David Kirkpatrick

September 13, 2010

August 4, 2010

Looking way ahead …

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:28 pm

… all the way to next year’s tax season. Here’s some tips on using an offer in compromise on your total tax bill from the IRS. This is a tough, tough year and it doesn’t hurt to begin reviewing your options this early.

From the AICPA link:

In these economic times, more taxpayers are not able to fully pay their federal income taxes when due. There are several methods that may be used to pay tax liabilities in this situation, one of which is an offer in compromise (OIC).

Sec. 7122 permits the IRS to compromise a tax liability on one of the following grounds:

  • Doubt as to liability;
  • Doubt as to collectability; or
  • To promote effective tax administration because either collection of the full amount would cause economic hardship for the taxpayer or compelling public policy or equity considerations provide a sufficient basis for compromising the liability.

July 6, 2010

Eligible homebuyer credit closing deadline pushed to September 30

News from the IRS:

Closing Deadline Extended to Sept. 30 for Eligible Homebuyer Credit Purchases

IR-2010-80, July 2, 2010

WASHINGTON — Eligible taxpayers who contracted to buy a home, qualifying for the first-time homebuyer credit, before the end of April now have until Sept. 30, 2010 to close the deal, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The Homebuyer Assistance and Improvement Act of 2010, signed by the President today, extended the closing deadline from June 30 to Sept. 30 for any eligible homebuyer who entered into a binding purchase contract on or before April 30 to close on the purchase of the home on or before June 30, 2010. The new law addresses concerns that many homebuyers might be unable to meet the original June 30 closing deadline.

The IRS reminds taxpayers that special filing and documentation requirements apply to anyone claiming the homebuyer credit. To avoid refund delays, those who entered into a purchase contract on or before April 30, but closed after that date, should attach to their return a copy of the pages from the signed contract showing all parties’ names and signatures if required by local law, the property address, the purchase price, and the date of the contract.

Besides filling out Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit, all eligible homebuyers must also include with their return one of the following documents:

  • A copy of the settlement statement showing all parties’ names and signatures if required by local law, property address, sales price, and date of purchase. Normally, this is the properly executed Form HUD-1, Settlement Statement.
  • For mobile home purchasers who are unable to get a settlement statement, a copy of the executed retail sales contract showing all parties’ names and signatures, property address, purchase price and date of purchase.
  • For a newly constructed home where a settlement statement is not available, a copy of the certificate of occupancy showing the owner’s name, property address and date of the certificate.

Besides providing a tax benefit to first-time homebuyers and purchasers who haven’t owned homes in recent years, the law allows a long-time resident of the same main home to claim the credit if they purchase a new principal residence. To qualify, eligible taxpayers must show that they lived in their old homes for a five-consecutive-year period during the eight-year period ending on the purchase date of the new home. Homebuyers claiming this credit can avoid refund delays by attaching documentation covering the five-consecutive-year period:

  • Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, or substitute mortgage interest statements,
  • Property tax records or
  • Homeowner’s insurance records.

There are three options for claiming the credit on a qualifying 2010 purchase:

  • If a 2009 return has not yet been filed, claim it on Form 1040 for tax-year 2009. Though these returns cannot be filed electronically, taxpayers can still use IRS Free File to prepare their return. The returns must be printed out and sent to the IRS, along with all required documentation. The IRS urges taxpayers claiming refunds to choose direct deposit.
  • If a 2009 return has already been filed, claim it on an amended return using Form 1040X.
  • Whether or not a 2009 return has been filed, wait until next year and claim it on a 2010 Form 1040.

More details on claiming the credit can be found in the instructions to Form 5405, as well as on the First-Time Homebuyer Credit page on IRS.gov.

June 1, 2010

New legislation offers small business tax incentives

News straight from the source

The release:

Recent Legislation Offers Special Tax Incentives for Small Businesses to Provide Health Care, Hire New Workers

Videos
HIRE Act: English
Small Business Health Care Tax Credit: English

IR-2010-69, May 28, 2010

WASHINGTON — In recognition of National Small Business Week, the Internal Revenue Service encourages small businesses to take advantage of tax-saving opportunities included in recently enacted federal legislation.

A variety of business tax deductions and credits were created, extended and expanded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), this year’s Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act and the Affordable Care Act. Because some of these changes are only available this year, eligible businesses only have a few months to take action and save on their taxes. Here is a rundown of some of the key provisions.

New Health Care Tax Credit Helps Small Employers

The small business health care tax credit, created under the Affordable Care Act, is designed to encourage small employers to offer health insurance coverage for the first time or maintain coverage they already have.

The credit takes effect this year and is generally available to small employers that pay at least half the cost of single coverage for their employees in 2010. The credit is specifically targeted to help small employers that primarily employ low- and moderate-income workers.

For tax years 2010 to 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent of premiums paid by eligible small business employers. The maximum credit goes to smaller employers –– those with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) employees ––  paying annual average wages of $25,000 or less. The credit is completely phased out for employers with more than 25 FTEs or with average wages of more than $50,000.

Because the eligibility rules are based in part on the number of FTEs, not the number of employees, businesses that use part-time help may qualify even if they employ more than 25 individuals. More information about the credit, including a step-by-step guide and answers to frequently asked questions, is available on the IRS website.

Two New Benefits for Employers that Hire and Retain Recently Unemployed

Employers who hire unemployed workers this year (after Feb. 3, 2010, and before Jan. 1, 2011) may qualify for a 6.2-percent payroll tax incentive, in effect exempting them from the employer’s share of Social Security tax on wages paid to these workers after March 18. In addition, for each qualified employee retained for at least a year whose wages did not significantly decrease in the second half of the year, businesses may claim a new hire retention credit of up to $1,000 per worker on their income tax return.

These tax benefits are especially helpful to employers who are adding positions to their payrolls. New hires filling existing positions also qualify but only if the workers they are replacing left voluntarily or for cause. Family members and other relatives generally do not qualify.

Employers must get a signed statement from each eligible new hire, certifying under penalties of perjury, that he or she was not employed for more than 40 hours during the 60 days before beginning employment with that employer. IRS Form W-11 can be used to meet this requirement. Further details, including answers to frequently asked questions, are posted on IRS.gov.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit Aids Employers That Hire Certain Workers

The work opportunity tax credit (WOTC) offers tax savings to businesses that hire employees belonging to various targeted groups. These groups include people ages 18 to 39 living in designated communities in 43 states and the District of Columbia, recipients of various types of public assistance, certain veterans, ex-felons and certain youth workers. The instructions for Form 8850 detail the requirements for each of these groups.

Certification by the state workforce agency is generally required. Normally, a business must file Form 8850 with the state workforce agency within 28 days after the eligible worker begins work.

An eligible employer can claim both the WOTC and the new hire retention credit for the same employee. However, an employer may not claim both the payroll tax exemption and the WOTC for the same employee. Therefore, any employer that chooses to apply the exemption to wages paid to a qualified employee may not receive the WOTC on any wages paid to that employee during the one-year period beginning on the employee’s hiring date.

Exclusion of Gain on the Sale of Certain Small Business Stock

An extra incentive is now available to individuals who invest in small businesses. Investors in qualified small business stock can exclude 75 percent of the gain upon sale of the stock. This increased exclusion applies only if the qualified small business stock is acquired after Feb. 17, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2011, and held for more than five years. For previously-acquired stock, the exclusion rate remains at 50 percent in most cases.

