Thursday, August 18, 2016

IRS Warns of Back-to-School Scams; Encourages Students, Parents, Schools to Stay Alert



WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers against telephone scammers targeting students and parents during the back-to-school season and demanding payments for non-existent taxes, such as the “Federal Student Tax.”
People should be on the lookout for IRS impersonators calling students and demanding that they wire money immediately to pay a fake “federal student tax.” If the person does not comply, the scammer becomes aggressive and threatens to report the student to the police to be arrested. As schools around the nation prepare to re-open, it is important for taxpayers to be particularly aware of this scheme going after students and parents.    
“Although variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue year-round, they tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike”, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “As students and parents enter the new school year, they should remain alert to bogus calls, including those demanding fake tax payments from students.”
The IRS encourages college and school communities to share this information so that students, parents and their families are aware of these scams.
Scammers are constantly identifying new tactics to carry out their crimes in new and unsuspecting ways. This year, the IRS has seen scammers use a variety of schemes to fool taxpayers into paying money or giving up personal information. Some of these include:
  • Altering the caller ID on incoming phone calls in a “spoofing” attempt to make it seem like the IRS, the local police or another agency is calling
  • Imitating software providers to trick tax professionals--IR-2016-103
  • Demanding fake tax payments using iTunes gift cards--IR-2016-99
  • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals--IR-2016-34
  • “Verifying” tax return information over the phone--IR-2016-40
  • Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry--IR-2016-28
If you receive an unexpected call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here are some of the telltale signs to help protect yourself.
The IRS Will Never:
  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
If you get a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:
  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Search the web for telephone numbers scammers leave in your voicemail asking you to call back. Some of the phone numbers may be published online and linked to criminal activity.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How Identity Theft Can Affect Your Taxes



Tax-related identity theft normally occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. Many people first find out about it when they do their taxes.
The IRS is working hard to stop identity theft with a strategy of prevention, detection and victim assistance. Here are nine key points:
  1. Taxes. Security. Together. The IRS, the states and the tax industry need your help. We can’t fight identity theft alone. The Taxes. Security. Together. awareness campaign is an effort to better inform you about the need to protect your personal, tax and financial data online and at home.

  2. Protect your Records. Keep your Social Security card at home and not in your wallet or purse. Only provide your Social Security number if it’s absolutely necessary. Protect your personal information at home and protect your computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software. Routinely change passwords for internet accounts.

  3. Don’t Fall for Scams.  Criminals often try to impersonate your bank, your credit card company, even the IRS in order to steal your personal data. Learn to recognize and avoid those fake emails and texts. Also, the IRS will not call you threatening a lawsuit, arrest or to demand an immediate tax payment. Normal correspondence is a letter in the mail. Beware of threatening phone calls from someone claiming to be from the IRS.

  4. Report Tax-Related ID Theft to the IRS. If you cannot e-file your return because a tax return already was filed using your SSN, consider the following steps: • File your taxes by paper and pay any taxes owed. • File an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. You may include it with your paper return. • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant; • Contact one of the three credit bureaus so they can place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your account;

  5. IRS Letters. If the IRS identifies a suspicious tax return with your SSN, it may send you a letter asking you to verify your identity by calling a special number or visiting a Taxpayer Assistance Center. This is to protect you from tax-related identity theft.

  6. IP PIN. If you are a confirmed ID theft victim, the IRS may issue an IP PIN. The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that you will use to e-file your tax return. Each year, you will receive an IRS letter with a new IP PIN.

  7. Report Suspicious Activity. If you suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, you can visit IRS.gov and follow the chart on How to Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity.

  8. Combating ID Theft.  In 2015, the IRS stopped 1.4 million confirmed ID theft returns and protected $8.7 billion. In the past couple of years, more than 2,000 people have been convicted of filing fraudulent ID theft returns. 

