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Tax Credits Tax Returns

Federal Economic Impact Payments – Frequently Asked Questions

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress recently passed legislation authorizing stimulus payments to most Americans. These payments, called Economic Impact Payments, are being processed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at the current time. Many people have questions about these payments, so this FAQ has been assembled to help you find answers.

Is the Economic Impact Payment considered to be taxable income?

No, this payment is not considered “income” by the IRS and you will not need to pay income tax on it. This payment will not effect your refund, or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return in 2021. This stimulus payment will also have no impact on your eligibility for other federal assistance programs that use income to determine eligibility.

How can people who receive a Form SSA-1099 or RRB-1099 check their payment status?

Taxpayers can use the IRS Get My Payment tool to check on the status of their stimulus payment. This will require you to verify your identity by answering a set of security questions.

If my bank account information has changed since the last time I filed a tax return, how do I update my direct deposit information?

The Get My Payment tool at irs.gov does not allow you to change your direct deposit information. This is a security precaution to prevent these payments from being stolen by changing this information.

If the IRS sends your payment using the bank direct deposit information from your most recent tax return and the bank account information is now invalid, the bank will notify the IRS and reject the electronic transfer. The IRS will then mail you a check as soon as they are able, to your last known address. The Get My Payment tool will then be updated to reflect the date on which this check was mailed. Please note that the IRS says it may take up to 14 days to receive the payment after it’s been mailed.

Where can I get more information?

If you are required to file a tax return, you are encouraged to file electronically. You can find a tax professional in your area by searching our directory of tax firms.

If you are not required to file a tax return, you may use the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here tool and submit your information to the IRS to receive an Economic Impact Payment. This online tool should only be used by individuals that have no requirement to file a tax return. Do not use this tool to attempt to update your direct deposit information if it’s now outdated. Instead, use the procedure in the previous question.

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Tax Returns

10 Tips to Help You Choose a Tax Return Preparer

Many people look for help from professionals when it’s time to file their tax return. If you use a paid tax preparer to file your federal income tax return this year, the IRS urges you to choose that preparer carefully. Even if someone else prepares your return, you are legally responsible for what is on it.

Here are ten tips to keep in mind when choosing a tax return preparer.

1. Check the preparer’s qualifications. All paid tax return preparers are required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number. In addition to making sure they have a PTIN, ask if the preparer belongs to a professional organization and attends continuing education classes.

2. Check on the preparer’s history. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has a questionable history. Also check for any disciplinary actions and for the status of their licenses. For Certified Public Accountants, check with the state boards of accountancy. For attorneys, check with the state bar associations. For Enrolled Agents, check with the IRS directly.

3. Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers can. Also, always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into an account in your name. Taxpayers should not deposit their refund into a preparer’s bank account.

4. Ask to e-file your return. Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients must file the returns electronically, unless the client opts to file a paper return. IRS has safely and securely processed more than one billion individual tax returns since the debut of electronic filing in 1990.

5. Make sure the preparer is accessible. Make sure you will be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return, even after the April 15 due date. This may be helpful in the event questions arise about your tax return.

6. Provide records and receipts. Reputable preparers will request to see your records and receipts. They will ask you questions to determine your total income and your qualifications for deductions, credits and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file your return by using your last pay stub before you receive your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.

7. Never sign a blank return. Avoid tax preparers that ask you to sign a blank tax form.

8. Review the entire return before signing. Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions. Make sure you understand everything and are comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.

9. Make sure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN. A paid preparer must sign the return and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.

10. Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. You can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS on Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or altered a return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. Download the forms on the IRS.gov website or order them by mail at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

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Tax Returns

Can’t pay your 2019 tax bill by July 15, 2020?

If you have a tax bill for 2019 that you can’t quite pay, you do have options.

Even if you can’t pay in full, I’d highly encourage you to file your return on time, which has been extended from April 15 to July 15 this year due to the pandemic and resulting recession. This way, you avoid the late filing penalties that can be added on to your tax liability, which can add up to 25% of your balance due. Also, try to pay as much as you possibly can with your return. If you are going to be filing an extension, pay as much as you can with your extension.

The IRS is currently charging a 5% annual interest rate, compounded daily, on all tax debts. On top of that, you will be subject to a failure to pay penalty, which will further increase your tax debt.

It may be worthwhile to consider using credits cards or a loan to pay your tax bill. When you consider the extensive penalties the IRS charges, your credit card interest rate may actually be quite a bit lower.

If you absolutely cannot pay your tax bill this year, then use either the online payment agreement request system at irs.gov, or complete Form 9465 to request a payment plan. You are not required to wait until the IRS bills you before requesting a payment plan.

