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Retrieving a Prior-Year Tax Return Copy

Sometimes you need access to a previous year tax return copy, and dadgummit you just pitched the box of tax copies from 2011, thinking you couldn’t possibly need it again!  There are ways to get this information – some easier than others. First of all, if you prepared and filed your own return using one of the commercial programs, and you’ve maintained your access to the program over the years, you should be able to go back and re-print a copy of the return from that year.  This is the quick and simple method. If you had a tax professional prepare and file the return for you, she should have a copy of your return – if not the fileable copy, then at least a client’s or preparer’s copy, which should be adequate for fulfilling most requirements.  Many preparers retain these copies, with supporting documentation, for many years for just […]

The Dog Ate My Tax Receipts Bill

Now here’s some legislation that I could get behind! Recently, House Representative Steve Stockman (R-TX) introduced a bill in response to the IRS’ lame excuse of a “computer glitch” that purportedly erased all of the incriminating evidence from the agency’s computers.  This was part of the testimony offered by former IRS Exempt Organizations Division director Lois Lerner in response to the accusation that her division targeted organizations critical of the current administration. Stockman’s bill provides that if the IRS can use lame, flimsy excuses to avoid prosecution, taxpayers should be allowed to use similar excuses.  The actual text of the bill follows below: 

Avoiding Mistakes on Your Tax Return

When filing your tax return you want to make sure that you don’t make mistakes.  Mistakes can be costly in terms of additional tax and penalties, as well as the extra time and grief they can cause you.  Most of the time using e-filing software can help you to avoid these mistakes, but you should check over the return anyhow to make certain you haven’t fat-fingered something or if something didn’t go wrong with the software. The IRS recently issued their Tax Tip 2014-46, which lists out 8 common mistakes that folks make on their tax return, and how to avoid them where possible.  The actual text of the Tip follows below: Eight Common Tax Mistakes to Avoid We all make mistakes.  But if you make a mistake on your tax return, the IRS may need to contact you to correct it.  That will delay your refund. You can avoid […]

Simplified Home-Office Deduction Available

Beginning with your 2013 tax return you have a new option available for calculating the Home-Office deduction – based solely on the square footage of the dedicated space used for the home office. Instead of having to maintain records that are directly and indirectly associated with your home office, you can use the simplified method, which applies a flat $5 rate per square foot to the home office space, up to a maximum of $1,500. The record-keeping and tax preparation simplification is very beneficial: Form 8829 (the usual home-office deduction form) can cause a lot of headaches to prepare, especially if you have more than one home office and you itemize your home mortgage interest and real estate taxes.  For a single home office your tax preparation software will do much of the work for you, but complications like a second home office (not that uncommon in these days of […]

Further Guidance on the One-Rollover-Per-Year Rule for IRAs

As a follow-up to the recent post on this blog The One-Rollover-Per-Year Rule: Revised, the IRS has recently released some additional guidance on the subject, via Announcement 2014-15. As previously mentioned, the IRS has determined to begin using the one-rollover-per-year rule applied to ALL IRAs that the taxpayer owns, rather than only the affected IRAs that have been involved in a rollover. According to the Announcement, the IRS fully acknowledges that the previous understanding of the rule was that it applied on an IRA-by-IRA basis.  In fact, there was a Proposed Regulation § 1.408-4(b)(4)(ii) on the books that was to further define the rule as applied only to the involved IRAs.  Ever since the Tax Court decided otherwise in the case Bobrow v. Commissioner (TC Memo 2014-21), the rule has been changed. According to the recent announcement though, this will not take affect across the board until January 1, 2015.  […]

Use Direct Deposit for Your Tax Refund

When filing your tax returns this year, consider using direct deposit for your refund.  By doing this, you don’t have to worry about the mail “making the trip”, and also you won’t have to make a visit to the bank to cash or deposit the refund. On top of that, direct deposit refunds usually are deposited more quickly than a check is delivered by mail, getting you the money faster.  Among the many alternatives for the places you can have the money deposited to are virtually any bank account, as long as you have the routing and account information, as well as transferring your funds to your TreasuryDirect account to purchase US Treasury marketable securities and savings bonds.  You can also split your refund to be deposited in two or three different accounts – the account(s) need to be title in your name, your spouse’s name, or both, not someone […]

Get Your Kids to Help You With Your Taxes

Sometimes as parents we get overwhelmed with the costs of raising kids.  What with the high cost of soccer camp, video games, and lessons on the clarinet, it can be woefully expensive raising kids. Sometimes though, there are surprising ways that kids can help out with costs – and your income taxes is one of those places where having kids does help.  The IRS recently published their Tax Tip 2014-11 which lists eight ways that having children can help to lower your taxes. The actual text of Tax Tip 2014-11 follows: Eight Tax Savers for Parents Your children may help you qualify for valuable tax benefits.  Here are eight tax benefits parents should look out for when filing their federal tax returns this year. Dependents. In most cases, you can claim your child as a dependent.  This applies even if your child was born any time in 2013.  for more […]