  9. Service Options. Information about tax-related identity theft is available online. We have a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and a phone number available for victims to obtain assistance.
For more on this Topic, see the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft.
IRS Tax Tips provide valuable information throughout the year. IRS.gov offers tax help and info on various topics including common tax scams, taxpayer rights and more.
Additional IRS Resources:
  • Publication 5027, Identity Theft Information for Taxpayers
  • Publication 5199, Tax Preparer Guide to Identity Theft
  • Publication 4524, Security Awareness-Identity Theft Flyer
  • Publication 4523, Beware of Phishing Schemes

Monday, August 8, 2016

Four Tax Tips about Hobbies that Earn Income


Millions of people enjoy hobbies. Hobbies can also be a source of income. Some of these types of hobbies include stamp or coin collecting, craft making and horse breeding. You must report any income you get from a hobby on your tax return. How you report the income from hobbies is different from how you report income from a business. There are special rules and limits for deductions you can claim for a hobby. Here are five basic tax tips you should know if you get income from your hobby:
  1. Business versus Hobby. There are nine factors to consider to determine if you are conducting business or participating in a hobby. Make sure to base your decision on all the facts and circumstances of your situation. Refer to Publication 535, Business Expenses, to learn more. You can also visit IRS.gov and type “not-for-profit” in the search box.

  2. Allowable Hobby Deductions. You may be able to deduct ordinary and necessary hobby expenses. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted for the activity. A necessary expense is one that is helpful or appropriate. See Publication 535 for more on these rules.

  3. Limits on Expenses. As a general rule, you can only deduct your hobby expenses up to the amount of your hobby income. If your expenses are more than your income, you have a loss from the activity. You can’t deduct that loss from your other income.

  4. How to Deduct Expenses. You must itemize deductions on your tax return in order to deduct hobby expenses. Your costs may fall into three types of expenses. Special rules apply to each type. See Publication 535 for how you should report them on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Back to School? Learn about Tax Credits for Education



If you pay for college in 2016, you may receive some tax savings on your federal tax return, even if you’re studying outside of the U.S. Both the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit may reduce the amount of tax you owe, but only the AOTC is partially refundable.



Here are a few things you should know about education credits:  
  • American Opportunity Tax Credit ‒ The AOTC is worth up to $2,500 per year for an eligible student. This credit is available for the first four years of higher education. Forty percent of the AOTC is refundable. That means, if you’re eligible, you can get up to $1,000 of the credit as a refund, even if you do not owe any tax.
  • Lifetime Learning Credit ‒ The LLC is worth up to $2,000 per tax return. There is no limit on the number of years that you can claim the LLC for an eligible student.
  • Qualified expenses ‒ You may use only qualified expenses paid to figure your credit. These expenses include the costs you pay for tuition, fees and other related expenses for an eligible student to enroll at, or attend, an eligible educational institution. Refer to IRS.gov for more on the rules that apply to each credit.
  • Eligible educational institutionsEligible educational schools are those that offer education beyond high school. This includes most colleges and universities. Vocational schools or other postsecondary schools may also qualify. If you aren’t sure if your school is eligible:
    • Ask your school if it is an eligible educational institution, or
    • See if your school is on the U.S. Department of Education’s Accreditation database.
  • Form 1098-T ‒ In most cases, you should receive Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, from your school by February 1. This form reports your qualified expenses to the IRS and to you. The amounts shown on the form may be either:  (1) the amount you paid for qualified tuition and related expenses, or (2) the amount that your school billed for qualified tuition and related expenses; therefore, the amounts shown on the form may be different than the amounts you actually paid. Don’t forget that you can only claim an education credit for the qualified tuition and related expenses that you paid in the tax year and not just the amount that your school billed. If Form 1098-T does not have the amount paid, you must have copies of receipts showing these payments or a statement from the school showing amounts paid for qualifying expenses. 
  • Income limits ‒ The education credits are subject to income limitations and may be reduced, or eliminated, based on your income.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

How Selling Your Home Can Impact Your Taxes


 
Usually, profits you earn are taxable. However, if you sell your home, you may not have to pay taxes on the money you gain. Here are ten tips to keep in mind if you sell your home this year.
  1. Exclusion of Gain.  You may be able to exclude part or all of the gain from the sale of your home. This rule may apply if you meet the eligibility test. Parts of the test involve your ownership and use of the home. You must have owned and used it as your main home for at least two out of the five years before the date of sale.

  2. Exceptions May Apply.  There are exceptions to the ownership, use and other rules. One exception applies to persons with a disability. Another applies to certain members of the military. That rule includes certain government and Peace Corps workers. For more on this topic, see Publication 523, Selling Your Home.

  3. Exclusion Limit.  The most gain you can exclude from tax is $250,000. This limit is $500,000 for joint returns. The Net Investment Income Tax will not apply to the excluded gain.

  4. May Not Need to Report Sale.  If the gain is not taxable, you may not need to report the sale to the IRS on your tax return.

