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Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Free tax return preparation assistance is available for eligible military members and their spouses. The IRS and U.S. Armed Forces participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which provides free tax advice, tax preparation, return filing and other tax assistance to military members and their families.
Here are five things you need to know about free military tax assistance:
1. Armed Forces Tax Council The Armed Forces Tax Council oversees the operation of the military tax programs worldwide, conducting outreach with the IRS to military personnel and their families. The AFTC consists of tax program coordinators for the Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard.
2. Volunteer tax sites Volunteer assistors at military-based VITA sites are trained to address military-specific tax issues, such as combat zone tax benefits and the Earned Income Tax Credit guidelines.
3. What to bring To receive free tax assistance, bring the following records to your military VITA site:
- Valid photo identification
- Social Security cards for you, your spouse and dependents or a Social Security number verification letter issued by the Social Security Administration
- Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents
- Wage and earning statement(s) like Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R
- Interest and dividend statements (Forms 1099)
- A copy of last year’s federal and state tax returns, if available
- Checkbook for routing and account numbers for direct deposit
- Total amount paid for day care and day care provider’s identifying number
- Other relevant information about income and expenses
4. Joint returns If your filing status is Married Filing Jointly and you wish to file your tax return electronically, both you and your spouse should be present to sign the required forms. If it isn’t possible for both of you to be present, a valid power of attorney that allows tax preparation can be used to sign and file the return.
5. Special exception There is a special exception to using a power of attorney for spouses in combat zones. The exception allows the filing spouse to e-file a joint return with only a written statement stating the other spouse is in a combat zone and unable to sign.
For more information, review IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, available on the IRS Web site at www.irs.gov or order a free copy by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Tuesday, February 28, 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.
For more information about the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, visit www.irs.gov. IRS Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions and Abandonments, is also an excellent resource.
You can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant available on the IRS website to determine if your cancelled debt is taxable. The ITA takes you through a series of questions and provides you with responses to tax law questions.
Finally, you may obtain copies of IRS publications and forms either by downloading them from www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Monday, February 27, 2012
The IRS offers free assistance by computer, telephone and in person. The easiest and fastest way to get free tax help is through the IRS website – www.irs.gov. The IRS can also help find free tax preparation sites for those who qualify. Here are four easy ways to get the help you need to file your tax return.
1. IRS website The IRS website at www.irs.gov is a one-stop shop for a wide array of tax information. You can even prepare and file your federal tax return – for free – through Free File, a service offered by IRS and its partners who offer free tax preparation software and free electronic filing. But you must go through www.irs.gov to use Free File. Have some tax questions? Check out 1040 Central on the Individuals page for the latest news. You can even check the status of your refund with Where’s My Refund?
2. Community resources Free tax preparation is available through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs in many communities. Volunteer return preparation programs are provided through partnerships between the IRS and community based organizations. They offer free help in preparing simple tax returns for low-to-moderate-income taxpayers. To find a site near you, visit www.irs.gov, or call 800-906-9887. Qualified taxpayers (age 60 or older) can also find help at a local TCE site by visiting www.aarp.org or calling 888-227-7669.
3. Telephone Call the IRS Tax Help Line for Individuals, 800-829-1040, to get answers to your federal tax questions, To hear pre-recorded messages covering various tax topics or to check the status of your refund, call 800-829-4477. To order free forms, instructions and publications, call 800-829-3676. TTY/TDD users may call 800-829-4059 to ask tax questins or to order forms and publications.
4. Taxpayer Assistance Centers When you believe your tax issue cannot be handled online or by phone and you want face-to-face assistance, you can find help at a local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center. Locations, business hours and an overview of services are available at www.irs.gov. Just go to the Individuals tab and click on the Contact My Local Office link on the left under IRS Resources.
Even though the IRS offers many options for assistance, remember the easiest and fastest way to get help is through the IRS website – www.irs.gov.
