General Information

How Much to Save for an Emergency

How Much to Save for an Emergency

A new tool can help you nail down how much to save in an emergency fund, based on your personal profile. At www.hellowallet.com/emergencysavings, you’ll enter information including your take-home Emergencypay, regular monthly expenses, whether you rent or own your home, and your health insurance policy’s annual deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. The tool estimates the amount of easily accessible savings you should have in the event of a minor emergency, a major emergency or a layoff from work. It is important to take into consideration things like take-home income, vehicles, monthly expenses, insurance deductibles, and irregular expenditures.

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Late Filing and Late Paying Penalties

Late Filing and Late Paying Penalties

April 15 was the tax day deadline for most people. If you are due a refund there is no penalty if you file a late tax return. But if you owe tax, and you failed to file and pay on time, you will usually owe interest and penalties on the tax you pay late. You should file your tax return and pay the tax as soon as possible to stop them. Here are eight facts that you should know about these penalties.

1.    Two penalties may apply.  If you file your federalPenalties tax return late and owe tax with the return, two penalties may apply. The first is a failure-to-file penalty for late filing. The second is a failure-to-pay penalty for paying late.

2.    Penalty for late filing.  The failure-to-file penalty is normally 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late. It will not exceed 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

3.    Minimum late filing penalty.  If you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty for late filing is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.

4.    Penalty for late payment.  The failure-to-pay penalty is generally 0.5 percent per month of your unpaid taxes. It applies for each month or part of a month your taxes remain unpaid and starts accruing the day after taxes are due. It can build up to as much as 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

5.    Combined penalty per month.  If the failure-to-file penalty and the failure-to-pay penalty both apply in any month, the maximum amount charged for those two penalties that month is 5 percent.

6.    File even if you can’t pay.  In most cases, the failure-to-file penalty is 10 times more than the failure-to-pay penalty. So if you can’t pay in full, you should file your tax return and pay as much as you can. Use IRS Direct Pay to pay your tax directly from your checking or savings account. You should try other options to pay, such as getting a loan or paying by debit or credit card. The IRS will work with you to help you resolve your tax debt. Most people can set up an installment agreement with the IRS using the Online Payment Agreement tool on IRS.gov.

7.    Late payment penalty may not apply.  If you requested an extension of time to file your income tax return by the tax due date and paid at least 90 percent of the taxes you owe, you may not face a failure-to-pay penalty. However, you must pay the remaining balance by the extended due date. You will owe interest on any taxes you pay after the April 15 due date.

8.    No penalty if reasonable cause.  You will not have to pay a failure-to-file or failure-to-pay penalty if you can show reasonable cause for not filing or paying on time. There is also penalty relief available for repayment of excess advance payments of the premium tax credit for 2014.

Information from IRS tax tip 2015-63 was used in this blog post.

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Tips for Filing an Amended Return

Have you found that you made an error on your federal tax return? If so, you may need to file an amended return. Here are ten tips that can help you file.

1.    Tax form to amend your return.  Use Form 1040X, 1040XAmended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to correct your tax return. You must file a paper Form 1040X; it can’t be e-filed.

2.    Amend to correct errors.  You should file an amended tax return to correct errors or make changes to your original tax return. For example, you should amend to change your filing status, or to correct your income, deductions or credits.

3.    Don’t amend for math errors, missing forms.  You normally don’t need to file an amended return to correct math errors. The IRS will automatically correct those for you. Also, do not file an amended return if you forgot to attach tax forms, such as a Form W-2 or a schedule. The IRS will mail you a request for them in most cases.

4.    Most taxpayers don’t need to amend to correct Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, errors.  Eligible taxpayers who filed a 2014 tax return and claimed a premium tax credit using incorrect information from either the federally-facilitated or a state-based Health Insurance Marketplace, generally do not have to file an amended return regardless of the nature of the error, even if additional taxes would be owed. The IRS may contact you to ask for a copy of your corrected Form 1095-A to verify the information.

5.    Time limit to claim a refund.  You usually have three years from the date you filed your original tax return to file Form 1040X to claim a refund. You can file it within two years from the date you paid the tax, if that date is later. That means the last day for most people to file a 2011 claim for a refund is April 15, 2015. See the Form 1040X instructions for special rules that apply to some claims.

6.    When to file for second refund.  If you are due a 1040 crumpledrefund from your original return, wait to get that refund before filing Form 1040X to claim an additional refund. Amended returns take up to 16 weeks to process. You may spend your original refund while you wait for any additional refund.