  5. When You Must Report the Sale.  You must report the sale on your tax return if you can’t exclude all or part of the gain. You must report the sale if you choose not to claim the exclusion. That’s also true if you get Form 1099-S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. If you report the sale, you should review the Questions and Answers on the Net Investment Income Tax on IRS.gov.

  6. Exclusion Frequency Limit.  Generally, you may exclude the gain from the sale of your main home only once every two years. Some exceptions may apply to this rule.

  7. Only a Main Home Qualifies.  If you own more than one home, you may only exclude the gain on the sale of your main home. Your main home usually is the home that you live in most of the time.

  8. First-time Homebuyer Credit.  If you claimed the first-time homebuyer credit when you bought the home, special rules apply to the sale. For more on those rules, see Publication 523.

  9. Home Sold at a Loss.  If you sell your main home at a loss, you can’t deduct the loss on your tax return.

  10. Report Your Address Change.  After you sell your home and move, update your address with the IRS. To do this, file Form 8822, Change of Address. Mail it to the address listed on the form’s instructions. If you purchase health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you should also notify the Marketplace when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace plan.
IRS Tax Tips provide valuable information throughout the year. IRS.gov offers tax help and info on various topics including common tax scams, taxpayer rights and more.


Tony Nitti Contributor
I focus on tax policy, court decisions and planning opportunities.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Taxes 8/01/2016 @ 9:20PM 41,800 views
IRS Increases 'Marriage Penalty," Unmarried Cohabitants To Get Twice The Mortgage Interest Deduction
There are a thousand good reasons to never get married: in-laws, divorce attorneys, and the inevitable ravages of age on one’s attractiveness come immediately to mind.
But there are also significant tax hits that come with getting hitched, or as they’ve collectively been coined, the “marriage penalty.” For example, the 28% tax bracket kicks in at $91,150 of income if you’re single, but at only $151,900 — an amount basic math tells you is less than double $91,150 — for married taxpayers. In addition, single taxpayers start to lose 3% of itemized deductions when adjusted gross income exceeds $258,250; married taxpayers, however, will lose itemized deductions once adjusted gross income exceeds only $309,900. .
Late last week, the IRS exacerbated the marriage penalty by offering a very large reward for unmarried taxpayers who co-own a home: double the mortgage interest deduction available to married taxpayer.
In AOD 2016-02, the IRS acquiesced in the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Sophy v. Commissioner, in which the appeals court overturned a Tax Court decision and allowed a same-sex, unmarried, co-habiting couple to each deduct the mortgage interest on $1.1 million of acquisition and home equity debt. In reaching it’s conclusion, the Ninth Circuit determined that the mortgage interest limitation is meant to apply on a per-taxpayer, rather than a per-residence, basis. The AOD issued by the IRS confirms that the Service will follow this treatment Shutterstock
Let’s take a look at what this means:

Mortgage Interest Deductions, In General
Section 163(h)(3) allows a deduction for qualified residence interest on up to $1,000,000 of acquisition indebtedness and $100,000 of home equity indebtedness. Should your mortgage balance (or balances, since the mortgage interest deduction is permitted on up to two homes) exceed the statutory limitations, the mortgage interest deduction is limited to the amount applicable to only $1,100,000 worth of debt.
Now assume for a moment that you and your non-spouse lifemate/bookie/Japanese body pillow go halfsies on your dream house, owning the home as joint tenants. And assume the total acquisition mortgage debt is $2,000,000 and the total home equity loan $200,000, making total debt $2,200,000, with each of you paying interest on only your $1,100,000 share of the debt.

Are each of you entitled to a full mortgage deduction — since you each paid interest on only $1,100,000 of debt, the maximum allowable under Section 163 — or is your mortgage deduction limited because the total debt on the house exceeds the $1,100,000 statutory limitation?
In 2012, the Tax Court concluded that the answer was the latter. In Sophy v. Commissioner, this issue was surprisingly addressed for the first time in the courts (it had previously been addressed with a similar conclusion in CCA 200911007), with the Tax Court holding that the $1,100,000 limitation must be applied on a per-residence basis.
Thus, in the above example, even though the joint tenants each paid mortgage interest on only the maximum allowable $1,100,000 of debt, each owner’s mortgage interest deduction would be limited under the holding in Sophy because the maximum amount of qualified residence debt on the house — regardless of the number of owners — is limited to $1,100,000. Assuming the joint tenants each paid $70,000 in interest, each owner’s limitation would be determined as follows:
$70,000 * $1,100,000 (statutory limitation)/$2,200,000 (total mortgage balance) = $35,000
Instead of each owner being entitled to a full $70,000 interest deduction, the Tax Court concluded that the mortgage interest deduction was limited for both because the total debt on the house exceeded the statutory limits. The court reached this conclusion after examining the structure of the statute and determining that the plain language required the applicable debt limitation to be applied on a per-residence basis:
Qualified residence interest is defined as “any interest which is paid or accrued during the taxable year on acquisition indebtedness with respect to any qualified residence of the taxpayer, or home equity indebtedness with respect to any qualified residence of the taxpayer.” Sec. 163(h)(3)(A)
The court then added, “The definitions of the terms ‘acquisition indebtedness’ and ‘home equity indebtedness’ establish that the indebtedness must be related to a qualified residence, and the repeated use of the phrases “with respect to a qualified residence” and “with respect to such residence” in the provisions discussed above focuses on the residence rather than the taxpayer.

