The Tax Factor was created to educate individuals and small-business owners about taxes. Let’s face it, nothing in life is guaranteed except death and taxes. Okay, maybe that sounded pretty depressing but the goal of this blog is to help you find the information to learn how to make taxes work for you. Taxes can be extremely complicated but knowing about deductions and credits can save you thousands of dollars per year.
If you use part of your home for your business, you may qualify to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. Here are six facts from the IRS to help you determine if you qualify for the home office deduction.
1. Generally, in order to claim a deduction for a home office, you must use a part of your home exclusively and regularly for business purposes. In addition, the part of your home that you use for business purposes must also be:
• your principal place of business, or
• a place where you meet with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of your business, or
• a separate structure not attached to your home. Examples might include a studio, workshop, garage or barn. In this case, the structure does not have to be your principal place of business or a place where you meet patients, clients or customers.
2. You do not have to meet the exclusive use test if you use part of your home to store inventory or product samples. The exclusive use test also does not apply if you use part of your home as a daycare facility.
3. The home office deduction may include part of certain costs that you paid for having a home. For example, a part of the rent or allowable mortgage interest, real estate taxes and utilities could qualify. The amount you can deduct usually depends on the percentage of the home used for business.
4. The deduction for some expenses is limited if your gross income from the business use of your home is less than your total business expenses.
5. If you are self-employed, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, to figure the amount you can deduct. Report your deduction on Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business.
6. If you are an employee, you must meet additional rules to claim the deduction. For example, in addition to the above tests, your business use must also be for your employer’s convenience.
For more information, see Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home. It’s available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
If you haven’t filed your 2009 federal tax return, you may still have time to claim your tax refund. The IRS has $917 million in unclaimed refunds from an estimated 984,000 tax returns that people didn’t file for the 2009 tax year. The IRS estimates that half the potential refunds for 2009 are more than $500.
Here are some things the IRS wants you to know about unclaimed refunds:
1. Not required to file. You may not have filed a 2009 tax return because you didn’t earn enough income to have a filing requirement. If you had taxes withheld from your wages or made quarterly estimated payments, you can still file a return and claim your refund.
2. Three-year window. You have three years to claim a refund. If you don’t claim your refund within three years, the money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury. For 2009 returns, the window closes on April 15, 2013. You must properly address, postmark and mail your return by that date. There is no penalty for filing a late return if you are due a refund.
3. Don’t miss the EITC. By not filing a return, you may miss an important credit — the Earned Income Tax Credit. For 2009, the credit is worth as much as $5,657. The EITC can put extra money in the pockets of individuals and families with low and moderate incomes. If you are eligible for the EITC, you must file a federal income tax return to claim the credit. This is true even if you are not otherwise required to file.
4. Some refunds applied. The IRS may hold your refund if you have not filed tax returns for 2010 and 2011. The law allows the use of your federal tax refund to pay any amounts still owed to the IRS or your state tax agency. If you have unpaid debts, such as overdue child support or student loans, your refund may be applied to pay that debt.
Current and prior year tax forms and instructions are available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). If you are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498, you should request copies from your employer, bank or other payer. If you can’t get these forms, you can get a free transcript from the IRS showing the information you need from those forms.
Order a transcript by filing Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return, with the IRS, or by calling 800-829-1040.
Many members of the military are able to get their tax returns prepared for free on or off most military bases including overseas locations. The U.S. Armed Forces participates in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program sponsored by the IRS. VITA provides free tax advice, tax preparation, tax return filing and other tax help to military members and their families.
Here are four things you need to know about free military tax assistance:
1. Armed Forces Tax Council. The Armed Forces Tax Council oversees the military tax programs offered worldwide. AFTC partners with the IRS to conduct outreach to military personnel and their families. This includes the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
2. Volunteer tax sites. Military-based VITA sites staffed with IRS-trained volunteers provide free tax help and tax return preparation. Volunteers receive training on military tax issues, such as combat zone tax benefits, filing extensions and special benefits that apply to the Earned Income Tax Credit.