COBRA Credit

Employers that provide the 65 percent COBRA premium subsidy to eligible former employees can claim credit for this subsidy on their quarterly or annual payroll tax returns. To help avoid imposing an unnecessary cash-flow burden, affected employers can reduce their payroll tax deposits by the amount of the credit. For details, see the instructions for Form 941.

Small business owners can find a variety of helpful on-line resources in the Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center on IRS.gov.

May 5, 2010

IRS offering open house May 15 for small business and individuals

The facts straight from the source:

Open House on Saturday May 15 to Help Small Businesses, Individuals Solve Tax Problems

IR-2010-55, May 3, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service will host a special nationwide Open House on Saturday May 15 to help small businesses and individuals solve tax problems.

Approximately 200 IRS offices, at least one in every state, will be open May 15 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time. IRS staff will be available on site or by telephone to help taxpayers work through their problems and walk out with solutions.

“Our goal is to resolve issues on the spot so small businesses and individuals can put any issues they have with the IRS behind them,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. “If you have a problem filing or paying your taxes or resolving a tough tax issue, we encourage you to come in and work with us.”

IRS locations will be equipped to handle issues involving notices and payments, return preparation, audits and a variety of other issues. At a previous IRS Open House on March 27, approximately two-thirds of taxpayers requested and received assistance with payments and notices.

So, for example, a taxpayer who cannot pay a tax balance due can discuss with an IRS professional whether an installment agreement is appropriate and, if so, fill out the paperwork then and there. Assistance with offers-in-compromise will also be available. Likewise, a taxpayer struggling to complete a certain IRS form or schedule can work directly with IRS staff to get the job done.

At the March 27 Open House, 88 percent of the taxpayers who came in for help had their issues resolved the same day.

Locations for the May 15 Open House are listed here.

The Open House on May 15 is the first of three events scheduled through the end of June. The next two are planned for Saturday June 5 and Saturday June 26. Details regarding those events will be available soon.

April 15, 2010

Tax day is here

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:32 pm

Hope you’ve already taken care of the unpleasant chore of federal income taxes. If you want to see some frazzled people, head to the largest post office branch in your city or town between around 10 p.m. and midnight to see all those very last minute filers. Of course with electronic filing that little bit of yearly Americana is probably heading toward extinction.

March 25, 2010

IRS “open house” for tax help this Saturday

News straight from the source:

More than 180 Local IRS Offices Open this Saturday to Help Taxpayers

IR-2010-36, March 24, 2010

WASHINGTON — The IRS announced today that Internal Revenue Service offices will be open, nationwide, on Saturday, March 27 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., local time to help taxpayers. The location of participating offices is listed on IRS.gov.

“We are holding these special open houses to give taxpayers who are struggling in these difficult economic times more opportunity to work directly with IRS employees to resolve their tax issues,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman.  “We will host more than 180 open houses this Saturday.”

During the expanded open-house hours on Saturday, taxpayers will be able to address economic hardship issues, make payment arrangements or get help claiming any of the special tax breaks in last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including the:

  • Homebuyer tax credit – a refundable credit equal to 10 percent of the purchase price up to a maximum of $8,000 ($4,000 if married filing separately). A first-time homebuyer is an individual who, with his or her spouse if married, has not owned any other principal residence for three years prior to the date of purchase of the new principal residence for which the credit is being claimed.
  • American Opportunity Credit — a federal education credit to offset part of the cost of college under the new American Opportunity Credit. This credit modifies the existing Hope credit for tax years 2009 and 2010, making it available to a broader range of taxpayers. Income guidelines are expanded and required course materials are added to the list of qualified expenses. Many of those eligible will qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student.
  • Making Work Pay credit — In 2009 and 2010, the Making Work Pay provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will provide a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for working individuals and up to $800 for married taxpayers filing joint returns.
  • Expanded Earned Income Tax Credit – there is now a new tax classification for EITC recipients who have three or more children and a higher credit amount – up to $5,657

In addition to IRS help, community organizations partner with the IRS. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs assist people who earned $49,000 or less and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs assist individuals 60 and over with their 2009 income tax return preparation and electronic filing.   Many of these sites have Saturday hours while others offer assistance at various times during the week.  To locate the partner sites in this area call 1-800-906-9887.

In addition to the open houses this Saturday, the IRS will open many of its offices on three additional Saturdays in the spring and early summer.

March 17, 2010

The IRS’ “dirty dozen” scams for 2010

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:17 pm

News you can, and should, use from the IRS.

The release:

Beware of IRS’ 2010 “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams

IR-2010-32, March 16, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued its 2010 “dirty dozen” list of tax scams, including schemes involving return preparer fraud, hiding income offshore and phishing.

“Taxpayers should be wary of anyone peddling scams that seem too good to be true,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. “The IRS fights fraud by pursuing taxpayers who hide income abroad and by ensuring taxpayers get competent, ethical service from qualified professionals at home in the U.S.”

Tax schemes are illegal and can lead to imprisonment and fines for both scam artists and taxpayers. Taxpayers pulled into these schemes must repay unpaid taxes plus interest and penalties. The IRS pursues and shuts down promoters of these and numerous other scams.

The IRS urges taxpayers to avoid these common schemes:

Return Preparer Fraud

Dishonest return preparers can cause trouble for taxpayers who fall victim to their ploys. Such preparers derive financial gain by skimming a portion of their clients’ refunds, charging inflated fees for return preparation services and attracting new clients by promising refunds that are too good to be true. Taxpayers should choose carefully when hiring a tax preparer. Federal courts have issued injunctions ordering hundreds of individuals to cease preparing returns and promoting fraud, and the Department of Justice has filed complaints against dozens of others, which are pending in court.

To increase confidence in the tax system and improve compliance with the tax law, the IRS is implementing a number of steps for future filing seasons. These include a requirement that all paid tax return preparers register with the IRS and obtain a preparer tax identification number (PTIN), as well as both competency tests and ongoing continuing professional education for all paid tax return preparers except attorneys, certified public accountants (CPAs) and enrolled agents.

Setting higher standards for the tax preparer community will significantly enhance protections and services for taxpayers, increase confidence in the tax system and result in greater compliance with tax laws over the long term. Other measures the IRS anticipates taking are highlighted in the IRS Return Preparer Review issued in December 2009.

Hiding Income Offshore

The IRS aggressively pursues taxpayers involved in abusive offshore transactions as well as the promoters, professionals and others who facilitate or enable these schemes. Taxpayers have tried to avoid or evade U.S. income tax by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or through the use of nominee entities. Taxpayers also evade taxes by using offshore debit cards, credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans.

IRS agents continue to develop their investigations of these offshore tax avoidance transactions using information gained from over 14,700 voluntary disclosures received last year. While special civil-penalty provisions for those with undisclosed offshore accounts expired in 2009, the IRS continues to urge taxpayers with offshore accounts or entities to voluntarily come forward and resolve their tax matters. By making a voluntary disclosure, taxpayers may mitigate their risk of criminal prosecution.

Phishing

Phishing is a tactic used by scam artists to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing personal or financial information online. IRS impersonation schemes flourish during the filing season and can take the form of e-mails, tweets or phony Web sites. Scammers may also use phones and faxes to reach their victims.

