So When Does the IRS Initiate Collection Action?

OIC

 A quick IRS collection primer

If you’ve been a taxpayer for at least a few years, chances are you’ve heard IRS collection horror stories. After all, no one likes to hear from the IRS, and dealing with the IRS can be intimidating. One of the most popular reasons for hearing from the IRS is with regard to back taxes. What exactly takes place when dealing with an IRS back tax matter?

First of all, the taxes must be due and payable. Once you’ve prepared and filed your return (or had a tax pro do it on your behalf) you know right away whether or not you owe taxes. The IRS knows this as soon as they receive your return, so as they saying goes, “they’re on to you.”  You’ll need to pay any taxes due by the April 15th deadline in order to avoid late fees and penalties.

You’ll receive a Notice of Tax Due in the mail if you weren’t able to pay your taxes and submit them along with your return. This is s courtesy notice from the IRS, reminding you of your outstanding tax balance. You will have 10 days to pay the amount due or to make payment arrangements.

If the IRS doesn’t receive a response or payment from you, and if the tax bill is relatively small, you’ll receive a series of notices before they initiate collection action. The IRS has to conform to a strict series of policies and procedures before initiating collection action.

Each successive notice escalates in terms of urgency and in outlining the consequences for non-payment. Once your tax account reaches the collection stage, the IRS can and will become more aggressive in terms of recovering the debt you now owe them. At this stage, you do have the opportunity to set up an installment agreement or apply for an offer in compromise. Both of these require the help of a tax pro.

However, if you fail to respond to any IRS notice, or any other attempt to reach you, they will issue a Notice of Intent to Levy. In essence the IRS is informing you they can and will seize assets such as your bank account in order to satisfy your tax debt. 

However, you don’t have to let your outstanding tax bill get to that point. You do have the option of either negotiating with the IRS on your own or enlisting a tax pro to negotiate on your behalf. Despite the horror stories and urban myths, the IRS is willing to negotiate with taxpayers regarding an outstanding tax balance.

This is especially true if the balance due is relatively small. If you’re a rock star with hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, then the IRS could be more aggressive in terms of collecting from you. 

If you’re facing an outstanding tax bill, don’t put it off for a moment longer. If the thought of dealing with the IRS gives you the cold sweats, we have tax pros on staff who are trained and qualified to negotiate with the IRS on your behalf, and to seek a payment arrangement you can live with.

Get started today by either giving us a call at (888) 224-3004 or by clicking the white “Start Chat” button at the top of our homepage. You don’t have to go it alone. We can help.

Don’t Overlook These 5 Tax Breaks

Freeimages/Paige Foster
Freeimages/Paige Foster

Don’t overlook these last-minute tax breaks

Part 3 of a 4-part series

Year-end tax planning may yield some pleasant surprises in the form of tax breaks you hadn’t thought of before. Take a look at these five possible tax breaks and see if they may be an option for you. 

Always check with a qualified tax pro to see if you meet the requirements for any of these tax breaks. 

1.  Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): While this credit is only available if your income falls within the low to moderate range for your household size, don’t count it out if you’ve had some significant changes to your earnings this year. Those changes can include:

  • Job loss or layoff
  • Significant cut in pay or hours
  • Disability

If you’ve experienced any of these events this year, chances are you struggled with significantly less income than in prior years. Check with a tax pro to see if you are eligible for the EITC for this year. 

2.  Jury duty fees paid to employer: If your employer pays your full salary while you’re on jury duty, they may ask you to turn over your jury duty fees (paid to you by the court) when you return to work. 

Even though jury fees are  miniscule in comparison to your income,   the IRS still regards them as taxable income. Be sure to deduct those fees from your taxes, so you aren’t taxed on money that was passed directly to your employer. 

Be sure to save any statement or receipts verifying the jury duty payments.

3. State taxes you paid last year: If you ended up owing state income tax last year, be sure to include that amount on this year’s return as an itemized deduction. You may also include any estimated quarterly income taxes you’ve paid as well. 

4. Self-employed health insurance premiums: If you’re self-employed, you know firsthand that insurance coverage isn’t cheap. The IRS understands this and allows for self-employed workers to deduct insurance premiums for medical, dental and long-term care insurance. 

