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6 Tax Changes That Benefit Taxpayers for 2012
Thanks to the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), many tax provisions that expired in 2011 were retroactively extended (or made permanent) that are of benefit to taxpayers filing 2012 returns this year. Here are six of them:1. Education-Related Tax Deductions
ATRA extended, through 2017 and retroactive to 2012, two popular and widely used education-related tax benefits that expired in 2011: the deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses and the deduction for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers. Both are above-the-line deductions, which means that they can be taken before calculating adjusted gross income (AGI).2. Limited Non-Business Energy Property Credits
Non-business energy credits expired in 2011, but were extended (retroactive to 2012) through 2013 by ATRA. For 2012 (as in 2011), this credit generally equals 10 percent of what a homeowner spends on eligible energy-saving improvements, up to a maximum tax credit of $500 (down significantly from the $1,500 combined limit that applied for 2009 and 2010).
Because of the way the credit is figured however, in many cases, it may only be helpful to people who make energy-saving home improvements for the first time in 2012. That's because homeowners must first subtract any non-business energy property credits claimed on their 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011 returns before claiming this credit for 2012. In other words, if a taxpayer claimed a credit of $450 in 2011, the maximum credit that can be claimed in 2012 is $50 (for an aggregate of $500).
The cost of certain high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters and stoves that burn biomass all qualify, along with labor costs for installing these items. In addition, the cost of energy-efficient windows and skylights, energy-efficient doors, qualifying insulation and certain roofs also qualify for the credit, though the cost of installing these items do not.3. Mortgage Insurance Deductible as Qualified Interest
ATRA extended, through 2013 (and retroactive to 2012), a tax provision that expired in 2011 that allows taxpayers to deduct mortgage insurance premiums as qualified residence interest. As such, taxpayers can deduct, as qualified residence interest, mortgage insurance premiums paid or accrued before Jan. 1, 2014, subject to a phase-out based on the taxpayer's AGI.4. AMT "Patch" Made Permanent
The AMT 'patch" was made permanent by ATRA; however, exemption amounts for 2012 and beyond are higher than in years' past and are now indexed to inflation. For tax-year 2012, the alternative minimum tax exemption amounts increase to the following levels:
Parity for transportation fringe benefits provided by employers for the benefit of their employees expired at the end of 2011; however, ATRA reinstated this parity retroactive to 2012. As such, the monthly limit for qualified parking is $240 and the benefit for transportation in a commuter highway vehicle or a transit pass is $245 for tax year 2012.6. State and Local Sales Taxes
Retroactive to 2012, ATRA extended (through 2013) the tax provision that allows taxpayers who itemize deductions the option to deduct state and local general sales and use taxes instead of state and local income taxes.
If you have questions about these or other tax changes, please call us. We'd be happy to assist you.
How to Avoid Identity Theft During Tax Season
Consumers should protect themselves against online identity theft and other scams that increase during--and after--the filing season. Such scams may appropriate the name, logo, or other appurtenances of the IRS or U.S. Department of the Treasury to mislead taxpayers into believing the communication is legitimate.
The Internal Revenue Service receives thousands of reports each year from taxpayers who receive suspicious emails, phone calls, faxes or notices claiming to be from the IRS. Many of these scams fraudulently use the IRS name or logo as a lure to make the communication appear more authentic and enticing. The goal of these scams, referred to as phishing, is to trick you into revealing your personal and financial information. The scammers can then use your information -- like your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers -- to commit identity theft or steal your money.
Scams involving the impersonation of the IRS usually take the form of e-mails, tweets, or other online messages to consumers. Scammers may also use phones and faxes to reach intended victims. Some scammers set up phony Web sites.
The IRS and E-mail
Generally, the IRS does not send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers. Further, the IRS does not discuss tax account information with taxpayers via e-mail or use e-mail to solicit sensitive financial and personal information from taxpayers. The IRS does not request financial account security information, such as passwords and PIN numbers, from taxpayers.