The most important thing to remember is that, in order to avoid the wrath of IRS Collections, it’s in your best interest to be proactive about managing your tax debt. Don’t wait for the IRS to come to you: Take the high road, and address it head on.

If your tax debt is simply too large for you to pay in any reasonable amount of time, it’s worth considering your other options. One of our vetted and verified tax firms near you can provide complete guidance for resolving your back tax liabilities, particularly if your situation is more complex, such as multiple years worth of tax debt to address. Search our directory using the box at the top of this page.

Don’t give the IRS the upper hand. Stay on top of your tax situation and address the issue long before the government starts coming after you.

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Tax Returns Taxpayer Representation

How to Choose a Tax Firm for Complex Needs

Choosing a tax professional isn’t an easy task anyway, but mix in the coronavirus tax extension deadline and current economic recession, and this process just got a whole lot more complicated. Keep reading for all you need to know about how to choose a tax firm for your complex accounting, tax planning, and taxpayer representation needs.

Do I even need an accountant or tax firm?

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), every taxpayer is entitled to representation. The taxpayer may either represent themselves, or with proper written authorization, have someone else represent them. However, this representative can’t be just anyone. They must be a licensed attorney, Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Enrolled Agent. Each individual may verify a representative’s eligibility.

Why would I want a representative?

You may want a representative (such an accountant or tax firm) to represent you for a number of reasons. These include a specific tax problem, a notice from the IRS or a tax audit. For most taxpayers, the chances of being audited are less than 1 percent. Those most likely to get audited are among those in the highest income brackets and those in the lowest. If this happens to you, your representative can help to interact with the IRS on your behalf as well as provide information and explanations. They can also enter into agreements with the IRS once you reach them. However, it is important to select your representative carefully because, in the eyes of the IRS, the representative is the person they are interacting with.

Taxpayers have a right to representation, and a qualified, knowledgeable, and experienced representative can ensure that you get the best outcome. If you’re unsure of the process, they help to streamline it and eliminate many of the pressures that come with it. To authorize a representative, you’ll sign a Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative. This allows the IRS to recognize the representative in your case instead of you personally. 

Understanding professional roles  

Choosing a tax professional can be a difficult process, especially if you’re not sure what the difference between them are. Seeking the best person to prepare your tax return will ultimately land you in a different place than looking for someone to skillfully represent you in front of the IRS. Here’s what you need to know.

CPA: A CPA is a certified public accountant that must be licensed by the state. They earn this designation only after they have passed the Uniform CPA Exam that is comprised of four parts and administered by the State Board of Accountancy. They’re a trusted financial advisor for individuals, businesses, and organizations who help them reach their goals in a variety of ways. They may do bookkeeping, financial planning or prepare financial documents like tax returns and profit-and-loss statements.  

Enrolled Agent (EA). An EA is a tax professional licensed directly by the US Treasury Department. In order to become an EA, an applicant must successfully past a 3-part exam covering individual taxaxtion, business tax law, and IRS policy and procedure. In addition, they must have a clean criminal record, and complete a minimum of 72 hours of continuing education every three years. Just like attorneys and CPAs, an EA has unlimited representation rights in front of the IRS. But also like CPAs and attorneys, not all EAs are experienced in every aspect of taxpayer representation — each tax professional has their own areas of expertise and specialization. You will need to take this into account when choosing a tax firm.

Tax preparer: According to the IRS, anyone can be a paid tax return preparer as long as they have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Tax return preparers will have differing levels of education and expertise. Thus, it’s wise to check their qualifications prior to hiring them. You can use our directory of carefully selected tax firms to help you. Beware that tax return preparer fraud is a common tax scam. You can lodge a complaint if you have been financially impacted by a tax return preparer’s misconduct or improper practices.

Tax representative: Not everyone can be a tax representative, unlike a tax preparer. These individuals must be a tax attorney, certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent. Tax representatives are helpful when you’re corresponding with the IRS.

I’m good for 2019. How do I start tax planning?

If you’re squared away for 2019, you may already be looking forward. After all, tax planning can really benefit you in the long-term. Tax planning is the analysis and arrangement of a person’s financial situation in order to maximize tax breaks and minimize liabilities in a legal and efficient manner.

Step #1: Understand your tax bracket

Plan for the future by looking at where you’re at today. The United States operates within a progressive tax system which means that people with higher taxable incomes have higher tax rates (and vice versa for lower incomes). There are seven income tax brackets. You can view the 2019 versus 2020 tax brackets here to determine which one you’re in for planning purposes.

