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Top five tips on unemployment benefits


IRS tax tip 2016-34

If you lose your job, you may qualify for unemployment benefits. While these payments may come as a relief, it’s important to remember that they may be taxable. Here are five key facts about unemployment compensation:

1. Unemployment is Taxable. You must include all unemployment compensation as income for the year. You should receive a Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments by Jan. 31 of the following year. This form will show the amount paid to you and the amount of any federal income tax withheld.

2. Paid Under U.S. or State Law. There are various types of unemployment compensation. Unemployment includes amounts paid under U.S. or state unemployment compensation laws. For more information, see Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income.

3. Union Benefits May be Taxable. You must include benefits paid to you from regular union dues in your income. Other rules may apply if you contributed to a special union fund and your contributions to the fund are not deductible. In that case, you only include as income any amount that you got that was more than the contributions you made.

4. You May have Tax Withheld. You can choose to have federal income tax withheld from your unemployment. You can have this done using Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. If you choose not to have tax withheld, you may need to make estimated tax payments during the year.

5. Visit IRS.gov for Help. If you’re facing financial difficulties, you should visit the IRS.gov page: “What Ifs” for Struggling Taxpayers. This page explains the tax effect of events such as job loss. For example, if your income decreased, you may be eligible for certain tax credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit. If you owe federal taxes and can’t pay your bill check the Payments tab on IRS.gov to review your options. In many cases, the IRS can take steps to help ease your financial burden.

For more details visit IRS.gov and check Publication 525. You can view, download and print Form W-4V at IRS.gov/forms anytime.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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Social Security benefits may be taxable

If you receive Social Security benefits, you may have to pay federal income tax on part of your benefits. These IRS tips will help you determine if you need to pay taxes on your benefits.

Form SSA-1099.  If you received Social Security benefits in 2015, you should receive a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, showing the amount of your benefits.

Only Social Security.  If Social Security was your only income in 2015, your benefits may not be taxable. You also may not need to file a federal income tax return. If you get income from other sources you may have to pay taxes on some of your benefits.

Free File.  Use IRS Free File to prepare and e-file your tax return for free. If you earned $62,000 or less, you can use brand-name software. The software does the math for you and helps avoid mistakes. If you earned more, you 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 Assistant.  You can get answers to your tax questions with this helpful tool and see if any of your benefits are taxable.  Visit IRS.gov and use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool.

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

Base Amounts.  The three base amounts are:

$25,000 – if you are single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child or married filing separately and lived apart from your spouse for all of 2015

$32,000 – if you are married filing jointly

$0 – if you are married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time during the year

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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Seven tips to avoid Presidents Day rush

WASHINGTON—The period around Presidents Day marks the peak busy season for IRS toll-free phone service, but there are faster ways to find answers to your questions. The Internal Revenue Service provides tools and apps on IRS.gov that can help many of taxpayers get answers immediately online.

Traditionally, the Tuesday after Presidents Day is the busiest day of the year for phone calls. The IRS will staff the toll-free lines on Saturday, February 13 and Monday, February 15, the Presidents Day holiday in an effort to answer more taxpayer calls.

The hours of operations are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time on Saturday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time on Monday.

But on IRS.gov, taxpayers can, among many things, check the status of their refund, request a copy of their tax transcript or get an answer to their tax questions around the clock.

The entire week of the Presidents Day holiday marks a peak time for the IRS,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “We’re keeping our phones open over part of the holiday weekend to manage the increased demand.”

To save time and find answers faster, taxpayers should make IRS.gov their first stop. A good place to start is the “IRS Services Guide” for a quick overview of online services and resources. IRS information and some tools also are in Spanish.

Here are some of the most common reasons people call us over Presidents Day holiday week and the faster and easier ways to get answers:

Want to know where your refund is?

More than 90 percent of refunds are issued in less than 21 days. IRS representatives will not provide individual refund information before then. Taxpayers can easily find information about their refund by using the Where’s My Refund? tool. It’s available on IRS.gov and on the Smartphone app, IRS2Go. Where’s My Refund? provides taxpayers with the most up-to-date information available. Taxpayers must have information from their current, pending tax return to access their refund information. Refund information is updated just once a day, generally overnight, so there’s no need to check more than once a day.

Didn’t get a W-2?

Employers are required to send their employees a Form W-2, Statement of Earnings, by January 31. Employees should allow enough time for their form to be mailed to their address of record. If form W-2 is not received by the end of February, employees should first contact their employer to ensure they have the correct address on file.

