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From the IRS: Tax Credits Available for Certain Energy-Efficient Home Improvements

The IRS would like you to get some credit for qualified home energy improvements this year. Perhaps you installed solar equipment or recently insulated your home? Here are two tax credits that may be available to you:

1. The Non-business Energy Property Credit Homeowners who install energy-efficient improvements may qualify for this credit. The 2011 credit is 10 percent of the cost of qualified energy-efficient improvements, up to $500. Qualifying improvements includeadding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and doors and certain roofs. The cost of installing these items does not count. You can also claim a credit including installation costs, for certain high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters and stoves that burn biomass fuel. The credit has a lifetime limit of $500, of which only $200 may be used for windows. If you've claimed more than $500 of non-business energy property credits since 2005, you can not claim the credit for 2011. Qualifying improvements must have been placed into service in the taxpayer’s principal residence located in the United States before Jan. 1, 2012.

2. Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit This tax credit helps individual taxpayers pay for qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, solar electricity equipment and wind turbines. The credit, which runs through 2016, is 30 percent of the cost of qualified property. There is no cap on the amount of credit available, except for fuel cell property. Generally, you may include labor costs when figuring the credit and you can carry forward any unused portions of this credit. Qualifying equipment must have been installed on or in connection with your home located in the United States; geothermal heat pumps qualify only when installed on or in connection with your main home located in the United States.

Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify so be sure you have the manufacturer’s tax credit certification statement, which can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website or with the product packaging.

If you're eligible, you can claim both of these credits on Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits when you file your 2011 federal income tax return. Also, note these are tax credits and not deductions, so they will generally reduce the amount of tax owed dollar for dollar. Finally, you may claim these credits regardless of whether you itemize deductions on IRS Schedule A.

You can find Form 5695 at IRS.gov or order it by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


From the IRS: Four Tax Credits that Can Boost your Refund

A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of taxes owed. Some tax credits are refundable meaning if you are eligible and claim one, you can get the rest of it in the form of a tax refund even after your tax liability has been reduced to zero.

Here are four refundable tax credits you should consider to increase your refund on your 2011 federal income tax return:


1. The Earned Income Tax Credit is for people earning less than $49,078 from wages, self-employment or farming. Millions of workers who saw their earnings drop in 2011 may qualify for the first time. Income, age and the number of qualifying children determine the amount of the credit, which can be up to $5,751. Workers without children also may qualify. For more information, see IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit.


2. The Child and Dependent Care Credit is for expenses paid for the care of your qualifying children under age 13, or for a disabled spouse or dependent, while you work or look for work. For more information, see IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.


3. The Child Tax Credit is for people who have a qualifying child. The maximum credit is $1,000 for each qualifying child. You can claim this credit in addition to the Child and Dependent Care Credit. For more information on the Child Tax Credit, see IRS Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.


4. The Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, also known as the Saver’s Credit, is designed to help 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 workplace retirement plan, such as a 401(k) plan. The Saver’s Credit is available in addition to any other tax savings that apply. For more information, see IRS Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).


There are many other tax credits that may be available to you depending on your facts and circumstances. Since many qualifications and limitations apply to various tax credits, you should carefully check your tax form instructions, the listed publications and additional information available at www.irs.gov. IRS forms and publications are available on the IRS website at www.irs.gov and by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Ten Things to Know About Capital Gains and Losses

Did you know that almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes is a capital asset? Capital assets include a home, household furnishings and stocks and bonds held in a personal account. When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you paid for the asset and its sales price is a capital gain or capital loss.

Here are 10 facts from the IRS about how gains and losses can affect your federal income tax return.


1. Almost everything you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset.


2. When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you sell it for and your basis – which is usually what you paid for it – is a capital gain or a capital loss.


3. You must report all capital gains.


4. You may only deduct capital losses on investment property, not on personal-use property.


5. Capital gains and losses are classified as long-term or short-term. 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 you have long-term gains in excess of your long-term losses, the difference is normally a net capital gain. Subtract any short-term losses from the net capital gain to calculate the net capital gain you must report.


7. The tax rates that apply to net capital gain are generally lower than the tax rates that apply to other income. For 2011, the maximum capital gains rate for most people is 15 percent. For lower-income individuals, the rate may be 0 percent on some or all of the net capital gain. Rates of 25 or 28 percent may apply to special types of net capital gain.