3. What to bring. To receive free tax assistance, bring the following records to your military VITA site:
Valid photo identification
Social Security cards for you, your spouse and dependents, or a Social Security number verification letter issued by the Social Security Administration
Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents
Wage and earning statement(s), such as Forms W-2, W-2G, and 1099-R
Interest and dividend statements (Forms 1099)
A copy of last year’s federal and state tax returns, if available
Checkbook for routing and account numbers for direct deposit of your tax refund
Total amount paid for day care and day care provider’s identifying number. This is usually an Employer Identification Number or Social Security number.
Other relevant information about income and expenses
4. Joint returns. If you are married filing a joint return and wish to file electronically, both you and your spouse should be present to sign the required forms. If both cannot be present, you usually must bring a valid power of attorney form along with you. You may use IRS Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative for this purpose.
There is a special exception to this rule if your spouse is in a combat zone. The exception allows a spouse to prepare and e-file a joint return with a written statement stating the other spouse is in a combat zone and unable to sign.
IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, has more helpful information for members of the military. You can download free publications from the IRS.gov website or order them by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
If your lender cancelled or forgave your mortgage debt, you generally have to pay tax on that amount. But there are exceptions to this rule for some homeowners who had mortgage debt forgiven in 2012.
Here are 10 key facts from the IRS about mortgage debt forgiveness:
1. Cancelled debt normally results in taxable income. However, you may be able to exclude the cancelled debt from your income if the debt was a mortgage on your main home.
2. To qualify, you must have used the debt to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence. The residence must also secure the mortgage.
3. The maximum qualified debt that you can exclude under this exception is $2 million. The limit is $1 million for a married person who files a separate tax return.
4. You may be able to exclude from income the amount of mortgage debt reduced through mortgage restructuring. You may also be able to exclude mortgage debt cancelled in a foreclosure.
5. You may also qualify for the exclusion on a refinanced mortgage. This applies only if you used proceeds from the refinancing to buy, build or substantially improve your main home. The exclusion is limited to the amount of the old mortgage principal just before the refinancing.
6. Proceeds of refinanced mortgage debt used for other purposes do not qualify for the exclusion. For example, debt used to pay off credit card debt does not qualify.
7. If you qualify, report the excluded debt on Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness. Submit the completed form with your federal income tax return.
8. Other types of cancelled debt do not qualify for this special exclusion. This includes debt cancelled on second homes, rental and business property, credit cards or car loans. In some cases, other tax relief provisions may apply, such as debts discharged in certain bankruptcy proceedings. Form 982 provides more details about these provisions.
9. If your lender reduced or cancelled at least $600 of your mortgage debt, they normally send you a statement in January of the next year. Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, shows the amount of cancelled debt and the fair market value of any foreclosed property.
10. Check your Form 1099-C for the cancelled debt amount shown in Box 2, and the value of your home shown in Box 7. Notify the lender immediately of any incorrect information so they can correct the form.
Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to check if your cancelled debt is taxable. Also, see Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions and Abandonments. IRS forms and publications are available online at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
A tax credit reduces the amount of tax you must pay. A refundable tax credit not only reduces the federal tax you owe, but also could result in a refund.
Here are five credits the IRS wants you to consider before filing your 2012 federal income tax return:
1. The Earned Income Tax Credit is a refundable credit for people who work and don’t earn a lot of money. The maximum credit for 2012 returns is $5,891 for workers with three or more children. Eligibility is determined based on earnings, filing status and eligible children. Workers without children may be eligible for a smaller credit. If you worked and earned less than $50,270, use the EITC Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you qualify. For more information, see Publication 596, Earned Income Credit.
2. The Child and Dependent Care Credit is for expenses you paid for the care of your qualifying children under age 13, or for a disabled spouse or dependent. The care must enable you to work or look for work. For more information, see Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
3. The Child Tax Credit may apply to you if you have a qualifying child under age 17. The credit may help reduce your federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child you claim on your return. You may be required to file the new Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, with your tax return to claim the credit. See Publication 972, Child Tax Credit, for more information.
4. The Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit) helps low-to-moderate income workers save for retirement. You may qualify if your income is below a certain limit and you contribute to an IRA or a retirement plan at work. The credit is in addition to any other tax savings that apply to retirement plans. For more information, see Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).
5. The American Opportunity Tax Credit helps offset some of the costs that you pay for higher education. The AOTC applies to the first four years of post-secondary education. The maximum credit is $2,500 per eligible student. Forty percent of the credit, up to $1,000, is refundable. You must file Form 8863, Education Credits, to claim it if you qualify. For more information, see Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.