Scam artists will try to mislead consumers by telling them they are entitled to a tax refund from the IRS and that they must reveal personal information to claim it. Criminals use the information they get to steal the victim’s identity, access bank accounts, run up credit card charges or apply for loans in the victim’s name.

Taxpayers who receive suspicious e-mails claiming to come from the IRS should not open any attachments or click on any of the links in the e-mail. Suspicious e-mails claiming to be from the IRS or Web addresses that do not begin with http://www.irs.gov should be forwarded to the IRS mailbox: phishing@irs.gov.

Filing False or Misleading Forms

The IRS is seeing various instances where scam artists file false or misleading returns to claim refunds that they are not entitled to. Under the scheme, taxpayers fabricate an information return and falsely claim the corresponding amount as withholding as a way to seek a tax refund. Phony information returns, such as a Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), claiming false withholding credits usually are used to legitimize erroneous refund claims. One version of the scheme is based on a false theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for its citizens, and that taxpayers can gain access to funds in those accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to their creditors, including the IRS.

Nontaxable Social Security Benefits with Exaggerated Withholding Credit

The IRS has identified returns where taxpayers report nontaxable Social Security Benefits with excessive withholding. This tactic results in no income reported to the IRS on the tax return. Often both the withholding amount and the reported income are incorrect. Taxpayers should avoid making these mistakes. Filings of this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.

Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions

The IRS continues to observe the misuse of tax-exempt organizations. Abuse includes arrangements to improperly shield income or assets from taxation and attempts by donors to maintain control over donated assets or income from donated property. The IRS also continues to investigate various schemes involving the donation of non-cash assets including situations where several organizations claim the full value for both the receipt and distribution of the same non-cash contribution. Often these donations are highly overvalued or the organization receiving the donation promises that the donor can repurchase the items later at a price set by the donor. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 imposed increased penalties for inaccurate appraisals and set new definitions of qualified appraisals and qualified appraisers for taxpayers claiming charitable contributions.

Frivolous Arguments

Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage people to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. If a scheme seems too good to be true, it probably is. The IRS has a list of frivolous legal positions that taxpayers should avoid. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law or IRS guidance.

Abusive Retirement Plans

The IRS continues to find abuses in retirement plan arrangements, including Roth Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). The IRS is looking for transactions that taxpayers use to avoid the limits on contributions to IRAs, as well as transactions that are not properly reported as early distributions. Taxpayers should be wary of advisers who encourage them to shift appreciated assets at less than fair market value into IRAs or companies owned by their IRAs to circumvent annual contribution limits. Other variations have included the use of limited liability companies to engage in activity that is considered prohibited.

Disguised Corporate Ownership

Corporations and other entities are formed and operated in certain states for the purpose of disguising the ownership of the business or financial activity by means such as improperly using a third party to request an employer identification number.
Such entities can be used to facilitate underreporting of income, fictitious deductions, non-filing of tax returns, participating in listed transactions, money laundering, financial crimes and even terrorist financing. The IRS is working with state authorities to identify these entities and to bring the owners of these entities into compliance with the law.

Zero Wages

Filing a phony wage- or income-related information return to replace a legitimate information return has been used as an illegal method to lower the amount of taxes owed. Typically, a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 is used as a way to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. The taxpayer also may submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a payer to the IRS.

Sometimes fraudsters even include an explanation on their Form 4852 that cites statutory language on the definition of wages or may include some reference to a paying company that refuses to issue a corrected Form W-2 for fear of IRS retaliation. Taxpayers should resist any temptation to participate in any of the variations of this scheme. Filings of this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.

Misuse of Trusts

For years, unscrupulous promoters have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts.  While there are many legitimate, valid uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, some promoted transactions promise reduction of income subject to tax, deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. Such trusts rarely deliver the tax benefits promised and are used primarily as a means to avoid income tax liability and to hide assets from creditors, including the IRS.

The IRS has recently seen an increase in the improper use of private annuity trusts and foreign trusts to shift income and deduct personal expenses. As with other arrangements, taxpayers should seek the advice of a trusted professional before entering into a trust arrangement.

Fuel Tax Credit Scams

The IRS receives claims for the fuel tax credit that are excessive. Some taxpayers, such as farmers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes, may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But other individuals are claiming the tax credit for nontaxable uses of fuel when their occupation or income level makes the claim unreasonable. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and potentially subjects those who improperly claim the credit to a $5,000 penalty.

How to Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity

Suspected tax fraud can be reported to the IRS using Form 3949-A, Information Referral. The completed form or a letter detailing the alleged fraudulent activity should be addressed to the Internal Revenue Service, Fresno, CA 93888. The mailing should include specific information about who is being reported, the activity being reported, how the activity became known, when the alleged violation took place, the amount of money involved and any other information that might be helpful in an investigation. The person filing the report is not required to self-identify, although it is helpful to do so. The identity of the person filing the report can be kept confidential.

Whistleblowers also may provide allegations of fraud to the IRS and may be eligible for a reward by filing Form 211, Application for Award for Original Information, and following the procedures outlined in Notice 2008-4, Claims Submitted to the IRS Whistleblower Office under Section 7623.

March 10, 2010

IRS outreach to the unemployed

Tax season is here and tax day is looming. If you are currently unemployed, there’s a new one-year only tax break involving your unemployment checks to take advantage of, and the Internal Revenue Service is offering additional assistance for those out of work. Don’t get on the bad side of the IRS because your employment condition and take advantage of every break, deduction and federal assistance and advice out there.

From the second link, the release:

IRS Outlines Additional Steps to Assist Unemployed Taxpayers and Others

Video
Owe Taxes But Can’t Pay? English
Unemployment Compensation: EnglishSpanish
Job Search Expenses: EnglishSpanishASL
For these and other videos:  YouTube/IRSVideos

IR-2010-29, March 9, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today announced several additional steps it is taking this tax season to help people having difficulties meeting their tax obligations because of unemployment or other financial problems.

The steps –– an expansion of efforts that began more than a year ago –– include additional flexibility on offers in compromise for struggling taxpayers, a series of Saturday “open houses” offering taxpayers extra opportunities to work out tax problems face to face with the IRS, special outreach with partner groups to unemployed taxpayers and the availability of more information on a special section of the IRS Web site.

“Times are tough for many people, and the IRS wants to do everything it can to help people who have lost their job or face financial strain,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. “We continue to make adjustments to key programs and expand ways for people to get help. We’re doing everything we can to help ease the burden on struggling taxpayers.”

New Flexibility for Offers in Compromise

For some taxpayers, an offer in compromise –– an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the taxpayer’s debt for less than the full amount owed –– continues to be a viable option. IRS employees will now have additional flexibility when considering offers in compromise from taxpayers facing economic troubles, including the recently unemployed.

Specifically, IRS employees will be permitted to consider a taxpayer’s current income and potential for future income when negotiating an offer in compromise. Normally, the standard practice is to judge an offer amount on a taxpayer’s earnings in prior years. This new step provides greater flexibility when considering offers in compromise from the unemployed. The IRS may also require that a taxpayer entering into such an offer in compromise agree to pay more if the taxpayer’s financial situation improves significantly.

These immediate steps are part of an on-going effort by the IRS to ensure the availability of the Offer in Compromise program for taxpayers.

