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Tax Time is Over. Maybe.

For most folks tomorrow marks the one week anniversary of filing their 2014 tax return. Not much needs to be done after they’ve filed except for deciding to have more withheld in 2014 for those folks who had to write a check to Uncle Sam or deciding what to do with the refund (hint: put it in an IRA) for those folks who got a refund. What happens when the return may have been submitted with mistakes or perhaps costly errors? Generally, if the error is minor the IRS will correct errors or accept returns without certain forms or schedules attached. For those returns that have a change in filing status, income, deductions, and credits then filing an amended return will most likely be appropriate. For those folks needing to file an amended return they are allowed to file using form 1040X. Form 1040X will allowing corrections to earlier filed […]

Charitable Donations

This time of year many people find it in their hearts to give. They’ll give to friends, family, loved ones and charitable organizations that can help maximize the gift such as a church, charity, or foundation. Last week I had written about the law of reciprocity and giving, and this week I’d like to mention how you can make your giving work in favor when tax season rolls around. As of this writing there are about 11 days left in 2013. Some individuals will be looking to see how much they can give or how much more they can give in order to receive the biggest tax deduction they can for charitable giving. Of course, gifts to friends and family are not deductible, but there are times when gifts or donations are completely deductible and may be to the tax advantage of the person giving or donating the gift. According to […]

Getting a Transcript From the IRS

Often when dealing with an issue regarding a prior year’s tax return it is necessary to get a copy of the information that the IRS has on record for your return as filed.  Of course, you should always keep a copy of your original return, but in the absence of an original, the IRS’s record, known as a “transcript”, stands as the only way for you to have access to the filed information.  A couple of months ago the IRS sent around their Summertime Tax Tip 2012-18 which details how you can request and receive a transcript for a prior year’s return. The actual text of IRS Summertime Tax Tap 2012-18 follows: How to Get a Transcript or Copy of a Prior Year’s Tax Return from the IRS Taxpayers should keep copies of their tax returns, but if they cannot be located or have been destroyed during natural disasters or […]

After The Storm: Tax Breaks to Minimize Devastation of Superstorm Sandy

When Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, it is doubtful that many of the residents there, or in the other New England states, were thinking about taxes. It is in the aftermath of a major storm with the devastation clear that those in need start searching for tax breaks. Sandy left a death toll in the double digits and estimated damage to public, residential and commercial property in the billions. Included in the statistics are hundreds of homes lost, and thousands without power. The impact is in line with other historical storms such as Ivan and Katrina. As things start to settle and the worst hit areas begin the long, tedious rebuilding process, residents will be looking to government tax breaks for help. Immediate Relief on Tax Payments Immediately after the disaster, the IRS made the decision to defer the individual income tax payment deadline. Those owing payments initially […]

Penalties for Failure to File or Pay

When you don’t file your tax return or if you don’t pay the tax owed on time, the IRS has specific penalties that are applied to your account.  Recently the IRS issued their Tax Tip 2012-74, which lists eight facts about these penalties.  The actual text of the Tax Tip is listed below: Failure to File of Pay Penalties: Eight Facts The number of electronic filing and payment options increases every year, which helps reduce your burden and also improves the timeliness and accuracy of tax returns.  When it comes to filing your tax return, however, the law provides that the IRS can assess a penalty if you fail to file, fail to pay, or both. Here are eight important points about the two different penalties you may face if you file or pay late. If you do not file by the deadline, you might face a failure-to-file penalty.  If […]

Roth Conversion/Recharacterization Strategy

Image via Wikipedia If you have an IRA you probably know about the concept of a Roth IRA conversion – where you take distribution of a portion of your IRA and directly transfer that money into your a Roth IRA, paying tax as you go.  Then the Roth IRA can continue to grow tax-free (as Roth IRAs do) and you’ll never owe tax on your qualified distributions from the Roth IRA. In addition, if the investments you’ve made in the Roth IRA have lost money, before October 15 of the following year you have the opportunity to recharacterize your Roth conversion.  If you didn’t recharacterize, you’d be paying tax on a conversion amount that is much lower now if there was a downturn in the investments, so your average tax rate is much higher than you’d hoped.  By recharacterizing, you can undo the conversion or a part of it. I […]

What Can Be Done to Save Social Security?

