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Archive for August, 2012

Back-to-School Tips for Students and Parents Paying College Expenses

August 31st, 2012

Whether you’re a recent high school graduate going to college for the first time or a returning student, it will soon be time to head to campus, and payment deadlines for tuition and other fees are not far behind.

The IRS offers some tips about education tax benefits that can help offset some college costs for students and parents. Typically, these benefits apply to you, your spouse or a dependent for whom you claim an exemption on your tax return.

  • American Opportunity Credit. This credit, originally created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is still available for 2012. The credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student and is available for the first four years of post secondary education at an eligible institution. Forty percent of this credit is refundable, which means that you may be able to receive up to $1,000, even if you don’t owe any taxes. Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, course related books, supplies and equipment.
  • Lifetime Learning Credit. In 2012, you may be able to claim a Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses paid for a student enrolled in eligible educational institutions. There is no limit on the number of years you can claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for an eligible student.

You can claim only one type of education credit per student in the same tax year. However, if you pay college expenses for more than one student in the same year, you can choose to take credits on a per-student, per-year basis. For example, you can claim the American Opportunity Credit for one student and the Lifetime Learning Credit for the other student.

  • Student loan interest deduction. Generally, personal interest you pay, other than certain mortgage interest, is not deductible. However, you may be able to deduct interest paid on a qualified student loan during the year. It can reduce the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $2,500, even if you don’t itemize deductions.

Five Important Tips on Gambling Income and Losses

August 29th, 2012

Whether you roll the dice, bet on the ponies, play cards or enjoy slot machines, you should know that as a casual gambler, your gambling winnings are fully taxable and must be reported on your income tax return. You can also deduct your gambling losses…but only up to the extent of your winnings.

Here are five important tips about gambling and taxes:

1. Gambling income includes, but is not limited to, winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse races, and casinos. It includes cash winnings and the fair market value of prizes such as cars and trips.

2. If you receive a certain amount of gambling winnings or if you have any winnings that are subject to federal tax withholding, the payer is required to issue you a Form W-2G, Certain Gambling Winnings. The payer must give you a W-2G if you receive:

  • $1,200 or more in gambling winnings from bingo or slot machines;
  • $1,500 or more in proceeds (the amount of winnings minus the amount of the wager) from keno;
  • More than $5,000 in winnings (reduced by the wager or buy-in) from a poker tournament;
  • $600 or more in gambling winnings (except winnings from bingo, keno, slot machines, and poker tournaments) and the payout is at      least 300 times the amount of the wager; or
  • Any other gambling winnings subject to federal income  tax withholding.

3. Generally, you report all gambling winnings on the “Other income” line of Form 1040, U.S. Federal Income Tax Return.

4. You can claim your gambling losses up to the amount of your winnings on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, under ‘Other Miscellaneous Deductions.’ You must report the full amount of your winnings as income and claim your allowable losses separately. You cannot reduce your gambling winnings by your gambling losses and report the difference. Your records should also show your winnings separately from your losses.

5. Keep accurate records. If you are going to deduct gambling losses, you must have receipts, tickets, statements and documentation such as a diary or similar record of your losses and winnings. Refer to IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions, for more details about the type of information you should write in your diary and what kinds of proof you should retain in your records.

IRS Offers Tips to Reduce Big Refunds and Prevent Tax Bills

August 24th, 2012

The Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers that it’s not too late to adjust their 2012 tax withholding to avoid big tax refunds or tax bills when they file their tax return next year.

Taxpayers should act soon to adjust their tax withholding to bring the taxes they must pay closer to what they actually owe and put more money in their pocket right now.

Most people have taxes withheld from each paycheck or pay taxes on a quarterly basis through estimated tax payments. Each year millions of American workers have far more taxes withheld from their pay than is required. Many people anxiously wait for their tax refunds to make major purchases or pay their financial obligations. The IRS encourages taxpayers not to tie major financial decisions to the receipt of their tax refund – especially if they need their tax refund to arrive by a certain date.

Here is some information to help bring the taxes you pay during the year closer to what you will actually owe when you file your tax return.

