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Archive | Tax Time

Five tax tips on unemployment benefits

 

From IRS.gov

Taxpayers who received unemployment benefits need to remember that it may be taxable. Here are five key facts about unemployment:

Unemployment is Taxable. Include all unemployment compensation as income for the year. Taxpayers should receive a Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments, by Jan. 31. This form shows the amount received and the amount of any federal income tax withheld.

There are Different Types. Unemployment compensation includes amounts paid under federal law or state law as well as railroad, trade readjustment and airline deregulation laws. Even some forms of disability payments can count. For more information, see IRS Publication 525.

Union Benefits May be Taxable. Benefits received from regular union dues as income might be taxable. Other rules may apply if a taxpayer contributed to a special union fund and those contributions to the fund are not deductible. In this case, report only income exceeding the amount of contributions made.

Tax May be Withheld. Those who receive unemployment can choose to have federal income tax withheld by using Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. Those choosing not to have tax withheld may need to make estimated tax payments during the year.

Visit IRS.gov for Help. Taxpayers facing financial difficulties should visit the IRS.gov page: “What Ifs” for Struggling Taxpayers. This page explains the tax effect of various life events such as job loss. For those who owe federal taxes and can’t pay, the Payments tab on IRS.gov provides some options. In many cases, the IRS can take steps to help ease financial burden.

Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at https://www.irs.gov/individuals/electronic-filing-pin-request.

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Window closing on 2013 tax refunds

 

The Internal Revenue Service announced Wednesday that unclaimed federal income tax refunds totaling more than $1 billion may be waiting for an estimated 1 million taxpayers who did not file a 2013 federal income tax return.

To collect the money, taxpayers must file a 2013 tax return with the IRS no later than this year’s tax deadline, Tuesday, April 18.

“We’re trying to connect a million people with their share of 1 billion dollars in unclaimed refunds for the 2013 tax year,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “People across the nation haven’t filed tax returns to claim these refunds, and their window of opportunity is closing soon. Students and many others may not realize they’re due a tax refund. Remember, there’s no penalty for filing a late return if you’re due a refund.”

The IRS estimates the midpoint for potential refunds for 2013 to be $763; half of the refunds are more than $763 and half are less.

In cases where a tax return was not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity for claiming a refund. If they do not file a return within three years, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury. For 2013 tax returns, the window closes April 18, 2017. The law requires taxpayers to properly address mail and postmark the tax return by that date.

The IRS reminds taxpayers seeking a 2013 refund that their checks may be held if they have not filed tax returns for 2014 and 2015. In addition, the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS, or a state tax agency, and may be used to offset unpaid child support or past due federal debts, such as student loans.

By failing to file a tax return, people stand to lose more than just their refund of taxes withheld or paid during 2013. Many low-and-moderate income workers may have been eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). For 2013, the credit was worth as much as $6,044. The EITC helps individuals and families whose incomes are below certain thresholds. The thresholds for 2013 were:

$46,227 ($51,567 if married filing jointly) for those with three or more qualifying children;

$43,038 ($48,378 if married filing jointly) for people with two qualifying children;

$37,870 ($43,210 if married filing jointly) for those with one qualifying child, and;

$14,340 ($19,680 if married filing jointly) for people without qualifying children.

Current and prior year tax forms (such as the Tax Year 2013 Form 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ) and instructions are available on the IRS.gov Forms and Publications page or by calling toll-free: 800- TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). Taxpayers who are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 for the years 2013, 2014 or 2015 should request copies from their employer, bank or other payer.

Taxpayers who are unable to get missing forms from their employer or other payer should go to IRS.gov and use the “Get Transcript Online” tool to obtain a Wage and Income transcript.  Taxpayers can also file Form 4506-T to request a transcript of their 2013 income. A Wage and Income transcript shows data from information returns we receive such as Forms W-2, 1099, 1098 and Form 5498, IRA Contribution Information. Taxpayers can use the information on the transcript to file their tax return.

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Name change? How it impacts taxes

 

A name change can have an impact on taxes. All the names on a taxpayer’s tax return must match Social Security Administration records. A name mismatch can delay a tax refund. Here’s what taxpayers should know if they changed their name:

*Reporting Name Changes. Got married and now using a new spouse’s last name or hyphenate a name? Divorced and now back to using a former last name? In either case, taxpayers should notify the SSA of a name change. That way the new name on IRS records will match the SSA records.

