Type of Withdrawal
No (if expenses exceed
10% of AGI)
Substantial equal periodic payments (SEPP)
Separation of service
Purchase of primary residence
Tuition and educational expenses
Prevention of eviction or foreclosure
Burial or funeral expenses
When it’s time to complete their tax returns, couples have one big question to answer: married filing jointly or married filing separately?
Just under 5% of the approximately 56 million married couples filed their taxes jointly in 2013, according to IRS statistics. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that filing jointly is right for you every year.
The IRS advises that you and your spouse will “generally” pay less in combined taxes if you file jointly, but it advises couples to figure their taxes both ways to make sure of that.
Just what we all need: Double the aggravation at tax time. You can skip that exercise, if you understand the key differences between the two methods of filing.
There is some icing on the cake, though. As noted above, some childcare credits are “usually” not available to those filing separately. The unusual case, according to the IRS, is separation or divorce.
The joint tax return continues to be the preferred choice for most American couples. It is, after all, designed to meet their needs.
A glance at the figures under “Married filing jointly” and “Married filing singly” on the IRS tax tables for 2015 shows that couples filing jointly pay less taxes after their combined taxable income reaches the $9,250 – $9,300 range.
However, if you have a year with an extraordinary event, like a big medical expense or a sudden boost in one partner’s income, you might want to check its impact on your taxes if you file separately.
Tax season is the worst time of the year for many people. It’s a time when most individuals and business are required by the IRS to get their books to see if they have paid Uncle Sam enough money during the previous year or if they are going to be writing him a check come April 15.
One of the biggest reasons why so many people worry about their taxes is because of the potential for a tax audit. While this can be a fairly stressful event because the IRS will be digging deep into your finances, a tax audit only happened to roughly 0.4% of all individual tax returns filed in 2014.
To make sure that you are not part of that statistic when you file your 2015 tax return here are a few of the top IRS tax audit red flags to avoid.
Unfortunately, if you have been audited by the IRS once, there is a much greater chance that they will do it again in the future. Because of this, it is extremely important that you are extra careful when preparing your tax return. The less attention you create for yourself, the better.
Making a lot of money any year is usually looked upon as being a good thing. However, it will draw the attention from the IRS. While the percentage of total tax audits might have been below 1%, the rate increases as you make more money. For those that made between $200,000 and $500,000 the rate of tax audits was 2.06%. And for anyone that made $10 million or more the chances of a tax audit was a staggering 24.16%.
Any income that you earn from a hobby must be reported to the IRS. And just like any business your expenses can also be deducted at the end of the year. The tax law states that you are unable to claim a loss from anything that is considered a hobby. For you to claim any amount of loss you need to prove that you have been running this hobby as a business. The best way is to have earned a profit in prior years.
When you withdrawal money from an IRA or 401k before you reach 59 and a half-years-old, you are required to pay an early withdrawal penalty of 10%. There are a few exemptions to this penalty, and this is where a lot of people get confused and then flagged. If you don’t meet one of the stated exceptions, then you are required to pay the early withdrawal penalty.
If you are claiming a home office expense on your tax return and your Schedule C shows a loss on the business, then you are at a greater risk for an audit. If you do qualify for a home office deduction, then you can claim a percentage of your rent/mortgage, insurance, utilities, real estate taxes, and any other costs that it might take to maintain the home office.
There is a simple deduction method that can be used as well. You can deduct $5 per square foot that is used. It’s important to remember that this space must be used solely as a home office. If you have a desk in a guest room where people sleep, then this would not qualify.
If you claim a vehicle was used for business purposes 100% of the time, then it will be a big red flag for the IRS. Make sure you keep a detailed record of the mileage that was used for the business and what was used for personal use. This will be a big help if the IRS agent comes asking for it.
Any alimony that is received is taxable income and alimony paid is deductible if paid by cash or check and specific requirements have been met. The requirements are fairly complex, and IRS officials know that a lot of individuals will be claiming this deduction even though they have not met all of the requirements.
It’s always good to make charitable contributions each year, but if you are giving away a significant part of your yearly income, then this is going to be a big red flag. If you claim a deduction over $500, you need to make sure that you have the item appraised. If you don’t, then this can cause a tax audit. The IRS knows the average amount donated for each income level. If you are claiming more than that amount, there is a good chance they will want to take a deeper looking at you.
If you have received a W-2 or 1099, then the IRS has received the same form. If you fail to report all of your taxable income, then the IRS will know about it and require you to pay taxes on the income.
If you run your own business, then it is highly likely that you need to travel to see clients or treat them to a meal if they are in town. Those expenses are deductible. The problem comes when those expenses are higher than what would be expected for the business.