For more information about free services provided by the IRS, review Publication 910, IRS Guide to Free Tax Services available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Friday, February 24, 2012
Two federal tax credits may help you offset the costs of higher education for yourself or your dependents. These are the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.
To qualify for either credit, you must pay postsecondary tuition and fees for yourself, your spouse or your dependent. The credit may be claimed by either the parent or the student, but not both. If the student was claimed as a dependent, the student cannot file for the credit.
For each student, you may claim only one of the credits in a single tax year. You cannot claim the American Opportunity Credit to pay for part of your daughter's tuition charges and then claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for $2,000 more of her school costs.
However, if you pay college expenses for two or more students in the same year, you can choose to take credits on a per-student, per-year basis. You can claim the American Opportunity Credit for your sophomore daughter and the Lifetime Learning Credit for your spouse's graduate school tuition.
Here are some key facts the IRS wants you to know about these valuable education credits:
1. The American Opportunity Credit
- The credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student.
- It is available for the first four years of postsecondary education.
- Forty percent of the credit is refundable, which means that you may be able to receive up to $1,000, even if you owe no taxes.
- The student must be pursuing an undergraduate degree or other recognized educational credential.
- The student must be enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period.
- Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, coursed related books supplies and equipment.
- The full credit is generally available to eligible taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is less than $80,000 or $160,000 for married couples filing a joint return.
2. Lifetime Learning Credit
- The credit can be up to $2,000 per eligible student.
- It is available for all years of postsecondary education and for courses to acquire or improve job skills.
- The maximum credited is limited to the amount of tax you must pay on your return.
- The student does not need to be pursuing a degree or other recognized education credential.
- Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, course related books, supplies and equipment.
- The full credit is generally available to eligible taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is less than $60,000 or $120,000 for married couples filing a joint return.
If you don't qualify for these education credits, you may qualify for the tuition and fees deduction, which can reduce the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $4,000. However, you cannot claim the tuition and fees tax deduction in the same year that you claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. You must choose to either take the credit or the deduction and should consider which is more beneficial for you.
For more information about these tax benefits, see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education available at www.irs.gov or by calling the IRS forms and publications order line at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Thursday, February 23, 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.
For more information, review IRS Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), Publication 4703, Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, and Form 8880. Publications and forms can be downloaded at www.irs.gov or ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Tuesday, February 21, 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).
Friday, February 17, 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 email@example.com.
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.
Thursday, February 16, 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.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Unemployment can be stressful enough without having to figure out the tax treatment of the unemployment benefits you receive.
Unemployment compensation generally includes, among other forms, state unemployment compensation benefits, but the tax implications depend on the type of program paying the benefits. You must report unemployment compensation on line 19 of Form 1040, line 13 of Form 1040A, or line 3 of Form 1040EZ.
Here are four tips from the IRS about unemployment benefits.
1. You must include all unemployment compensation you receive in your total income for the year. You should receive a Form 1099-G, with the total unemployment compensation paid to you shown in box 1.
2. Other types of unemployment benefits include:
- Benefits paid by a state or the District of Columbia from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund
- Railroad unemployment compensation benefits
- Disability payments from a government program paid as a substitute for unemployment compensation
- Trade readjustment allowances under the Trade Act of 1974
- Unemployment assistance under the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act
For complete information on each of the benefits listed, see chapter 12 in IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, or Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income.
3. You must report benefits paid to you as an unemployed member of a union from regular union dues. However, if you contribute to a special union fund and your payments to the fund are not deductible, you only need to include in your income the unemployment benefits that exceed the amount of your contributions.
4. You can choose to have federal income tax withheld from your unemployment compensation. To make this choice, complete Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request, and give it to the paying office. Tax will be withheld at 10 percent of your payment. If you choose not to have tax withheld, you may have to make estimated tax payments throughout the year.