Employees 

  • New Job. When you start a new job your employer will ask you to complete Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Your employer will use this form to figure the amount of federal income tax to withhold from your paychecks. Be sure to complete the Form W-4 accurately.
  • Life Event. You may want to change your Form W-4 when certain life events happen to you during the year. Examples of events in your life that can change the amount of taxes you owe include a change in your marital status, the birth of a child, getting or losing a job, and purchasing a home. Keep your Form W-4 up-to-date.

You typically can submit a new Form W–4 at anytime you wish to change the number of your withholding allowances. However, if your life event results in the need to decrease your withholding allowances or changes your marital status from married to single, you must give your employer a new Form W-4 within 10 days of that life event.

Self-Employed

  • Form 1040-ES. If you are self-employed and expect to owe a thousand dollars or more in taxes for the year, then you normally must make estimated tax payments to pay your income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes. You can use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to find out if you are required to pay estimated tax on a quarterly basis. Remember to make estimated payments to avoid owing taxes at tax time.

Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, has information for employees and self-employed individuals, and also explains the rules in more detail. The forms and publication are available at IRS.gov or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

Tax Tips for Recently Married Taxpayers

August 23rd, 2012

If you’ve recently updated your status from single to married, you’re not alone – late spring and summertime is a popular period for weddings. Marriage also brings about some changes with your taxes. Here are several tips for newlyweds from the IRS.

  • Notify the Social Security Administration  It’s important that your name and Social Security number match on your next tax return, so if you’ve taken on a new name, report the change to the Social Security Administration. File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. The form is available on SSA’s  website at www.ssa.gov, by calling 800-772-1213, or visiting a local SSA office.
  • Notify the IRS if you move  IRS Form 8822, Change of Address, is the official way to update the IRS of your address change. Download Form 8822 from IRS.gov or order it by calling 800-TAX-FORM
    (800-829-3676).
  • Notify the U.S. Postal Service  To ensure your mail – including mail from the IRS – is forwarded to your new address, you’ll need to notify the U.S. Postal Service. Submit a forwarding request online at www.usps.com or visit your local post office.
  • Notify your employer  Report your name and/or address change to your employer(s) to make sure you receive your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, after the end of the year.
  • Check your withholding  If you both work, keep in mind that you and your spouse’s combined income may move you into a higher tax bracket. You can use Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, to help determine the correct amount of withholding for your marital status, and it will also help you complete a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Fill out and print Form W-4 online and give it to your employer(s) so the correct amount will be withheld from your pay.
  • Select the right tax form  Choose your individual income tax form wisely because it can help save you money. Newlywed taxpayers may find that they now have enough deductions to itemize on their tax returns rather than taking the standard deduction. Itemized deductions must be claimed on a Form 1040, not a 1040A or 1040EZ.
  • Choose the best filing status  A person’s marital status on Dec. 31 determines whether the person is considered married for that year for tax purposes. Tax law generally allows married couples to choose to file their federal income tax return either jointly or separately in any given year. Figuring the tax both ways can determine which filing status will result in the lowest tax, but filing jointly is usually more beneficial.

Bottom line: planning for your wedding may be over, but don’t forget about planning for the tax-related changes that marriage brings. More information about changing your name, address and income tax withholding is available on IRS.gov. IRS forms and publications can be obtained from IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Eight Tips for Taxpayers Who Receive an IRS Notice

August 22nd, 2012

Receiving a notice from the Internal Revenue Service is no cause for alarm. Every year the IRS sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers. In the event one shows up in your mailbox, here are eight things you should know.

1. Don’t panic. Many of these letters can be dealt with very simply.

2. There are a number of reasons the IRS sends notices to taxpayers. The notice may request payment of taxes, notify you of a change to your account or request additional information. The notice you receive normally covers a very specific issue about your account or tax return.

3. Each letter and notice offers specific instructions on what you need to do to satisfy the inquiry.

4. If you receive a notice about a correction to your tax return, you should review the correspondence and compare it with the information on your return.