7.    Track your amended return.  You can track the status of your amended tax return three weeks after you file with ‘Where’s My Amended Return?’ This tool is on IRS.gov or by phone at 866-464-2050. It is available in English and in Spanish. The tool can track the status of an amended return for the current year and up to three years back. To use ‘Where’s My Amended Return?’ enter your taxpayer identification number, which is usually your Social Security number. You will also enter your date of birth and zip code. If you have filed amended returns for multiple years, you can check each year one at a time.
Information from IRS Tax Tip 2015-64 was used in this blog post.

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Factors Affecting IRS Audit Risk

Factors Affecting IRS Audit Risk

Ever wonder why some tax returns are audited by the Internal Revenue Service while most are ignored? Short on personnel and funding, the IRS audited only 0.86% of all individual tax returns in 2014. And the 2015 audit rate will definitely fall even lower as the agency’s resources continue to shrink. For example, funding for enforcement in the IRS’s current budget is 5% less than last year. So the odds are pretty low that your return will be picked for review.

That said, your chances of being audited or otherwise1040 Audit hearing from the IRS escalate depending upon various factors, including your income level, the types of deductions or losses claimed, the business in which you’re engaged and whether you own foreign assets. Math errors may draw IRS inquiry, but they’ll rarely lead to a full-blown exam. Although there’s no sure way to avoid an IRS audit, these 9 red flags could increase your chances of unwanted attention from the IRS.

  1. Making lots of moneyOverall individual audit rate is 1 in 116
    1. Individuals with $200k or more audit rate is 1 in 37
    2. Individuals with $1 Million or more audit rate is 1 in 13
  2. Underreporting income
  3. Taking higher than- average deductions
  4. Claiming 100% business use of a vehicle
    1. This is especially high risk when no other vehicle is available for personal use
    2. Keep detailed mileage logs with a date and purpose for every trip
    3. Actual expenses OR mileage may be deducted
  5. Writing off a hobby loss
    1. If your activity generates profit 3 out of 5 years it is considered a business and losses can be deducted
  6. Reporting large charitable deductions
  7. Running a small business
    1. Additional IRS scrutiny given to cash-intensive businesses
    2. IRS focusing away from large corporations and towards
  8. Deducting Business Meals, Travel and Entertainment
    1. Be prepared to provide records that document amounts, places, people, and purpose.
  9. Claiming the home office deduction
    1. The space must be used exclusively and regularly as your principle place of business

Information from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Adviser May 2015 was used in this blog post. For specific questions about your audit risk, please contact us.

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Home Mortgage Debt Cancellation

Tax Tips about Home Mortgage Debt Cancellation

If your lender cancels part or all of your debt, you normally must pay tax on that amount. However, the law provides for an exclusion that may apply to homeowners who had their mortgage debt cancelled in 2014. In most cases where the exclusion applies, the amount of the cancelled debt is not taxable. Here are the top 10 tax tips about mortgage debt cancellation:

  1. Main Home.  If the cancelled debt was a loan short saleon your main home, you may be able to exclude the cancelled amount from your income. You must have used the loan to buy, build or substantially improve your main home to qualify. Your main home must also secure the mortgage.
  2. Loan Modification.  If your lender cancelled part of your mortgage through a loan modification or ‘workout,’ you may be able to exclude that amount from your income. You may also be able to exclude debt discharged as part of the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP. The exclusion may also apply to the amount of debt cancelled in a foreclosure.
  3. Refinanced Mortgage.  The exclusion may apply to amounts cancelled on a refinanced mortgage. This applies only if you used proceeds from the refinancing to buy, build or substantially improve your main home. Amounts used for other purposes don’t qualify.
  4. Other Cancelled Debt.  Other types of cancelled debt such as second homes, rental and business property, credit card debt or car loans do not qualify for this special exclusion. On the other hand, there are other rules that may allow those types of cancelled debts to be nontaxable.
  5. Form 1099-C.  If your lender reduced or 1099-ccancelled at least $600 of your debt, you should receive Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, in January of the next year. This form shows the amount of cancelled debt and other information.
  6. Form 982. If you qualify, report the excluded debt on Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness. File the form with your federal income tax return.
  7. Exclusion extended. The law that authorized this exclusion had expired at the end of 2013. The Tax Increase Prevention Act extended it to apply for one year, through Dec. 31, 2014.

IRS Tax Tip 2015-32 was used in this blog post.

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Facts about Capital Gains and Losses

Ten Facts about Capital Gains and Losses

When you sell a capital asset the sale results in a capital gain or loss. A capital asset includes most property you own for personal use or own as an investment. Here are 10 facts that you should know about capital gains and losses:

1. Capital Assets.  Capital assets include CG Calculatorproperty such as your home or car, as well as investment property, such as stocks and bonds.