8. If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, you can deduct the excess on your tax return to reduce other income, such as wages, up to an annual limit of $3,000, or $1,500 if you are married filing separately.


9. If your total net capital loss is more than the yearly limit on capital loss deductions, you can carry over the unused part to the next year and treat it as if you incurred it in that next year.


10. This year, a new form, Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, will be used to calculate capital gains and losses. Use Form 8949 to list all capital gain and loss transactions. The subtotals from this form will then be carried over to Schedule D (Form 1040), where gain or loss will be calculated.


For more information about reporting capital gains and losses, see the Schedule D instructions, Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses or Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax. All forms and publications are available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


IDENTITY THEFT PINS TO BE ISSUED BY IRS IN DECEMBER

The IRS will be sending letters to all known IRS identity theft victims in early December. These letters will notify taxpayers that the IRS has placed an identity theft indicator on their account. That letter will advise the taxpayer that an additional letter will be forwarded toward the end of the month of December with a unique PIN that must be entered onto the taxpayers returns for 2011 for the taxpayer to file electronically. Absent this PIN, the taxpayer will be required to file a paper return, which could delay a refund. The IRS will then match the special PIN with the PIN to be entered on the e-filed returns to positively identify the taxpayer. If the PIN does match or is not present on the e-filed return, the return will be rejected. The unique PIN will be “year” specific. These unique PINs will likely be issued for up to three years after the IRS has identified and validated an identity theft victim.

Important to Keep PIN Letters

Again, taxpayers victimized by ID theft can e-file their return but only if they include the special PIN on their Form 1040. Therefore, it is essential that taxpayers keep the letters received in December. If a taxpayer loses the letter and does not know his or her special PIN, the taxpayer cannot retrieve it in any other way. Duplicate letters will not be issued. If a taxpayer loses the PIN number, the taxpayer cannot e-file.

The IRS also has recommended that tax return preparers require some form of photo identification from their clients to help reduce identity theft and tax filing fraud.


IRS Announces New Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program; Past Payroll Tax Relief Provided to Employers Who Reclassify Their Workers as Employees

The Internal Revenue Service today launched a new program that will enable many employers to resolve past worker classification issues and achieve certainty under the tax law at a low cost by voluntarily reclassifying their workers.

This new program will allow employers the opportunity to get into compliance by making a minimal payment covering past payroll tax obligations rather than waiting for an IRS audit.

This is part of a larger “Fresh Start” initiative at the IRS to help taxpayers and businesses address their tax responsibilities.

“This settlement program provides certainty and relief to employers in an important area,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “This is part of a wider effort to help taxpayers and businesses to help give them a fresh start with their tax obligations.”

The new Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) is designed to increase tax compliance and reduce burden for employers by providing greater certainty for employers, workers and the government. Under the program, eligible employers can obtain substantial relief from federal payroll taxes they may have owed for the past, if they prospectively treat workers as employees. The VCSP is available to many businesses, tax-exempt organizations and government entities that currently erroneously treat their workers or a class or group of workers as nonemployees or independent contractors, and now want to correctly treat these workers as employees.

To be eligible, an applicant must:

• • Consistently have treated the workers in the past as nonemployees,

• • Have filed all required Forms 1099 for the workers for the previous three years

• • Not currently be under audit by the IRS, the Department of Labor or a state agency concerning the classification of these workers

Interested employers can apply for the program by filing Form 8952, Application for Voluntary Classification Settlement Program, at least 60 days before they want to begin treating the workers as employees.

Employers accepted into the program will pay an amount effectively equaling just over one percent of the wages paid to the reclassified workers for the past year. No interest or penalties will be due, and the employers will not be audited on payroll taxes related to these workers for prior years. Participating employers will, for the first three years under the program, be subject to a special six-year statute of limitations, rather than the usual three years that generally applies to payroll taxes.

Full details, including FAQs, are available on the Employment Tax pages of IRS.gov, and in Announcement 2011-64, posted today.


Three Tips for Employers Outsourcing Their Payroll

Outsourcing payroll duties to third-party service providers can streamline business operations, but the IRS reminds employers that they are ultimately responsible for paying federal tax liabilities.