For more information on unemployment compensation see IRS Publications 17 and 525. Forms and publications can be downloaded from the IRS Website at www.irs.gov or can be ordered by calling 1-800-829-3676.
Tuesday, February 14, 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 the tax year 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).
Monday, February 13, 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.
For more information, see IRS Publication 972, available at www.IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). You can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant on the IRS website to determine if you’re eligible for the Child Tax Credit. The ITA is a tax law resource that takes you through a series of questions and provides you with responses to tax law questions.
Friday, February 10, 2012
The IRS has a new form taxpayers must use to report most capital gains and losses from transactions relating to investment property. In previous years, these transactions would have been reported on your IRS Schedule D or D-1, but for tax year 2011, use Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets.
Here are eight important points about the new Form 8949 and IRS Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses:
1. Short-term capital gains or losses (assets held for one year or less) are now reported on Part I of Form 8949.
2. Long-term capital gains or losses (assets held for more than one year) are now reported on Part II of Form 8949.
3. Fill out Form 8949 before you fill out line 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 or 10 of Schedule D.
4. Most property you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset. Use Form 8949 to report the sale or exchange of a capital asset you are not reporting on another form or schedule (such as Form 6252 or 8824).
5. At the top of each Form 8949 you file, you'll need to check box A, B or C, based on what is indicated in box 3 of the Form 1099-B or substitute statement.
- Check box A if your broker reported the transaction to you and the basis of the securities sold also was reported to the IRS
- Check box B if the transaction was reported to you but box 3 of the Form 1099-B is blank or your statement says the basis was not reported to the IRS.
- Check box C for all other transactions.
6. If you have a lot of transactions, use as many Forms 8949 as necessary to report all of them, but make sure that each Form 8949 includes only the type of transactions described in the text for the box you checked (A, B or C).
7. The reporting of certain transactions has changed. If you have to adjust your gain or loss, you may have to enter a code in column (b) and an adjustment in column (g). For details, see the 2011 Instructions for Schedule D (and Form 8949).
8. For 2011 transactions, Schedule D-1 is no longer in use. Form 8949 replaces it.
Thursday, February 9, 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.
Detailed information on these changes can be found on the IRS website – www.irs.gov.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Many people may not realize the Social Security benefits they received in 2011 may be taxable. All Social Security recipients should receive a Form SSA-1099 from the Social Security Administration which shows the total amount of their benefits. You can use this information to help you determine if your benefits are taxable. Here are seven tips from the IRS to help you:
1. How much – if any – of your Social Security benefits are taxable depends on your total income and marital status.
2. Generally, if Social Security benefits were your only income for 2011, your benefits are not taxable and you probably do not need to file a federal income tax return.
3. If you received income from other sources, your benefits will not be taxed unless your modified adjusted gross income is more than the base amount for your filing status (see below).
4. Your taxable benefits and modified adjusted gross income are figured on a worksheet in the Form 1040A or Form 1040 Instruction booklet. Your tax software program will also figure this for you.
5. You can do the following quick computation to determine whether some of your benefits may be taxable:
- First, add one-half of the total Social Security benefits you received to all your other income, including any tax-exempt interest and other exclusions from income.
- Then, compare this total to the base amount for your filing status. If the total is more than your base amount, some of your benefits may be taxable.
6. The 2011 base amounts are:
- $32,000 for married couples filing jointly.
- $25,000 for single, head of household, qualifying widow/widower with a dependent child, or married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouse at any time during the year.
- $0 for married persons filing separately who lived together during the year.
7. For additional information on the taxability of Social Security benefits, see IRS Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits. You can get a copy of Publication 915 at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Although most income you receive is taxable and must be reported on your federal income tax return, there are some instances when income may not be taxable.