Most Scams Impersonating the IRS are Identity Theft Schemes
In this type of scam, the scammer poses as a legitimate institution to trick consumers into revealing personal and financial information - such as passwords and Social Security, PIN, bank account and credit card numbers - that can be used to gain access to their bank, credit card, or other financial accounts.
Attempted identity theft scams that take place via e-mail are known as phishing. Other scams may try to persuade a victim to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a larger gain. These are known as advance fee scams.
How an Identity Theft Scam Works
Typically, a consumer will receive an e-mail that claims to come from the IRS or Treasury Department. The message will contain an enticing or intimidating subject line, such as "Tax Refund," "Inherited Funds," or "IRS Notice." Usually, the message will state that the recipient needs to provide the IRS with information to obtain the refund or avoid some penalty. The message will instruct the consumer to open an attachment or click on a link in the e-mail. This may lead to an official-looking IRS Web site. The look-alike site will then contain a phony but genuine-looking online form or interactive application that requires personal and financial information, which the scammer then uses to commit identity theft.
Alternatively, the clicked link may secretly download malware to the consumer's computer. Malware is malicious code that can take over the computer's hard drive, giving the scammer remote access to the computer, or it could look for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer.
Phony Web or Commercial Sites
In many IRS-impersonation scams, the scammer sends the consumer to a phony Web site that mimics the appearance of the genuine IRS Web site, IRS.gov. This allows the scammer to steer victims to phony interactive forms or applications that appear genuine but require the targeted victim to enter personal and financial information that will be used to commit identity theft.
The official Web site for the Internal Revenue Service is IRS.gov, and all IRS.gov Web page addresses begin with http://www.irs.gov/.
In addition to Web sites established by scammers, there are commercial Internet sites that often resemble the authentic IRS site or contain some form of the IRS name in the address but end with a .com, .net, .org, or other designation instead of .gov. These sites have no connection to the IRS. Consumers may unknowingly visit these sites when searching the Internet to retrieve tax forms, publications, and other information from the IRS.
Frequent or Recent Scams
There are a number of scams that impersonate the IRS. Some of them appear with great frequency, particularly during and right after filing season, and recur annually. Others are new.
Other Known Scams
The contents of other IRS-impersonation scams vary but may claim that the recipient will be paid for participating in an online survey or is under investigation or audit. Some scam e-mails have referenced Recovery-related tax provisions, such as Making Work Pay, or solicited for charitable donations to victims of natural disasters. Taxpayers should beware an e-mail scam that references underreported income and the recipient's "tax statement," since clicking on a link or opening an attachment is known to download malware onto the recipient's computer.
How to Spot a Scam
Many e-mail scams are fairly sophisticated and hard to detect. However, there are signs to watch for, such as an e-mail that:
What to Do
Taxpayers who receive a suspicious e-mail claiming to come from the IRS should take the following steps:
If you've received an email claiming to be from the IRS, call us to talk it over before taking any action. We don't want you to fall victim to a scam.
Financial Troubles? 5 Ways to Improve Your Situation
If you are having trouble paying your debts, it is important to take action sooner rather than later. Doing nothing leads to much larger problems in the future, whether it's a bad credit record or bankruptcy resulting in the loss of assets and even your home. If you're in financial trouble here are some steps to take to avoid financial ruin in the future.
If you've accumulated a large amount of debt and are having difficulty paying your bills each month, now is the time to take action--before the bill collectors start calling.
1. Review each debt. Make sure that the debt creditors claim you owe is really what you owe and that the amount is correct. If you dispute a debt, first contact the creditor directly to resolve your questions. If you still have questions about the debt, contact your state or local consumer protection office or, in cases of serious creditor abuse, your state Attorney General.