Where to get IRS Forms and Publications

When you are preparing your taxes, inevitably you run across a form or publication that you need in order to complete your filing.  But where can you find all these forms and publications? The IRS recently published their Tax Tip 2014-06, which details information about where you can find these forms and publications.  The actual text of the Tip follows below. Four Ways to Get IRS Forms and Publications The IRS offers free tax forms and publications on many topics.  Here are four easy ways to get the tax products you need from the IRS: On the Internet.  Get everything you need 24 hours a day 7 days a week on To view and download tax products, click on the ‘Forms and Pubs’ tab.  Many products appear online before they’re available on paper. Order by phone.  Call 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676) Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.  […]

Updates to IRS Fees for Installment Agreements and OIC

Just like pretty much everything else in the world, the cost of doing business with the IRS has gone up.  The good news is that some fees did not increase for calendar year 2014, but some fees have gone up by significant rates. Installment Agreement This is where you have a balance due to the IRS for unpaid taxes, penalties and interest, and you’re unable to pay the amount at the present time in a lump sum.  So you set up an installment agreement with the IRS – where you agree to pay a set amount on a monthly basis until your balance is paid off. If you set up a direct-debit payment plan – where the payment is pulled directly from you bank account – the fee to set this up remains unchanged from 2013 at $52.  This is the preferred method to set up such a plan, for […]

Watch out for scams at tax time

You’ve probably seen news reports about how identity theft is rampant around the time tax returns are being filed.  All sorts of nefarious schemes are out there, via the phone or email. The IRS recently published their Special Edition Tax Tip 2014-02, which details the warnings from the IRS about scams.  The full text of the Tip is below. IRS Warns of Tax-time Scams It’s true: tax scams proliferate during the income tax filing season.  This year’s season opens on Jan. 31.  The IRS provides the following scam warnings so you can protect yourself and avoid becoming a victim of these crimes: Be vigilant of any unexpected communication purportedly from the IRS at the start of tax season. Don’t fall for phone and phishing email scams tha use the IRS as a lure.  Thieves often pose as the IRS using a bogus refund scheme or warnings to pay past-due taxes. […]

Penalty for Having No Health Insurance

As you may already be aware, individuals are required to carry health insurance on themselves and their dependents, as of January 1, 2014.  This is the mandate set forth in the Affordable Care Act – and of course it’s an important part of making the whole Act work.  Small businesses (less than 50 employees) have a similar mandate to provide coverage for employees beginning in 2015, or face penalties themselves. Without mandating insurance coverage for everyone, the system can’t sustain the lower-cost options for folks who desperately need the medical coverage. This includes folks who are not covered by any other means (employer, Medicare, Medicaid or individually-purchased policies) and who have medical problems that require costly care.  With the mandate, healthier individuals will also have to pony up and purchase health insurance, so that the overall cost is spread among both healthy and not-as-healthy individuals. There are a few ways […]

Flex Spending “Use it or Lose it” is a Thing of the Past

If you have a Flex Spending Account (FSA) for healthcare expenses through your employer, you are familiar with the “use it or lose it” concept.  Each year during December, it’s a mad dash to get that last-minute eye exam, or fill prescriptions, or what-have-you to use up the Flex Spending money before the end of the year.  That tradition will, for many folks, be a thing of the past if their employers adopt the carryover rule now allowed by IRS. Traditionally, with a Flex Spending Account (FSA) for healthcare expenses you arrange with your employer to withhold a certain amount of money out of each paycheck and then as you incur expenses for healthcare throughout the year, you can be reimbursed for those expenses up to the amount of your annual withholding for FSA.  The money withheld for the FSA is pre-tax, so it’s to your advantage to take part […]

You’re Running Out of Time If You Want to Use These 13 Tax Provisions

Every year we say goodbye to certain things that we’ve come to know and love, and certain provisions of the tax law are not excluded from this treatment.  Portions of the tax law are intentionally added with short life-spans, and others are retired from time to time as their intended use has either changed or been eliminated. Listed below are the tax provisions (according to the Joint Committee on Taxation) that will be expiring at the end of the year – some we’ll be glad to see go, others we’ll wish would stay around a while.  Some will be extended by Congress, either at the last moment or on into the new year, as has happened in the past. Note: This article is aimed toward individual taxpayers rather than businesses, so I’ve only listed those provisions that will have impact on individuals.  There are quite a few provisions expiring that […]

So, What’s Going on at the IRS During the Shutdown?