5. If you agree with the correction to your account, usually no reply is necessary unless a payment is due.

6. If you do not agree with the correction the IRS made, it is important that you respond as requested. Respond to the IRS in writing to explain why you disagree. Include any documents and information you wish the IRS to consider, along with the bottom tear-off portion of the notice. Mail the information to the IRS address shown in the lower left corner of the notice. Allow at least 30 days for a response from the IRS.

7. Most correspondence can be handled without calling or visiting an IRS office. However, if you have questions, call the telephone number in the upper right corner of the notice. When you call, have a copy of your tax return and the correspondence available.

8. Keep copies of any correspondence with your tax records.

How to Get a Transcript or Copy of a Prior Year’s Tax Return from the IRS

August 21st, 2012

Taxpayers should keep copies of their tax returns, but if they cannot be located or have been destroyed during natural disasters or by fire, the IRS can help. Whether you need your prior year’s tax return to apply for a loan or for legal reasons, you can obtain copies or transcripts from the IRS.

Here are 10 things to know if you need federal tax return information from a previously filed tax return.

1. Get copies of your federal tax return via the web, phone or by mail.

2. Transcripts are free and are available for the current and past three tax years.

3. A tax return transcript shows most line items from your tax return as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules. It does not reflect any changes made after the return was filed.

4. A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments either you or the IRS made after you filed your tax return. This transcript shows basic data including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income and taxable income.

5. To request either type of transcript online, go to IRS.gov and use the online tool called Order A Transcript. To order by phone, call 800-908-9946 and follow the prompts in the recorded message.

6. To request a 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ tax return transcript through the mail, complete IRS Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript. Businesses, partnerships and individuals who need transcript information from other forms or need a tax account transcript must use Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

7. If you order online or by phone, you should receive your tax return transcript within five to 10 days from the time the IRS receives your request. Allow 30 calendar days for delivery of a tax account transcript if you order by mail.

8. If you need an actual copy of a previously filed and processed tax return, it will cost $57 for each tax year you order. Complete Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, and mail it to the IRS address listed on the form for your area.  Copies are generally available for the current year and past six years. Please allow 60 days for delivery.

9. The fee for copies of tax returns may be waived if you are in an area that is declared a federal disaster by the President. Visit IRS.gov, keyword “disaster,” for more guidance on disaster relief.

10. Forms 4506, 4506-T and 4506T-EZ are available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Don’t Overlook the Benefits of Miscellaneous Deductions

August 20th, 2012

If you are able to itemize your deductions on your tax return instead of claiming the standard deduction, you may be able to claim certain miscellaneous deductions. A tax deduction reduces the amount of your taxable income and generally reduces the amount of taxes you may have to pay.

Here are some things you should know about miscellaneous tax deductions:

Deductions Subject to the 2 Percent Limit. You can deduct the amount of certain miscellaneous expenses that exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. Deductions subject to the 2 percent limit include:

  • Unreimbursed employee expenses such as searching for a new job in the same profession, certain work clothes and uniforms, work      tools, union dues, and work-related travel and transportation.
  • Tax preparation fees.
  • Other expenses that you pay to:

– Produce or collect taxable income,
– Manage, conserve, or maintain property held to produce taxable income, or
– Determine, contest, pay, or claim a refund of any tax.

Examples of other expenses include certain investment fees and expenses, some legal fees, hobby expenses that are not more than your hobby income and rental fees for a safe deposit box if it is not used to store jewelry and other personal effects.

Deductions Not Subject to the 2 Percent Limit.  The list of deductions not subject to the 2 percent limit of adjusted gross income includes:

  • Casualty and theft losses from income-producing property such as damage or theft of stocks, bonds, gold, silver, vacant lots, and works of art.
  • Gambling losses up to the amount of gambling winnings.
  • Impairment-related work expenses of persons with disabilities.
  • Losses from Ponzi-type investment schemes.

Qualified miscellaneous deductions are reported on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. Keep records of your miscellaneous deductions to make it easier for you to prepare your tax return when the filing season arrives.