Make sure you qualify before claiming any tax credit. You can always visit IRS.gov to learn about the rules. The free IRS publications mentioned are also available on IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Small businesses sometimes barter to get products or services they need. Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another. Usually there is no exchange of cash. An example of bartering is a plumber doing repair work for a dentist in exchange for dental services.
The IRS reminds all taxpayers that the fair market value of property or services received through a barter is taxable income. Both parties must report as income the value of the goods and services received in the exchange.
Here are four facts about bartering:
1. Barter exchanges. A barter exchange is an organized marketplace where members barter products or services. Some exchanges operate out of an office and others over the internet. All barter exchanges are required to issue Form 1099-B, Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions, annually. The exchange must give a copy of the form to its members and file a copy with the IRS.
2. Bartering income. Barter and trade dollars are the same as real dollars for tax reporting purposes. If you barter, you must report on your tax return the fair market value of the products or services you received.
3. Tax implications. Bartering is taxable in the year it occurs. The tax rules may vary based on the type of bartering that takes place. Barterers may owe income taxes, self-employment taxes, employment taxes or excise taxes on their bartering income.
4. Reporting rules. How you report bartering varies depending on which form of bartering takes place. Generally, if you are in a trade or business you report bartering income on Form 1040, Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business. You may be able to deduct certain costs you incurred to perform the bartering.
For more information, see the Bartering Tax Center in the business section at IRS.gov.
I know that my theme for tax season is sharing IRS tax tips, however the IRS shared with us the newest member of the Tax Preparers' Hall of Shame.
From the Goodfellas at the IRS, the newest member of the Tax Preparers' Hall of Shame is an.......Enrolled Agent. NOOOOOOOOO!!!! This is my first Enrolled Agent on the list.
Issue Number: IR-2013-27
The Internal Revenue Service announced that its Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) obtained the disbarment of enrolled agent Lorna M. Walker for stealing a client's tax payments and for preparing tax returns with false deductions for multiple clients.
Walker's enrolled agent status and her ability to prepare federal tax returns were revoked for at least five years. Walker practiced in the Seattle area.
“Practitioners who disregard their responsibilities to the tax system and their clients can expect to hear from OPR," said Karen L. Hawkins, director of OPR. "Any tax professional who steals from a client or causes them undue tax problems is unfit to practice before this agency."
In a Final Agency Decision, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) disbarred Walker for misappropriating client payments intended for the IRS in furtherance of an offer in compromise, and for preparing multiple returns containing Schedule C deductions for which she could not produce substantiation on audit.
Walker was engaged to represent a taxpayer in a collection matter. The client gave Walker two money orders totaling $1,500 to forward to the IRS along with an offer in compromise for delinquent taxes. It was found by the ALJ that Walker altered, endorsed and cashed the money orders for her own personal use, which are acts of willful incompetent and disreputable conduct under Circular 230.
The ALJ also found that Walker prepared Forms 1040 for seven clients claiming Schedule C deductions that were unsubstantiated and unsupportable. It was found that Walker failed to exercise due diligence in preparing the Schedule C’s thereby violating multiple due diligence provisions contained in Circular 230.
Walker also failed to respond to the administrative complaint and the motion for default judgment. The ALJ determined that because Walker failed to respond either to the complaint or to the motion for default judgment, she was deemed to admit all the allegations in the complaint, and to not oppose the default motion.
C'mon Walker, I'm so mad that I had to included an Enrolled Agent! Enrolled Agents should know better. As a proud Enrolled Agent, I'm sad with your membership to this infamous club.
The term “capital asset” for tax purposes applies to almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes. A capital gain or loss occurs when you sell a capital asset.
Here are 10 facts from the IRS on capital gains and losses:
1. Almost everything you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset. Capital assets include your home, household furnishings, and stocks and bonds that you hold as investments.
2. A capital gain or loss is the difference between your basis of an asset and the amount you receive when you sell it. Your basis is usually what you paid for the asset.
3. You must include all capital gains in your income.
4. You may deduct capital losses on the sale of investment property. You cannot deduct losses on the sale of personal-use property.
