Insights

If You Receive an IRS Notice, Here’s What to Do

Each year the IRS sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers. Although some people may feel anxious when they receive one, many are easy to resolve. Here’s what to do if you receive a letter or notice from the IRS:

1. Don’t panic. Follow the instructions in the letter.

2. There are many reasons the IRS sends notices to taxpayers. The notice usually covers a specific issue about your account or tax return. It may request payment of taxes, notify you of a change to your account or ask for additional information.

3. If you receive a notice about a correction to your tax return, you should review it carefully. You usually will need to compare the information in the notice to the entries on your tax return.

If you agree with the correction, you usually don’t need to reply unless a payment is due.

If you don’t agree with the correction the IRS made, it’s important that you respond as requested. Respond to the IRS in writing to explain why you disagree. Include any documents and information you wish the IRS to consider, along with the bottom tear-off portion of the notice. Mail the information to the IRS address shown in the lower left corner of the notice. Allow at least 30 days for a response from the IRS.

4. There is no need for you to call or visit an IRS office to answer most IRS notices. If you have questions, call the telephone number in the upper right corner of the notice. When you call, have a copy of your tax return and the notice available.

5. Keep copies of any correspondence with your tax records.

Eight Tips for Taxpayers Who Owe Taxes

While most taxpayers get a refund from the IRS when they file their taxes, some do not. The IRS offers several payment options for those who owe taxes.

Here are eight tips for those who owe federal taxes.

1. Tax bill payments. If you get a bill from the IRS this summer, you should pay it as soon as possible to save money. You can pay by check, money order, cashier’s check or cash. If you cannot pay it all, consider getting a loan to pay the bill in full. The interest rate for a loan may be less than the interest and penalties the IRS must charge by law.

2. Electronic Funds Transfer. It’s easy to pay your tax bill by electronic funds transfer. Just visit IRS.gov and use the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. You may also use EFTPS to pay your taxes by phone at 800-555-4477.

3. Credit or debit card payments. You can also pay your tax bill with a credit or debit card. Even though the card company may charge an extra fee for a tax payment, the costs of using a credit or debit card may be less than the cost of an IRS payment plan. To pay by credit or debit card, contact one of the processing companies listed at IRS.gov.

4. More time to pay. You may qualify for a short-term agreement to pay your taxes. This may apply if you can fully pay your taxes in 120 days or less. You can request it through the Online Payment Agreement application at IRS.gov. You may also call the IRS at the number listed on the last notice you received. If you can’t find the notice, call 800-829-1040 for help. There is generally no set-up fee for a short-term agreement.

5. Installment Agreement. If you can’t pay in full at one time and can’t get a loan, you may want to apply for a monthly payment plan. If you owe $50,000 or less, you can apply using the IRS Online Payment Agreement application. It’s quick and easy. If approved, IRS will notify you immediately. You can arrange to make your payments by direct debit. This type of payment plan helps avoid missed payments and may help avoid a tax lien that would damage your credit.

Taxpayers may also apply using IRS Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request. If you owe more than $50,000, you must also complete Form 433F, Collection Information Statement. For approved payment plans the one-time user fee is $105 for standard and payroll deduction agreements. The direct debit agreement fee is $52. The fee is $43 if your income is below a certain level.

6. Offer in Compromise. The IRS Offer-in-Compromise program allows you to settle your tax debt for less than the full amount you owe. An OIC may be an option if you can’t fully pay your taxes through an installment agreement or other payment alternative. The IRS may accept an OIC if the amount offered represents the most IRS can expect to collect within a reasonable time. Use the OIC Pre-Qualifier tool to see if you may be eligible before you apply. The tool will also direct you to other options if an OIC is not right for you.

7. Fresh Start. If you’re struggling to pay your taxes, the IRS Fresh Start initiative may help you. Fresh Start makes it easier for individual and small business taxpayers to pay back taxes and avoid tax liens.

8. Check withholding. You may be able to avoid owing taxes in future years by increasing the taxes your employer withholds from your pay. To do this, file a revised Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employer. The IRS Withholding Calculator tool at IRS.gov can help you fill out a new W-4.

IRS Tax Tip: Simplified Option for Home Office Deduction

Do you work from home? If so, you may be familiar with the home office deduction, available for taxpayers who use their home for business. Beginning this year, there is a new, simpler option to figure the business use of your home.