2. Contact your creditors. Let your creditors know you are having difficulty making your payments. Tell them why you are having trouble-perhaps it is because you recently lost your job or have unexpected medical bills. Try to work out an acceptable payment schedule with your creditors. Most are willing to work with you and will appreciate your honesty and forthrightness.
3. Budget your expenses. Create a spending plan that allows you to reduce your debts. Itemize your necessary expenses (such as housing and health care) and optional expenses (such as entertainment and vacation travel). Stick to the plan.
4. Try to reduce your expenses. Cut out any unnecessary spending such as eating out and purchasing expensive entertainment. Consider taking public transportation or using a car sharing service rather than owning a car. Clip coupons, purchase generic products at the supermarket and avoid impulse purchases. Above all, stop incurring new debt. Leave your credit cards at home. Pay for all purchases in cash or use a debit card instead of a credit card.
5. Pay down and consolidate your debts. Withdrawing savings from low-interest accounts to settle high-rate loans or credit card debt usually makes sense. In addition, there are a number of ways to pay off high-interest loans, such as credit cards, by getting a refinancing or consolidation loan, such as a second mortgage.
You can regain financial health if you act responsibly. But don't wait until bankruptcy court is your only option. If you're having financial troubles, don't hesitate to call us. We can help you get back on your feet.
Five Hidden Reasons You Need a Will
Most people don't appreciate the full importance of a will, especially if they think their estate is too small to justify the time and expense of preparing one. Even people who recognize the need for a will often don't have one, perhaps due to procrastination or a disinclination to broach this sensitive subject with loved ones.
The truth is, nearly everyone should have a will and here are five good reasons why.
Reason 1: To Choose Beneficiaries
Intestate succession laws of the state in which you live determine how your property will be distributed if you die without a valid will. For example, in most states the property of a married person with children who dies intestate (i.e., without a will) generally will be distributed one-third to the spouse and two-thirds to the children, while the property of an unmarried, childless person who dies intestate generally will be distributed to his or her parents (or siblings, if the parents are deceased).
These distributions may be contrary to what you want. In effect, by not having a will, you are allowing the state to choose your beneficiaries. Further, a will allows you to specify not only who will receive the property, but how much each beneficiary receives.
Reason 2: To Minimize Taxes
Many people feel they do not need a will because their taxable estate does not exceed the amount allowed to pass free of federal estate tax. These assumptions, however, should be reviewed given the current state of change in the federal estate tax laws because in most cases a properly prepared will is necessary to implement estate tax reduction strategies. It is important to review and update your will on a regular basis. Most wills were originally written with the existence of a federal estate tax at a certain level.
In addition, your taxable estate may be larger than you think. For example, although life insurance, qualified retirement plan benefits, and IRAs typically pass outside of a will or estate administration, retirement plan benefits and IRAs (and sometimes life insurance) are still part of your federal estate. As such, they can cause your estate to go over that threshold amount. Also, in some states, the estate or inheritance tax differs from the federal laws.
Reason 3: To Appoint a Guardian
If for no other reason, you should prepare a will to name a guardian for your minor children in the event of your death without a surviving spouse. While naming a guardian does not bind either the named guardian or the court, it does indicate your wishes, which courts generally try to accommodate.
Reason 4: To Name an Executor
Without a will, you cannot appoint someone you trust to carry out the administration of your estate. If you do not specifically name an executor in a will, a court will appoint someone to handle your estate, perhaps someone you might not have chosen. Obviously, there is peace of mind in selecting an executor you trust.
Reason 5: To Help Establish Domicile
You may wish to firmly establish domicile (permanent legal residence) in a particular state, for tax or other reasons. If you move frequently or own homes in more than one state, each state in which you reside could try to impose death or inheritance taxes at the time of death, possibly subjecting your estate to multiple probate proceedings. To lessen the risk of this, you should execute a will that clearly indicates your intended state of domicile.
If you need guidance with your will, just give us a call. We are happy to assist you.