5. Capital gains and losses are long-term or short-term, depending on how long you hold on to the property. If you hold the property more than one year, your capital gain or loss is long-term. If you hold it one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.
6. If your long-term gains exceed your long-term losses, the difference between the two is a net long-term capital gain. If your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, you have a 'net capital gain.’
7. The tax rates that apply to net capital gains are generally lower than the tax rates that apply to other types of income. The maximum capital gains rate for most people in 2012 is 15 percent. For lower-income individuals, the rate may be 0 percent on some or all of their net capital gains. Rates of 25 or 28 percent can also apply to special types of net capital gains.
8. If your capital losses are greater than your capital gains, you can deduct the difference between the two on your tax return. The annual limit on this deduction is $3,000, or $1,500 if you are married filing separately.
9. If your total net capital loss is more than the limit you can deduct, you can carry over the losses you are not able to deduct to next year’s tax return. You will treat those losses as if they occurred that year.
10. Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, will help you calculate capital gains and losses. You will carry over the subtotals from this form to Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses. If you e-file your tax return, the software will do this for you.
For more information about capital gains and losses, see the Schedule D instructions or Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses. They are both available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Saving for your retirement can make you eligible for a tax credit worth up to $2,000. If you contribute to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or to an IRA, you may be eligible for the Saver’s Credit.
Here are seven points the IRS would like you to know about the Saver’s Credit:
1. The Saver’s Credit is formally known as the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit. The credit can be worth up to $2,000 for married couples filing a joint return or $1,000 for single taxpayers.
2. Your filing status and the amount of your income affect whether you are eligible for the credit. You may be eligible for the credit on your 2012 tax return if your filing status and income are:
Single, married filing separately or qualifying widow or widower, with income up to $28,750
Head of Household with income up to $43,125
Married Filing Jointly, with income up to $57,500
3. You must be at least 18 years of age to be eligible. You also cannot have been a full-time student in 2012 nor claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.
4. You must contribute to a qualified retirement plan by the due date of your tax return in order to claim the credit. The due date for most people is April 15.
5. The Saver’s Credit reduces the tax you owe.
6. Use IRS Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions, to claim the credit. Be sure to attach the form to your federal tax return. If you use IRS e-file the software will do this for you.
7. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for other tax benefits if you contribute to a retirement plan. For example, you may be able to deduct all or part of your contributions to a traditional IRA.
For more information on the Saver’s Credit, see IRS Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements. Also see Publication 4703, Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, and Form 8880. They are available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
If you received unemployment benefits this year, you must report the payments on your federal income tax return.
Here are four tips from the IRS about unemployment benefits.
1. You must include all unemployment compensation you received in your total income for the year. You should receive a Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments. It will show the amount you were paid and the amount of any federal income taxes withheld from your payments.
2. Types of unemployment benefits include:
Benefits paid by a state or the District of Columbia from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund
Railroad unemployment compensation benefits
Disability payments from a government program paid as a substitute for unemployment compensation
Trade readjustment allowances under the Trade Act of 1974
Unemployment assistance under the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act
3. You must include benefits from regular union dues paid to you as an unemployed member of a union in your income. However, other rules apply if you contribute to a special union fund and your contributions are not deductible. If this applies to you, only include in income the amount you received from the fund that is more than your contributions.
4. You can choose to have federal income tax withheld from your unemployment benefits. You make this choice using Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. If you complete the form and give it to the paying office, they will withhold tax at 10 percent of your payments. If you choose not to have tax withheld, you may have to make estimated tax payments throughout the year.
For more information on unemployment benefits see IRS Publications 17, Your Federal Income Tax, or IRS Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income. You can download these free booklets and Form W-4V from the IRS.gov website. You may also order them by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
If you paid for medical or dental expenses in 2012, you may be able to get a tax deduction for costs not covered by insurance. The IRS wants you to know these seven facts about claiming the medical and dental expense deduction.
1. You must itemize. You can only claim medical and dental expenses for costs not covered by insurance if you itemize deductions on your tax return. You cannot claim medical and dental expenses if you take the standard deduction.
2. Deduction is limited. You can deduct medical and dental expenses that are more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.
3. Expenses paid in 2012. You can include medical and dental costs that you paid in 2012, even if you received the services in a previous year. Keep good records to show the amount that you paid.