Note that your taxable income isn’t necessarily equal to your salary. You’ll need to subtract out any deductions to determine your taxable income. Once you’ve found that, don’t just multiply by the tax rate, the government divides your taxable income into chunks and then multiplies it by the corresponding rate.

Step #2: Differentiate between tax deductions and tax credits

This is a crucial step in tax planning because you can create strategies to help you reduce your tax bill. This is also where a tax expert can come into play because they are likely to know more about the available deductions and credits than you will.

  • Tax credits – a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your tax bill
  • Tax deductions – specific expenses that you’ve incurred that you’re able to subtract from your taxable income

Step #3: Plan for standard deductions versus itemizations

Another big impact on your tax bill is deciding whether to take the standard deduction or to itemize. When you take the standard deduction, it’s a flat-dollar, no-questions-asked tax deduction that Congress sets every year. This makes you preparation go a lot faster and a lot of taxpayers prefer it because it’s easier. However, you can also choose to itemize your tax return which means you add up all the individual deductions that you qualify for. People normally take this route if it will be more advantageous financially. Evaluating which direction to go can take some time and math!

Step #4: Learn about popular tax deduction and credits

Learning the most popular tax deductions can help you to save some cash. Make it part of your tax planning to learn about them. Your tax firm can help you with this.

Step #5: Know what records to keep

Keeping tax returns and documents is essential for your own records and if you’re ever audited. When you decide this, know that the IRS has three years to decide whether they want to audit your return, so don’t throw it out before that.

Step #6: Select a firm to help

Knowing what you do about the three roles above, look for a firm that has individuals focused on what you need the most help with. For the majority of individuals and businesses, this is likely to be a tax firm that can help with proactive planning while also serving a critical support role in other areas of your business or personal finances.

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Tax Returns

Quick Guide to Late Filing, Amended Returns, and Late Payment Penalties

In most years, April 15 is the deadline for the majority of Americans to both file their tax return and pay any taxes that are due on that return. If you don’t file on time, you potentially face one set of penalties. If you don’t pay by this date, there’s another set of penalties that applies.

Here’s the good news for individuals that are unable to pay by the normal due date: The late payment penalty isn’t nearly as stiff as the late filing penalty.

The reason for this is because the IRS is far more interested in knowing how much you owe rather than having you pay it on time. They rely heavily on people filing their tax returns in order to make the proper tax assessment (never let the IRS do your tax return for you). Knowing how much you owe them starts a well defined process, but when the IRS doesn’t know how much you owe, they can get pretty grumpy about it.

Of course, the more you pay with your tax return or extension, the lower your penalty and interest charges are going to be in the long run. This is because all of your penalties and interest are a percentage of the unpaid balance due after April 15th.

The penalty for not filing a tax return is typically 5% per month or part of a month. One day is considered “part of a month”. This penalty caps out at 25% of the unpaid balance. Do note that if you properly file an extension, and pay the balance with the extension, then there is no penalty. The extension form essentially gives the IRS the same bottom line “amount due” number that they are looking for, just without the math showing how you came up with it. With your extension, you must pay at least 90% of the balance due on the final return in order to avoid penalties.

As already mentioned, the penalty for not paying is far less than the penalty for not filing. This amount is one half of one percent per month (or part of a month).

If you are subject to both the non-filing and non-payment penalty in the same month, the combination of the two penalties together is capped at 5%. If you file your return more than 60 days after the April 15th deadline (or after the extension deadline), then the minimum penalty is the lesser of $135 or the entire balance due.

Moral of the story: File your tax return on time, even if you’re unable to pay the balance due.

What should you do if you already filed your federal tax return and then discover a mistake? That’s where our friend 1040-X, Amended Return, comes in.

Amended returns allow you to correct errors, change filing status, add or remove income and deductions, and do all the other things you’d normally do on a tax return. Most tax firms can recount numerous stories of correcting tax returns that were prepared incorrectly, even by licensed tax professionals. If you have any doubt at all about the accuracy of your tax return, get a second opinion.

Like everything with the IRS, there are deadlines for filing an amended return. You must file 1040-X within three years of the date you filed the original return, or within two years of paying the tax if you owed. It is not uncommon for individuals to be owed a refund on an old return, but they can’t claim it because they caught it more than three years later. Don’t miss out on potential refunds by waiting too long to amend.

Amended returns must be printed and mailed — they cannot be electronically filed. As such, it can take two to three months for the IRS to process these returns. If you are working with a Revenue Officer on an existing tax debt situation, the Revenue Officer will usually request that you file original and amended tax returns directly with them for faster processing.