This deduction includes insurance premiums paid for yourself and your dependents. You can include this figure as an itemized deduction on Schedule A of your 1040 tax form. 

5. Protective clothing required for work: If your line of work requires you to wear protective clothing, you’re in luck. Items such as hard hats, goggles, work boots, and fire-retardant outer wear are just some of deductible items. 

There is a catch, however. The clothing items can’t double as street wear, and they must be required by your employer. You’ll deduct the cost of these items on Schedule A of your federal tax return. 

As with any deduction, always check with a tax pro to see if you’re eligible. 

These easily overlooked tax breaks can take the sting out of tax day. Gather your receipts and tax records, talk with a tax pro, and get ready to enjoy a lower tax liability for your 2015 taxes. 

5 More Overlooked Tax Deductions

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freeimages.com

Make the most of these overlooked deductions

Yesterday’s post discussed five of the most easily missed tax deductions. Now is a great time to review your receipts and records to see if you qualify for any of these tax deductions.

Hang on to those receipts, however. You’ll need them on tax filing day, and as proof of eligibility for a given deduction should you ever be audited.

As with any deduction, be sure to check with a licensed tax preparer regarding your eligibility for any itemized deduction, especially if this will be your first year claiming that deduction.

IRS tax code is complicated, and a qualified tax pro will be able to assess your unique tax scenario and also determine whether or not you are eligible for these deductions.

1. Education expenses: Education doesn’t come to an end when you receive your diploma or degree. Enrolling in college courses that are specific to your skill set or to train for a new career is a good strategy in today’s economy.

Eligible expenses include books, tuition, fees and supplies not covered by financial aid, scholarships or tuition reimbursement through your employer.

2. Safe deposit box fees: Be sure to keep track of monthly or quarterly safe deposit box fees; you can deduct them at the end of the year.

3. Foster care expenses: The IRS defines a foster child as a child who is placed with you through a court order, judgement, or by a licensed private or government foster care agency. Unreimbursed foster care expenses are also tax deductible.

4. Lead paint removal: If you’re planning on getting rid of the lead paint on that old house you just bought, good news: lead pain removal expenses are tax-deductible.

There is a catch, however. In order for it to be a qualified expense, the lead paint removal must be for the purposes of preventing a child from eating or otherwise consuming the lead-based paint.

The surfaces must also be in bad shape, and be within easy reach of a child who already suffers from lead exposure. In other words, if your child tested positive for lead exposure due to lead-based paint in your home environment, you do have a shot at deducting the paint removal costs.

IRS code relating to this deduction is complicated, so if you will be removing lead-based paint from your current home or a home you just bought, be sure to check with your tax advisor regarding this deduction.

5. Medical travel expenses: If you or a loved one are ill and need to travel out of town for medically necessary treatment, hold onto to all of your travel and lodging receipts.

 

5 Most Easily Overlooked Deductions

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Make the most of the deductions available to you

As the tax year winds down and as the holidays gain momentum, it’s easy to put off thinking about serious matters such as taxes. After all, there are holiday parties to attend, office parties to live down, and visits with friends and family foremost on your list. Once the holiday season is over, however, tax season will be here before you know it.

You might think of tax deductions as something only high-income earners need to worry about, but there are plenty of deductions available for taxpayers of all income brackets. Here’s a look at some of most easily overlooked deductions:

1. Casualty or theft losses: If you lost property in a disaster or via burglary or theft, note it on your tax return. Let’s say you use your car to drive for Uber or Lyft. Your car is totaled in an accident, including some of the contents. You’ll need to claim this deduction on the Schedule A attachment on your federal tax return. The rules surrounding this deduction are complex, so it will be in your best interest to seek the advice of a tax pro.

2. Cell phone: You can claim this deduction only if you use your cell phone for business purposes. Keep copies of your cell phone bill, and note which calls/text charges are business-related. You’ll need these figures at tax time when calculating your deduction.

3. Contacts, glasses, or hearing aids: Your new contacts and back-up glasses may have cost you a fortune, but you can deduct most of the cost at the end of the year by using the Schedule A attachment on your tax return.

4. Fees for prepared childbirth classes if part of pre-natal care: Kids are expensive, even before they arrive. Claim this cost under medical/dental and keep a copy of any documentation verifying medical necessity or completion of the course. You can only deduct any medical/dental costs not covered by insurance, so this won’t work if your insurance company covered the cost of your childbirth classes.