4. Qualifying expenses. You may include most medical or dental costs that you paid for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Some exceptions and special rules apply. Visit IRS.gov for more details.
5. Costs to include. You can normally claim the costs of diagnosing, treating, easing or preventing disease. The costs of prescription drugs and insulin qualify. The cost of medical, dental and some long-term care insurance also qualify.
6. Travel is included. You may be able to claim the cost of travel to obtain medical care. That includes the cost of public transportation or an ambulance as well as tolls and parking fees. If you use your car for medical travel, you can deduct the actual costs, including gas and oil. Instead of deducting the actual costs, you can deduct the standard mileage rate for medical travel, which is 23 cents per mile for 2012.
7. No double benefit. Funds from Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Arrangements used to pay for medical or dental costs are usually tax-free. Therefore, you cannot deduct expenses paid with funds from those plans.
You’ll find more information in IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses. Also see Publication 969, Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans. They are available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Some people must pay taxes on their Social Security benefits. If you get Social Security, you should receive a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, by early February. The form shows the amount of benefits you received in 2012.
Here are five tips from the IRS to help you determine if your benefits are taxable:
1. The amount of your income and your filing status affect whether you must pay taxes on your Social Security.
2. If Social Security was your only income in 2012, your benefits are probably not taxable. You also may not need to file a federal income tax return.
3. If you received income from other sources, then you may have to pay taxes on your benefits.
4. You can follow these two quick steps to see if your benefits are taxable:
• Add one-half of the Social Security benefits you received to all your other income, including tax-exempt interest. Tax-exempt interest includes interest from state and municipal bonds.
• Next, compare this total to the ‘base amount’ for your filing status. If the total is more than your base amount, then some of your benefits may be taxable.
The three 2012 base amounts are:
$25,000 for single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child or married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouse at any time during the year;
$32,000 for married couples filing jointly; and
$0 for married persons filing separately who lived together at any time during the year.
5. If you use IRS e-file to prepare and file your tax return, the tax software will figure your taxable benefits for you. If you file a paper return, you can use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on the IRS website to check if your benefits are taxable. The ITA is a resource that can help answer tax law questions. There also is a worksheet in the instructions for Form 1040 or 1040A that you can use to figure your taxable benefits.
For more information on the taxability of Social Security benefits, see IRS Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits. You can get a copy of this booklet on IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
If you were married or divorced and changed your name last year, be sure to notify the Social Security Administration before you file your taxes with the IRS. If the name on your tax return doesn’t match SSA records, the IRS will flag it as an error and that may delay your refund.
Here are five tips for a person whose name has changed. They also apply if your dependent’s name has changed.
1. If you have married and you’re using your new spouse’s last name or you’ve hyphenated your last name, notify the SSA. That way, the IRS computers can match your new name with your Social Security number.
2. If you were divorced and are now using your former last name, notify the SSA of your name change.
3. Letting the SSA know about a name change is easy. File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, at your local SSA office or by mail with proof of your legal name change.
4. You can get Form SS-5 on the SSA’s website at www.ssa.gov, by calling 800-772-1213 or at local SSA offices. Your new card will have the same number as your former card but will show your new name.
5. If you adopted your new spouse’s children and their names changed, you'll need to update their names with SSA too. For adopted children without SSNs, the parents can apply for an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions, with the IRS. The ATIN is a temporary number used in place of an SSN on the tax return. Form W-7A is available on the IRS.gov website or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
You don’t need to be a tax expert when you’re running a business, but you may need to know the basics so your business can run smoothly. The IRS.gov Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center has useful tax information and services for business owners.
The tax center can help whether you are starting, operating or closing a business. You can apply for an Employer Identification Number online or get a form you need. If you want employment tax information, the center has it. It also offers tools and resources:
IRS Video Portal. Watch helpful videos and webinars on a variety of topics from filing and paying your taxes to understanding the IRS audit process.
Online Tools. The Tax Calendar for Small Businesses and Self-Employed features e-filing and e-paying options, alerts for important filing dates and tax tips. You can order a wall calendar or install the IRS CalendarConnector and access important tax dates for small businesses right from your desktop.
Small Business Events and Educational Products. The online Virtual Small Business Tax Workshop has nine interactive lessons designed to help you understand and meet your federal tax obligations. You can also find free IRS small business workshops and other events planned in your state.