While the government is in hiatus, what’s going on at the IRS? Well, not a lot.  As I understand it, none of the phone lines are being manned, so if you call in for any reason you wind up with the automatons handling your questions.  The website is still in operation as well (at least partly).  So, you may be able to do a few things, but you’re limited. For example, if you need a transcript of a prior year’s return, I understand that you can request this for yourself – but you can’t ask your accountant or anyone else operating as POA for you to request a transcript.  I’ve experienced this myself in attempting to get a transcript for a client – I was shut down.  (The same individual had trouble getting a transcript for himself, as the IRS records of his address didn’t match what he was entering […]

Selling Your Home? Be Aware of These Half-Truths

Since selling a home is one of those events that many folks only do a few times in their lives, there is much uncertainty about what kinds of potential rules and laws may trip you up.  Recent data suggests that the average American will buy and sell their primary home something like 10 times in their lifetimes – for many that number will be far less.  There is a lot of information about the tax impacts of selling a home out there flying about on the internet, and some of it is mostly bunk.  And much of what’s not bunk is limited in applicability. Below are a few half-truths about home sales that you want to understand before you sell your home, along with the explanation of the facts behind them, including how they may apply to your situation if at all. 1. If I sell my house I need […]

Increase Your Income Tax Knowledge

If you find yourself stymied by the Income Tax Code (more power to you if you don’t!) and you’d like to get a better understanding of this very important area of your financial life, the IRS has many resources to help you improve your knowledge of taxes.  At the risk of sounding churlish, I suggest that if you’re an incurable insomniac these resources can also be used in lieu of the strongest over-the-counter sleep aid drug with satisfactory results and few (if any) side-effects. The IRS recently published their Summertime Tax Tip 2013-21, which describes several of the resources available to help you gain a better understanding of income taxes.  The text of the Tip follows, in its entirety: Explore a Quick and Simple Way of Understanding Taxes If you’re a student or teacher, the summer months may be a nice break from class, but they’re also a good time […]

Review Tax Withholding In Time to Fix Problems

At this time of year, with a few months remaining on the calendar, it can be a good time to review your income and withholding to ensure that you will have enough in tax payments to ensure that you don’t get hit with underpayment penalties next year when you file your return.  This can be a relatively simple activity – all you need to do is gather your most recent pay-stubs and all of your other income information together and produce an estimate of your tax burden.  You’ll then compare the estimated tax with the amount of withholding and estimated tax payments that you’ve made up to date. To do the estimates, you can use the worksheets available within Form 1040-ES, as well as the IRS’s Withholding Calculator online tool. (click the links to go to the tool or form) If your withholding is significantly less than the estimated tax […]

3 Reasons to use the new safe harbor home office deduction and two reasons not to

Home office workers! In case you hadn’t heard about it, the IRS made some changes to the way the home office deduction works for 2013.  Essentially, you are now allowed to deduct a flat $5 per square foot of dedicated office space, with a maximum of 300 square feet.  But this new “safe harbor” option isn’t for everyone.  Listed below are three reasons this may be good for you, and a couple of reasons that you might want to use the old method. 3 Reasons It’s a Good Thing Depreciation recapture not needed any longer – if you are just starting out taking the home office deduction, you can forget about this concept of “depreciation recapture”.  This is a required add-back (actually basis reduction) when you sell your home.  If you took the old-style home office deduction, including depreciation of your home office space, you’ll still need to keep records of […]

Tips When Renting Out Your Vacation Home

If you have a vacation home that you only use during for brief vacations throughout the year, you might have entertained the thought of renting out the home to defray some of your expenses.  Using a property for mixed purposes – that is, partly as personal and partly as a rental (business use) – can lead to some complications with regard to your income taxes. This is due to the fact that the income earned from renting out the property is likely to be taxable income, which you will need to report on your income tax return.  Of course, you’re allowed to deduct the expenses that are related to the production of income, and then you’re only taxed on the net income after the deductions. The IRS recently published their Summertime Tax Tip 2013-08, which provides some of the guidelines to keep in mind if you’re going to rent out […]

Financial Record Storage and Safekeeping

We’ve all got reams of papers, paystubs, receipts, sticky notes and possibly even old matchbook covers with important financial information stored on them.  It’s important to keep some of these documents safe, in order to provide proof of purchase, documentation for deductions, and the like.  You never know when a significant event could occur in your home that could put these documents at risk.  Fire, flooding, tornadoes, blizzards, and three-year-olds can emerge out of nowhere and could possibly destroy your important documents.  We’ve discussed how long to keep these documents in the past.  Recently the IRS published their Summertime Tax Tip 2013-04, which details some recommendations for safe storage of your documents.  The text of the Tip follows. Keep Tax and Financial Records Safe in Case of a Natural Disaster Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters are more common in the summer. The IRS encourages you to take a […]

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