5. Union dues: You can claim your union dues as a deduction, but be sure to keep any documentation that verifies you paid them or they were deducted from your paycheck.

Tommrow: 5 more of the most easily overlooked tax deductions

 

 

 

It’s December. Do You Know Where Your Tax Paperwork Is?

 

Photo: Ladyheart/morguefile
Photo: Ladyheart/morguefile

The tax year is winding down, and if you’re hoping to get a jump on the April 15th deadline by filing early, organization is key.

Now is a great time to gather all of your paperwork and organize it for easy reference on tax day. Getting organized ahead of time will save you time and energy when it comes time to file your taxes. Here’s a list of some of the things you’ll need:

If you work for an employer:

  • Paystubs and W2 forms. Employers have until January 31st to issue your W2. Once you receive it, compare the figures with the figures on your year-end pay stub. If there are any discrepancies, be sure to contact your employer’s payroll department or bookkeeper. You’ll want to clear up any issues long before your file your return.
  • Proof of 401k/IRA contributions. These figures will typically show on your paystub each pay period. If not, the plan administrator will typically issue a year-end statement as proof of contribution.
  • Your paystub will also show proof of contribution to any employer-sponsored HSA.

If you freelance or have side gigs in addition to W2 earnings:

  • Records of all tip income
  • Records of all your income and expenses for the year, along with receipts verifying those figures
  • If you earn more than $600.00 from any one client, they will issue a 1099-MISC by January 31. If you have not received your 1099-Misc by mid-January, follow up with the client. You will need the form in order to file your taxes.
  • You’ll need to report ALL income, regardless of how much you earn from a specific client.
  • Mileage records if you used your car in the course of conducting business, such as driving for Uber or driving to and from client meetings, medical appointments, and/or volunteer gigs.

If you’ll be itemizing your deductions:

  • For child/elder care: copies of all receipts and payments made to care providers.
  • If you hired a nanny or babysitter who earned more than $600.00, you’ll need to issue a 1099-Misc. form.
  • Charitable contributions: copies of all receipts. If you made donations to a qualified non-profit, they will typically issue a donor acknowledgement letter either at the time of donation or at the end of the year.
  • Copies of receipts for any goods donated. The charity will typically issue a receipt at the time of donation, and you’ll be responsible for declaring the Fair Market Value of the donated items.
  • For medical/dental: Copies of receipts verifying co-payments or other out-of-pocket expenses
  • Copies of mileage records to and from appointments
  • Copies of receipts for any medically-necessary mobility devices, home modifications, or vehicle modifications
  • For homeowners: Copies of the 1098 Mortgage Statement issued by the lender or servicer
  • Records for any repairs, rental expenses, insurance, or disaster-related repairs
  • Receipts for uniform expenses if a uniform is required for work, but not reimbursed by your employer

If this is the first year you’re either filing your own return or claiming itemized deductions, now is a good time to check in with a tax pro who can assess your unique tax scenario and advise you on exactly which documents you’ll need.

Getting ready for tax day is all about keeping organized records. If your paperwork is spread out among various shoeboxes, drawers, or some random spot you can’t remember, now is a good time to dig them out and organize them into one central file.

You’ll be glad you did come tax day.

Build Up Your Retirement Fund With The Saver’s Credit

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It might be hard to think about saving for retirement when present-day expenses threaten to derail your budget. If you are a low-to-moderate income person, you can still save for retirement without straining your existing resources. The Retirement Savings Contribution Credit AKA “The Savers Credit” is intended to help low-income taxpayers save for retirement.

What Is It?

The Saver’s Credit helps low-income taxpayers make contributions to retirement plans such as IRAs, 401(k)s or other employer-sponsored retirement plans. Although it was intended to be a temporary credit in 2002, it eventually was made permanent in 2006.This credit in unique n that it is one of the few credits offered to couples who file separate returns.

Eligibility

Eligibility for this credit is based on your tax filing status, Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and your overall tax liability. If there is any excess credit left over, it can’t be issued to you as a refund. In addition to the income guidelines, you’ll need to be over 18, and not be considered a full-time student (if you attended college full-time for at least five months during the tax year, the IRS will consider you to be a full-time student). You also cannot be claimed as a dependent on anyone else’s tax return.