This simplified option does not change the rules for who may claim a home office deduction. It merely simplifies the calculation and recordkeeping requirements. The new option can save you a lot of time and will require less paperwork and recordkeeping.

Here are six facts the IRS wants you to know about the new, simplified method to claim the home office deduction.

1. You may use the simplified method when you file your 2013 tax return next year. If you use this method to claim the home office deduction, you will not need to calculate your deduction based on actual expenses. You may instead multiply the square footage of your home office by a prescribed rate.

2. The rate is $5 per square foot of the part of your home used for business. The maximum footage allowed is 300 square feet. This means the most you can deduct using the new method is $1,500 per year.

3. You may choose either the simplified method or the actual expense method for any tax year. Once you use a method for a specific tax year, you cannot later change to the other method for that same year.

4. If you use the simplified method and you own your home, you cannot depreciate your home office. You can still deduct other qualified home expenses, such as mortgage interest and real estate taxes. You will not need to allocate these expenses between personal and business use. This allocation is required if you use the actual expense method. You’ll claim these deductions on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

5. You can still fully deduct business expenses that are unrelated to the home if you use the simplified method. These may include costs such as advertising, supplies and wages paid to employees.

6. If you use more than one home with a qualified home office in the same year, you can use the simplified method for only one in that year. However, you may use the simplified method for one and actual expenses for any others in that year.

Job Search Expenses May Lower Your Taxes

Summer is often a time when people make major life decisions. Common events include buying a home, getting married or changing jobs. If you’re looking for a new job in your same line of work, you may be able to claim a tax deduction for some of your job hunting expenses.

Here are seven things the IRS wants you to know about deducting these costs:

1. Your expenses must be for a job search in your current occupation. You may not deduct expenses related to a search for a job in a new occupation. If your employer or another party reimburses you for an expense, you may not deduct it.

2. You can deduct employment and job placement agency fees you pay while looking for a job.

3. You can deduct the cost of preparing and mailing copies of your résumé to prospective employers.

4. If you travel to look for a new job, you may be able to deduct your travel expenses. However, you can only deduct them if the trip is primarily to look for a new job.

5. You can’t deduct job search expenses if there was a substantial break between the end of your last job and the time you began looking for a new one.

6. You can’t deduct job search expenses if you’re looking for a job for the first time.

7. You usually will claim job search expenses as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. You can deduct only the amount of your total miscellaneous deductions that exceed two percent of your adjusted gross income.

Tax Tips for Newlyweds

Late spring and early summer are popular times for weddings. Whatever the season, a change in your marital status can affect your taxes. Here are several tips from the IRS for newlyweds.

It’s important that the names and Social Security numbers that you put on your tax return match your Social Security Administration records. If you’ve changed your name, report the change to the SSA. To do that, file Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. You can get this form on their website at SSA.gov, by calling 800-772-1213 or by visiting your local SSA office.
If your address has changed, file Form 8822, Change of Address to notify the IRS. You should also notify the U.S. Postal Service if your address has changed. You can ask to have your mail forwarded online at USPS.com or report the change at your local post office.

If you work, report your name or address change to your employer. This will help to ensure that you receive your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, after the end of the year.

If you and your spouse both work, you should check the amount of federal income tax withheld from your pay. Your combined incomes may move you into a higher tax bracket. Use the IRS Withholding Calculator tool at IRS.gov to help you complete a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. See Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, for more information.

If you didn’t qualify to itemize deductions before you were married, that may have changed. You and your spouse may save money by itemizing rather than taking the standard deduction on your tax return. You’ll need to use Form 1040 with Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. You can’t use Form 1040A or 1040EZ when you itemize.

If you are married as of Dec. 31, that’s your marital status for the entire year for tax purposes. You and your spouse usually may choose to file your federal income tax return either jointly or separately in any given year. You may want to figure the tax both ways to determine which filing status results in the lowest tax. In most cases, it’s beneficial to file jointly.

Tax tip courtesy of the IRS

IRS Reminds Those with Foreign Assets of U.S. Tax Obligations

The Internal Revenue Service reminds U.S. citizens and resident aliens, including those with dual citizenship who have lived or worked abroad during all or part of 2012, that they may have a U.S. tax liability and a filing requirement in 2013.