Image by Lady_Helena via Flickr This is, of course, one of the most volatile questions on the political landscape these days.  We have some constituencies claiming that the whole plan is a Ponzi scheme and we should get rid of it altogether – and many others aiming to make radical tax increases in the system to improve solvency, or pushing back the age(s) for receiving benefits to reduce drag on the system. True, the system is in dire straits – not bankrupt, but needing attention.  Current projections indicate that at current pace, funds allocated to the system will run out sometime around 2036 unless something changes. Increasing taxes is never popular, and current political winds have shown just how far the dream of no increases in taxes will be pushed.  In addition, extending the age limits during a time when unemployment is at record highs only exacerbates that issue – […]

2 Good Reasons to Use Direct Rollover From a 401(k) Plan

If you have a 401(k) plan (or any Qualified Retirement Plan (QRP) such as a 403(b) plan), when you leave employment at that job you can rollover the plan funds to an IRA or another QRP at a new job.  Listed below are 2 very good reasons that you should use a Direct rollover (also known as a trustee-to-trustee transfer) instead of the 60-day rollover. Image by aloucha via Flickr A 60-day rollover is where the former plan distributes the funds from your account to you, and in order to make the rollover complete you must deposit the entire distributed amount into the new plan or IRA within 60 days. Reasons to Use a Direct Rollover You must complete the rollover to the new account or IRA within 60 days.  There is little if any leeway on this 60-day period – and though it seems as if this is a […]

The “Tax on Sale of Your Home” Email Myth

Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr If you have an email address (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), you’ve likely received this email.  In case you haven’t received it, there’s an email that is being forwarded around the internet about a new tax on selling your home – I get at least one of these a month it seems. I’ve copied the text of one of the emails below. This article is to help you understand why the email is a misguided myth, partly grounded in truth but not applicable for most folks. The email is usually forwarded at least a half-dozen times by the time you receive it, making it difficult to know where it started from.  In addition, the text of the email is often in large, bold, red font in places, such that you can almost feel the spittle coming off the page at you. Here’s the […]

UBTI in an IRA

Image via Wikipedia I’ve mentioned before about various types of transactions that are not allowed in your IRA, but we’ve not actually covered the topic of Unrelated Business Taxable Income (UBTI) in your IRA.  UBTI isn’t prohibited within an IRA, but it does pose problems and adds a great deal of complexity to your account. Unrelated Business Taxable Income So, what is UBTI anyway?  The concept of UBTI pre-dates IRAs – it was originally developed in relation to charitable organizations, trusts, and other tax-exempt entities.  The IRS developed this concept to ensure that tax-exempt organizations didn’t have a competitive advantage over taxable organizations, such as for-profit corporations.  The way that income is determined to be “unrelated” is by checking these two tests: Is the income from a trade or business that is regularly carried on? Is the trade or business unrelated to the tax-exempt entity’s exercise of the entity’s tax-exempt […]

Caregiver Costs Qualify as Medical Expenses

Image by The Library of Virginia via Flickr It’s a little known fact that certain costs for caregivers, licensed or unlicensed, may qualify as medical expenses for tax deductions.  Maintenance and personal care service costs can be considered qualified medical expenses in cases where the patient receiving the care has been certified by a health-care professional as unable to perform two or more of the six activities of daily living: Bathing, Eating, Dressing, Toiletting, Continence, and Transferring (moving from bed to chair, for example). Note: An easy way to remember these six activities is to use the first characters in the order I presented them above – B E D To C – this gives us the first five, and the entire mnemonic provides the sixth, Transferring from BED To Chair. The health-care professional who certifies the patient as incapable of these activities can be a doctor, a nurse, or […]

Do You Need a Friend at the IRS?