Tax Season Opens January 30 for 1040 Filers
Following the January tax law changes made by Congress under the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), the Internal Revenue Service delayed the opening of tax season this year, but began processing individual income tax returns on January 30.
The delay is due to late tax law changes in the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) that required the IRS to update forms and instructions, as well as make critical processing system adjustments before it could begin accepting tax returns.
According to the IRS, the vast majority of tax filers--more than 120 million households--were able begin filing tax returns on January 30. The IRS reports that remaining households will be able to start filing in late February or into March because of the need for more extensive form and processing systems changes. This group includes people claiming residential energy credits, depreciation of property or general business credits. Most of those in this group file more complex tax returns and typically file closer to the April 15 deadline or obtain an extension.
Because the IRS will not process paper tax returns before the anticipated January 30 opening date, there is no advantage to filing on paper before then, and taxpayers will receive their tax refunds much faster by using e-file with direct deposit.
Who Can File Starting January 30?
Most taxpayers were able to file starting January 30, regardless of whether they file electronically or on paper, including those who are affected by the late Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) patch as well as the three major "extender" provisions for people claiming the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition and fees deduction, and educator expenses deduction.
Who Can't File Until Later?
Several tax forms were affected by the late legislation that require more extensive programming and testing of IRS systems. The IRS hopes to begin accepting tax returns including these tax forms between late February and into March; a specific date will be announced in the near future.
The key forms that require more extensive programming changes include Form 5695 (Residential Energy Credits), Form 4562 (Depreciation and Amortization) and Form 3800 (General Business Credit).
Please contact us if you need a full listing of the forms that won't be accepted until later and rest assured, we are working closely with the IRS to minimize delays and ensure as smooth a tax season as possible under the circumstances.
IRS Updates Withholding Guidance for 2013
The Internal Revenue Service has released updated income-tax withholding tables for 2013 and supersede the tables issued on December 31, 2012. The newly revised version contains percentage method income-tax withholding tables and related information that employers need to implement these changes.
In addition, employers should also begin withholding Social Security tax at the rate of 6.2 percent of wages paid following the expiration of the temporary two-percentage-point payroll tax cut in effect for 2011 and 2012. Payroll tax rates were not affected by the legislation signed into law on January 2.
Employers should start using the revised withholding tables and correct the amount of Social Security tax withheld as soon as possible in 2013, but not later than February 15, 2013. For any Social Security tax under-withheld before that date, employers should make the appropriate adjustment in workers' pay as soon as possible, but not later than March 31, 2013.
Employers and payroll companies will handle the withholding changes, so workers typically won't need to take any additional action, such as filling out a new W-4 withholding form.
As always, it's prudent for workers to review their withholding every year and, if necessary, fill out a new W-4 and give it to their employer. For example, individuals and couples with multiple jobs, people who are having children, getting married, getting divorced or buying a home, and those who typically wind up with a balance due or large refund at the end of the year may want to consider submitting revised W-4 forms.
Give us a call if you have any questions about income tax withholding in 2013. We're here to help.
Missing Your Form W-2?
You should receive a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, from each of your employers for use in preparing your federal tax return. Employers must furnish this record of 2012 earnings and withheld taxes no later than January 31, 2013 (if mailed, allow a few days for delivery).
If you do not receive your Form W-2, contact your employer to find out if and when the W-2 was mailed. If it was mailed, it may have been returned to your employer because of an incorrect address. After contacting your employer, allow a reasonable amount of time for your employer to resend or to issue the W-2.
If you still do not receive your W-2 by February 15th, contact the IRS for assistance at 1-800-829-1040. When you call, have the following information handy:
If you misplaced your W-2, contact your employer. Your employer can replace the lost form with a "reissued statement." Be aware that your employer is allowed to charge you a fee for providing you with a new W-2.
You still must file your tax return on time even if you do not receive your Form W-2. If you cannot get a W-2 by the tax filing deadline, you may use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement (available on the IRS website), but it will delay any refund due while the information is verified.