We hope that this quick primer on late filing, penalties, and amendments will help save you some money. In summary:

  1. File a return, or at least an extension, by April 15 every year.
  2. If you owe, or expect to owe, pay as much as you can by April 15th in order to minimize penalties.
  3. File amended returns within three years of the original due date in order to avoid losing potential refunds.

For professional assistance with addressing penalties or preparing an amended return, search for a reputable, vetted tax firm near you in our directory.

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Tax Returns

Firefighter and ambulance meal deduction facts

There is a pervasive myth within the emergency services professions regarding a tax deduction for meals during their on-shift days.

This myth is most common with the firefighter ranks, but is also seen within ambulance, police, and other emergency services professions.

Where this myth comes from, I’m not certain. But it definitely maintains it’s urban legend status due to being passed from one person to another. It can only be assumed that tens of thousands of emergency services personnel illegally take this deduction every year.

So let’s set the record straight: There is no on-shift meal deduction permitted for emergency services personnel.

It doesn’t matter if you work a 24-hour shift, and it doesn’t matter what you do for a living (this isn’t limited to emergency personnel, it’s EVERYBODY): If you’re at your job, in your home area, regardless of shift length, there is no meal deduction. Period.

Meal deductions, including per diem (Meals and Incidental Expenses – M&IE), are only permitted when you travel away from home for business or work, and are not reimbursed. If you actually get paid per diem, you can’t also deduct it (no double dipping, in other words).

Here is what firefighters and other workers can do, however. Some fire stations, police stations, and other work places where it is common to work long shifts have what is called a common meal fund. Basically, everybody pitches in a certain amount of money per day, and it pays for food for the entire crew for that day.

If everybody does it, and it’s required by the employer, then it’s deductible. In other words, your fire department or other agency must have made it a mandatory participation practice. In this case, the money you put into the food bucket every day is deductible on Form 2106 under Miscellaneous Deductions, which are subject to a “floor” of 2% of your Adjusted Gross Income.

Hopefully this will clarify this practice. If you work in emergency services, do your co-workers a favor, and refer them to this blog post — it may help them avoid an “undesired IRS interaction.”

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News Tax Returns

Attention Truckers: Don’t forget to file Form 2290 this week

If you are a tractor-trailer operator or run other heavy highway equipment, you are probably already familiar with IRS Form 2290 and the payment of heavy vehicle highway use taxes. In general, this return is due on August 31st, along with payment for your vehicles that are taxed as heavy vehicls.

The deadline generally applies to Form 2290 and the accompanying tax payment for the tax year that begins on July 1, 2012, and ends on June 30, 2013. Returns must be filed and tax payments made by Aug. 31 for vehicles used on the road during July. If you put a new vehicle into service after July 2012, you will need to file another return and pay the tax on that vehicle by the end of next month after placing the vehicle in service. So, if you put a new rig into service in November, the return and the tax are both due on December 31.

The highway use tax applies to highway motor vehicles with a taxable gross weight of 55,000 pounds or more, which generally includes trucks, truck tractors, and buses. Ordinarily, vans, pick-ups, and panel trucks are not taxable because they fall below the 55,000-pound threshold. The tax of up to $550 per vehicle is based on weight, and a variety of special rules apply, which are explained in the instructions to Form 2290.

If you have not yet filed and paid these particular taxes, they are eligible for electronic filing and electronic payment through EFTPS. If you need help with the return, or getting the payment made, feel free to contact one of the tax firms listed in our directory.

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Tax Returns

Final Thoughts For 2011 Tax Returns on Deadline Day

Today is April 17th: Tax day. I’m sure that it will be discussed during the day’s talk shows and news broadcasts, and there will be long lines at the post offices that stay open until midnight. There will be reminders aplenty around you today that this is the day, the final day, the deadline, the “do it or go to jail” day.

In reality, that’s all hogwash.

In all actuality, there is only one firm, hard deadline today for most taxpayers: Today is the last day the IRS will accept e-files. If you file tomorrow, you have to mail it in.

What about an extension? Yes, if you want to file an extension, it’s a good idea to do so. But NOT filing an extension doesn’t have any real consequences.

If you owe the IRS money for 2011, then yes, today is theoretically the deadline to pay it. But for most people reading this particular article, the reason they’re reading this info in the first place is because they don’t have the cash on hand to pay their tax bills. So what really happens if you don’t file and pay on time?

Really, nothing of non-monetary consequence.

Yes, you’re going to pay some interest and penalties if you owe. There are both late filing penalties AND failure to pay penalties, and yes, they’re steep. These penalties are a percentage of what you owe, as are interest charges. Interest is compounded daily, which starts to add up.