How It Works

You will need to complete and attach form 8880 to your tax return when you file your taxes. The maximum credit amount you can receive is $2000.00 (single or filing separately) or $4000.00 (filing jointly).

The Savers Credit can help take the pinch out of retirement savings for income-eligible people. If your employer offers a retirement plan, and if you meet the income guidelines established by the IRS, saving for retirement just got easier.

As with any tax matter, if you’re unsure as to whether or not you qualify for this credit, it’s always a good idea to check with a tax advisor or tax prep volunteer at tax time.

4 More Reasons to Consult a Tax Pro

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Having a Tax Pro By Your Side Can Help When The IRS Comes Calling

Yesterday we discussed four situations that required a tax pro’s input and assistance: back taxes, a tax audit, IRS wage garnishments, and an IRS levy of your property to pay taxes. Here are four more reasons to consult a tax pro.

Tax Collection Appeal: No one likes owing the IRS money. In most cases  it’s an unavoidable fact of life, but in other instances you may have the option of contesting the amount the IRS claims you owe for taxes. A Tax Collection Appeal is one way you can settle your debt with the IRS besides appearing in Tax Court.

A skilled tax pro who is qualified to negotiate on your behalf with the IRS will file a written appeal. They will then work with an IRS mediator to reach a settlement amount that is agreeable to you and works with your financial circumstances.

Not everyone will be able to appeal their tax debt, so it’s best to consult a qualified tax pro to see if you are able to appeal your tax debt.

While an ethical tax pro can’t promise the IRS will rule in your favor, they can answer your questions and help you gather the information you will need for the appeal.

IRS Penalty Abatement: The IRS is intent on collecting on the penalties they assess each year, but not every taxpayer can or should pay those penalties. This is where a qualified tax pro comes in: they can assess your unique tax situation, gather all the required information along with supporting documentation (providing complete and accurate records are key) and prepare your tax penalty abatement request.

Innocent Spouse Tax Relief: If your current or former spouse is subject to a Tax Lien or Tax Levy, you could be caught up in it as well, even if you had nothing to do with the taxes owed. Fortunately, the IRS has established a series of guidelines in determining whether or not you would be eligible for Innocent Spouse Tax Relief.

Generally, the IRS will take into consideration three factors in determining your eligibility for Innocent Spouse Tax Relief: whether or not your spouse operated a separate business from you, whether or not you shared a bank account or had access to the money generated from the activity in question, and whether or not you personally benefited from the money generated by the activity in question.

A qualified tax pro will review your case, determine your eligibility for relief, and then determine which program you qualify for if you meet the eligibility guidelines. They will also assist you in filing your claim and will answer any questions you may have regarding the claim process.

IRS Installment Agreement: If you owe taxes and are unable to come up with the lump sum requested by the IRS, enlisting in a qualified tax pro will be to your benefit. They will be able to assess your unique tax situation and determine of you qualify for an installment agreement that will allow you to pay your taxes over time without penalty or interest, provided you make your payments on time.

A tax pro can determine whether or not you qualify for an installment plan, answer your questions, and walk you through the process of filing for an installment agreement if you are eligible, and keep you informed on your case’s progress.

Dealing with the IRS regarding tax matters can be intimidating. Very few taxpayers have the skill, resources and time available to tackle complicated IRS tax matters on their own. Working with a tax pro can save you time and money in the long run, and give you peace of mind.

If you need a tax pro by your side, our staff is ready to assist you with a variety of tax issues and can provide an honest assessment of your unique circumstances.

Contact us at (888)224-3004 or click on the white “Start Chat” button in the upper right-hand corner of any of our webpages, and we will be glad to assist you with your particular tax matter.

Tax Credits for College Students

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Photo: cohdra/http://mrg.bz/o0ebQQ

Available Tax Credits May Offset College Costs

If college is just around the corner for you or for one of your children, no doubt you are worried about college costs. It’s no secret that tuition at public colleges and universities has soared in the past decade.