If you receive a corrected W-2 after your return is filed and the information it contains does not match the income or withheld tax that you reported on your return, you must file an amended return on Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.
If you have questions about your Forms W-2 and 1099 or any other tax-related materials, please call or email our office.
Penalty Relief for Farmers and Fishermen
The Internal Revenue Service announced that it will issue guidance on relief from the estimated tax penalty for farmers and fishermen who are unable to file and pay their 2012 taxes by the March 1 deadline due to the delayed start for filing tax returns.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), which was signed into law in early January affected several tax forms that are often filed by farmers and fishermen, including Form 4562, Depreciation and Amortization (Including Information on Listed Property).
The IRS is providing this relief because delays in the agency's ability to accept and process these forms may affect the ability of many farmers and fishermen to file and pay their taxes by the March 1 deadline. The relief applies to all farmers and fishermen, not just those who must file late released forms.
Normally, farmers and fishermen who choose not to make quarterly estimated tax payments are not subject to a penalty if they file their returns and pay the full amount of tax due by March 1. Under the guidance to be issued, farmers or fishermen who miss the March 1 deadline will not be subject to the penalty if they file and pay by April 15, 2013. A taxpayer qualifies as a farmer or fisherman for tax-year 2012 if at least two-thirds of the taxpayer's total gross income was from farming or fishing in either 2011 or 2012.
Farmers and fishermen requesting this penalty waiver must attach Form 2210-F to their tax return and can be submitted electronically or on paper. If you're a farmer or fisherman and need to request a penalty waiver, do not hesitate to call us. We can help.
2013: The Year You Go Mobile With Financial Data?
There are only a few reasons why you wouldn't be using QuickBooks Mobile on your smartphone. Maybe you don't have a smartphone. Or when you're out of the office, you don't want to be available for accounting work. Or you might not think that it has enough features to make it worth using.
While the first two reasons are matters of personal preference, the third just isn't true. QuickBooks Mobile automatically--and almost instantly--synchronizes the data from your desktop or laptop computer copy of QuickBooks. While it's only focused on sales, not payables or payroll, you can manage receivables quite nicely whether you're in a customer's office or at a trade show or community event--or sitting on the couch at home.
Figure 1: You can see this screen no matter where you and your smartphone are (the recently-upgraded Android version is pictured here).
There are numerous situations where you might want to access, add or edit customers, estimates, invoices, sales receipts or payments when you're not near the PC where QuickBooks is installed, like these:
Figure 2: You can record sales receipts and payments on your smartphone, and even schedule appointments that move to your Google calendar.
Paper or Plastic?
If you've been in business for very long and still don't accept credit cards, you have an idea of how many sales you've lost. And QuickBooks Mobile won't let you do so, anyway. You'll need to get a merchant account from Intuit Merchant Service for QuickBooks (fees apply). A merchant account allows you to accept plastic through QuickBooks itself, your web browser, your web storefront--and on your smartphone or iPad.
Figure 3: Missed your flight and afraid you'll miss the current payroll run, too? Intuit Online Payroll gives you access from your Android or iPhone.
To do so, you'll need to apply for a merchant account and download Intuit's free GoPayment app. You can either swipe cards on the free mobile reader or type numbers in. Your customers sign their names on the surface of your mobile device, and you can print or email a receipt.
Figure 4: You'll need to get acquainted with the Intuit Merchant Service Center to work with credit card payments.
It would be nice if those credit card payments were just instantly zapped into the right places in QuickBooks, but alas, it isn't so. You'll need to do some setup and processing both within QuickBooks and in the online Intuit Merchant Service Center. We can help you with setup and your initial transactions to make sure all of your payments get through and are deposited and/or credited correctly.
We think you'll find that once you start using all of the mobile payment services that Intuit offers, you'll wonder what took you so long.
Tax Due Dates for February 2013
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