2. Gains and Losses.  A capital gain or loss is the difference between your basis and the amount you get when you sell an asset. Your basis is usually what you paid for the asset.

3. Net Investment Income Tax.  You must include all capital gains in your income and you may be subject to the Net Investment Income Tax. This tax applies to certain net investment income of individuals, estates and trusts that have income above statutory threshold amounts. The rate of this tax is 3.8 percent. For details visit IRS.gov.

4. Deductible Losses.  You can deduct capital losses on the sale of investment property. You cannot deduct losses on the sale of property that you hold for personal use.

5. Long and Short Term.  Capital gains and losses are either long-term or short-term, depending on how long you held the property. If you held the property for more than one year, your gain or loss is long-term. If you held it one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.

6. Net Capital Gain.  If your long-term gains are more than your long-term losses, the difference between the two is a net long-term capital gain. If your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, you have a net capital gain.

7. Tax Rate.  The capital gains tax rate Capital Gainsusually depends on your income. The maximum net capital gain tax rate is 20 percent. However, for most taxpayers a zero or 15 percent rate will apply. A 25 or 28 percent tax rate can also apply to certain types of net capital gains.

8. Limit on Losses.  If your capital losses are more than your capital gains, you can deduct the difference as a loss on your tax return. This loss is limited to $3,000 per year, or $1,500 if you are married and file a separate return.

9. Carryover Losses.  If your total net capital loss is more than the limit you can deduct, you can carry over the losses you are not able to deduct to next year’s tax return. You will treat those losses as if they happened in that next year.

10. Forms to File.  You often will need to file Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, with your federal tax return to report your gains and losses. You also need to file Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses with your tax return.

Information from IRS Tax Tip 2015-21 was used in this blog post.

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Home Office Deduction Tips

The following post is six tips to know in claiming a home office deduction.

If you use your home for business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. If you qualify you can claim the deduction whether you rent or own your home. If you qualify for the deduction you may use either the simplified method or the regular method to claim your deduction. Here are six tips that you should know about the home office deduction.

  1. Regular and Exclusive Use.  As a general rule, Home officeyou must use a part of your home regularly and exclusively for business purposes. The part of your home used for business must also 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 could include a garage or a studio.
  1. Simplified Option.  If you use the simplified option, you multiply the allowable square footage of your office by a rate of $5. The maximum footage allowed is 300 square feet. This 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. This option does not change the criteria for who may claim a home office deduction.
  2. Regular Method.  If you use the regular 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 may qualify. If you own your home, part of the mortgage interest, taxes and utilities you paid may qualify. The amount you can deduct usually depends on the percentage of your home used for business.
  3. Deduction Limit.  If your gross income from 8829 Flow Chartthe business use of your home is less than your expenses, the deduction for some expenses may be limited.
  4. Self-Employed.  If you are self-employed and choose the regular method, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, to figure the amount you can deduct. You can claim your deduction using either method on Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business. See the Schedule C instructions for how to report your deduction.
  5. Employees.  If you are an employee, you must meet additional rules to claim the deduction. For example, your business use must also be for the convenience of your employer. If you qualify, you claim the deduction on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

 

Information from IRS tax tip 2015-42 was used in this post.

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Consumer Alert: Beware these Tax Scams

Stay Vigilant Against Bogus IRS Phone Calls and Emails

Tax scams take many different forms. Recently, the most common scams are phone calls and emails from thieves who pretend to be from the IRS. They use the IRS name, logo or a fake website to try to steal your money. They may try to steal your identity too. Here are several tips from the IRS to help you avoid being a victim of these tax scams:

The real IRS will not:Tax-Scam1

  • Initiate contact with you by phone, email, text or social media to ask for your personal or financial information.
  • Call you and demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call about taxes you owe without first mailing you a bill.
  • Require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For example, telling you to pay with a prepaid debit card.

Be wary if you get a phone call from someone who claims to be from the IRS and demands that you pay immediately. Here are some steps you can take to avoid and stop these scams.

If you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page to report the incident.
  • You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your report.

If you think you may owe taxes:

  • Ask for a call back number and an employee badge number.
  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS employees can help you.

In most cases, an IRS phishing scam is an unsolicited, bogus email that claims to come from the IRS. They often use fake refunds, phony tax bills, or threats of an audit. Some emails link to sham websites that look real.  The scammers’ goal is to lure victims to give up their personal and financial information. If they get what they’re after, they use it to steal a victim’s money and their identity.