The filing deadline is Monday, June 17, 2013, for U.S. citizens and resident aliens living overseas, or serving in the military outside the U.S. on the regular due date of their tax return. Eligible taxpayers get two additional days because the normal June 15 extended due date falls on Saturday this year. To use this automatic two-month extension, taxpayers must attach a statement to their return explaining which of these two situations applies. See U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad for additional information additional information on extensions of time to file.

Nonresident aliens who received income from U.S. sources in 2012 also must determine whether they have a U.S. tax obligation. The filing deadline for nonresident aliens can be April 15 or June 17 depending on sources of income. See Taxation of Nonresident Aliens on IRS.gov.

Federal law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income, including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to fill out and attach Schedule B to their tax return. Certain taxpayers may also have to fill out and attach to their return Form 8938, Statement of Foreign Financial Assets.
Part III of Schedule B asks about the existence of foreign accounts, such as bank and securities accounts, and usually requires U.S. citizens to report the country in which each account is located.

Generally, U.S. citizens, resident aliens and certain nonresident aliens must report specified foreign financial assets on Form 8938 if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds. Instructions for Form 8938 explain the thresholds for reporting, what constitutes a specified foreign financial asset, how to determine the total value of relevant assets, what assets are exempted and what information must be provided.
Separately, taxpayers with foreign accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2012 must file Treasury Department Form TD F 90-22.1. This is not a tax form and is due to the Treasury Department by June 30, 2013. For details, see Publication 4261, Do You Have a Foreign Financial Account? Though this form can be filed on paper, Treasury encourages taxpayers to file it electronically.

Taxpayers abroad can now use IRS Free File to prepare and electronically file their returns for free. This means both U.S. citizens and resident aliens living abroad with adjusted gross incomes (AGI) of $57,000 or less can use brand-name software to prepare their returns and then e-file them for free.

Taxpayers with an AGI greater than $57,000 who don’t qualify for Free File can still choose the accuracy, speed and convenience of electronic filing. Check out the e-file link on IRS.gov for details on using the Free File Fillable Forms or e-file by purchasing commercial software.

A limited number of companies provide software that can accommodate foreign addresses. To determine which will work best, get help choosing a software provider. Both e-file and Free File are available until Oct. 15, 2013, for anyone filing a 2012 return.

Any U.S. taxpayer here or abroad with tax questions can use the online IRS Tax Map to get answers. An International Tax Topic Index page was added recently. The IRS Tax Map assembles or groups IRS forms, publications and web pages by subject and provides users with a single entry point to find tax information.

We are here to help! Call our tax team today at (312) 857-8379.

IRS Tax Liability Installment Agreement Requirements

The IRS refers to a monthly payment plan as an “Installment Agreement”, or “IA” for short. In order to enter into a payment plan to resolve your back tax liabilities, you must meet a number of basic requirements. Tax Resolution Specialists at many CPA firms assist their clients in meeting these requirements, and then negotiate the actual payment amount after the clients are eligible.

Here are the basic requirements to be eligible for a payment plan:

1. File any missing tax returns.

2. Begin making current estimated tax payments (for self-employed people) or Federal Tax Deposits (payroll tax payments for businesses), if applicable.

3. Disclose specific financial information, such as income, expenses, and assets.

4. Demonstrate that you cannot pay off the tax debt from savings, a loan, or other means.

5. If you owe less than $10,000 in tax, be able to pay off the entire debt in 3 years or less. If you owe $50,000 or less, you get 5 years. If you owe more than $50k, there is no time limit.

6. Not have defaulted on another IA in the past 5 years.

The most difficult part of this process for self-employed and small business taxpayers is #2 — finding the money to begin making payments on their CURRENT tax obligations. This will involve some painful elimination of expenses and changing of priorities that most people don’t like, but is necessary. Remember, the IRS is your most powerful creditor, so it’s best to get them taken care of, even if that means damaging vendor relationships, not paying other bills, etc.

If you are eligible, then obtaining a payment plan is actually pretty straightforward. But as mentioned above, getting into current compliance is a critical first and second step, and is the most difficult part for most taxpayers.