Recent prosecutions of individuals and companies who - acting under the guise of a payroll service provider - have stolen funds intended for payment of employment taxes makes it important that employers who outsource payroll are aware of the following three tips from the IRS:

1. Employer Responsibility The employer is ultimately responsible for the deposit and payment of federal tax liabilities. Even though you forward the tax payments to the third party to make the tax deposits, you - the employer - are the responsible party.

If the third party fails to make the federal tax payments, the IRS may assess penalties and interest. The employer is liable for all taxes, penalties and interest due. The IRS can also hold you personally liable for certain unpaid federal taxes.

2. Correspondence If there are any issues with an account, the IRS will send correspondence to the address of record. The IRS strongly suggests you do not change the address of record to that of the payroll service provider. That could limit your ability to stay informed of tax matters involving your business.

3. EFTPS Choose a payroll service provider that uses the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. You can register on the EFTPS system to get your own PIN to verify the payments.



MER Tax, Accounting, and Consulting uses EFTPS to make your tax payments for you from your business payroll account (with your permission, of course). Another advantage to using EFTPS for your tax payments, is that your bank statement will actually show the payments as going to the U.S.Treasury.

If you have more questions on this topic, please feel free to call or email us.


Keep Good Records Now to Reduce Tax-Time Stress

You may not be thinking about your tax return right now, but summer is a great time to start planning for next year. Organized records not only make preparing your return easier, but may also remind you of relevant transactions, help you prepare a response if you receive an IRS notice, or substantiate items on your return if you are selected for an audit.

Here are a few things the IRS wants you to know about recordkeeping.

1. In most cases, the IRS does not require you to keep records in any special manner. Generally, you should keep any and all documents that may have an impact on your federal tax return. It’s a good idea to have a designated place for tax documents and receipts.

2. Individual taxpayers should usually keep the following records supporting items on their tax returns for at least three years:

• Bills

• Credit card and other receipts

• Invoices

• Mileage logs

• Canceled, imaged or substitute checks or any other proof of payment

• Any other records to support deductions or credits you claim on your return

You should normally keep records relating to property until at least three years after you sell or otherwise dispose of the property. Examples include:

• A home purchase or improvement

• Stocks and other investments

• Individual Retirement Arrangement transactions

• Rental property records

3. If you are a small business owner, you must keep all your employment tax records for at least four years after the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later. Examples of important documents business owners should keep Include:

• Gross receipts: Cash register tapes, bank deposit slips, receipt books, invoices, credit card charge slips and Forms 1099-MISC

• Proof of purchases: Canceled checks, cash register tape receipts, credit card sales slips and invoices

• Expense documents: Canceled checks, cash register tapes, account statements, credit card sales slips, invoices and petty cash slips for small cash payments

• Documents to verify your assets: Purchase and sales invoices, real estate closing statements and canceled checks


BBB Scam Alert!!!!!!!!!

Your Better Business Bureau advises that scam artists are claiming affiliation with the BBB as a means to gain your trust. Recent incidents reported nationwide include:

The Scam: Impostors visit businesses unannounced to falsely solicit BBB Accreditation and request access to detailed company financial records.

The Facts: BBB representatives may contact businesses periodically by phone or email to update BBB Business Reviews, handle a complaint, or invite select businesses to apply for BBB Accreditation. BBB representatives do not request detailed financial records for any reason.

If This Happens to You: Do not provide financial details to individuals who show up at your business promising BBB Accreditation. If you have any doubt about a person's affiliation with the Better Business Bureau, verify it by contacting your BBB. Report imposters to the BBB and your local police department.

*****

The Scam: A BBB impersonator calls to inform you that you've won a sweepstakes but to obtain your millions you must first wire a handling fee.

The Facts: The BBB does not operate sweepstakes and will never ever ask you to wire money.

If This Happens to You: Hang up the phone and do not wire money. Report the incident to both your BBB and your local police department.

*****

The Scam: An email purportedly from the BBB requests verification and validation of BBB business ratings.

The Facts: The BBB is not conducting verification request s nor does it issue emails in response to pending rating or review about your or your business.

If This Happens to You: Disregard the message and report any information received to your BBB.


Eight Tips for Taxpayers Who Receive an IRS Notice

Every year the Internal Revenue Service sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers, but that doesn’t mean you need to worry. Here are eight things every taxpayer should know about IRS notices – just in case one shows up in your mailbox.