The IRS offers the following list of items that do not have to be included as taxable income:
- Adoption expense reimbursements for qualifying expenses
- Child support payments
- Gifts, bequests and inheritances
- Workers' compensation benefits (some exceptions may apply; see Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income)
- Meals and lodging for the convenience of your employer
- Compensatory damages awarded for physical injury or physical sickness
- Welfare benefits
- Cash rebates from a dealer or manufacturer
Some income may be taxable under certain circumstances, but not taxable in other situations. Examples of items that may or may not be included in your taxable income are:
Life insurance If you surrender a life insurance policy for cash, you must include in income any proceeds that are more than the cost of the life insurance policy. Life insurance proceeds, which were paid to you because of the insured person’s death, are generally not taxable unless the policy was turned over to you for a price.
Scholarship or fellowship grant If you are a candidate for a degree, you can exclude from income amounts you receive as a qualified scholarship or fellowship. Amounts used for room and board do not qualify for the exclusion.
Non-cash income Taxable income may be in a form other than cash. One example of this is bartering, which is an exchange of property or services. The fair market value of goods and services exchanged is fully taxable and must be included as income on Form 1040 of both parties.
All other items—including income such as wages, salaries, tips and unemployment compensation — are fully taxable and must be included in your income unless it is specifically excluded by law.
These examples are not all-inclusive. For more information, see Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income, which can be obtained at the IRS.gov website or by calling the IRS at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Monday, February 6, 2012
Direct deposit is the fastest, safest way to receive your tax refund. When a taxpayer combines e-file and direct deposit, the IRS will likely issue your refund in as few as 10 days.
Here are four reasons more than 79 million taxpayers chose direct deposit in 2011:
1. Security Thousands of paper checks are returned to the IRS by the U.S. Post Office every year as undeliverable mail. Direct deposit eliminates the possibility of your refund check being lost, stolen or returned to the IRS as undeliverable.
2. Convenience The money goes directly into your bank account. You won’t have to make a special trip to the bank to deposit the money yourself.
3. Ease When you’re preparing your return; simply follow the instructions on your return or in the tax software. Make sure you enter the correct bank account and bank routing numbers.
4. Options You can deposit your refund into multiple accounts. With the split refund option, taxpayers can divide their refunds among as many as three checking or savings accounts and up to three different U.S. financial institutions. Use IRS Form 8888, Allocation of Refund (Including Savings Bond Purchases), to divide your refund. A word of caution: Some financial institutions do not allow a joint refund to be deposited into an individual account. Check with your bank or other financial institution to make sure your direct deposit will be accepted. Additionally, Form 8888 should NOT be used to designate part of your refund to pay your tax preparer.
For more information about direct deposit of your tax refund and the split refund option, check the instructions for your tax form. Helpful tips are also available in IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax. To get a copy of Publication 17 or Form 8888, visit the IRS Forms and Publications section at the IRS.gov website or call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676)
Friday, February 3, 2012
If you changed your name after a recent marriage or divorce, the IRS reminds you to take the necessary steps to ensure the name on your tax return matches the name registered with the Social Security Administration. A mismatch between the name shown on your tax return and the SSA records can cause problems in the processing of your return and may even delay your refund.
Here are five tips from the IRS for recently married or divorced taxpayers who have a name change.
1. f you took your spouse’s last name -- or if you hyphenated your last names, you may run into complications if you don’t notify the SSA. When newlyweds file a tax return using their new last names, IRS computers can’t match the new name with their Social Security number.
2. If you recently divorced and changed back to your previous last name, you’ll also need to notify the SSA of this name change.
3. Informing the SSA of a name change is easy. Simply file a Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, at your local SSA office or by mail and provide a recently issued document as proof of your legal name change.
4. Form SS-5 is available on SSA’s website at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/, by calling 800-772-1213 or at local offices. Your new card will have the same number as your previous card, but will show your new name.