Hundreds of Saturday Open Houses to Resolve Taxpayer Issues

In addition, IRS will hold hundreds of special Saturday open houses to give struggling taxpayers more opportunity to work directly with IRS employees to resolve issues. The offices will be open on March 27 and three additional Saturdays in the spring and early summer. Dates, times and locations will be announced shortly.

During the expanded Saturday hours, taxpayers will be able to address economic hardship issues they may be facing or get help claiming any of the special tax breaks in last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including the:

  • Homebuyer tax credit
  • American Opportunity Credit
  • Making Work Pay credit
  • Expanded Earned Income Tax Credit

In addition to these special Saturdays, taxpayers can take advantage of toll-free telephone assistance and regularly scheduled hours at local Taxpayer Assistance Centers. Taxpayers can find the location, telephone number and business hours of the nearest assistance center by visiting the Contact My Local Office page on IRS.gov.

Special Outreach Efforts to Unemployed

The IRS is working and coordinating with state departments of revenue and state workforce agencies to help taxpayers who are having problems meeting their tax liabilities because of unemployment or other financial problems.

These coordinated efforts may include opportunities for taxpayers to make payment arrangements and resolve both federal and state tax issues in one place.

Special Section of IRS.gov Created

Taxpayers who are unemployed or struggling financially can find information on a new page on the IRS Web site, IRS.gov. This online tax center has numerous resources including links to information on tax assistance and relief to help struggling taxpayers

Other Options Available for Taxpayers

The IRS will continue to offer other help to taxpayers, including:

  • Assistance of the Taxpayer Advocate Service for those taxpayers experiencing particular hardship navigating the IRS.
  • Postponement of collection actions in certain hardship cases.
  • Added flexibility for missed payments on installment agreements and offers in compromise for previously compliant individuals having difficulty paying.
  • Additional review of home values for offers in compromise in cases where real-estate valuations may not be accurate.
  • Accelerated levy releases for taxpayers facing economic hardship.

In addition, the IRS will accelerate lien relief for homeowners if a taxpayer cannot refinance or sell a home because of a tax lien. As previously announced, a taxpayer seeking to refinance or sell a home may request the IRS make a tax lien secondary to the lien by the lending institution that is refinancing or restructuring a loan. The taxpayer may also request the IRS discharge its claim if the home is being sold for less than the amount of the mortgage lien under certain circumstances.

February 26, 2010

Tax deductions — the odd, the strange and the crazy

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:58 pm

Ever wonder if your crazy tax deduction idea would pass the IRS’s muster? Here’s a list of 14 “oddball” deduction that did just that.

And here’s three samples from the  link:

4. Cat food. A couple who owned a junkyard were allowed to write off the cost of cat food they set out to attract wild cats. The feral felines did more than just eat. They also took care of snakes and rats on the property, making the place safer for customers. When the case reached the Tax Court, IRS lawyers conceded that the cost was deductible.

And:

7. Breast augmentation. In an effort to get bigger tips, an exotic dancer with the stage name “Chesty Love” decided to get implants to make her a size 56-FF. The IRS challenged her deduction, saying the operation was cosmetic surgery. But a female Tax Court judge allowed this taxpayer to claim a depreciation deduction for her new, um, assets, equating them to a stage prop. Alas, the operation later proved to be a problem for Ms. Love. She tripped, rupturing one of her implants. That caused a severe infection, and the implants had to be removed.

And finally:

10. Free beer. In a novel promotion, a service-station owner gave his customers free beer in lieu of trading stamps. Proving that alcohol and gasoline do mix — for tax purposes — the Tax Court allowed the write-off as a business expense.

February 20, 2010

The home office deduction

I’m going out on a limb to guess this tax year an entire slew of one time full-time employees have started businesses out of their homes, either because they became unemployed, their job was scaled back or they were forced into serious pay cuts. As a long-time freelance writer I’ve taken the home office deduction for years. When you work out of your home it’s a deduction you deserve, and should, take. My best advice on the topic? Find a reputable CPA and schedule a meeting immediately (these professionals are already very busy with the 2009 tax year season) to discuss how to handle your home office deduction. This is one tax dedution that pretty much requires professional help.

From the link:

IRS Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home, spells out the rules under which you can take a deduction for using your home as your office, manufacturing facility or warehouse.

Your home office should be used:

—Exclusively and regularly as your principal place of business, or

—Exclusively and regularly as a place where you meet or deal with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of your trade or business.

“Exclusively” refers to the requirement that the part of your home that you use for business cannot be used for any personal reason. The IRS doesn’t require that it be a complete room in a house, or that the space you use be partitioned. It does require that your home office or workspace be a “separately identifiable space.”

February 17, 2010

The 2009 Taxpayer Attitude Survey

Some very interesting results from the eighth survey by the IRS Oversight Board.

From the TaxProf Blog link:

  • How much, if any, do you think is an acceptable amount to cheat on your income taxes? A little here and there, 9% (highest in 6 years)
  • How important is it to you, as a taxpayer, that the IRS does each of the following to ensure that all taxpayers honestly pay what they owe — Ensures high-income taxpayers are reporting and paying their taxes honestly? Very important, 83% (all-time high)
  • How important is it to you, as a taxpayer, that the IRS does each of the following to ensure that all taxpayers honestly pay what they owe — Ensures small businesses are reporting and paying their taxes honestly? Very important, 76% (all-time high)
  • How much influence does each of the following factors have on whether you report and pay your taxes honestly — Fear of an audit? Great deal of influence, 39% (all-time high)
  • How much influence does each of the following factors have on whether you report and pay your taxes honestly — Belief that your neighbors are reporting and paying honestly? Great deal of influence, 17% (all-time low)

February 8, 2010

A note from the IRS

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 8:50 pm

Don’t waste our time.

The release:

IRS Debunks Frivolous Tax Arguments

IR-2010-18, Feb. 5, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today released the 2010 version of its discussion and rebuttal of many of the more common frivolous arguments made by individuals and groups that oppose compliance with federal tax laws.

Anyone who contemplates arguing on legal grounds against paying their fair share of taxes should first read the 80-page document, The Truth about Frivolous Tax Arguments.

The document explains many of the common frivolous arguments made in recent years and it describes the legal responses that refute these claims. It will help taxpayers avoid wasting their time and money with frivolous arguments and incurring penalties.

Congress in 2006 increased the amount of the penalty for frivolous tax returns from $500 to $5,000. The increased penalty amount applies when a person submits a tax return or other specified submission, and any portion of the submission is based on a position the IRS identifies as frivolous.

IRS highlighted in the document about 40 new cases adjudicated in 2009. Highlights include cases involving injunctions against preparers and promoters of Form 1099-Original Issue Discount schemes and injunctions against preparers and promoters of false fuel tax credit schemes.

No estate tax this year

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:41 pm

Well, so far at least. Congress let the estate tax lapse for 2010 meaning anyone lucky (unlucky? since you’re dead) enough to leave an estate this year will leave a larger estate since the Federal government isn’t taking its cut. Of course that might change in the future with some sort of retroactive tax. All in all it’s a confusing situation all around.