U.S. Foreclosure Filings Down 10 Percent in July

August 10th, 2012

 

Market researcher RealtyTrac reported that the number of U.S. properties with foreclosure filings slipped 10 percent in July from a year earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported. There were 191,925 U.S. properties with default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions in July, a 3 percent decrease from the prior month. One in every 686 U.S. housing units had a foreclosure filing last month, RealtyTrac reported. U.S. foreclosure activity has not decreased on a year-over-year basis for 22 consecutive months, according to the report. The latest month’s decline was driven primarily by a 21 percent decline in bank repossessions from a year earlier. Properties starting the foreclosure process increased on an annual basis for the third straight month in July, rising 6 percent last month. Foreclosure starts rose on a year-over-year basis in 27 states.

Moving This Summer? Here are 10 Helpful Tax Tips

August 8th, 2012

School’s out for the summer, and summer is a popular time for people to move – especially families with children.  If you are moving to start a new job or even the same job at a new job location, the IRS offers 10 tax tips on expenses you may be able to deduct on your tax return.

 

1. Expenses must be close to the time you start work  Generally, you can consider moving expenses that you incurred within one year of the date you first report to work at a new job location.

2. Distance Test  Your move meets the distance test if your new main job location is at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your previous main job location was from your former home.  For example, if your old main job location was three miles from your former home, your new main job location must be at least 53 miles from that former home.

3. Time Test  Upon arriving in the general area of your new job location, you must work full time for at least 39 weeks during the first year at your new job location. Self-employed individuals must meet this test, and they must also work full time for a total of at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months upon arriving in the general area of their new job location. If your income tax return is due before you have satisfied this requirement, you can still deduct your allowable moving expenses if you expect to meet the time test. There are some special rules and exceptions to these general rules, so see Publication 521, Moving Expenses for more information.

4. Travel  You can deduct lodging expenses (but not meals) for yourself and household members while moving from your former home to your new home. You can also deduct transportation expenses, including airfare, vehicle mileage, parking fees and tolls you pay, but you can only deduct one trip per person.

5. Household goods  You can deduct the cost of packing, crating and transporting your household goods and personal property, including the cost of shipping household pets. You may be able to include the cost of storing and insuring these items while in transit.

6. Utilities  You can deduct the costs of connecting or disconnecting utilities.

7. Nondeductible expenses  You cannot deduct as moving expenses: any part of the purchase price of your new home, car tags, a drivers license renewal, costs of buying or selling a home, expenses of entering into or breaking a lease, or security deposits and storage charges, except those incurred in transit and for foreign moves.

8. Form  You can deduct only those expenses that are reasonable for the circumstances of your move. To figure the amount of your deduction for moving expenses, use Form 3903, Moving Expenses.

9. Reimbursed expenses  If your employer reimburses you for the costs of a move for which you took a deduction, the reimbursement may have to be included as income on your tax return.

10. Update your address  When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive mail from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS.

Ten Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

August 7th, 2012

The Internal Revenue Service has some important information for those who have sold or are about to sell their home. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may be able to exclude all or part of that gain from your income.

Here are 10 tips from the IRS to keep in mind when selling your home.

1. In general, you are eligible to exclude the gain from income if you have owned and used your home as your main home for two years out of the five years prior to the date of its sale.

2. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 on a joint return in most cases).

3. You are not eligible for the full exclusion if you excluded the gain from the sale of another home during the two-year period prior to the sale of your home.

4. If you can exclude all of the gain, you do not need to report the sale of your home on your tax return.

5. If you have a gain that cannot be excluded, it is taxable. You must report it on Form 1040, Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses.

6. You cannot deduct a loss from the sale of your main home.

7. Worksheets are included in Publication 523, Selling Your Home, to help you figure the adjusted basis of the home you sold, the gain (or loss) on the sale, and the gain that you can exclude. Most tax software can also help with
this calculation.

8. If you have more than one home, you can exclude a gain only from the sale of your main home. You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home. If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is ordinarily the one you live in most of the time.

9. Special rules may apply when you sell a home for which you received the first-time homebuyer credit. See Publication 523, Selling Your Home, for details.

10. When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive mail from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS of your address change.