing and account numbers if you are using direct deposit for your refund.

7. Forgetting to sign and date the return An unsigned tax return is like an unsigned check – it is invalid. Also, both spouses must sign a joint return.

8. Incorrect adjusted gross income If you file electronically, you must sign the return electronically using a Personal Identification Number. To verify your identity, the software will prompt you to enter your AGI from your originally filed 2010 federal income tax return or last year’s PIN if you e-filed. Taxpayers should not use an AGI amount from an amended return, Form 1040X, or a math-error correction made by IRS.

Deducting Charitable Contributions: Eight Essentials

March 23rd, 2012

Donations made to qualified organizations may help reduce the amount of tax you pay.

The IRS has eight essential 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 or 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. If your total deduction for all noncash contributions for the year is more than $500, you must complete and attach IRS Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, to your return.
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 and the date and amount of the contribution. For text message donations, a telephone bill meets 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, 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.
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.

IRS Offers Tax Tips for Taxpayers with Foreign Income

March 19th, 2012

The Internal Revenue Service reminds U.S. citizens and resident aliens, including those with dual citizenship who have lived or worked abroad during all or part of 2011, that they may have a U.S. tax liability and a filing requirement in 2012.

The IRS offers the following seven tips for taxpayers with foreign income:

1. Filing deadline U.S. citizens and resident aliens residing overseas or those serving in the military outside the U.S. on the regular due date of their tax return have until June 15, 2012 to file their federal income tax return. To use this automatic two-month extension beyond the regular April 17, 2012 deadline, taxpayers must attach a statement to their return explaining which of the two situations above qualifies them for the extension.

2. World-wide income Federal law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income, including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts.

3. Tax forms In most cases, affected taxpayers need to fill out and attach Schedule B, Interest and Ordinary Dividends, to their tax return. Certain taxpayers may also have to fill out and attach to their tax return the new Form 8938, Statement of Foreign Financial Assets. Some taxpayers may also have to file Form TD F 90-22.1 with the Treasury Department by June 30, 2012.

4. Foreign earned income exclusion Many Americans who live and work abroad qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion. If you qualify for tax year 2011, this exclusion enables you to exempt up to $92,900 of wages and other foreign earned income from U.S. tax.

5. Credits and deductions You may be able to take either a credit or a deduction for income taxes paid to a foreign country or a U.S. possession. This benefit is designed to lessen the tax burden that results when both the U.S. and another country tax income from that country.

6. Free File Taxpayers abroad can now use IRS Free File. This means U.S. citizens and resident aliens living abroad with adjusted gross income of $57,000 or less can use brand-name software to prepare their returns and then electronically file them for free.

7. Tax help If you live outside the U.S., the IRS has full-time permanent staff in four U.S. embassies and consulates. A list is available on the IRS Website – www.irs.gov – in the Contact Your Local Office Section, under International. These offices have tax forms and publications that can help you with filing issues and answer your questions about notices and bills.

Tax Rules May Affect Your Child’s Investment Income

March 16th, 2012

Parents may not realize that there are tax rules that may affect their child’s investment income. The IRS offers the following four facts to 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 meets one of three age requirements for 2011:

  • Was under age 18 at the end of the year,
  • Was age 18 at the end of the year and did not have earned income that was more than half of his or her support, or
  • Was a full-time student over age 18 and under age 24 at the end of the year and did not have earned income that was more than half of his or her support.

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.

Six Tips for Reducing Tax-Time Stress

March 15th, 2012

Tax preparation doesn’t need to give you a headache. There are several ways to make it easier on yourself. The IRS offers six tips to help make your tax-filing experience a breeze this year.

1. Don’t procrastinate. Resist the temptation to put off your taxes until the very last minute. Rushing to meet the filing deadline may cause you to overlook potential sources of tax savings and will likely increase your risk of making an error.

2. Visit the IRS website. More than 322 million visits were made to www.irs.gov in 2011. Make “1040 Central” your first stop to check for the latest news and find answers to your questions about tax filing.

3. Use Free File. Let Free File do the hard work with brand-name tax software or online fillable forms. It’s available exclusively at www.irs.gov. Everyone can find an option to prepare their tax return and e-file it for free. If you made $57,000 or less, you qualify for free tax software that is offered through a private-public partnership with manufacturers. If you made more than $57,000 and/or are comfortable preparing your own tax return, there’s Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic versions of IRS paper forms. Visit www.irs.gov/freefile for options.

4. Try IRS e-file.  Last year, 79 percent of taxpayers – 106 million people – used IRS e-file, which is the safest, easiest and most common way to file a tax return. If you owe taxes, you can file immediately and pay later (by the April 17 tax deadline). Best of all, when you combine e-file with direct deposit  the IRS can generally issue your refund in as few as 10 days.