After exhausting all options with the employer, employees may contact the IRS and we will send a letter to the employer. However, we would urge you to wait until the end of February to avoid long wait times on the telephone.

Need a copy of your tax return or transcript?

Taxpayers can easily order a return or transcript on the IRS.gov website, or by mailing us a completed Form 4506-T. See our Get Transcript application to have a transcript mailed to you. More information on these options is available at IRS.gov.

Ordering a tax return or tax transcript does not mean a taxpayer will get their refund faster. The two are not connected in any way. IRS transcripts are often used to validate income and tax filing status for mortgage, student and small business loan applications and to help with tax preparation.

Wondering how the Affordable Care Act will affect you?

This year almost all taxpayers must do something related to health care reporting requirements. The majority of taxpayers—more than three out of four—will simply need to check a box to verify they have health insurance coverage. For the minority of taxpayers who will have to do more, IRS.gov/aca features useful information and tips regarding the premium tax credit, the individual shared responsibility requirement and other tax features of the ACA. Publication 5201, The Health Care Law and Your Taxes, also provides a snapshot of ACA requirements.

Need answers to tax law questions?

Questions about what filing status means, whether to file a tax return or who can be claimed as a dependent? There’s the Interactive Tax Assistant that takes you through a series of questions just like one of our customer service representatives would. You can also do a keyword search on IRS.gov; use Publication 17, the annual, searchable income tax guide; or the IRS Tax Map, which allows search by topic or keyword for single-point access to tax law information by subject.

Can’t pay a tax bill?

For taxpayers whose concern is a tax bill they can’t pay, the Online Payment Agreement tool can help them determine in a matter of minutes whether they qualify for an installment agreement with the IRS. And for those whose tax obligation is even more serious, the Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier can help them determine if they qualify for an offer in compromise, an agreement with the IRS that settles their tax liability for less than the full amount owed.

Need help preparing your taxes?

Free tax return preparation help is available nationwide from volunteers and on IRS.gov with Free File. Local community partners operate roughly 13,000 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) sites nationwide. Find a location nearby by searching “Free Tax Help” on IRS.gov.

IRS Free File is offered by 13 tax software companies that make their brand-name products available for free to the 70 percent of taxpayers who earned $62,000 or less last year. Free File Fillable Forms is available for households whose earnings are more than $62,000 and are comfortable preparing their taxes.

Taxpayers may also use our searchable directory on IRS.gov for help on finding a tax professional with credentials and select qualifications to help them prepare their tax returns.

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Missing Form W-2? IRS can help


Most people get their W-2 forms by the end of January. Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, shows your income and the taxes withheld from your pay for the year. You need it to file an accurate tax return.

If you haven’t received your form by mid-February, here’s what you should do:

• Contact your Employer. Ask your employer (or former employer) for a copy. Be sure they have your correct address.

• Call the IRS. If you are unable to get a copy from your employer, you may call the IRS at 800-829-1040 after Feb. 23. The IRS will send a letter to your employer on your behalf. You’ll need the following when you call:

**Your name, address, Social Security number and phone number;

**Your employer’s name, address and phone number;

**The dates you worked for the employer; and

**An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld in 2015. You can use your final pay stub for these amounts.

• File on Time. Your tax return is normally due on or before April 18, 2016. Use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, if you don’t get your W-2 in time to file. Estimate your wages and taxes withheld as best as you can. If you can’t get it done by the due date, ask for an extra six months to file. Use Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to request more time. You can also e-file a request for more time. Do it for free with IRS Free File.

• Correct if Necessary. You may need to correct your tax return if you get your missing W-2 after you file. If the tax information on the W-2 is different from what you originally reported, you may need to file an amended tax return. Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return to make the change.

Note: Important 2015 Health Insurance Forms

Starting in 2016, most taxpayers will receive one or more forms relating to health care coverage they had during the previous year.

If you enrolled in 2015 coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you should get Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement by early February.

If you were enrolled in other health coverage for 2015, you should receive a Form 1095-B, Health Coverage, or Form 1095-C, Employer Provided Health insurance Offer and Coverage by the end of March. You should contact the issuer of the form – the Marketplace, your coverage provider or your employer – if you think you should have gotten a form but did not get it.

If you are expecting to receive a Form 1095-A, you should wait to file your 2015 income tax return until you receive that form. However, it is not necessary to wait for Forms 1095-B or 1095-C in order to file.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

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Former credit union manager sentenced for embezzlement


Kathryn Sue Simmerman Embezzled Almost $2 Million From Shoreline Federal Credit Union 

A Muskegon woman will serve time in prison for stealing money from a Norton Shores credit union.