From the link:

More than a month into 2010, the Internal Revenue Service is not collecting estate tax on the money that wealthy people, including small business owners, leave to their heirs after they die. The unusual situation results because the U.S.Senate did not pass legislation late last year to remedy the scheduled expiration of the estate tax.The situation is confusing and unfair, and particularly hurts entrepreneurs doing succession planning, says Jonathan M.Bergman, a certified financial planner and vice-president of Palisades Hudson Financial Group, a fee-only financial planning firm in Scarsdale, N.Y. He spoke recently to Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Also from the link, here’s the bottom-line impact of this Congressional blunder:

How much tax revenue is lost when there’s no estate tax?

Around 1% of total Internal Revenue Service collections come from estate taxes.

January 25, 2010

An idea that’s almost too simple

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 8:31 pm

Tax forms pre-filled with the information the IRS has on your taxpayer ID.

From the link:

Requiring taxpayers to file returns without being told what the government already knows makes as much sense “as if Visa sent customers a blank piece of paper, requiring that they assemble their receipts, list their purchases — and pay a fine if they forget one,” said Joseph Bankman, a professor at the Stanford Law School.

Many developed countries now offer taxpayers a return containing all information collected by the taxing authority — to “get the ball rolling by telling you what it knows,” Mr. Bankman says.

It’s a stunningly reasonable idea. When you prepare your return, why can’t you first download whatever data the Internal Revenue Service has received about you and, if your return is simple, learn what the I.R.S.’s calculation of your taxes would be? You’d have the chance to check whether the information was accurate, correct it as needed and add any pertinent details — that you’re newly married, for example, or have a new child — before sending it. Far better to discover problems early with the I.R.S., whose say matters more than third-party software’s best guess.

January 21, 2010

COBRA subsidy extended

Good news for the unemployed who qualify.

The IRS release:

COBRA Subsidy Eligibility Period Extended Through February; 15-Months Subsidy Now Available to Those Who Qualify

Revised Jan. 21, 2010, to add HCTC information

WASHINGTON — Workers who lose their jobs during January and February may qualify for a 65-percent subsidy on their COBRA health insurance premiums, and these newly-eligible individuals, along with those already receiving the subsidy, can now receive it for up to 15 months, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the COBRA subsidy eligibility period was originally scheduled to expire at the end of 2009, and eligible individuals only qualified for the subsidy for nine months. But the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010, enacted on Dec. 19, extended the eligibility period and the maximum duration of COBRA premium assistance.

As a result, workers who are involuntarily terminated from employment between Sept. 1, 2008, and Feb. 28, 2010, may be eligible for a 65-percent subsidy of their COBRA premiums for a period of up to 15 months. Involuntarily terminated employees who meet certain other requirements, and certain family members of those individuals, are referred to as “assistance-eligible individuals.”

Employers must provide COBRA coverage to assistance-eligible individuals who pay 35 percent of the COBRA premium. Employers are reimbursed for the other 65 percent by claiming a credit for the subsidy on their payroll tax returns: Form 941, Employers QUARTERLY Federal Tax Return, Form 944, Employer’s ANNUAL Federal Tax Return, or Form 943, Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees. Employers must maintain supporting documentation for the claimed credit.

The administrator of a group health plan or other entity must notify certain assistance-eligible individuals of the extension by Feb. 17, 2010. For assistance-eligible individuals whose nine months of subsidy had already ended, the new law also provides an extended period for the retroactive payment of their 35 percent share during a transition period.

There is much more information about the COBRA subsidy, including questions and answers for employers, and for employees or former employees, on the COBRA pages of IRS.gov.

Some people who are eligible for the COBRA subsidy also qualify for the health coverage tax credit (HCTC) and may want to choose this more generous benefit, instead. The HCTC pays 80 percent of health insurance premiums for those who qualify. Eligible individuals must be receiving Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits or be between the ages fo 55 and 65 and receiving pension payments from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Individuals must also be enrolled in a qualified health plan. See more at HCTC: Eligibility Requirements and How to Receive the HCTC.

Related Items:

January 11, 2010

Taxes and the self-employed

As a freelance writer for many years I’ve been dealing with the ins-and-outs of filing taxes through the Schedule C self-employment form. With the state of the economy many more taxpayers are newly minted self-employers and get to wrestle with all the tax implications that status brings. Here’s a nice, quick overview of self-employment and federal income tax with some strategic advice thrown in for good measure.

My best advice? Obtain the services of a certified CPA, preferably an individual you can sit down with sometime in the next six weeks or so — do not wait until the last minute — to discuss your particular situation and how to take advantage of every tax opportunity available to you. After trying both ways (on my own or with tax software, and using a professional) the amount spent on CPA services is almost always easily covered by the saving the professional finds with your return.

I’m getting this post up this early in the year because if your employment status changed last year there is no time to procrastinate or delay getting everything in order well in advance of the ides of April.

From the link:

It used to be that the vast majority of people worked in staff jobs.

But in a tough economy, the number of independent contractors, temps, part-timers, and freelancers expands.

If you become a contingent worker, you’ll need to rethink your taxes. For someone used to being on staff, “It’s a mindset shift,” says Eddie Gershman, a partner in Deloitte Tax’s private client group. The common perception is that you’ll pay more tax if you work for yourself, since you’ll cover the employer portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes. While you will be on the hook for that self-employment tax, the tax advantages to working for yourself can soften the blow. Here’s how to get the most out of deductions:

Curious about electronic tax payment options from the IRS?

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:06 pm

Then this two page PDF from AICPA.org is just the ticket.

From the link:

Practitioners know that e-filing tax returns
has advantages: It documents the filing
date, reduces time at the post office, and
saves postage. For additional convenience,
consider having business and individual clients
enroll in the IRS’s free electronic payment
program, known as EFTPS. EFTPS
allows businesses and individuals to pay
federal taxes via the internet or over the
phone. It eliminates the hassles of writing
checks and taking them to a financial institution
or mailing payments to the IRS;
payments are withdrawn directly from an
enrolled bank account.

January 8, 2010

If you do your own taxes …

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 7:08 pm

… remember a whole slew of tax provisions — credits, deductions and others — expired at the end of 2009.

From the link:

The ringing in of the new year at midnight on Dec. 31 also signaled the expiration of several tax provisions. The biggest was the estate and generation-skipping tax regime, which is repealed for 2010. Various bills have been introduced that would revive the estate tax in its 2009 form, but as of Jan. 1 no extension has been enacted, and the estate and generation-skipping taxes, at least temporarily,  no longer exist.

September 30, 2009

September 16, 2009

Averting a blow to the economy

Maybe. It’s rarely discussed, but there is a major economic crisis coming down the pipe in 2012 or so in the form of commercial real estate paper.

Essentially in the years right before last year’s meltdown most everyone in large-scale commercial real estate was doing what I’ve heard described by a player in the field as “bad deals.” That person said everyone knew the deals were bad (as in not economically feasible unless conditions remained optimal — we all know that’s no longer the case), but did them anyway because that was the only way to continue doing business in the mid- to late-2000s.

Looks like the IRS is making proactive moves to try and take some of the brunt out of this looming economic event.

From the link:

The IRS issued new rules Tuesday designed to make it easier to refinance somecommercial real estate loans in an effort to curb the number of defaults.

The rules would allow commercial loans that are part of investment pools known as Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits, or REMICs, to be refinanced without triggering tax penalties for investors.

