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Archive for April, 2012

Start Planning Now for Next Year’s Tax Return

April 30th, 2012

The tax deadline may have just passed but planning for next year can start now. The IRS reminds taxpayers that being organized and planning ahead can save time, money and headaches in 2013. Here are eight things you can do now to make next April 15 easier.

1. Adjust your withholding Why wait another year for a big refund? Now is a good time to review your withholding and make adjustments for next year, especially if you’d prefer more money in each paycheck this year. If you owed at tax time, perhaps you’d like next year’s tax payment to be smaller. Use IRS’s Withholding Calculator at www.irs.gov or Publication 919, How Do I Adjust My Tax Withholding?

2. Store your return in a safe place Put your 2011 tax return and supporting documents somewhere secure so you’ll know exactly where to find them if you receive an IRS notice and need to refer to your return. If it is easy to find, you can also use it as a helpful guide for next year’s return.

3. Organize your recordkeeping Establish a central location where everyone in your household can put tax-related records all year long. Anything from a shoebox to a file cabinet works. Just be consistent to avoid a scramble for misplaced mileage logs or charity receipts come tax time.

4. Review your paycheck Make sure your employer is properly withholding and reporting retirement account contributions, health insurance payments, charitable payroll deductions and other items. These payroll adjustments can make a big difference on your bottom line. Fixing an error in your paycheck now gets you back on track before it becomes a huge hassle.

5. Shop for a tax professional early If you use a tax professional to help you strategize, plan and make financial decisions throughout the year, then search now. You’ll have more time when you’re not up against a deadline or anxious for your refund. Choose a tax professional wisely. You are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of your own return regardless of who prepares it. Find tips for choosing a preparer at www.irs.gov.

6. Prepare to itemize deductions If your expenses typically fall just below the amount to make itemizing advantageous, a bit of planning to bundle deductions into 2012 may pay off. An early or extra mortgage payment, pre-deadline property tax payments, planned donations or strategically paid medical bills could equal some tax savings. See the Schedule A instructions for expenses you can deduct if you’re itemizing and then prepare an approach that works best for you.

7. Strategize tuition payments The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which offsets higher education expenses, is set to expire after 2012. It may be beneficial to pay 2013 tuition in 2012 to take full advantage of this tax credit, up to $2,500, before it expires. For more information, see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.

8. Keep up with changes Find out about tax law changes, helpful tips and IRS announcements all year by subscribing to IRS Tax Tips through www.irs.gov or IRS2Go, the mobile app from the IRS. The IRS issues tips regularly during summer and tax season. Special Edition tips are sent periodically with other timely updates.

The IRS emphasizes that each household’s financial circumstances are different so it’s important to fully consider your specific situation and goals before making large financial decisions.

Failure to File or Pay Penalties: Eight Facts

April 18th, 2012

The number of electronic filing and payment options increases every year, which helps reduce your burden and also improves the timeliness and accuracy of tax returns. When it comes to filing your tax return, however, the law provides that the IRS can assess a penalty if you fail to file, fail to pay or both.

Here are eight important points about the two different penalties you may face if you file or pay late.

1. If you do not file by the deadline, you might face a failure-to-file penalty. If you do not pay by the due date, you could face a failure-to-pay penalty.

2. The failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty. So if you cannot pay all the taxes you owe, you should still file your tax return on time and pay as much as you can, then explore other payment options. The IRS will work with you.

3. The penalty for filing late is usually 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a return is late. This penalty will not exceed 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

4. If you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.

5. If you do not pay your taxes by the due date, you will generally have to pay a failure-to-pay penalty of ½ of 1 percent of your unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month after the due date that the taxes are not paid. This penalty can be as much as 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

6. If you request an extension of time to file by the tax deadline and you paid at least 90 percent of your actual tax liability by the original due date, you will not face a failure-to-pay penalty if the remaining balance is paid by the extended due date.

7. If both the failure-to-file penalty and the failure-to-pay penalty apply in any month, the 5 percent failure-to-file penalty is reduced by the failure-to-pay penalty. However, if you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.

8. You will not have to pay a failure-to-file or failure-to-pay penalty if you can show that you failed to file or pay on time because of reasonable cause and not because of willful neglect.

Extensions and Payment Options

April 16th, 2012

With the income tax season winding down, the IRS wants to remind taxpayers how to request some extra time to file their return and the options they have to pay their tax bill.

If you need more time to file your return, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file from the IRS.  You must file for an extension by the April 17 deadline.  An extension will give you extra time to get your paperwork to the IRS, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due. You will owe interest on any amount not paid by the deadline, plus you may owe penalties. To get an extension:

IRS Free File – Traditional Free File and Free File Fillable Forms can both be used to file an extension for FREE.  Access the Free File page at www.irs.gov.