IRS Fresh Start Program Helps Taxpayers Who Owe the IRS

The IRS Fresh Start program makes it easier for taxpayers to pay back taxes and avoid tax liens. Even small business taxpayers may benefit from Fresh Start. Here are three important features of the Fresh Start program:

• Tax Liens. The Fresh Start program increased the amount that taxpayers can owe before the IRS generally will file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien. That amount is now $10,000. However, in some cases, the IRS may still file a lien notice on amounts less than $10,000.

When a taxpayer meets certain requirements and pays off their tax debt, the IRS may now withdraw a filed Notice of Federal Tax Lien. Taxpayers must request this in writing using Form 12277, Application for Withdrawal.

Some taxpayers may qualify to have their lien notice withdrawn if they are paying their tax debt through a Direct Debit installment agreement. Taxpayers also need to request this in writing by using Form 12277.

If a taxpayer defaults on the Direct Debit Installment Agreement, the IRS may file a new Notice of Federal Tax Lien and resume collection actions.

• Installment Agreements. The Fresh Start program expanded access to streamlined installment agreements. Now, individual taxpayers who owe up to $50,000 can pay through monthly direct debit payments for up to 72 months (six years). While the IRS generally will not need a financial statement, they may need some financial information from the taxpayer. The easiest way to apply for a payment plan is to use the Online Payment Agreement tool at IRS.gov. If you don’t have Web access you may file Form 9465, Installment Agreement, to apply.

Taxpayers in need of installment agreements for tax debts more than $50,000 or longer than six years still need to provide the IRS with a financial statement. In these cases, the IRS may ask for one of two forms: either Collection Information Statement, Form 433-A or Form 433-F.

• Offers in Compromise. An Offer in Compromise is an agreement that allows taxpayers to settle their tax debt for less than the full amount. Fresh Start expanded and streamlined the OIC program. The IRS now has more flexibility when analyzing a taxpayer’s ability to pay. This makes the offer program available to a larger group of taxpayers.

Generally, the IRS will accept an offer if it represents the most the agency can expect to collect within a reasonable period of time. The IRS will not accept an offer if it believes that the taxpayer can pay the amount owed in full as a lump sum or through a payment agreement. The IRS looks at several factors, including the taxpayer’s income and assets, to make a decision regarding the taxpayer’s ability to pay.

Contact our tax resolution experts today! Contact@bcmharris.com or (312) 879-2372.

Small Business Owners: Tips to avoid an IRS audit

The IRS is contacting you to audit your income-tax return. This can cause any small business owner’s stomach to do a flip.

Although there is no certain way to avoid a tax audit, there are ways to make it easier on you and you business.

What provokes an audit? The IRS may audit a tax return for any reason. But those who report simple income and deductions that may be easily verified are less likely to attract the interest of the IRS.

Just over 1 percent of all returns were audited in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the IRS. Taxpayers with annual incomes of more than $1 million, or people with more complex deductions, were subjected to more audit coverage, at a rate of almost 10.3 percent.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be fearful of an audit if you follow these tips:

1. Know what you are filing. Staying current on the tax laws is difficult. Knowing how depreciation works, how to calculate home office expenses, and how to figure out mileage are not inherent skills of most small-business owners. If you are unsure of how to properly fill out your tax return, it can be worthwhile to hire a tax professional to do it for you. You may be claiming deductions you shouldn’t be or missing out on some you should be claiming. You are still responsible for any mistakes or omissions, even if a tax professional handles the return, so it is worthwhile to have a basic understanding of the process.

2. Double-check your return before filing. The IRS states that the vast majority of changes on tax returns after an audit are due to mathematical errors. Using tax software like TurboTax helps to cut down on errors, but it can’t prevent them entirely. Triple-check your return to make sure everything makes sense before popping it in the mail or e-filing.

3. Keep original documentation for seven years. Most audits are conducted on the past year’s tax return, but auditors may go back three years if they believe that there are systemic errors in your returns or six years if they believe you have large understatements of taxable income. They can go back in time indefinitely if they think you’re trying to defraud the IRS. Keeping all documentation that supports your tax returns for at least seven years ensures that you can support any claims. If you have lost or destroyed the documentation, the IRS can disallow your claim and you will have to pay not only the extra tax, but also penalties and interest, which can add up quickly.