The IRS no longer mails reminder letters to taxpayers who have to repay the First-Time Homebuyer Credit. To help taxpayers who must repay the credit, the IRS website has a user-friendly look-up tool. Here are four reminders about repaying the credit and using the tool:
1. Who needs to repay the credit? If you bought a home in 2008 and claimed the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, the credit is similar to a no-interest loan. You normally must repay the credit in 15 equal annual installments. You should have started to repay the credit with your 2010 tax return.
You are usually not required to pay back the credit for a main home you bought after 2008. However, you may have to repay the entire credit if you sold the home or stopped using it as your main home within 36 months from the date of purchase. This rule also applies to homes bought in 2008.
2. How to use the tool. You can find the First-Time Homebuyer Credit Lookup tool at IRS.gov under the ‘Tools’ menu. You will need your Social Security number, date of birth and complete address to use the tool. If you claimed the credit on a joint return, each spouse should use the tool to get their share of the account information. That’s because the law treats each spouse as having claimed half of the credit for repayment purposes.
3. What the tool does. The tool provides important account information to help you report the repayment on your tax return. It shows the original amount of the credit, annual repayment amounts, total amount paid and the remaining balance. You can print your account page to share with your tax preparer and to keep for your records.
4. How to repay the credit. To repay the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, add the amount you have to repay to any other tax you owe on your federal tax return. This could result in additional tax owed or a reduced refund. You report the repayment on line 59b on Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. If you are repaying the credit because the home stopped being your main home, you must attach Form 5405, Repayment of the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, to your tax return.
The Internal Revenue Service reminded parents and students that now is a good time to see if they qualify for either of two college education tax credits or any of several other education-related tax benefits.
In general, the American opportunity tax credit, lifetime learning credit and tuition and fees deduction are available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. Eligible students include the primary taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse or a dependent of the taxpayer. Though a taxpayer often qualifies for more than one of these benefits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in a particular year. The benefits are available to all taxpayers – both those who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and those who claim a standard deduction. The credits are claimed on Form 8863 and the tuition and fees deduction is claimed on Form 8917.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act, enacted Jan. 2, 2013, extended the American opportunity tax credit for another five years until the end of 2017. The new law also retroactively extended the tuition and fees deduction, which had expired at the end of 2011, through 2013. The lifetime learning credit did not need to be extended because it was already a permanent part of the tax code.
For those eligible, including most undergraduate students, the American opportunity tax credit will yield the greatest tax savings. Alternatively, the lifetime learning credit should be considered by part-time students and those attending graduate school. For others, especially those who don’t qualify for either credit, the tuition and fees deduction may be the right choice.
All three benefits are available for students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. None of them can be claimed by a nonresident alien or married person filing a separate return. In most cases, dependents cannot claim these education benefits.
Normally, a student will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by the end of January of the following year. This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other information. However, amounts shown on this form may differ from amounts taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax benefits. Taxpayers should see the instructions to Forms 8863 and 8917 and Publication 970 for details on properly figuring allowable tax benefits.
Many of those eligible for the American opportunity tax credit qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Here are some key features of the credit:
The credit targets the first four years of post-secondary education, and a student must be enrolled at least half time. This means that expenses paid for a student who, as of the beginning of the tax year, has already completed the first four years of college do not qualify. Any student with a felony drug conviction also does not qualify.
Tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other required course materials generally qualify. Other expenses, such as room and board, do not.
The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000. That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.
The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit is refundable. This means that even people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible student. Other education-related credits and deductions do not provide a benefit to people who owe no tax.
The lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and undergraduate students. Unlike the American opportunity tax credit, the limit on the lifetime learning credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Though the half-time student requirement does not apply, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills. Other features of the credit include:
Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance qualify as do other fees required for the course. Additional expenses do not.
The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.
Income limits are lower than under the American opportunity tax credit. For 2012, the full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $52,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $104,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $124,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $62,000 or more.