5. If you adopted your spouse’s children after getting married and their names changed, you'll need to update their names with SSA too. For adopted children without SSNs, the parents can apply for an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number – or ATIN – by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions with the IRS. The ATIN is a temporary number used in place of an SSN on the tax return. Form W-7A is available on the IRS.gov website or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Thursday, February 2, 2012
New Tool Available on IRS Website to Help Taxpayers Who Have to Repay Their First-Time Homebuyer Credit
The IRS has a tool to help people who have to repay their First-Time Homebuyer Credit. Reminder letters will no longer be mailed to taxpayers who have to repay the credit but you can now use an online lookup tool on the IRS website to check your repayment obligation. The following four tips will help you look up information on your First-Time Homebuyer Credit:
1. Who needs to repay the credit? If you bought a home in 2008 and claimed the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, the credit is similar to a no-interest loan and must be repaid in 15 equal annual installments that began with your 2010 return. Also, anyone who sold their home, or stopped using it as their main home, may have to repay the entire credit whether their home was purchased in 2008, 2009 or 2010.
2. Information needed to access the tool The First-Time Homebuyer Credit Tool will provide critical account information to help you report your repayment obligation on your tax return. To access the tool you will need: your Social Security number, date of birth and complete address. If you file a joint return, you’ll only be able to access your portion of the First-Time Homebuyer Credit account information.
3. What the tool provides The tool will show the original amount of the credit, annual repayment amounts, total amount paid and the total balance left to be paid. You will be able to print your account page to share with your tax preparer and keep for your records.
4. How to repay the credit To repay the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, add the amount you have to repay to any other tax you owe on your federal tax return. This could result in an additional tax owed or a reduced refund. To repay the credit, you report the repayment on line 59b on Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. If you make an installment payment, you do not need to attach Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit, to your tax return. However, if you are repaying the credit because the home stopped being your main home, you must attach Form 5405.
You can access the First-Time Homebuyer Credit Lookup Tool, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, visit the IRS.gov website.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The Earned Income Tax Credit is a financial boost for workers earning $49,078 or less in 2011. Four of five eligible taxpayers filed for and received their EITC last year. The IRS wants you to get what you earned also, if you are eligible.
Here are the top 10 things the IRS wants you to know about this valuable credit, which has been making the lives of working people a little easier since 1975.
1. As your financial, marital or parental situations change from year to year, you should review the EITC eligibility rules to determine whether you qualify. Just because you didn’t qualify last year doesn’t mean you won’t this year.
2. If you qualify, the credit could be worth up to $5,751. EITC not only reduces the federal tax you owe, but could result in a refund. The amount of your EITC is based on your earned income and whether or not there are qualifying children in your household. The average credit was around $2,240 last year.
3. If you are eligible for EITC, you must file a federal income tax return and specifically claim the credit – even if you are not otherwise required to file. Remember to include Schedule EIC, Earned Income Credit when you file your Form 1040 or, if you file Form 1040A, use and retain the EIC worksheet.
4. You do not qualify for EITC if your filing status is Married Filing Separately.
5. You must have a valid Social Security number for yourself, your spouse – if filing a joint return – and any qualifying child listed on Schedule EIC.
6. You must have earned income. You have earned income if you work for someone who pays you wages, you are self-employed, you have income from farming, or – in some cases – you receive disability income.
7. Married couples and single people without children may qualify. If you do not have qualifying children, you must also meet the age and residency requirements, as well as dependency rules.
8. Special rules apply to members of the U.S. Armed Forces in combat zones. Members of the military can elect to include their nontaxable combat pay in earned income for the EITC. If you make this election, the combat pay remains nontaxable.
9. It’s easy to determine whether you qualify. The EITC Assistant, an interactive tool available on the IRS website, removes the guesswork from eligibility rules. Just answer a few simple questions to find out if you qualify and estimate the amount of your EITC.
10. Free help is available at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites to help you prepare and claim your EITC. If you are preparing your taxes electronically, the software will figure the credit for you. To find a VITA site near you, visit the IRS.gov website.
For more information about the EITC, see IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit. You can download this publication – available in English and Spanish – from this website or order it by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).