According to United States Attorney Patrick Miles Jr.,  Kathryn Sue Simmerman, 55, of Muskegon, Michigan, was sentenced to 78 months (six and a half years) in federal prison Monday, January 4, for embezzling $1.9 million from her former employer, Shoreline Federal Credit Union. She was also ordered to pay $1.9 million in restitution and serve two years of court supervision following her release from prison. U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell imposed the sentence. He remanded Simmerman to prison immediately after issuing the sentence.

For more than 15 years, Simmerman embezzled $1,945,000 from Shoreline by removing cash from its vault and placing it in her purse. She deposited some of the cash into Shoreline accounts she controlled, and took the remainder of it home to spend on her own use and enjoyment. She hid her activity by manipulating Shoreline’s books and records.

The case was investigated by the Norton Shores Police Department and Special Agents from the FBI and IRS. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Stiffler.

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BBB Alert: IRS tax collection methods to change


The IRS will be hiring private collection companies to collect taxes in difficult cases.

The BBB is alerting consumers that the IRS is now required to use private debt collection companies to collect «inactive tax receivables.»

These include cases where the IRS can’t locate the taxpayer and more than a year has passed without interaction with the taxpayer for purposes of furthering the collection.

The law requires that IRS begin entering into agreements within three months. This provision was in the recent highway funding bill that Congress passed and the President signed into law.

The new law imposes specific reporting requirements on the IRS including an annual report of the number and amount of tax receivables provided to collection contractors, total amounts collected, and collection costs incurred by the IRS.

Also required is a report every two years of an independent evaluation of each private debt collection performance and a measurement plan that compares the best practices used by private debt collectors with those used by the IRS.

The timing of this new law follows a recent Federal Trade Commission crackdown on collections agencies related to questionable tactics used by some collectors.

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Beware of call claiming to be IRS


From the BBB of Western Michigan


For the past weeks many West Michigan residents have been receiving phone calls that purport to be from the IRS, advising them that there is a problem with their federal income tax return. The BBB serving Western Michigan is being informed every day about phone calls supposedly from the IRS that become increasingly threatening, and ultimately demand money from you. The real IRS says they won’t call you, they will communicate by mail.

If you have been contacted by phone by someone claiming to be from the IRS, BBB suggests that you file a complaint at http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml.  You can also call 1.800.366.4484.

The IRS says that this is the latest in a series of scams aimed at taxpayers in an effort to steal your identity. They caution that you should avoid giving out personal information over the phone unless you are positive that you have the real IRS on the line. Keep in mind that the IRS does not take tax payments over the phone; however, they have a number of payment options on their website at www.irs.gov.

Additionally, IRS Criminal Investigation does not collect payments of taxes. If you do receive a summons from IRS they’re not going to call you in advance. The IRS is working with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to try to stop these frauds. The IRS asks taxpayers to be diligent as they work to “protect taxpayers from the ongoing trend of phone scams pretending to be the IRS.”

BBB reminds you that the IRS will never ask you for personal information using email or social media as a first contact: your first contact with the IRS is usually by mail. The IRS won’t ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer or ask for a credit card number over the phone. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. And the IRS won’t use threatening language or claim that you’ll be reported to other agencies such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or local law enforcement.

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Eight common tax mistakes to avoid


We all make mistakes. But if you make a mistake on your tax return, the IRS may need to contact you to correct it. That will delay your refund.

You can avoid most tax return errors by using IRS e-file. People who do their taxes on paper are about 20 times more likely to make an error than e-filers. IRS e-file is the most accurate way to file your tax return.

Here are eight common tax-filing errors to avoid:

1. Wrong or missing Social Security numbers.  Be sure you enter all SSNs on your tax return exactly as they are on the Social Security cards.

2. Wrong names.  Be sure you spell the names of everyone on your tax return exactly as they are on their Social Security cards.

3. Filing status errors.  Some people use the wrong filing status, such as Head of Household instead of Single. The Interactive Tax Assistant on IRS.gov can help you choose the right one. Tax software helps e-filers choose.

4. Math mistakes.  Double-check your math. For example, be careful when you add or subtract or figure items on a form or worksheet. Tax preparation software does all the math for e-filers.

5. Errors in figuring credits or deductions.  Many filers make mistakes figuring their Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the standard deduction. If you’re not e-filing, follow the instructions carefully when figuring credits and deductions. For example, if you’re age 65 or older or blind, be sure you claim the correct, higher standard deduction.