*Making dependent’s name change. Notify the SSA if a dependent had a name change. For example, if a taxpayer adopted a child and the child’s last name changed. If the child does not have a Social Security number, the taxpayer may use an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number on their tax return. An ATIN is a temporary number. Apply for an ATIN by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions, with the IRS. Visit IRS.gov to get the form.

*Getting a New SS Card. File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. The form is on SSA.gov or by calling 800-772-1213. The taxpayer’s new card will reflect the name change.

All taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

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Tax tip: Itemize or choose the standard deduction

 

From IRS.gov

Most taxpayers claim the standard deduction when they file their federal tax return. However, some filers may be able to lower their tax bill by itemizing. Find out which way saves the most money by figuring taxes both ways.

The IRS offers the following six tips to help taxpayers decide:

1. Use IRS Free File. Most taxpayers qualify to use free, brand-name software to prepare and file their federal tax returns electronically. IRS Free File is the easiest way to file. Free File software helps taxpayers determine if they should itemize. It files the right tax forms based on the answers the taxpayer provides. Free File software does the math and allows the user to e-file the tax return – for free.

Taxpayers can check on other e-file options if they can’t use Free File.

2. Figure Your Itemized Deductions.  Taxpayers need to add up deductible expenses they paid during the year. These may include expenses such as:

  • Home mortgage interest
  • State and local income taxes or sales taxes (but not both)
  • Real estate and personal property taxes
  • Gifts to charities
  • Casualty or theft losses
  • Unreimbursed medical expenses
  • Unreimbursed employee business expenses

Special rules and limits apply. Visit IRS.gov and refer to Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, for more details.

3. Know The Standard Deduction. If a taxpayer doesn’t itemize, then the basic standard deduction for 2016 depends on their filing status. If the taxpayer is:

  • Single – $6,300
  • Married Filing Jointly – $12,600
  • Head of Household – $9,300
  • Married Filing Separately – $6,300
  • Qualifying Widow(er) – $12,600

If a taxpayer is 65 or older, or blind, the standard deduction is higher than the previous amounts. The deduction may be limited if the taxpayer can be claimed as a dependent.

4. Check the Exceptions. There are some situations where the law does not allow a person to claim the standard deduction. This rule applies if the taxpayer is married filing a separate return and their spouse itemizes. In this case, the taxpayer’s standard deduction is zero and they should itemize any deductions. See Publication 17 for more on these rules.

5. Use the IRS ITA Tool. Go to IRS.gov and use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool. It can help determine whether a taxpayer can use the standard deduction. It can also help a filer figure their eligibility for certain itemized deductions.

6. File the Right Forms.  For a taxpayer to itemize their deductions, they must file Form 1040 and Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. Filers can take the standard deduction on Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ.

All taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return.  Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

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4 life changes that affect your taxes and how to tackle them

TAX-Four-life-changes

(BPT) – Life changes often mean tax changes. Whether it’s getting married, buying or selling a home, moving abroad or having a baby, misunderstanding the tax and financial implications of these life changes can lead to taxpayers making mistakes or leaving money on the table.

Depending on your situation, there are new tax implications that will impact your benefits, tax bill and how you file. If you experienced a life change in 2016, here is a list of tax implications and how they will affect you.

Marriage

Many couples close the book on their “wedding to-dos” once the last thank you card has been sent, but looking at your new tax situation is an important first step in your married life. There are some instances when getting married can have negative implications for a couple’s tax situation. Once you’re married you must file either as married filing jointly or married filing separately. In some cases, a couple where one spouse earns most of the household income will benefit because their overall tax bracket may decrease. However, a couple with two high earners may find they face a higher tax rate than if each paid tax only on their own income and added the taxes paid.

However, there are some ways to protect against potential negative tax implications. After your marriage is official, update your W-4 with your employer to account for your new marital status. If you’re self-employed or a small business owner, make sure to adjust your quarterly estimated tax payments.

Buying a house

Purchasing a home may open the door to more deductions through itemizing if you weren’t already doing so. Once you become a homeowner, you can deduct many of your home-related costs, including your qualified home mortgage interest, points paid on a loan secured by your home, real estate taxes and private mortgage insurance premiums paid on or before Dec. 31, 2016. If you choose not to itemize, you may benefit from other tax advantages such as penalty-free IRA withdrawals if you are a first-time homebuyer under the age of 59 and a half, or residential energy credits for purchases of certain energy efficient property.