If you’re able to pay your taxes with cash, a credit card, or borrowing the money from relatives, then do so, and do it on time. Even if you owe several thousand dollars and have room on a credit card to pay it, then do so, and do it on time — the finance charges on the card are going to be a lot lower than what the IRS will charge you over the course of 6 months to a year.

If you owe the IRS so much money that you simply can’t pay it no matter what, then don’t fret too much. If this is the first time you’ve accrued a tax liability, then the IRS has special rules that allow for the forgiveness of penalties for first time offenders.

If you have previous tax liabilities, then this will get added on to your total. As your total grows, so does your eligibility for certain tax resolution programs, such as the Offer in Compromise or the Currently Not Collectible program.

Here’s my bottom line advice: If you can’t pay your 2011 tax bill today by any means, then accept the fact that penalties are going to be added on, and start thinking about what arrangements you can make to take care of the situation. If you have questions regarding your personal situation, be sure to reach out to one of the local tax firms in our directrory.

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Tax Returns

Is the IRS Holding Your Unclaimed Refund Check?

Finally, a happy thought when it comes to taxes: The IRS may be holding money that is yours, and they really, really do want to give it to you!

If you had a job and had income taxes withheld from your paycheck, but you didn’t file a return either because you didn’t have to because of your income level or because you thought you wouldn’t get the money back, you may actually be in for a surprise. It may not necessarily be a lot of money, but I believe you should even file your claim for a $10 refund merely on principle if it’s owed to you.

The IRS keeps millions of dollars every year that they are not legally entitled to keep, simply because taxpayers didn’t realize they could get the money back. In order to file a return for the express purpose of getting a refund, even if you weren’t legally obligated to file a tax return, you need to file the return and request the refund within 3 years of when the tax return was originally due, which is generally April 15th of each year for personal income tax returns. After this three year period, the government says, “Too bad, so sad” and gets to legally keep your money.

If you file a tax return late, but are due a refund, there are no penalties for late filing. They only whack you with late filing penalties if you OWE money, and then it’s a percentage of what you owe (Caution: It’s a BIG percentage if it’s been a while).

If you’re not sure if you would end up owing or getting a refund, here’s a quick tip: Most tax preparers will run the numbers through their computer for you for free, and only charge you if you actually file the return. It’s worth visiting one of the local tax firms listed in our directory to find out if you might be due a refund.

In addition, the IRS receives millions of dollars of refund checks back in the mail every year. If you were expecting a refund check, and it didn’t come, then don’t forget to give the IRS a call (800-829-1040) and ask them where your refund is. There is also a simple and handy “Where’s My Refund?” feature on their web site, at irs.gov.

Lastly, be sure to take every tax break you’re entitled to. If you think your tax preparer either missed some deductions or skipped a tax credit that would pump up your refund (the Earned Income Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit are two of the big ones), then don’t hesitate to take your tax return to somebody else for a second opinion. Most tax preparers will do this either for free or for a very nominal charge, so if you think you should have gotten a bigger refund, have another tax preparer look over your return.

Categories
Tax Returns Taxpayer Representation

Unfiled Tax Returns

Do you have past due tax returns? If so, you’re not alone. While the IRS does not publish statistics on this, nor are they really able to track this number, but my own research and statistical analysis (because I’m a numbers geek and do stuff like that), estimates that there are between 5 and 8 million outstanding personal income tax returns in the United States for the past three years alone.

If you owe a tax debt to the government and are seeking to get that situation resolved, you will first need to file any missing returns. The IRS will NOT negotiate a payment plan or a reduced settlement if you have past due tax returns. The reason for this is pretty simple: If you don’t file the returns, they don’t know how much you really owe.

While any tax preparer, CPA, or Enrolled Agent can probably assist you with filing your past due tax returns, it is important to note that many of these tax preparers focus their practices solely on current year tax return filings. Since the tax laws change literally every year, it’s a daunting task just to keep up with the tax code for the current year, so many tax preparers don’t bother trying to keep up with prior year tax matters.

A firm that specializes in taxpayer representation, on the other hand, often does exactly the opposite. Many of these firms don’t even offer current year tax return preparation. Since the tax code as applicable to prior years is fixed and no longer changes, they can maintain their skills and knowledge on prior years quite readily since they focus almost exclusively on preparing older tax returns. This lack of change in the past tax code and their experience preparing these returns also lets them complete them fairly quickly, since they don’t have to spend time researching the old laws, and therefore you don’t have to pay for that research time, keeping their fees reasonable for this sort of service.

Search our directory of taxpayer representation firms to find a tax professional in your area that specializes in preparing back tax returns.