6. Wrong bank account numbers.  You should choose to get your refund by direct deposit. But it’s important that you use the right bank and account numbers on your return. The fastest and safest way to get a tax refund is to combine e-file with direct deposit.

7. Forms not signed or dated.  An unsigned tax return is like an unsigned check; it’s not valid. Remember that both spouses must sign a joint return.

8. Electronic filing PIN errors.  When you e-file, you sign your return electronically with a Personal Identification Number. If you know last year’s e-file PIN, you can use that. If not, you’ll need to enter the Adjusted Gross Income from your originally-filed 2012 federal tax return. Don’t use the AGI amount from an amended 2012 return or a 2012 return that the IRS corrected.

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IRS has $760 Million in unclaimed refunds for 2010



WASHINGTON — Refunds totaling almost $760 million may be waiting for an estimated 918,600 taxpayers who did not file a federal income tax return for 2010, the Internal Revenue Service announced today. However, to collect the money, a return for 2010 must be filed with the IRS no later than Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

“The window is quickly closing for people who are owed refunds from 2010 who haven’t filed a tax return,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “We encourage students, part-time workers and others who haven’t filed for 2010 to look into this before time runs out on April 15.”

The IRS estimates that half the potential refunds for 2010 are more than $571.

Some people may not have filed because they had too little income to require filing a tax return even though they had taxes withheld from their wages or made quarterly estimated payments. In cases where a return was not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity for claiming a refund. If no return is filed to claim a refund within three years, the money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury.

For 2010 returns, the window closes on April 15, 2014. The law requires that the return be properly addressed, mailed and postmarked by that date. There is no penalty for filing a late return qualifying for a refund.

The IRS reminds taxpayers seeking a 2010 refund that their checks may be held if they have not filed tax returns for 2011 and 2012. In addition, the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS or their 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 return, people stand to lose more than just their refund of taxes withheld or paid during 2010. In addition, many low-and-moderate income workers may not have claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). For 2010, the credit is worth as much as $5,666. The EITC helps individuals and families whose incomes are below certain thresholds. The thresholds for 2010 were:

• $43,352 ($48,362 if married filing jointly) for those with three or more qualifying children;

• $40,363 ($45,373 if married filing jointly) for people with two qualifying children;

• $35,535 ($40,545 if married filing jointly) for those with one qualifying child;

• and $13,460 ($18,470 if married filing jointly) for people without qualifying children.

Current and prior year tax forms and instructions are available on the Forms and Publications page of IRS.gov or by calling toll-free 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). Taxpayers who are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 for 2010, 2011 or 2012 should request copies from their employer, bank or other payer.

If these efforts are unsuccessful, taxpayers can get a free transcript showing information from these year-end documents by going to IRS.gov. Taxpayers can also file Form 4506-T to request a transcript of their tax return.

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Home office deduction features simpler option



If you work from home, you should learn the rules for how to claim the home office deduction. Starting this year, there is a simpler option to figure the deduction for business use of your home.

The new option will save you time because it simplifies how you figure and claim the deduction. It will also make it easier for you to keep records. It does not change the rules for who may claim the deduction.

Here are six facts from the IRS about the home office deduction.

1. Generally, in order to claim a deduction for a home office, you must use a part of your home exclusively and regularly for business purposes. Also, the part of your home used for business must be: your principal place of business, or a place where you meet clients or customers in the normal course of business, or a separate structure not attached to your home. Examples might include a studio, garage or barn.

2. If you use the actual expense method, the home office deduction includes certain costs that you paid for your home. For example, if you rent your home, part of the rent you paid could qualify. If you own your home, part of the mortgage interest, taxes and utilities you paid could qualify. The amount you can deduct usually depends on the percentage of your home used for business.

3. Beginning with 2013 tax returns, you may be able to use the simplified option to claim the home office deduction instead of claiming actual expenses. Under this method, you multiply the allowable square footage of your office by a prescribed rate of $5. The maximum footage allowed is 300 square feet. The deduction limit using this method is $1,500 per year.

4. If your gross income from the business use of your home is less than your expenses, the deduction for some expenses may be limited.

5. If you are self-employed and choose the actual expense method, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, to figure the amount you can deduct. You claim your deduction on Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business, if you use either the simplified or actual expense method. See the Schedule C instructions for how to report your deduction.

6. If you are an employee, you must meet additional rules to claim the deduction. For example, in addition to the above tests, your business use must also be for your employer’s convenience.

For more on this topic, see Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home. It’s available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

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