New homebuyers should be on the lookout for Form 1098 Mortgage Interest Statement, which is used to report mortgage interest. This form can help you identify these deductions when completing your Form 1040.

Moving abroad

Are you excited to move abroad, but have no idea what will happen to your taxes and how to file? Many Americans living and working overseas will not owe tax to the IRS because of the foreign earned income exclusion and foreign tax credit. However, even if you qualify for those benefits, you have to file a U.S. tax return each year if you received income over the normal filing threshold.

It is also important to understand your Social Security coverage before moving abroad. Knowing whether your earnings overseas will be subjected to Social Security taxes in the U.S. or the country you are residing in will be an important factor when analyzing the economics of your move.

Having a baby

A new baby means you may be able to take advantage of tax breaks, including the Child Tax Credit (CTC). The CTC is worth up to $1,000 for each qualifying child younger than 17, a portion of which may be refundable as the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) depending on your income. A tax preparer can help you understand the qualifications to determine whether a child is considered qualified for purposes of the CTC. Some of those qualifications include but are not limited to their relationship and residency.

You may also qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which is a benefit for working people with low to moderate income that reduces the amount of taxes you owe. However, it’s important to note that due to the new “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes ACT” or PATH Act, this year the IRS is required to hold any refund from those claiming the EITC and ACTC until at least Feb. 15. This delay will be widely felt by tax filers who typically file as soon as the IRS accepts e-filed returns and who normally expect to receive their refund by late January.

To learn more about this new tax law change, how it may delay tax refunds in January and February, and H&R Block’s free solution to this delay, visit www.hrblock.com/refundadvance or make an appointment with a tax professional.

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Are social security benefits taxable?

 

If taxpayers receive Social Security benefits, they may have to pay federal income tax on part of those benefits. These IRS tips will help taxpayers determine if they need to do so.

• Form SSA-1099. If taxpayers received Social Security benefits in 2016, they should receive a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, showing the amount of their benefits.

• Only Social Security. If Social Security was a taxpayer’s only income in 2016, their benefits may not be taxable. They also may not need to file a federal income tax return. If they get income from other sources, they may have to pay taxes on some of their benefits.

• Free File. Taxpayers may use IRS Free File to prepare and e-file their tax returns for free. If they earned $64,000 or less, they can use brand-name software. The software does the math for them, which helps avoid mistakes. If taxpayers earned more, they can use Free File Fillable Forms. This option uses electronic versions of IRS paper forms. It’s best for people who are used to doing their own taxes. Free File is available only by going to IRS.gov/freefile.

• Interactive Tax Tools. Taxpayers can get answers to their tax questions with this helpful tool: https://www.irs.gov/uac/are-my-social-security-or-railroad-retirement-tier-i-benefits-taxable, to see if any of their benefits are taxable. They can also visit IRS.gov and use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool.

• Tax Formula. Here’s a quick way to find out if a taxpayer must pay taxes on their Social Security benefits: Add one-half of the Social Security income to all other income, including tax-exempt interest. Then compare that amount to the base amount for their filing status. If the total is more than the base amount, some of their benefits may be taxable.

• Base Amounts. The three base amounts are:

˚ $25,000 – if taxpayers  are single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child or married filing separately and lived apart from their spouse for all of 2016

˚ $32,000 – if they are married filing jointly

˚ $0 – if they are married filing separately and lived with their spouse at any time during the year

All taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return:  https://www.irs.gov/individuals/electronic-filing-pin-request.

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Be especially mindful with your W-2’s

TAX-W2scam

From the BBB of Western Michigan

Recently a BBB Accounts Payable Staff Member received an email from me, Phil Catlett, CEO of BBB, requesting that she wire money immediately, and to send a reply email to receive further details about where to send the funds. And had she responded to that email it would obviously have never reached me, it’d be headed to some scammer from who knows where.

The past couple of years, BBB has been hearing about scammers targeting W-2 employee tax forms.

W-2 forms have everything needed to file a fraudulent tax refund request, including the employer name, employer ID, address, taxpayer address, Social Security number and information about 2016 wages and taxes withheld.