Like the lifetime learning credit, the tuition and fees deduction is available for all levels of post-secondary education, and the cost of one or more courses can qualify. The annual deduction limit is $4,000 for joint filers whose MAGI is $130,000 or less and other taxpayers whose MAGI is $65,000 or less. The deduction limit drops to $2,000 for couples whose MAGI exceeds $130,000 but is no more than $160,000, and other taxpayers whose MAGI exceeds $65,000 but is no more than $80,000.
Eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these provisions during the year by having less tax taken out of their paychecks. They can do this by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer. There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many taxpayers. They include:
Scholarship and fellowship grants—generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.
Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.
Savings bonds used to pay for college—though income limits apply, interest is usually tax-free if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.
Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or save for a child’s college education.
Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the earned income tax credit.
The IRS receives thousands of reports every year from taxpayers who receive emails out-of-the-blue claiming to be from the IRS. Scammers use the IRS name or logo to make the message appear authentic so you will respond to it. In reality, it’s a scam known as “phishing,” attempting to trick you into revealing your personal and financial information. The criminals then use this information to commit identity theft or steal your money.
The IRS has this advice for anyone who receives an email claiming to be from the IRS or directing you to an IRS site:
Do not reply to the message;
Do not open any attachments. Attachments may contain malicious code that will infect your computer; and
Do not click on any links in a suspicious email or phishing website and do not enter confidential information. Visit the IRS website and click on 'Identity Theft' at the bottom of the page for more information.
Here are five other key points the IRS wants you to know about phishing scams.
1. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or social media channels to request personal or financial information;
2. The IRS never asks for detailed personal and financial information like PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts;
3. The address of the official IRS website is www.irs.gov. Do not be misled by sites claiming to be the IRS but ending in .com, .net, .org or anything other than .gov. If you discover a website that claims to be the IRS but you suspect it is bogus, do not provide any personal information on their site and report it to the IRS;
4. If you receive a phone call, fax or letter in the mail from an individual claiming to be from the IRS but you suspect they are not an IRS employee, contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to determine if the IRS has a legitimate need to contact you. Report any bogus correspondence. Forward a suspicious email to firstname.lastname@example.org;
5. You can help the IRS and other law enforcement agencies shut down these schemes. Visit the IRS.gov website to get details on how to report scams and helpful resources if you are the victim of a scam. Click on "Reporting Phishing" at the bottom of the page.
Protecting taxpayers and their tax refunds from identity theft is a top priority for the IRS. This year the IRS expanded its efforts to better protect taxpayers and help victims dealing with this difficult issue.
When your personal information is lost or stolen, it can lead to identity theft. Identity thieves sometimes use your personal information to file a tax return to claim a tax refund. Then, when you file your own tax return, the IRS will not accept it and will notify you that a return was already filed using your name and social security number. Often, learning that your return was not accepted or receiving a contact from the IRS about a problem with your tax return is the first time you become aware that you’re a victim of identity theft.
How to avoid becoming an identity theft victim.
Guard your personal information. Identity thieves can get your personal information in many ways. This includes stealing your wallet or purse, posing as someone who needs information about you, looking through your trash, or stealing information you provide to an unsecured website or in an unencrypted email.
Watch out for IRS impersonators. Be aware that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or social media channels to request personal or financial information or notify people of an audit, refund or investigation. Scammers may also use phone calls, faxes, websites or even in-person contacts. If you’re suspicious that it’s not really the IRS contacting you, don’t respond.
Protect information on your computer. While preparing your tax return, protect it with a strong password. Once you e-file the return, take it off your hard drive and store it on a CD or flash drive in a safe place, like a lock box or safe. If you use a tax preparer, ask how he or she will protect your information.
How to know if you are, or might be, a victim of identity theft.
Your identity may have been stolen if the IRS notifies you that:
You filed more than one tax return or someone has already filed using your information;
You owe taxes for a year when you were not legally required to file and did not file; or
You were paid wages from an employer where you did not work.
Respond quickly using the contact information in the letter you received from the IRS so that we can begin to correct and secure your tax account.
If you think you may be at risk for identity theft due to a lost or stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity, an unexpected bad credit report or any other way, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit toll-free at 1-800-908-4490. The IRS will then take steps to secure your tax account.
If you have information about the identity thief who used or tried to use your information, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
For more information – including how to report identity theft, phishing and related fraudulent activity – visit the Identity Protection home page on IRS.gov and click on the Identity Theft link at the bottom of the page.