Image by StephenZacharias via Flickr As taxpayers, many of us have faced difficulties in dealing with the IRS – and it can be a daunting position to be in.  One way to deal with these issues is to hire a CPA or Enrolled Agent to help you through the process.  Another way is to deal with it yourself.  The problem is that dealing with the IRS by yourself can be a very difficult thing to do. The good news is that you have a friend at the IRS:  The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).  The purpose of the TAS is to help taxpayers whose problems with the IRS are causing financial difficulties; who have tried but have not been able to resolve their problems with the IRS; and those who believe an IRS system or procedure is not working as it should. In the IRS Tax Tip 2011-75, the IRS listed […]

Required Minimum Distributions for IRAs and 401(k)s

This is one of those subjects that can be a bit confusing – and it’s based on the rules that apply to the different kinds of plans.  You are aware that you’re required* to begin taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) once you reach age 70½ – but did you know that specifically which account you take the RMD from has some flexibility?  Well – not just flexibility, also some rigidity… Image by -RejiK via Flickr There is a Difference Between IRA and 401(k) Starting off, we need to understand that, in the IRS’s eyes, there is a big difference between an IRA and a 401(k).  For brevity, we’re referring to all sorts of Qualified Retirement Plans, such as 403(b) or 457 plans, as 401(k) plans. You may consider the two things to be more or less equal, but if you think about it, there are considerable differences between the two […]

A Restriction on the Home Buyer Credit

Here is a case where, even though the IRS documentation did not state it directly, the real rule of the law makes an explicit statement, and therefore the Code is where the final rules are taken from. In this particular case, there is a situation where the home buyer credit is not available: if the home is purchased from a parent or another close relative (and vice versa). And the taxpayer who relied only on an IRS publication found out the hard way that the Internal Revenue Code is the final word on the subject. There was a recent Tax Court case (Nievinski, TC Summary Opinion 2011-10) that challenged the limitation, and the Tax Court ruled in favor of the Service.  The argument was that, in a particular document, IRS Publication 4819 “Important Information About the First-Time Homebuyer Credit”, there was no express explanation of this limitation. Image via The […]

Proposed Social Security Wage Base Increases

October 19, 2011 update: the expected wage base increase has been confirmed as $110,100 for 2012.  For more information, see this article. The Social Security Administration has released the proposed figures for the increase in the wage base for taxation for 2012 and projected some figures for the years up to 2015.  This is the limited amount of income against which Social Security withholding tax is applied. For 2009 through 2011, the wage base has been static – at $106,800 for each year.  The amount did not increase for these years since the average wage index (AWI) actually decreased from 2008 to 2009, and the modest increase in the index from 2009 to 2010 did not make up for the decrease in the prior year.  For 2011, the AWI is expected to increase once again, by 3.08%.  This sets the projected wage base for 2012 at $110,100, up a total of […]

Tax Benefits For Parents

As parents, we spend a lot of money raising our children – from basic needs such as food, housing, doctor bills, and clothing, to education, daycare, soccer teams and lessons on the clarinet – it seems like the list is endless. Since the kids don’t generally pay you back (at least in dollars), the IRS steps in to help out.  There are several tax benefits that you may be eligible for just because the little urchins are in your care… and here’s a list of ten tax benefits that the IRS has put together (taken from IRS Tax Tip 2011-18): Dependents In most cases, a child can be claimed as a dependent in the year they were born.  For more information see IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information. Child Tax Credit You may be able to take this credit on your tax return for each of your […]

The Roth Recharacterization

After all the hoopla around Roth conversions in 2010, now is the time to consider whether or not a recharacterization is in your future.  So what is a recharacterization, and how does it work? Recharacterization is the “backing out” of your Roth conversion.  In other words, you can literally make the conversion as if it had never been done at all, with your money back in the traditional IRA where it started. Why would you want to do that?  Here’s an example: let’s say you converted $100,000 to a Roth IRA in 2010 and you are ready to pay the tax on your 2010 return (you elected out of the spread to 2011 and 2012).  Except that now, your investment in the Roth IRA has dropped in value to only $50,000 – and you still owe tax on the conversion of $100,000!  Yikes – that’s just totally wrong! Recharacterization can […]

Why Your Paycheck is Changing in 2011

After the passage of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (2010 Tax Act) late last year, there were certain changes that will impact your take-home pay in 2011, versus what you were seeing in 2010. For starters, although the 2010 Tax Act extended the tax rates to be the same as they were in 2010, as always there are increases in the tax tables which have a minor impact on your take-home pay.  Typically, this change will increase your tax withheld, reducing your take-home pay. The 2010 Tax Act also included a provision to reduce the withholding requirement for Social Security from 6.2% to 4.2%, which will have the effect of increasing your take-home pay by 2%. One other change to your paycheck came about because of a provision that was not included to be extended as a part of the 2010 Tax Act […]

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