The IRS just issued a warning that scammers are seeking W-2 information in order to file fraudulent tax refund requests. School districts, healthcare organizations, chain restaurants, temporary staffing agencies, tribal organizations and nonprofits are all mentioned in the IRS information as targets.

It could happen to any of us, but scammers don’t just stop after they get access to your sensitive information. The IRS reports that after they get your personal information, the W-2 scammers send an email to the payroll or comptroller of a company requesting that a wire transfer be made to a certain account.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time,” said the IRS Commissioner. “Although not tax related, the wire transfer scam is being coupled with the W-2 scam email, and some companies have lost both employees’ W-2s and thousands of dollars.” It is also being reported that scammers are selling 2016 employee W-2 forms that were stolen from victim organizations, peddling individual W-2 tax records for anywhere between $4 and $20 apiece.

But the simplest and best way for individuals to avoid becoming a victim of tax refund fraud is to file your taxes before criminals do it. To reduce risk of businesses being hit by these frauds, use two-factor authentication for email, such as telephone calls to verify significant banking transactions.  BBB advises that any information about employee activities listed on your websites or in social media can make you more vulnerable as well.

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Five things to know about the child tax credit

 

The Child Tax Credit is a tax credit that may save taxpayers up to $1,000 for each eligible qualifying child. Taxpayers should make sure they qualify before they claim it. Here are five facts from the IRS on the Child Tax Credit:

1. Qualifications. For the Child Tax Credit, a qualifying child must pass several tests:

  • Age. The child must have been under age 17 on Dec. 31, 2016.
  • Relationship. The child must be the taxpayer’s son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother or half-sister. The child may be a descendant of any of these individuals. A qualifying child could also include grandchildren, nieces or nephews. Taxpayers would always treat an adopted child as their own child. An adopted child includes a child lawfully placed with them for legal adoption.
  • Support. The child must have not provided more than half of their own support for the year.
  • Dependent. The child must be a dependent that a taxpayer claims on their federal tax return.
  • Joint return. The child cannot file a joint return for the year, unless the only reason they are filing is to claim a refund.
  • Citizenship. The child must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national or a U.S. resident alien.
  • Residence. In most cases, the child must have lived with the taxpayer for more than half of 2016.

The IRS Interactive Tax Assistant tool – Is My Child a Qualifying Child for the Child Tax Credit? – helps taxpayers determine if a child is a qualifying child for the Child Tax Credit. Visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/is-my-child-a-qualifying-child-for-the-child-tax-credit.

2. Limitations. The Child Tax Credit is subject to income limitations. The limits may reduce or eliminate a taxpayer’s credit depending on their filing status and income.

3. Additional Child Tax Credit If a taxpayer qualifies and gets less than the full Child Tax Credit, they could receive a refund, even if they owe no tax, with the Additional Child Tax Credit.

Because of a new tax-law change, the IRS cannot issue refunds before Feb. 15 for tax returns that claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the ACTC. This applies to the entire refund, even the portion not associated with these credits. The IRS will begin to release EITC/ACTC refunds starting Feb. 15. However, the IRS expects these refunds to be available in bank accounts or debit cards at the earliest, during the week of Feb. 27. This will happen as long as there are no processing issues with the tax return and the taxpayer chose direct deposit. Read more about refund timing for early EITC/ACTC filers.

4. Schedule 8812. If a taxpayer qualifies to claim the Child Tax Credit, they need to check to see if they must complete and attach Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, with their tax return. Taxpayers can visit IRS.gov to view, download or print IRS tax forms anytime.

5. IRS E-file. The easiest way to claim the Child Tax Credit is with IRS E-file. This system is safe, accurate and easy to use. Taxpayers can also use IRS Free File to prepare and e-file their taxes for free. Go to IRS.gov/filing to learn more.

All taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at https://www.irs.gov/individuals/electronic-filing-pin-request.

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Six common tax filing mistakes to avoid

TAX-Six-tax-mistakes

(BPT) – It’s probably safe to say handing cash to Uncle Sam does not top the list of your favorite things. When it comes to filing taxes, making a small mistake can mean paying more taxes than you need to or forking over cash to cover penalties.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to make sure your tax return is mistake-free: just take a little extra time to double check your work. Here’s a closer look at the six most common tax-filing errors and tips to help you avoid making them.