4. File amended returns for any errors you notice after filing before you are audited. If you come across an error or omission in your return, correct it right away. Do not wait for a potential audit. File a 1040X return to amend the original. You will still have to pay any extra tax due and interest, but the IRS offers some leniency with penalties for innocent errors. Taking the chance that the IRS won’t find the error will merely add to the stress you likely already have as a small-business owner.

5. Hire an experienced CPA to handle your tax audit. There are several good reasons to get a professional involved in your tax audit. They navigate audits on a regular basis and know what the auditor is looking for. If the audit is complex or involves scans of bank accounts and other invasive procedures, the CPA can help to minimize the inconvenience and scope of the exam. Let the professionals handle your income taxes, so you can focus on running your business.

Notable references:
- blog post by Angie Mohr

The IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Schemes

The IRS’s annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ list includes common tax scams that often peak during the tax filing season. The IRS recommends that taxpayers be aware so they can protect themselves against claims that sound too good to be true. Taxpayers who buy into illegal tax scams can end up facing significant penalties and interest and even criminal prosecution.

The tax scams that made the Dirty Dozen list this filing season are:

Identity Theft. Tax fraud through the use of identity theft tops this year’s Dirty Dozen list. Combating identity theft and refund fraud is a top priority for the IRS. The IRS’s ID theft strategy focuses on prevention, detection and victim assistance. During 2012, the IRS protected $20 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft. This compares to $14 billion in 2011. Taxpayers who believe they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should immediately contact the IRS so the agency can take action to secure their tax account. If you have received a notice from the IRS, call the phone number on the notice. You may also call the IRS’s Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490.

Phishing. Phishing typically involves an unsolicited email or a fake website that seems legitimate but lures victims into providing personal and financial information. Once scammers obtain that information, they can commit identity theft or financial theft. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from the IRS, send it to phishing@irs.gov.

Return Preparer Fraud. Although most return preparers are reputable and provide good service, you should choose carefully when hiring someone to prepare your tax return. Only use a preparer who signs the return they prepare for you and enters their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). For tips about choosing a preparer, visit www.irs.gov/chooseataxpro.

Hiding Income Offshore. One form of tax evasion is hiding income in offshore accounts. This includes using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access those funds. While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements taxpayers need to fulfill. Failing to comply can lead to penalties or criminal prosecution. Visit IRS.gov for more information on the Voluntary Disclosure Program.

“Free Money” from the IRS & Tax Scams Involving Social Security. Beware of scammers who prey on people with low income, the elderly and church members around the country. Scammers use flyers and ads with bogus promises of refunds that don’t exist. The schemes target people who have little or no income and normally don’t have to file a tax return. In some cases, a victim may be due a legitimate tax credit or refund but scammers fraudulently inflate income or use other false information to file a return to obtain a larger refund. By the time people find out the IRS has rejected their claim, the promoters are long gone.

Impersonation of Charitable Organizations. Following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or personal information from well-intentioned people. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds. Taxpayers need to be sure they donate to recognized charities.

False/Inflated Income and Expenses. Falsely claiming income you did not earn or expenses you did not pay in order to get larger refundable tax credits is tax fraud. This includes false claims for the Earned Income Tax Credit. In many cases the taxpayer ends up repaying the refund, including penalties and interest. In some cases the taxpayer faces criminal prosecution. In one particular scam, taxpayers file excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is a frivolous claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.

False Form 1099 Refund Claims. In this scam, the perpetrator files a fake information return, such as a Form 1099-OID, to justify a false refund claim.

Frivolous Arguments. Promoters of frivolous schemes advise taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. These are false arguments that the courts have consistently thrown out. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law.

Falsely Claiming Zero Wages. Filing a phony information return is an illegal way to lower the amount of taxes an individual owes. Typically, scammers use a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. Filing this type of return can result in a $5,000 penalty.

Disguised Corporate Ownership. Scammers improperly use third parties form corporations that hide the true ownership of the business. They help dishonest individuals underreport income, claim fake deductions and avoid filing tax returns. They also facilitate money laundering and other financial crimes.

Misuse of Trusts. There are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning. But some questionable transactions promise to reduce the amount of income that is subject to tax, offer deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. Such trusts rarely deliver the promised tax benefits. They primarily help avoid taxes and hide assets from creditors, including the IRS.

Newsletter Sign-Up!

Bringing big ideas to your inbox!

* = required field

powered by MailChimp!