5. Don’t panic if you can’t pay.  If you can’t pay the full amount of taxes you owe by the mid-April deadline, you should still file your return by the deadline and pay as much as you can to avoid penalties and interest. More than 75 percent of taxpayers eligible for an Installment Agreement can apply using the web-based Online Payment Agreement application available at www.irs.gov. To find out more about this simple and convenient process, type “Online Payment Agreement” in the search box at www.irs.gov.  You can also contact the IRS to discuss your payment options.

6. Request an extension of time to file – but pay on time.  If the deadline clock is ticking, you can get an automatic six-month extension through Oct. 15. However, this extension of time to file, which must be filed or postmarked by the April 17 deadline, does not give you more time to pay any taxes due. If you have not paid at least 90 percent of the total tax due by the April deadline you may also be subject to an estimated tax penalty. You can obtain an extension through Free File at www.irs.gov/freefile. Or, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, available for downloading at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) to have a paper form mailed to you. Allow at least 10 days for mailed forms and publications.

Six Facts About the Alternative Minimum Tax

March 12th, 2012

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 2011.

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 2011, Congress raised the AMT exemption amounts to the following levels

  • $74,450 for a married couple filing a joint return and qualifying widows and widowers;
  • $48,450 for singles and heads of household;
  • $37,225 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 $6,800 for 2011.

Ten Tips on a Tax Credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses

March 9th, 2012

If you paid someone to care for your child, spouse, or dependent last year, you may qualify to claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit when you file your federal income tax return. Below are 10 things the IRS wants you to know about claiming the credit for child and dependent care expenses.

1. The care must have been provided for one or more qualifying persons. A qualifying person is your dependent child age 12 or younger when the care was provided. Additionally, your spouse and certain other individuals who are physically or mentally incapable of self-care may also be qualifying persons. You must identify each qualifying person on your tax return.

2. The care must have been provided so you – and your spouse if you are married filing jointly – could work or look for work.

3. You – and your spouse if you file jointly – must have earned income from wages, salaries, tips, other taxable employee compensation or net earnings from self-employment. One spouse may be considered as having earned income if they were a full-time student or were physically o r mentally unable to care for themselves.

4. The payments for care cannot be paid to your spouse, to the parent of your qualifying person, to someone you can claim as your dependent on your return, or to your child who will not be age 19 or older by the end of the year even if he or she is not your dependent. You must identify the care provider(s) on your tax return.

5. Your filing status must be single, married filing jointly, head of household or qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child.

6. The qualifying person must have lived with you for more than half of 2011. There are exceptions for the birth or death of a qualifying person, or a child of divorced or separated parents. See Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.

7. The credit can be up to 35 percent of your qualifying expenses, depending upon your adjusted gross income.

8. For 2011, you may use up to $3,000 of expenses paid in a year for one qualifying individual or $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals to figure the credit.

The qualifying expenses must be reduced by the amount of any dependent 9. care benefits provided by your employer that you deduct or exclude from your income, such as a flexible spending account for daycare expenses.

10. If you pay someone to come to your home and care for your dependent or spouse, you may be a household employer and may have to withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare tax and pay federal unemployment tax. See Publication 926, Household Employer’s Tax Guide.

What Employers Need to Know About Claiming the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

March 7th, 2012

If you are a small employer with fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees that earn an average wage of less than $50,000 a year and you pay at least half of employee health insurance premiums…then there is a tax credit that may put money in your pocket.

The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit is specifically targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations. The credit can enable small businesses and small tax-exempt organizations to offer health insurance coverage for the first time. It also helps those already offering health insurance coverage to maintain the coverage they already have.

Here is what small employers need to know so they don’t miss out on the credit for tax year 2011:

  • Qualifying businesses calculate the small business health care credit on Form 8941, Credit for Small Employer Health Insurance Premiums, and claim it as part of the general business credit on Form 3800, General Business Credit, which they would include with their tax return.
  • Tax-exempt organizations can use Form 8941 to calculate the credit and then claim the credit on Form 990-T, Exempt Organization      Business Income Tax Return, Line 44f.
  • Businesses that couldn’t use the credit in 2011 may be eligible to claim it in future years. Eligible small employers can claim the credit for 2010 through 2013 and for two additional years beginning in 2014.

For tax years 2010 to 2013, the maximum credit for eligible small business employers is 35 percent of premiums paid and for eligible tax-exempt employers the maximum credit is 25 percent of premiums paid.  Beginning in 2014, the maximum credit will go up to 50 percent of qualifying premiums paid by eligible small business employers and 35 percent of qualifying premiums paid by eligible tax-exempt organizations.