The number of individuals that are selected for a tax audit each year is typically less than 1%. Avoiding these ten red flags will help keep you in good standing with the IRS.
The Internal Revenue Service defines income as any money, property or services that taxpayers receive. All types of income are taxable unless specifically excluded by law. There are a few exceptions, though, and they’re – needless to say – worth knowing about. This article will describe a few of the more common categories of nontaxable income.
Income That Isn’t Taxed
Usually, disability benefits are taxable if they come from a policy with premiums that were paid by your employer. However, there are many other categories of disability benefits that are nontaxable.
The IRS says that “generally, the value of accident or health plan coverage provided to you by your employer is not included in your income.” This could be health insurance provided through your employer by a third party (like Aetna or Blue Cross) or coverage and reimbursements for medical care provided through a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA). Furthermore, employer and employee contributions to a health savings account are not taxable. Employer-provided long-term care insurance and Archer MSA contributions (a type of medical savings account) are also not taxable.
Just as the IRS defines all income as taxable, except that which is specifically excluded by law, it defines all gifts as taxable, except those specifically excluded by law. Thankfully, there are many gifts that aren’t taxable, and any tax due is always paid by the gift-giver, not the recipient. (Note that a prize is not the same as a gift. Read Winning the Jackpot: Dream or Financial Nightmare? to learn more.)
Perhaps the most well-known exclusion is that individuals can gift up to a certain amount per recipient per year without the gift being taxable. For example, both spouses of a married couple could give each of their three children $14,000 in 2017 and $15,000 in 2018. The parents would gift a total of $87,000, and none of that gift would be taxable for either the parents or the children. Each child would receive $29,000 of nontaxable income.
The following types of income are also considered nontaxable gifts:
An important exception to this rule is gifts from employers. These gifts are usually considered fringe benefits, not gifts, and are taxable income. A small gift worth less than $25, such as a holiday fruitcake, is an exception to the fringe benefit rule. (You might want to check out Top 7 Estate Planning Mistakes.)
To prevent tax evasion, the IRS also says that the gift tax applies “whether the donor intends the transfer to be a gift or not.” For example, if you sell something to someone at less than its market value, the IRS may consider it a gift. An accountant can provide you with tax-planning advice to help you avoid triggering the gift tax and let you know when you should file IRS Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return.
If a loved one dies and leaves you a large life insurance benefit, this income is generally not taxable. However, be aware that there are some exceptions to this rule in more complex situations. IRS publication 525: Taxable and Nontaxable Income, describes these exceptions.
Individuals and married couples who meet the IRS’s ownership and use tests, meaning that they have owned their home for at least two of the last five years and have lived in it as a principal residence for at least two of the last five years, can exclude from their income up to $250,000 (for individuals) or $500,000 (for married couples filing jointly) of capital gains from the sale of the home. That policy was challenged but ultimately not changed under the final version of the new GOP tax bill.
If you sell investments at a loss, you can use your loss to reduce your taxable income by up to $3,000 a year. Capital losses can even be carried over from year to year until the entire loss has been offset. For example, if you sold investments at a loss of $4,500 in 2016, you could subtract $3,000 from your taxable income on your 2016 tax return and $1,500 from your income on your 2017 tax return.
Under the U.S.’s federalist system, each state is able to make many of its own laws. So even though most income is taxable at the federal level, and most states also levy a state tax on income, seven states – Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming – have chosen to not levy a state income tax on their residents. (Not surprisingly, that makes some states popular with retirees – though other factors, such as whether pensions and Social Security payments are taxed and the cost of living are also factors. Read Finding a Retirement-Friendly State.)
Some states also encourage corporations to locate there by not taxing corporate income. There are no corporate taxes in Nevada, Ohio, Texas and Washington, according to the Tax Foundation. Instead, these states impose gross receipts taxes. The lowest rates are North Carolina (3%), North Dakota (4.31%) and Colorado (4.63%).This tax break can encourage corporations to locate in these states.
The estate tax exemption doubles as part of the new GOP tax bill. In 2018, that figure was supposed to rise to $5.6 million for individuals; double for couples. Now that individual exemption will be $11.2 million, with couples at $22.4 million – a break that will last until 2026.
While the estate tax technically falls on the estate, it really affects the estate’s beneficiaries. But if you are the beneficiary of an estate that falls into the exempt category, you’ll get all that income tax free. And if you inherit an estate worth more than the exemption, you’ll still get the exempt amount tax free.