Ninth Circuit Reverses
In an illustration of how multiple smart people can look at the same set of facts and reach a different conclusion, late last year the Ninth Circuit reversed the Tax Court’s holding, deciding instead that the $1,100,000 limitation on qualified debt is determined on a per-taxpayer, rather than a per-residence basis.
Key to the Ninth Circuit’s decision was the statute’s treatment of married taxpayers who file separate returns for purposes of deducting mortgage interest. Section 163(h)(3) provides that “in the case of” a married taxpayer who files a separate return, the $1,000,000 limit on qualified residence interest and $100,000 of home equity interest are reduced to $500,000 and $50,000 respectively. The Ninth Circuit placed great emphasis on the use of the phrase “in the case of,” noting that it suggests an exception to the general limitations, and that aside from that specific exception, married taxpayers filing separately should be treated identically to married taxpayers under Section 163.
The statute gives each separately filing spouse a separate debt limit of $550,000 so that, together, the two spouses are effectively entitled to a $1.1 million debt, the same amount allowed for single taxpayers. Thus, the point of the language was to treat two married taxpayers who file separately the same as married taxpayers or a single taxpayer, which indicates that the limitations are to be applied on a per-taxpayer, rather than a per-residence basis.
Lastly, the court reasoned that if the limitation is to be applied on a per-residence basis, there would be no need to impose a 1/2 limitation on married couples filing separately. If the limit were indeed intended to be $1,100,000 per house, then married couples who live together but file separately would be forced to split the limit; there would be no need to add additional language to the statute to accomplish that result. If the $1,100,000 limitation is to be applied on a per-taxpayer, basis, however, the limiting language would serve a purpose, as it would prevent a married couple who files separately from deducting interest on a total of $2,200,000 and get twice the benefit of a married couple who files jointly.

Impact
The impact of Sophy and the Service’s subsequent acquiescence are a bit muted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Windsor and its 2015 ruling in Obergfell, which together represent a seismic shift in the treatment of same-sex couples for federal tax purposes. Going forward, same-sex couples who are legally married under state law will no longer be forced to file as unmarried taxpayers; rather, any couple that is married under state law, same-sex or otherwise, will only be permitted to file married filing jointly or married filing separately. In other words: same-sex couples — welcome to the marriage penalty!!
Cohabitation, of course, is not limited to same-sex couples, and so the Service’s decision to allow each taxpayer who co-owns a house to claim an interest deduction on the full $1,100,000 of debt — provided they are not married filing separately — should be a welcome one for many.
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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Four Reasons You Should Not Wait Until Extension Deadline to File Your Return



If you filed for an extension of time to file your 2015 federal tax return and you also chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit made to your coverage provider. If you fall into this category, it’s important you file your return sooner rather than later. Here are four things for these taxpayers to know:
  • If you got a six-month extension of time to file, you do not need to wait until this fall to file your return and reconcile your advance payments. You can – and should - file as soon as you have all the necessary documentation.
  • You must file to ensure you can continue having advance credit payments paid on your behalf in future years. If you do not file and reconcile your 2015 advance payments of the premium tax credit by the Marketplace’s fall re-enrollment period – even if you filed for an extension – you may not have your eligibility for advance payments of the PTC in 2017 determined for a period of time after you have filed your tax return with Form 8962.
  • Advance payments of the premium tax credit are reviewed in the fall by the Health Insurance Marketplace for the next calendar year as part of their annual re-enrollment and income verification process.
  • Use Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, to reconcile any advance credit payments made on your behalf and to maintain your eligibility for future premium assistance.