1. Don’t panic. Many of these letters can be dealt with simply and painlessly.

2. There are number of reasons the IRS sends notices to taxpayers. The notice may request payment of taxes, notify you of a change to your account or request additional information. The notice you receive normally covers a very specific issue about your account or tax return.

3. Each letter and notice offers specific instructions on what you need to do to satisfy the inquiry.

4. If you receive a correction notice, you should review the correspondence and compare it with the information on your return.

5. If you agree with the correction to your account, usually no reply is necessary unless a payment is due.

6. If you do not agree with the correction the IRS made, it is important that you respond as requested. Write to explain why you disagree. Include any documents and information you wish the IRS to consider, along with the bottom tear-off portion of the notice. Mail the information to the IRS address shown in the lower left part of the notice. Allow at least 30 days for a response.

7. Most correspondence can be handled without calling or visiting an IRS office. However, if you have questions, call the telephone number in the upper right corner of the notice. Have a copy of your tax return and the correspondence available when you call.

8. It’s important that you keep copies of any correspondence with your records.
For more information about IRS notices
and bills, see Publication 594, The IRS Collection Process. Information about penalties and interest charges is available in Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals. Both publications are available at www.IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Seven Tax Tips for Recently Married Taxpayers

With the summer wedding season in full swing, the Internal Revenue Service advises the soon-to-be married and the just married to review their changing tax status. If you recently got married or are planning a wedding, the last thing on your mind is taxes. However, there are some important steps you need to take to avoid stress at tax time. Here are seven tips for newlyweds.

1. Notify the Social Security Administration Report any name change to the Social Security Administration so your name and Social Security number will match when you file your next tax return. File a Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, at your local SSA office. The form is available on SSA’s website at www.ssa.gov, by calling 800-772-1213 or at local offices.

2. Notify the IRS if you move If you have a new address you should notify the IRS by sending Form 8822, Change of Address. You may download Form 8822 from www.IRS.gov or order it by calling 800–TAX–FORM (800–829–3676).

3. Notify the U.S. Postal Service You should also notify the U.S. Postal Service when you move so it can forward any IRS correspondence or refunds.

4. Notify your employer Report any name and address changes to your employer(s) to make sure you receive your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, after the end of the year.

5. Check your withholding If both you and your spouse work, your combined income may place you in a higher tax bracket. You can use the IRS Withholding Calculator available on www.irs.gov to assist you in determining the correct amount of withholding needed for your new filing status. The IRS Withholding Calculator will give you the information you need to complete a new Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate. You can fill it out and print it online and then give the form to your employer(s) so they withhold the correct amount from your pay.

6. Select the right tax form Choosing the right individual income tax form can help save money. Newly married taxpayers may find that they now have enough deductions to itemize on their tax returns. Itemized deductions must be claimed on a Form 1040, not a 1040A or 1040EZ.

7. Choose the best filing status A person’s marital status on Dec. 31 determines whether the person is considered married for that year. Generally, the tax law allows married couples to choose to file their federal income tax return either jointly or separately in any given year. Figuring the tax both ways can determine which filing status will result in the lowest tax, but usually filing jointly is more beneficial.

For more information about changing your name, address and income tax withholding visit www.irs.gov. IRS forms and publications can be obtained from www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


How to Get Your Prior-Year Tax Information from the IRS

Taxpayers sometimes need tax returns from previous years for loan applications, to estimate tax withholding, for legal reasons or because records were destroyed in a natural disaster or fire. If your original tax returns were lost or destroyed, you can obtain copies or transcripts from the IRS. Here are 10 things to know if you need federal tax return information from a previously filed tax return.

1. There are three options for obtaining free copies of your federal tax return information – on the web, by phone or by mail.

2. The IRS does not charge a fee for transcripts, which are available for the current and past three tax years.

3. A tax return transcript shows most line items from your tax return as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules. It does not reflect any changes made after the return was filed.

4. A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments either you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed. This transcript shows basic data, including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income and taxable income.

5. To request either transcript online, go to www.irs.gov and use our online tool called Order A Transcript. To order by phone, call 800-908-9946 and follow the prompts in the recorded message.