The investment pools were designed to encourage mortgage-backed securities by offering tax benefits not typically available through other investment vehicles. However, under the old rules, investors could have lost those benefits if loans in the portfolio were restructured.

The new regulations come as Wall Street braces for a wave of defaults on commercial real estate loans. More than 90 U.S. banks have already failed this year. Hundreds more banks are expected to fail in the next few years largely because of souring loans for commercial real estate.

“These changes will affect lenders, borrowers, servicers, and sponsors of securitizations of mortgages in REMICs,” the new regulation says.

September 1, 2009

IRS to use mortgage data to track down cheaters

The IRS has really been stepping up enforcement over the last couple of years. Sometimes (rarely really) you get the warm and fuzzy IRS, other times you get the buzzsaw.

I do agree with the point made below on the odd timing of this potential tax cheat catching tool.

From the link:

The Internal Revenue Service might scrutinize mortgage interest data more closely to help catch tax cheats, after prompting from an IRS auditor.

The tax collector said it will study whether it should make greater use of mortgage interest data provided to the IRS by banks, to target audits against individuals who do not file tax returns, according to a letter released Monday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

However, a stepped-up IRS focus on homeowners whose reported income falls below their mortgage interest obligations could attract criticism at a time when many have fallen behind on mortgage payments.

August 27, 2009

401(k) cap may drop next year

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:27 pm

Only by $500, but it sure seems counterproductive to long-term fiscal sanity for individuals. I’m guessing Congress will pass something to prevent this forcing of the IRS’s hand on the issue.

From the link:

Low inflation has made food and gas more affordable during the recession, but there’s a downside: Social Security beneficiaries probably won’t get a raise next year, and the IRS may reduce the amount workers can contribute to their 401(k) plans.The IRS will announce 2010 contribution limits for 401(k) plans in October, based on a formula tied to the inflation rate in the third quarter vs. the year-ago quarter. For 2009, most workers can contribute up to $16,500 to their 401(k) plans, plus an additional $5,500 if they’re 50 or older. Unless inflation picks up in August and September, the IRS could be forced to reduce the cutoff to $16,000 in 2010, according to an analysis by Mercer, a human resources consultant. The threshold for catch-up contributions could be reduced to $5,000. This would mark the first time the IRS has reduced 401(k) contribution limits.

August 21, 2009

Watch out for correspondence audits from the IRS

I’d like to see some legislation taking this ability away from the IRS. Too many problems, to many moving parts, not enough personal interaction and very clearly not enough protection for the taxpayer.

From the link:

A new report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration lends support to growing complaints about the Internal Revenue Service’s big audit-by-mail program.

The IRS has increasingly relied on these correspondence audits, focused on one or two narrow issues, to maintain its audit coverage of normal taxpayers as its auditor corps has shrunk. Taxpayers are sent a letter that, for example, says their charitable or un-reimbursed employee business deductions will be denied and a certain amount of extra taxes assessed unless they provide acceptable documentation supporting the deductions within 30 days.

But the TIGTA report concludes that the correspondence audit results reported by the IRS are “inaccurate and overstated” and that there are operational problems with the program, including significant mail processing delays. These delays can cause taxpayers who respond with documentation within the required time to be assessed extra taxes because their responses don’t get to the right IRS employee in time. Eventually, they may be able to get those taxes abated through an “audit reconsideration,” but the average time to conclude one of those is 159 days, TIGTA estimates.

August 17, 2009

IRS interest rates remain unchanged for Q4

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:21 pm

The news is something of no news — rates will remain the same for Q4.

The release:

Interest Rates Remain the Same for the Fourth Quarter of 2009

 
IR-2009-73, Aug. 14, 2009

 

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today announced that interest rates for the calendar quarter beginning Oct. 1, 2009, will remain the same. The rates will be:

  • four (4) percent for overpayments [three (3) percent in the case of a corporation];
  • four (4) percent for underpayments;
  • six (6) percent for large corporate underpayments; and
  • one and one-half (1.5) percent for the portion of a corporate overpayment exceeding $10,000.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, the rate of interest is determined on a quarterly basis. For taxpayers other than corporations, the overpayment and underpayment rate is the federal short-term rate plus 3 percentage points. Generally, in the case of a corporation, the underpayment rate is the federal short-term rate plus 3 percentage points and the overpayment rate is the federal short-term rate plus 2 percentage points. The rate for large corporate underpayments is the federal short-term rate plus 5 percentage points. The rate on the portion of a corporate overpayment of tax exceeding $10,000 for a taxable period is the federal short-term rate plus one-half (0.5) of a percentage point.

The interest rates announced today are computed from the federal short-term rate during July 2009 to take effect Aug. 1, 2009, based on daily compounding.

Revenue Ruling 2009-27, announcing the rates of interest, will appear in Internal Revenue Bulletin 2009-39, dated Sept. 28, 2009.

June 5, 2009

IRS announces tax preparer review

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:26 pm

A release from the Internal Revenue Service:

IRS Launches Tax Return Preparer Review; Recommendations to Improve Compliance Expected by Year End

 
IR-2009-57, June 4, 2009

WASHINGTON — IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman announced today that by the end of 2009, he will propose a comprehensive set of recommendations to help the Internal Revenue Service better leverage the tax return preparer community with the twin goals of increasing taxpayer compliance and ensuring uniform and high ethical standards of conduct for tax preparers.

Some of the potential recommendations could focus on a new model for the regulation of tax return preparers; service and outreach for return preparers; education and training of return preparers; and enforcement related to return preparer misconduct. The Commissioner will submit recommendations to the Treasury Secretary and the President by the end of the year.

“Tax return preparers help Americans with one of their biggest financial transactions each year. We must ensure that all preparers are ethical, provide good service and are qualified,” Shulman said. “At the end the day, tax preparers and the associated industry must be part of our overall game plan to strengthen the integrity of the tax system.”

The first part of this groundbreaking effort will involve fact finding and receiving input from a large and diverse constituent community that includes those that are licensed by state and federal authorities — such as enrolled agents, lawyers and accountants — as well as unlicensed tax preparers and software vendors. The effort will also seek input and dialog with consumer groups and taxpayers.

“We plan to have a transparent and open dialogue about the issues,” Shulman said. “At this early and critical stage of the process, we need to hear from the broadest possible range of stakeholders.”

Later this year, the IRS plans to hold a number of open meetings in Washington and around the country with constituent groups.

More information, including schedules and agendas for public meetings, will be posted on the “Tax Professionals” page on this Web site and will be communicated to stakeholder groups.

May 21, 2009

IRS announces tax breaks for small business

Another bone for Main Street from the IRS.

The release:

Law Offers Special Tax Breaks for Small Business; Act Now and Save, IRS Says

 
IR-2009-51, May 20, 2009

Small Business Week is May 17 to 23, and the Internal Revenue Service urges small businesses to act now and take advantage of tax-saving opportunities included in the recovery law.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), enacted in February, created, extended or expanded a variety of business tax deductions and credits. Because some of these changes—the bonus depreciation and increased section 179 deduction, for example—are only available this year, eligible businesses only have a few months to take action and save on their taxes. Here is a quick rundown of some of the key provisions.