If you get a ‘phishing’ email, the IRS offers this advice:

  • Don’t reply to the message.
  • Don’t give out your personal or financial information.
  • Forward the email to phishing@irs.gov. Then delete it.
  • Don’t open any attachments or click on any links. They may have malicious code that will infect your computer.

Information from IRS Tax Tip 2015-20 was used in this blog post.

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Obtaining and Claiming a Health Coverage Exemption

Obtaining and Claiming a Health Coverage Exemption

The Affordable Care Act requires you and each member of your family to have minimum essential coverage, qualify for an insurance coverage exemption, or make an individual shared responsibility payment when you file your federal income tax return.

If you meet certain criteria, you may be exempt from Health Coverage Exemptionthe requirement to have qualifying health coverage. If you are exempt, you will not have to make a shared responsibility payment when you file your 2014 federal income tax return this year. For any month that you do not qualify for a coverage exemption, you will need to have minimum essential coverage or make a shared responsibility payment.

How you get a coverage exemption depends upon the type of exemption for which you are eligible. You can obtain some exemptions only from the Marketplace, while others may be claimed when you file your tax return.

You may be exempt if:

  • The minimum amount you must pay for the annual premiums is more than eight percent of your household income
  • You have a gap in coverage that is less than three consecutive months
  • You qualify for an exemption for one of several other reasons, including having a hardship that prevents you from obtaining coverage, or belonging to a group explicitly exempt from the requirement

Coverage exemptions are claimed or reported on Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions.

8965If you are granted a coverage exemption from the Marketplace, they will send you a notice with your unique Exemption Certificate Number or ECN. You will enter your ECN in Part I, Marketplace-Granted Coverage Exemptions for Individuals, of Form 8965 in column C. If the Marketplace hasn’t processed your exemption application before you file your tax return, complete Part I of Form 8965 and enter “pending” in Column C for each person listed.  If you claim the exemption on your return, you do not need an ECN from the Marketplace. With the tax filing season underway, most exemptions for 2014 are only available by claiming them on your tax return.

If your income is below your filing threshold and you are not required to file a tax return, you are eligible for an exemption and you do not have to file a tax return to claim it. If you choose to file a tax return, you will use Part II, Coverage Exemptions for Your Household Claimed on Your Return, of Form 8965 to claim a health coverage exemption.

Other IRS-granted coverage exemptions may be claimed on your tax return using Part III, Coverage Exemptions for Individuals Claimed on Your Return, of Form 8965.

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How to Get a Copy of Your Prior Year Tax Information

How to Get a Copy of Your Prior Year Tax Information

There are many reasons you may need a copy of your tax return information from a prior year. You may need it when applying for a student loan, home mortgage or for a VISA. If you don’t have your copy, the IRS can help. It’s easy to get a free transcript from the IRS. Here are several ways for you to get what you need:

  • Tax Return Transcript.  A return transcript shows 1040most line items from your tax return just as you filed it. It also includes forms and schedules you filed. However, it does not reflect changes made to the return after you filed it. In most cases, your tax return transcript will have all the information a lender or other agency needs.
  • Tax Account Transcript.  This transcript shows any adjustments made by you or the IRS after you filed your return. It shows basic data, like marital status, type of return, adjusted gross income and taxable income.

How to Get a Transcript.  You can request transcripts online, by phone or by mail. Both types of transcripts are free of charge. They are available for the most current tax year after the IRS has processed the return. You can also get them for the past three tax years.

Order online.  Use the ‘Get Transcript’ tool available on IRS.gov. You can use this tool to confirm your identity and to immediately view and print copies of your transcript in a single session for free. The tool is available for five types of tax records: tax account transcript, tax return transcript, record of account, wage and income and verification of non-filing.

Order by phone.  Call 800-908-9946. A recorded message will guide you through the process.

Order by mail.  The easy way to order your transcript by mail is to use the “Get Transcript by Mail” online option on IRS.gov. On the other hand, you can complete and mail Form 4506T-EZ to get your tax return transcript. Use Form 4506-T to request your tax account transcript by mail.

  • How to Get a Tax Return Copy.  Actual copies of your tax returns are generally available for the current tax year and as far back as six years. The fee per copy is $50. Complete and mail Form 4506 to request a copy of your tax return. Mail your request to the IRS office listed on the form for your area.

Delivery times for online and phone orders typically take 5 to 10 days from the time the IRS receives the request. You should allow 30 days to receive a transcript ordered by mail and 75 days for copies of your tax return. You can print tax forms online at IRS.gov/forms. To get forms in the mail go to IRS.gov/orderforms to place an order.

Information from IRS Tax Tip 2015-17 was used in this blog post.

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