Most of the time, when you invest in bonds, you have to pay federal, state and/or local tax on the yield you earn. However, when you earn money from municipal bonds, the proceeds are usually tax-free at the federal level and also tax-free at the state level if you live in the same state in which the bonds were issued. This tax exemption applies whether you invest in individual municipal bonds or purchase them through a municipal bond fund.
Although municipal bonds generally offer a lower rate of return than other types of bonds, when you consider their after-tax return, you may end up ahead by investing in municipal bonds. Municipal bonds are generally recommended only for higher-income individuals and married couples who fall into the 28% to 39.6% federal income tax brackets. (Investing in these bonds may offer a tax-free income stream, but they are not without risks. See The Basics of Municipal Bonds.)
Why has the IRS chosen to exempt these and a few other sources of income when it generally tries to tax everything? The answer to this question varies, depending on your political views. Reasons include the belief that eliminating or dramatically reducing taxes in certain areas will encourage certain activities thought to benefit the country, such as home ownership and investment, and reduce the risks associated with these activities. (Learn the logic behind the belief that reducing government income benefits everyone in Do Tax Cuts Stimulate the Economy?) In addition, some exemptions are targeted to people in need, such as those receiving certain categories of disability payments.
Last year, your federal income tax return was due on Tuesday, April 17. That’s because the usual deadline, April 15, fell on a Sunday, and a federal holiday, Emancipation Day, fell on April 16. If you didn’t file your return on time despite the extra two days, here’s what to expect.
If You Filed Your Taxes Late, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will charge you interest, compounded daily, on your unpaid tax. Interest accrues from the April 17 deadline until the date when you actually pay. The IRS’s annual interest rate on late payments is the federal short-term rate (currently 0%) plus 3%. The rate changes quarterly; taxpayers can find current rates at the IRS’s news release web page.
In addition to interest, you’ll be responsible for a late payment penalty of 0.5% plus a late filing penalty of 4.5%. Both penalties are charged on the amount of tax you owe for each month or partial month that you don’t pay your tax bill. The penalty maxes out at 47.5% – that’s 22.5% for filing late and 25% for paying late. The late filing penalty increases to 15% per month with a maximum of 75% for fraudulent failure to file.
The IRS will reduce or even eliminate the late filing and payment penalties if you can show “reasonable cause,” but the IRS may not interpret those words in the same way you would. Also, members of the armed forces who are currently serving in combat zones may qualify for an exception to the filing and payment deadlines. So will some taxpayers affected by recent natural disasters.
The good news is that you don’t have to worry about going to jail for filing or paying late or for making a mistake on your return. The IRS says it reserves criminal prosecution for “flagrant cases involving criminal violations of tax laws.”
If you don’t file a return, the IRS may prepare a return for you using the information it has about your income from W2s, 1099s and other forms it collects from third parties like your employer and financial institutions. An IRS-prepared return is unlikely to give you credit for all the deductions and exemptions you’re allowed, so an IRS-prepared return (also called a substitute return) is likely to result in your owing more tax than you were actually required to pay. If the IRS does file a substitute return, you’ll have the opportunity to correct it and receive the exemptions, credits and deductions you’re owed if you file your own return.
If you intentionally don’t pay your taxes or make any effort to pay them, the IRS can force you to pay them. It can levy your bank accounts, garnish your wages and/or seize your assets. It can also file liens against your assets, including your home. If you aren’t intentionally evading your tax liability but you can’t pay, your best bet is to file on time and work out a repayment plan with the IRS. Under such a plan, the IRS may lower your late payment penalty to 0.25% per month, and you won’t owe the late filing penalty of 4.5% per month.
If you file your tax return electronically, your return transmission will have an electronic postmark. This electronic postmark determines whether you filed on time.
The IRS considers paper returns to be filed on time if they are “mailed in an envelope that is properly addressed, has enough postage and is postmarked by the due date.” If you use a private delivery service such as DHL, UPS or FedEx to send your tax return, the postmark date is considered to be “the date the private delivery service records in its database or marks on the mailing label.”
If you need more time to prepare your return, filing an automatic extension request is simple and straightforward. Filing form 4868 gives you an extra six months to prepare your return. Be aware that if you file an automatic extension, your filing deadline becomes October 15, not October 17. This extension does not, however, extend the amount of time you have to pay any tax you owe.
If you need more time to pay and you owe $50,000 or less in combined taxes, penalties and interest, try using the IRS’s online payment agreement to automatically set up a payment plan. You can do this even before you receive any notices from the IRS. Another option is to request a payment agreement by filing form 9465-FS. If you’re having trouble paying your taxes because you lost your job or your self-employment income has declined by 25% or more, you might qualify for penalty relief and a six-month payment extension under the IRS’s Fresh Start program.