Faster Write-Offs for Certain Capital Expenditures

Many small businesses that invest in new property and equipment will be able to write off most or all of these purchases on their 2009 returns. The new law extends through 2009 the special 50 percent depreciation allowance, also known as bonus depreciation, and increased limits on the section 179 deduction, named for the relevant section of the Internal Revenue Code. Normally, businesses recover these capital investments through annual depreciation deductions spread over several years. Both of these provisions encourage these investments by enabling businesses to write them off more quickly.

The bonus depreciation provision generally enables businesses to deduct half the cost of qualifying property in the year it is placed in service.

The section 179 deduction enables small businesses to deduct up to $250,000 of the cost of machinery, equipment, vehicles, furniture and other qualifying property placed in service during 2009. Without the new law, the limit would have dropped to $133,000. The existing $25,000 limit still applies to sport utility vehicles. A special phase-out provision effectively targets the section 179 deduction to small businesses and generally eliminates it for most larger businesses.

Bonus depreciation and the section 179 deduction are claimed on Form 4562. Further details are in the instructions for this form.

Expanded Net Operating Loss Carryback

Many small businesses that had expenses exceeding their incomes for 2008 can choose to carry those losses back for up to five years, instead of the usual two. For small businesses that were profitable in the past but lost money in 2008, this could mean a special tax refund. The option is available for a small business that has no more than an average of $15 million in gross receipts over a three-year period.

This option is still available for most eligible taxpayers, but only for a limited time. A corporation that operates on a calendar-year basis, for example, must file a claim by Sept. 15, 2009. For eligible individuals, the deadline is Oct. 15, 2009.

Eligible individuals should file a claim using Form 1045, and corporations should use Form 1139. Details can be found in the instructions for each of these forms, and answers to frequently-asked questions are posted on IRS.gov.

Exclusion of Gain on the Sale of Certain Small Business Stock

The new law provides an extra incentive for individuals who invest in small businesses. Investors in qualified small business stock can exclude 75 percent of the gain upon sale of the stock. This increased exclusion applies only if the qualified small business stock is acquired after Feb. 17, 2009 and before Jan. 1, 2011, and held for more than five years. For previously-acquired stock, the exclusion rate remains at 50 percent in most cases.

Estimated Tax Requirement Modified

Many individual small business taxpayers may be able to defer, until the end of the year, paying a larger part of their 2009 tax obligations. For 2009, eligible individuals can make quarterly estimated tax payments equal to 90 percent of their 2009 tax or 90 percent of their 2008 tax, whichever is less. Individuals qualify if they received more than half of their gross income from their small businesses in 2008 and meet other requirements. For details, see Publication 505.

COBRA Credit

Employers that provide the 65 percent COBRA premium subsidy under ARRA to eligible former employees claim credit for this subsidy on their quarterly or annual employment tax returns. To help avoid imposing an unnecessary cash-flow burden, affected employers can reduce their employment tax deposits by the amount of the credit. For details, see Form 941. Answers to frequently-asked questions are posted on IRS.gov.

Other ARRA business provisions relate to discharges of certain business indebtedness, the holding period for S corporation built-in gains and acceleration of certain business credits for corporations. Also see Fact Sheet FS-2009-11.

April 17, 2009

Friday video fun — tax facts via Reason Magazine

Filed under: Business, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:54 pm

Points to ponder this week. Went out to dinner Wednesday night and ran into my CPA with his family. He looked pretty relieved.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done any video, so without further ado , courtesy of Reason Magazine, here’s “W-2 WTF?!?!: Tax Facts to Make Your Head Explode!”

April 14, 2009

IRS list of “dirty dozen” tax scams

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:00 pm

The release from the IRS:

Beware of IRS’ 2009 “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams

 
IR-2009-41, April 13, 2009

Video: English     American Sign Language  Text
   
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued its 2009 “dirty dozen” list of tax scams, including schemes involving phishing, hiding income offshore and false claims for refunds.

“Taxpayers should be wary of scams to avoid paying taxes that seem too good to be true, especially during these challenging economic times,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. “There is no secret trick that can eliminate a person’s tax obligations. People should be wary of anyone peddling any of these scams.”

Tax schemes are illegal and can lead to problems for both scam artists and taxpayers who risk significant penalties, interest and possible criminal prosecution.

The IRS urges taxpayers to avoid these common schemes:

Phishing

Phishing is a tactic used by Internet-based scam artists to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing personal or financial information. The criminals use the information to steal the victim’s identity, access bank accounts, run up credit card charges or apply for loans in the victim’s name.

Phishing scams often take the form of an e-mail that appears to come from a legitimate source, including the IRS. The IRS never initiates unsolicited e-mail contact with taxpayers about their tax issues. Taxpayers who receive unsolicited e-mails that claim to be from the IRS can forward the message to phishing@irs.gov. Further instructions are available at IRS.gov. To date, taxpayers have forwarded scam e-mails reflecting thousands of confirmed IRS phishing sites. If you believe you have been the target of an identity thief, information is available at IRS.gov.

Hiding Income Offshore

The IRS aggressively pursues taxpayers and promoters involved in abusive offshore transactions. Taxpayers have tried to avoid or evade U.S. income tax by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or through other entities. Recently, the IRS provided guidance to auditors on how to deal with those hiding income offshore in undisclosed accounts. The IRS draws a clear line between taxpayers with offshore accounts who voluntarily come forward and those who fail to come forward.

Taxpayers also evade taxes by using offshore debit cards, credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or life insurance plans. The IRS has also identified abusive offshore schemes including those that involve use of electronic funds transfer and payment systems, offshore business merchant accounts and private banking relationships.

Filing False or Misleading Forms

The IRS is seeing scam artists file false or misleading returns to claim refunds that they are not entitled to. Frivolous information returns, such as Form 1099-Original Issue Discount (OID), claiming false withholding credits are used to legitimize erroneous refund claims. The new scam has evolved from an earlier phony argument that a “strawman” bank account has been created for each citizen. Under this scheme, taxpayers fabricate an information return, arguing they used their “strawman” account to pay for goods and services and falsely claim the corresponding amount as withholding as a way to seek a tax refund.

Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions

The IRS continues to observe the misuse of tax-exempt organizations. Abuse includes arrangements to improperly shield income or assets from taxation and attempts by donors to maintain control over donated assets or income from donated property. The IRS also continues to investigate various schemes involving the donation of non-cash assets, including easements on property, closely-held corporate stock and real property. Often, the donations are highly overvalued or the organization receiving the donation promises that the donor can purchase the items back at a later date at a price the donor sets. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 imposed increased penalties for inaccurate appraisals and new definitions of qualified appraisals and qualified appraisers for taxpayers claiming charitable contributions.

Return Preparer Fraud

Dishonest return preparers can cause many headaches for taxpayers who fall victim to their ploys. Such preparers derive financial gain by skimming a portion of their clients’ refunds and charging inflated fees for return preparation services. They attract new clients by promising large refunds. Taxpayers should choose carefully when hiring a tax preparer. As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No matter who prepares the return, the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for its accuracy. Since 2002, the courts have issued injunctions ordering dozens of individuals to cease preparing returns, and the Department of Justice has filed complaints against dozens of others, which are pending in court.

Frivolous Arguments

Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage people to make unreasonable and unfounded claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous legal positions that taxpayers should stay away from. Taxpayers who file a tax return or make a submission based on one of the positions on the list are subject to a $5,000 penalty. More information is available on IRS.gov.