1. Mistake: Not reporting all income. Reporting your income is easy if your employer sends you a wage statement (called Form W-2) documenting what you made throughout the year. But what about the money you earned from any freelance work? Unfortunately, many people forget to report extra income from side jobs such as photography shoots, design projects and Etsy shops.

How to avoid the error: Depending on how much you earned, you may receive an “information return” called Form 1099 from the institution that paid you. There are numerous 1099 forms that report different types of income earned during the year, but in some cases you may not receive the document. For example, if you earn less than $600 as a freelance writer, the institution is not required to send you Form 1099-MISC. However, you still need to include the amount earned in your total annual income so it’s important to keep your own records of each transaction.

“To help accurately report your income, review last year’s return and match your income sources item by item,” says TaxAct Director of tax development, Mark Jaeger. “If you discover you haven’t received a 1099 for your work, last year’s return will serve as a reminder to ask about it. Keep in mind, all freelance or side-gig income is reported on Schedule C as part of your Form 1040.”

2. Mistake: Mistyping bank accounts and personal information. Believe it or not, incorrect bank account numbers or personal information—like Social Security Numbers—is one of the main reasons tax returns are rejected. Using a nickname or a shortened version of your legal name also lands near the top of the list.

How to avoid the error: Double or triple check any personal or bank account information before you submit your completed tax return. “If you need help figuring out account information, don’t be afraid to ask your bank for assistance,” Jaeger says.

3. Mistake: Paying too much to file your taxes. Whether you tap a tax professional or choose a DIY tax provider that charges an arm and a leg for their product, paying too much to file your return is a mistake.

How to avoid the error: Fortunately, filers have more affordable options to choose from. When looking for DIY options, do some comparison shopping. The leading tax preparation software providers offer similar features and benefits, but the price points can widely vary. In many cases, prices increase as the filing deadline nears. Look for a provider like TaxAct that not only offers a low price, but also guarantees your price won’t increase if you start your online return but wait to file later.

4. Mistake: Not e-filing. While 91 percent of tax returns were e-filed in 2016, there are still filers who file a paper return. Going the pencil and paper route often means longer tax return processing times.

How to avoid the error: Electronic filing (e-filing) is the quickest and most accurate way to file your tax return. In fact, the IRS typically processes e-filed returns within 48 hours. If you’re due a refund, you’ll get it quicker if you e-file and choose direct deposit.

5. Mistake: Incorrect calculations. When the IRS receives your tax return, one of the first steps the agency takes is to check the figures to make sure they add up. Unfortunately, it’s easy to miscalculate numbers – especially if you’re in a rush or aren’t sure what to add or subtract.

How to avoid the error: First, take your time and double check all numbers. Second, consider using DIY tax software so you don’t have to do the math on your own.

6. Mistake: Using the wrong filing status. Choosing the wrong filing status, like Head of Household instead of Single, can have a great impact on your tax rates, the number of personal exemptions you can claim, your qualifications for certain tax deductions, credits and more.

How to avoid the error: Before starting your return, review the five different filing statuses to help you select the one most appropriate for your tax situation. Carefully selecting the right one will help you feel confident you’re taking the right steps to maximize your tax outcome.

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Home heating credits now being processed

 

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Agency for Energy (MAE) today noted that the Michigan Department of Treasury is now processing Michigan Home Heating Credits (HHC) for the 2016 tax year. The credit assists low-income customers with winter energy bills.

The average credit in 2016 was $132.

Instruction booklets and forms have been mailed out by the Department of Treasury. More than 82 percent of the HHCs were e-filed in 2016. For those people who file a tax return, the Michigan Department of Treasury encourages them to e-file their returns because it speeds processing and reduces errors for the HHC. To find an authorized e-file provider and information on free e-file services, visit Treasury’s website: MIFastFile.org.

Individuals may apply for the HHC even if they do not file a tax return.

Forms and instructional materials area available on the Internet at michigan.gov/incometax or by calling 517-636-4486.

In addition, forms will be available at many libraries and post offices in Northern Michigan and Department of Health and Human Services branch offices across the state. Heating assistance information is available at michigan.gov/heatingassistance.

MAE’s BeWinterWise website provides additional information: michigan.gov/bewinterwise.

For more information about MAE, please visit michigan.gov/energy or sign up for its listservs to keep up on MAE matters.

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