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Friday, March 30, 2012
If you gave money or property to someone as a gift, you may owe federal gift tax. Many gifts are not subject to the gift tax, but the IRS offers the following eight tips about gifts and the gift tax.
1. Most gifts are not subject to the gift tax. For example, there is usually no tax if you make a gift to your spouse or to a charity. If you make a gift to someone else, the gift tax usually does not apply until the value of the gifts you give that person exceeds the annual exclusion for the year. For 2011 and 2012, the annual exclusion is $13,000.
2. Gift tax returns do not need to be filed unless you give someone, other than your spouse, money or property worth more than the annual exclusion for that year.
3. Generally, the person who receives your gift will not have to pay any federal gift tax because of it. Also, that person will not have to pay income tax on the value of the gift received.
4. Making a gift does not ordinarily affect your federal income tax. You cannot deduct the value of gifts you make (other than deductible charitable contributions).
5. The general rule is that any gift is a taxable gift. However, there are many exceptions to this rule. The following gifts are not taxable gifts:
• Gifts that are do not exceed the annual exclusion for the calendar year,
• Tuition or medical expenses you pay directly to a medical or educational institution for someone,
• Gifts to your spouse,
• Gifts to a political organization for its use, and
• Gifts to charities.
6. You and your spouse can make a gift up to $26,000 to a third party without making a taxable gift. The gift can be considered as made one-half by you and one-half by your spouse. If you split a gift you made, you must file a gift tax return to show that you and your spouse agree to use gift splitting. You must file a Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, even if half of the split gift is less than the annual exclusion.
7. You must file a gift tax return on Form 709, if any of the following apply:
• You gave gifts to at least one person (other than your spouse) that are more than the annual exclusion for the year.
• You and your spouse are splitting a gift.
• You gave someone (other than your spouse) a gift of a future interest that he or she cannot actually possess, enjoy, or receive income from until some time in the future.
• You gave your spouse an interest in property that will terminate due to a future event.
8. You do not have to file a gift tax return to report gifts to political organizations and gifts made by paying someone’s tuition or medical expenses.
For more information see Publication 950, Introduction to Estate and Gift Taxes. Both Form 709 and Publication 950 are available at www.IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
You may be an injured spouse if you file a joint tax return and all or part of your portion of a refund was, or is expected to be, applied to your spouse’s legally enforceable past due financial obligations.
Here are seven facts about claiming injured spouse relief:
1. To be considered an injured spouse; you must have paid federal income tax or claimed a refundable tax credit, such as the Earned Income Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit on the joint return, and not be legally obligated to pay the past-due debt.
2. Special rules apply in community property states. For more information about the factors used to determine whether you are subject to community property laws, see IRS Publication 555, Community Property.
3. 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 Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation.
4. You may file form 8379 along with your original tax return or your may file it by itself after you receive an IRS notice about the offset.
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.
7. Do not use Form 8379 if you are claiming innocent spouse relief. Instead, file Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief. This relief from a joint liability applies only in certain limited circumstances. However, in 2011 the IRS eliminated the two-year time limit that applies to certain relief requests. IRS Publication 971, Innocent Spouse Relief, explains who may qualify, and how to request this relief.
For complete information on Injured and Innocent Spouse Tax Relief, visit IRS.gov
Wednesday, March 14, 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.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
The IRS would like you to get some credit for qualified home energy improvements this year. Perhaps you installed solar equipment or recently insulated your home? Here are two tax credits that may be available to you:
1. The Non-business Energy Property Credit Homeowners who install energy-efficient improvements may qualify for this credit. The 2011 credit is 10 percent of the cost of qualified energy-efficient improvements, up to $500. Qualifying improvements includeadding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and doors and certain roofs. The cost of installing these items does not count. You can also claim a credit including installation costs, for certain high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters and stoves that burn biomass fuel. The credit has a lifetime limit of $500, of which only $200 may be used for windows. If you've claimed more than $500 of non-business energy property credits since 2005, you can not claim the credit for 2011. Qualifying improvements must have been placed into service in the taxpayer’s principal residence located in the United States before Jan. 1, 2012.
2. Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit This tax credit helps individual taxpayers pay for qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, solar electricity equipment and wind turbines. The credit, which runs through 2016, is 30 percent of the cost of qualified property. There is no cap on the amount of credit available, except for fuel cell property. Generally, you may include labor costs when figuring the credit and you can carry forward any unused portions of this credit. Qualifying equipment must have been installed on or in connection with your home located in the United States; geothermal heat pumps qualify only when installed on or in connection with your main home located in the United States.
Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify so be sure you have the manufacturer’s tax credit certification statement, which can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website or with the product packaging.
If you're eligible, you can claim both of these credits on Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits when you file your 2011 federal income tax return. Also, note these are tax credits and not deductions, so they will generally reduce the amount of tax owed dollar for dollar. Finally, you may claim these credits regardless of whether you itemize deductions on IRS Schedule A.
You can find Form 5695 at IRS.gov or order it by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Friday, March 2, 2012
If you paid expenses to adopt an eligible child in 2011, you may be able to claim a tax credit of up to $13,360.
Here are six things the IRS wants you to know about the expanded adoption credit.
1. The Affordable Care Act increased the amount of the credit and made it refundable, which means you can get the credit as a tax refund even after your tax liability has been reduced to zero.
2. For tax year 2011, you must file a paper tax return, Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses, and attach documents supporting the adoption. Taxpayers claiming the credit will still be able to use IRS Free File or other software to prepare their returns, but the returns must be printed and mailed to the IRS, along with all required documentation.
3. Documents may include a final adoption decree, placement agreement from an authorized agency, court documents and/or the state’s determination for special needs children.
4. Qualified adoption expenses are reasonable and necessary expenses directly related to the legal adoption of the child. These expenses may include adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees and travel expenses.
5. An eligible child must be under 18 years old, or physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself or herself.
6. If your modified adjusted gross income is more than $185,210, your credit is reduced. If your modified AGI is $225,210 or more, you cannot take the credit.
For more information see the Adoption Credit FAQ page available at www.irs.gov or the instructions to IRS Form 8839, which can be downloaded from the website or ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Thursday, March 1, 2012
A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of taxes owed. Some tax credits are refundable meaning if you are eligible and claim one, you can get the rest of it in the form of a tax refund even after your tax liability has been reduced to zero.
Here are four refundable tax credits you should consider to increase your refund on your 2011 federal income tax return:
1. The Earned Income Tax Credit is for people earning less than $49,078 from wages, self-employment or farming. Millions of workers who saw their earnings drop in 2011 may qualify for the first time. Income, age and the number of qualifying children determine the amount of the credit, which can be up to $5,751. Workers without children also may qualify. For more information, see IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit.
2. The Child and Dependent Care Credit is for expenses paid for the care of your qualifying children under age 13, or for a disabled spouse or dependent, while you work or look for work. For more information, see IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
3. The Child Tax Credit is for people who have a qualifying child. The maximum credit is $1,000 for each qualifying child. You can claim this credit in addition to the Child and Dependent Care Credit. For more information on the Child Tax Credit, see IRS Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.
4. The Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, also known as the Saver’s Credit, is designed to help low-to-moderate income workers save for retirement. You may qualify if your income is below a certain limit and you contribute to an IRA or workplace retirement plan, such as a 401(k) plan. The Saver’s Credit is available in addition to any other tax savings that apply. For more information, see IRS Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).
There are many other tax credits that may be available to you depending on your facts and circumstances. Since many qualifications and limitations apply to various tax credits, you should carefully check your tax form instructions, the listed publications and additional information available at www.irs.gov. IRS forms and publications are available on the IRS website at www.irs.gov and by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).