False Claims for Refund and Requests for Abatement

This scam involves a request for abatement of previously assessed tax using Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement. Many individuals who try this have not previously filed tax returns. The tax they are trying to have abated has been assessed by the IRS through the Substitute for Return Program. The filer uses Form 843 to list reasons for the request. Often, one of the reasons given is “Failed to properly compute and/or calculate Section 83-Property Transferred in Connection with Performance of Service.”

Abusive Retirement Plans

The IRS continues to uncover abuses in retirement plan arrangements, including Roth Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). The IRS is looking for transactions that taxpayers are using to avoid the limitations on contributions to IRAs as well as transactions that are not properly reported as early distributions. Taxpayers should be wary of advisers who encourage them to shift appreciated assets into IRAs or companies owned by their IRAs at less than fair market value to circumvent annual contribution limits. Other variations have included the use of limited liability companies to engage in activity which is considered prohibited.

Disguised Corporate Ownership

Some taxpayers form corporations and other entities in certain states for the primary purpose of disguising the ownership of a business or financial activity. Such entities can be used to facilitate underreporting of income, fictitious deductions, non-filing of tax returns, participating in listed transactions, money laundering, financial crimes, and even terrorist financing. The IRS is working with state authorities to identify these entities and to bring the owners of these entities into compliance.

Zero Wages

Filing a phony wage- or income-related information return to replace a legitimate information return has been used as an illegal method to lower the amount of taxes owed. Typically, a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 is used as a way to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. The taxpayer also may submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a payer to the IRS. Sometimes fraudsters even include an explanation on their Form 4852 that cites statutory language on the definition of wages or may include some reference to a paying company that refuses to issue a corrected Form W-2 for fear of IRS retaliation. Taxpayers should resist any temptation to participate in any of the variations of this scheme.

Misuse of Trusts

For years, unscrupulous promoters have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts. While there are many legitimate, valid uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, some promoted transactions promise reduction of income subject to tax, deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. Such trusts rarely deliver the promised tax benefits and are being used primarily as a means to avoid income tax liability and hide assets from creditors, including the IRS.

The IRS has recently seen an increase in the improper use of private annuity trusts and foreign trusts to divert income and deduct personal expenses. As with other arrangements, taxpayers should seek the advice of a trusted professional before entering into a trust arrangement.

Fuel Tax Credit Scams

The IRS is receiving claims for the fuel tax credit that are unreasonable. Some taxpayers, such as farmers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes, may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But some individuals are claiming the tax credit for nontaxable uses of fuel when their occupation or income level makes the claim unreasonable. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim, potentially subjecting those who improperly claim the credit to a $5,000 penalty.

How to Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity

Suspected tax fraud can be reported to the IRS using Form 3949-A, Information Referral. Form 3949-A is available for download from the IRS Web site at IRS.gov. The completed form or a letter detailing the alleged fraudulent activity should be addressed to the Internal Revenue Service, Fresno, CA 93888. The mailing should include specific information about who is being reported, the activity being reported, how the activity became known, when the alleged violation took place, the amount of money involved and any other information that might be helpful in an investigation. The person filing the report is not required to self-identify, although it is helpful to do so. The identity of the person filing the report can be kept confidential.

Whistleblowers also may provide allegations of fraud to the IRS and may be eligible for a reward by filing Form 211, Application for Award for Original Information, and following the procedures outlined in Notice 2008-4, Claims Submitted to the IRS Whistleblower Office under Section 7623.

April 2, 2009

IRS website gets traffic spike

No surprise IRS.gov’s traffic is up here on the homestretch to tax day, but almost 25% over last year? That’s a significant uptick.

The IRS release:

Visits to IRS.gov Up Sharply as Taxpayers Go Online to Get Tax Information

 
IR-2009-31, March 31, 2009 WASHINGTON — The number of visitors to IRS.gov is up more than 24 percent compared with last year, and more taxpayers rely on the Internal Revenue Service’s online resources to get answers to tax questions on the economic recovery legislation and to prepare and file tax returns accurately and timely.More than 138 million taxpayers already visited the IRS Web site this year, up from about 111 million from the same period last year.

Taxpayers can find the latest information about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, including details on extending health insurance for people who lost their jobs and tax breaks for first-time homebuyers. IRS also has developed “What if” scenarios and the possible tax implications for people who may be facing financially difficult times. Taxpayers periodically should check for updates to these pages.

Some IRS online publications contain hyperlinks allowing users to get the answers they need quickly. The links allow users to jump immediately to other parts of publications and external Web sites, reducing the time it takes to access information.

A total of 14 publications contain tailored hyperlinks that provide easier access, including Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, and Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction. Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, was issued for the first time with hyperlinks last year, and the new version now has more links than ever before. Publication 17 also is available online in Spanish for the first time.

Available on IRS.gov this year is a new on-line tool that allows taxpayers to complete tax forms, perform basic mathematical calculations and e-file their federal income tax returns free of charge. Free File Fillable Forms is most suited for those who prepare their own paper returns without the assistance of a tax return preparer or tax preparation software. There are no income limitations to use Free File Fillable Forms, and the most commonly-used federal tax forms are available.

Also available to taxpayers is Free File, which provides taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $56,000 or less in 2008 with free federal income tax preparation and electronic filing. Free File is free, fast and accurate.

Taxpayers also can download IRS audio podcasts on a variety of topics in English and Spanish. Video tax tips are also available.

Other electronic tools can be found on IRS.gov. Highlights include the following:

  • Where’s My Refund? — Whether taxpayers opted for direct deposit or asked the IRS to mail a check, they can track their refund through the Where’s My Refund? tool.
  • The Recovery Rebate Credit Calculator —The recovery rebate credit is a one-time benefit for people who didn’t receive the full economic stimulus payment last year and whose circumstances may have changed, making them eligible now for some or all of the unpaid portion of the credit. In most cases, taxpayers who received the full amount of the stimulus payment last year will not be eligible for it this year. The recovery rebate credit can be calculated using the online tool, Recovery Rebate Credit Calculator.
  • How Much Was My 2008 Stimulus Payment? — Taxpayers will need to know the amount of their 2008 economic stimulus payment to calculate the recovery rebate credit. Taxpayers can use the online tool, How Much Was My 2008 Stimulus Payment?, to check how much their payment was in 2008.Taxpayers don’t need to report the 2008 stimulus payment as income because it’s not taxable.
  • EITC Assistant — The earned income tax credit is a substantial credit for people who work but don’t earn a lot of money. Find out if you are eligible for the EITC by answering some questions and providing basic income information using the online EITC Assistant.

 

Taxpayers looking for the IRS online should type http://www.irs.gov into their Internet browser. Taxpayers should also beware of Web sites that may resemble IRS.gov but end in .com, .net, .org, .biz or any other domain name extension.

 

Also available isIRS.gov/Español, the IRS Web site offering tax forms, publications and information in Spanish. Interactive tools such as the following are available for individuals: EITC Assistant, (Asistente EITC); Free File(Presentacion FreeFile) Where’s My Refund? (¿Dónde Está Mi Reembolso?), How Much Was My 2008 Stimulus Payment (¿Cuánto fue mi Pago del Estímulo Económico?) and Recovery Rebate Credit (RRC) Calculator (Calculadora para el Crédito por Recuperación de la Devolución de Estímulo Económico.)

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