There are some key tax credits designed to lessen burden of college costs and to make college accessible for students and their families.The information in this post is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax professional

Here’s a look three of those college tax credits:

American Opportunity Tax Credit: This credit applies for the first four years of undergraduate study. Students must be enrolled at least half-time in a program that will lead to a degree, certificate or other widely accepted credential.

If your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) is below the annual limit for your tax status (filing single or head of household, or married filing jointly)  you can claim up to $2500.00 in college costs. This applies to eligible expenses such as books, tuition, and fees not covered by financial aid or scholarships. Housing costs aren’t eligible for the credit.

The credit will phase out as income increases and reaches the annual limit for that tax year.

Likewise, if you are claimed as a dependent on a parent or guardian’s tax return, you won’t be eligible for the credit. The credit amount will phase out as your income increases, disappearing completely if your MAGI reaches the annual limit.  Keep all receipts for tuition, books and fees in a safe place so you can refer to them on tax filing day.

If you’re not sure if you qualify as an independent student, your school’s financial aid webpage should specifiy the guidelines, or you can check with a tax pro. The rules for qualifying as an independent student can be vague, so it’s best to check with someone who is familiar with both the IRS guidelines and the financial aid definition of “independent student.”

www.forbes.com
www.forbes.com

You will also receive a 1098-T form from your school if you’re an independent student, or your parents will receive one if you’re classified as a dependent student.  In most cases, the 1098-T can be downloaded from your student account portal toward the end of January, or mailed to your home or your parents’ home. Either way, you’ll need to refer to it when filing your taxes or when your parents file their taxes.

Lifetime Learning Credit: This credit will assist you or a dependent student with college costs beyond the first four years, either undergraduate or graduate study. There is no time limit to this credit, as long as you meet the income requirements based on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI)

Like the American Opportunity Tax Credit, this credit will phase out as your income increases and will disappear altogether once your income reaches the established annual limit for your tax status.  You can claim up to $2,000 in college costs per year with this credit, as long as your school is fully accredited and meets the eligibility requirements for participating in the U.S. Department of Education Student Loan Program.

Eligible costs include tuition, fees, and book expenses after student loans, scholarships or grants have been applied to your college costs.

The 1098-T form will either be sent to your home or downloaded into your student account portal beginning in January. You’ll need it when filing your taxes.

IRS form 8863 will also need to be completed and filed on tax day.

Taking the Sting Out of Student Loans

 

Student Loan Interest Deduction: If you or your parents paid more than $600.00 in student loan interest during the calendar year, either you or your parents can apply the Student Loan Interest Deduction for a maximum deduction of $2500.00.The qualifying student loan must be for the taxpayer, spouse, or dependent child. If you were claimed as a dependent on a parent or guardian’s tax return, you won’t be eligible to claim this credit, but your parents or guardian will be able claim it.

This deduction phases out at different income levels that are set each year. Your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) must meet certain guidelines in order to qualify. The credit will phase out completely once your MAGI reaches the annual limit for that year.

The student loan must be for eligible expenses such as books, tuition, fees, equipment, housing and transportation costs not covered by financial aid, scholarships or grants.

The student loan company will issue a 1098-E before tax season. Make sure you or your parents keep it handy for tax filing day, as it will specify the amount of interest you or your parents paid during the calendar year.

If this will be your first tax year claiming one or more of these credits, or the first tax year for your parents, it’s best to check with a qualified tax pro who can walk you through the forms and worksheets, or complete them on your behalf. You will receive the guidance you need to make the most of your college investment.

 

A Closer Look At 1099 Forms

 

wordle3We took a look at general tax forms earlier in the week, including the 1099-MISC. Here is a guide to other 1099 forms you’ll encounter as a taxpayer. If you have specific questions regarding any 1099 form you receive, check with a  tax pro;  the descriptions below are a general overview and not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax professional.

1099-C: If a debt is cancelled or modified through negotiation, return of property to the lender, repossession or discharge, that amount is classified as income and will need to be reported on your tax return. If the debt was discharged through a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you are not responsible for the taxes on that debt.

1099-INT: This form is used for reporting income interest over $10.00 from any interest-bearing account such as a CD or deposit account (checking, savings). Report this income on your tax return.

1099-G: If you receive a government payment such as Unemployment Insurance (UI) or a state tax refund, the government will issue a 1099-G form.