IRS e-file – Use IRS e-file to request an extension by using tax preparation software on your own computer or by going to a tax preparer.

Form to File – Mail in IRS Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. It must be postmarked by April 17, 2012.

Taxpayers that are ready to file their returns and those that have already filed and need to pay a tax bill have payment options:

E-file – File electronically and authorize an electronic funds withdrawal via tax preparation software or a tax professional.

Phone – Pay by phone or online using a credit card.

Mail – Pay by check or money order made payable to the “United States Treasury.” Be sure to include your name, address, Social Security number listed first on the tax form, daytime telephone number, tax year and form number. Complete and include Form 1040-V, Payment Voucher, when mailing your payment to the IRS.

If you owe tax with your federal tax return, but can’t afford to pay it all when you file, the IRS has options to help you keep interest and penalties to a minimum. File your return on time and pay as much as you can with the return, then:

Request an installment agreement – Use the Online Payment Agreement application at www.irs.gov or by file Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request with your return. The IRS charges a user fee to set up your payment agreement.

Additional time to pay – You may request a short additional time to pay your tax in full using the Online Payment Agreement application on www.irs.gov. Taxpayers who request and are granted an additional 120 days to pay the tax in full generally will pay less in penalties and interest than if the debt were repaid through an installment agreement over a greater period of time. There is no fee for this short extension of time to pay.

Extension of time to pay – Qualifying individuals may request an extension of time to pay and have late payment penalties waived as part of the IRS Fresh Start initiative. To see if you qualify visit www.irs.gov and get Form 1127-A, Application for Extension of Time for Payment.  This application must be filed by April 17, 2012.

Everything You Need to Know About Making Federal Tax Payments

April 6th, 2012

If you need to make a payment with your tax return this year, the IRS wants you to know about its payment options. Here are 10 important facts to help you make your tax payment correctly.

1. Never send cash!

2. If you file electronically, you can file and pay in a single step by authorizing an electronic funds withdrawal via tax preparation software or a tax professional.

3. Whether you file a paper return or electronically, you can pay by phone or online using a credit or debit card.

4. Electronic payment options provide an alternative to checks or money orders. You can pay taxes or user fees 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov and search e-pay, or refer to Publication 3611, Electronic Payments for more details.

5. If you itemize, you may be able to deduct the convenience fee charged for paying individual income taxes with a credit or debit card as a miscellaneous itemized deduction on Form 1040, Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. The deduction is subject to the 2 percent limit.

6. If you file on paper, you can enclose your payment with your return but do not staple it to the form.

7. If you pay by check or money order, make sure it is payable to the “United States Treasury.”

8. Always provide on the front of your check or money order your correct name, address, Social Security number listed first on the tax form, daytime telephone number, tax year and form number.

9. Complete and include Form 1040-V, Payment Voucher, when mailing your payment to the IRS. Double-check the IRS mailing address. This will help the IRS process your payment accurately and efficiently.

Six Tips for People Who Pay Estimated Taxes

April 4th, 2012

You may need to pay estimated taxes to the IRS during the year if you have income that is not subject to withholding. This depends on what you do for a living and the types of income you receive.

These six tips from the IRS explain estimated taxes and how to pay them.

1. If you have income from sources such as self-employment, interest, dividends, alimony, rent, gains from the sales of assets, prizes or awards, then you may have to pay estimated tax.

2. As a general rule, you must pay estimated taxes in 2012 if both of these statements apply: 1) You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting your tax withholding (if you have any) and tax credits, and 2) You expect your withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of 90 percent of your 2012 taxes or 100 percent of the tax on your 2011 return. Special rules apply for farmers, fishermen, certain household employers and certain higher income taxpayers.

3. For Sole Proprietors, Partners and S Corporation shareholders, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe $1,000 or more in tax when you file your return.

4. To figure your estimated tax, include your expected gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions and credits for the year. Use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, for this. You want to be as accurate as possible to avoid penalties. Also, consider changes in your situation and recent tax law changes.

5. The year is divided into four payment periods, or due dates, for estimated tax purposes. Those dates generally are April 15, June 15, Sept. 15 and Jan. 15 of the next or following year.

6. Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, has everything you need to pay estimated taxes. It includes instructions, worksheets, schedules and payment vouchers. However, the easiest way to pay estimated taxes is electronically through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or EFTPS, at www.irs.gov. You can also pay estimated taxes by check or money order using the Estimated Tax Payment Voucher or by credit or debit card.