In the future, if you know you won’t be able to file your return on time, file an automatic extension using form 4868. You can do this online through the Free File link at IRS.gov, through a tax software program or through a professional tax preparer. The form asks you to estimate your tax liability and pay what you think you will owe. Even if your estimate turns out to be incorrect, it could reduce any late payment penalties you might owe, and you won’t be subject to late filing penalties.
An IRS audit is not something to celebrate. Most people cringe at the very thought of the IRS coming to sort through their tax forms. Most audits end up on the negative side for the taxpayer with a tax debt or back taxes being owed to the IRS. The best way to come out good with an IRS audit is to avoid one in the first place.
Avoiding an IRS Audit:
-Double deductions – it is an easy mistake to make but it will trigger an audit. Deductions taken on a Schedule C form cannot also be taken on the 1040 form.
-High charitable donations – often times anything over 20% of your income will send up a red flag to the IRS. If your charitable donations are higher then be sure that you have receipts to prove all of the donations that you deduct.
-Political contributions – it would be nice if everything could be counted as a deduction but it is not the reality of the IRS. Fees and dues paid to lobbying and political groups and money contributed to political campaigns are not deductions and claiming them as such is sure to bring the IRS knocking at your door.
-Schedule C Losses – if you are trying to deduct your hobby and claim it as a business then you better start showing a profit. Too many years showing a loss will cause the IRS to take a closer look at your situation.
-Income – higher income brackets tend to see the IRS auditor more than the lower income brackets. Keeping your income down may be one of the ways to keep the tax man away.
There is not a foolproof way to avoid an IRS tax audit. Hiring a tax professional to file your taxes is one way to help ensure that if you are audited you do not end up owing back taxes or end up carrying a heavy tax debt because of your returns.
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Haven’t receive yet your income tax refunds this year? Then here is some reason why is delayed: The government could have seized it. The U.S Treasury Departments Bureau may be holding back your refund or it might be that part of your refund cover some part of a debts you may owe.
Here are the 6 major kinds of personal debts that can result in a tax refund offset, along with some advice about what you can do if it ever happens to you.
• Federal Income Taxes – If you owe back income taxes, your refund can be taken to pay them. Whatever is left, if anything, will be refunded to you in the way you requested on your tax return, either by direct deposit or check. You should also get a notice from the IRS explaining why the money was withheld. If you believe that a mistake was made, you will need to take it up with the IRS.
• State Income Taxes – The feds can also withhold money from your tax refund to cover unpaid state income taxes.
• State Unemployment Compensation – If your state believes you collected more in unemployment compensation than you were entitled to, either due to outright fraud or to a failure to properly report your earnings, it can also ask the U.S. Treasury to offset your tax refund.
• Student Loans – If you defaulted on a federally insured student loan, the government can seize your tax refund to help repay it. The Treasury Department is required to send you advance notice as well as to provide an opportunity for you to challenge the claim or pay it off before your refund is withheld. Your state could also withhold money from your state tax refund for this purpose. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education, or the guaranty agency that holds your loan, has the authority to order your employer to withhold up to 15% of your disposable income until the defaulted loan is paid off. You can learn more about dealing with defaulted student debt here.
• Child Support – When parents become delinquent in paying court-ordered child support, their state’s child-support agency can request that the Treasury Department withhold money from their tax refund to cover the back payments. People in this situation should receive a pre-offset notice explaining how much they owe, how the offset process works, and how to contest the debt. Once the money has been withheld from their refund, they should also receive an offset notice from the Bureau of the Fiscal Service showing how much money it withheld and referring them back to the state child-support agency if they have further questions.
• Spousal Support – Similarly, an award for spousal support that’s part of a child-support order can also result in a tax-refund offset if those payments are overdue.
Note that if you filed a joint tax return with your spouse, and your refund was offset because of debts belonging only to your spouse, you can request your portion of the refund back from the IRS. The claim form goes by the somewhat confusing name of Injured Spouse Allocation (IRS Form 8379) and can be found online. Bear in mind, too, that your tax refund isn’t the only leverage the Treasury can use to collect on back debts such as the ones listed above. Your Social Security or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits can be garnished (that is, partially withheld) in some instances. However, supplemental security income cannot be garnished, even by the government.
If you have certain kinds of unpaid debts – such as federal or state taxes, child or spousal support, a student loan that’s in default, or unemployment compensation to which you were not entitled – the U.S. Treasury can hold back all or part of your income tax refund to help pay them off. The practice is known as an offset, and it certainly leads to upset, so try not to let it happen to you