1099-K: The 1099-K was introduced in 2011 and the rules surrounding it are a bit more complex than for other forms of income. If you picked up a weekend side gig driving for Uber or Lyft  and earned over $600.00 for the tax year, the credit card company that processes the customer payments will issue you a 1099K for the gross amount received (not taking into account expenses such as gas, mileage, phone rental, etc.). Compare the 1099K with your records. The earnings will need to be reported on Schedule C of your tax return.

Same goes for third-party processors such as PayPal, WePay, and Amazon, but the threshold is much higher. If you have an online store and incur over 200 transactions and earn over $200,000, you will receive a 1099K from that third-party processor. Rules surrounding the 1099K can be confusing your first time out, so it’s best to check with a qualified tax pro regarding your specific scenario.

1099-R: Not just for retirees. While the 1099-R is for retirement income such as pensions, annuities and IRAs, there are exceptions. If you had to make a hardship withdrawal for your 401k, for example, you will receive a 1099-R for the hardship distribution.

Other 1099s: The 1099-S (issued for income from real estate transactions), 1099-SA (Social Security Benefit Statement) and the 1099-SA (distributions from a Healthcare Savings Account, Medical Savings Account or Medicare Advantage Savings Account).

As with any income, you will need to report it on your tax return, and a qualified tax pro can answer your specific tax questions regarding these forms or income from sources outside of your “day job.” Treat the 1099 as you would any tax record: verify its accuracy,  keep it with your other tax forms, and refer to it when filing your taxes.

 

The IRS Audit Q & A

Part 1: IRS Audit Basics

You’ve maybe heard of businesses or individuals who have encountered the dreaded IRS audit. Just the term “IRS audit” is enough to make most of us break into a cold sweat. We’re here to help lessen the fear and help you understand what can happen during an audit.

Here is what you need to know about an IRS audit and how to prepare should you ever be audited. This is the first of a two-part series on the basics of an IRS tax audit. Your individual circumstances may vary so it’s always best to check with a qualified tax professional regarding your specific audit matter.

What is an audit? The term “audit” refers to the process of reviewing an individual’s or business’s financial records to ensure all information is accurately reported to the IRS.

How will I be notified? Taxpayers are notified in one of two ways: letter or phone call. In the event you get a phone call from the IRS, you will also receive a letter confirming the nature of the call. Whatever you do, don’t disregard the audit notice. Follow up with all requested information before the deadline.

My tax returns have been accurate. Why did I get selected for an audit? In many cases, audit selection is random and unrelated to whether or not a return in accurate. In other cases, you may have been selected due to a discrepancy in reporting information on your income forms (W2, 1098 or 1099, for example) provided by your employer(s) and what you reported on your return.

In other instances, your tax return may have been flagged because you have conducted business (as a partner or investor) with another person or entity who is also being audited.

I got an audit notice. What happens now? What happens next largely depends on what type of information is needed, and where the audit will be conducted. An informational audit involves you sending in documentation that is requested by the IRS. There will be no need for a face-to-face meeting at that time. Once your documentation is reviewed, you will be notified by the IRS of their decision and any further action you will need to take. Quick and somewhat painless.

In a field audit, you will meet with the IRS auditor in your home, place of business, or at your tax professional’s office. Here is where your organizational skills will pay off. Bring your tax records and supporting documentation with you to the meeting site. IRS examiners are human, too, and will appreciate it when you are able to whip out the needed documentation quickly and hand it to them. Don’t be that person with the overflowing shoebox of scattered paperwork.

An office audit involves meeting with the examiner at an IRS office, usually the one closest to your home or place of business. Again, have  all the requested information organized and at your fingertips.

Regardless of the type of audit, you must meet all deadlines for replying to requests for information and keep all appointments with your IRS examiner. Be ready to provide all the requested supporting documentation and information.

And yes, you do have rights. While an audit isn’t the nasty experience you may have heard of from friends, family and random strangers, it does help to know that you do have rights and that you can have representation during your tax audit.

Tomorrow: What Happens Next?

If you’ve been selected for an IRS audit, you don’t have to go it alone. Our qualified tax professionals  can help you through the IRS audit process and answer your questions. Give us a call at (888) 224-3004. You can also chat with us by clicking the white “Start Chat” button in the upper right-hand corner of our website.