6. To request a 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ tax return transcript through the mail, complete IRS Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript. Businesses, partnerships and individuals who need transcript information from other forms or need a tax account transcript must use the Form 4506T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

7. If you order online or by phone, you should receive your tax return transcript within five to 10 days from the time the IRS receives your request. Allow 30 calendar days for delivery of a tax account transcript if you order by mail.

8. If you still need an actual copy of a previously processed tax return, it will cost $57 for each tax year you order. Complete Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, and mail it to the IRS address listed on the form for your area. Copies are generally available for the current year and past six years. Please allow 60 days for actual copies of your return.

9. The fee for copies of tax returns may be waived if you are in an area that is declared a federal disaster by the President. Visit www.irs.gov, keyword “disaster,” for more guidance on disaster relief.

10. Visit www.irs.gov to determine which form will meet your needs. Forms 4506, 4506T and 4506T-EZ are available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Back-to-School Tips for Students and Parents Paying College Expenses

Whether you’re a recent graduate going to college for the first time or a returning student, it will soon be time to get to campus – and payment deadlines for tuition and other fees are not far behind. The Internal Revenue Service reminds students or parents paying such expenses to keep receipts and to be aware of some tax benefits that can help offset college costs.

Typically, these benefits apply to you, your spouse or a dependent for whom you claim an exemption on your tax return.

1. American Opportunity Credit This credit, originally created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has been extended for an additional two years – 2011 and 2012. The credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student and is available for the first four years of post secondary education. Forty percent of this credit is refundable, which means that you may be able to receive up to $1,000, even if you owe no taxes. Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, course related books, supplies and equipment. The full credit is generally available to eligible taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is below $80,000 ($160,000 for married couples filing a joint return).

2. Lifetime Learning Credit In 2011, you may be able to claim a Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses paid for a student enrolled in eligible educational institutions. There is no limit on the number of years you can claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for an eligible student, but to claim the credit, your modified adjusted gross income must be below $60,000 ($120,000 if married filing jointly).

3. Tuition and Fees Deduction This deduction can reduce the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $4,000 for 2011 even if you do not itemize your deductions. Generally, you can claim the tuition and fees deduction for qualified higher education expenses for an eligible student if your modified adjusted gross income is below $80,000 ($160,000 if married filing jointly).

4. Student loan interest deduction Generally, personal interest you pay, other than certain mortgage interest, is not deductible. However, if your modified adjusted gross income is less than $75,000 ($150,000 if filing a joint return), you may be able to deduct interest paid on a student loan used for higher education during the year. It can reduce the amount of your income subject to tax by up to $2,500, even if you don’t itemize deductions.

For each student, you can choose to claim only one of the credits in a single tax year. However, if you pay college expenses for two or more students in the same year, you can choose to take credits on a per-student, per-year basis. You can claim the American Opportunity Credit for your sophomore daughter and the Lifetime Learning Credit for your senior son.

You cannot claim the tuition and fees deduction for the same student in the same year that you claim the American Opportunity Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. You must choose to either take the credit or the deduction and should consider which is more beneficial for you.

For more information, visit the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center at www.irs.gov or check out Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, which can be downloaded at www.irs.gov or ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Ten Tax Tips for Individuals Who Are Moving This Summer

Summertime is a popular time for people with children to move since school is out. Moving can be expensive, but the IRS offers 10 tax tips on deducting some of those expenses if your move is related to starting a new job or a new job location.

1. Move must be closely related to start of work Generally, you can consider moving expenses incurred within one year from the date you first reported to a new location, as closely related in time to the start of work.

2. Distance Test Your move meets the distance test if your new main job location is at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your previous job location was.

3. Time Test You must work full time for at least 39 weeks during the first 12 months after you arrive in the general area of your new job location, or at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months if you are self-employed. If your income tax return is due before you’ve satisfied this requirement, you can still deduct your allowable moving expenses if you expect to meet the time test in the following years.

4. Travel You can deduct lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving from your former home to your new home. You can also deduct transportation expenses, including airfare, vehicle mileage, parking fees and tolls you pay to move, but you can only deduct one trip per person.

5. Household goods You can deduct the cost of packing, crating and transporting your household goods and personal property. You may be able to include the cost of storing and insuring these items while in transit.

6. Utilities You can deduct the costs of connecting or disconnecting utilities.

7. Nondeductible expenses You cannot deduct as moving expenses: any part of the purchase price of your new home, car tags, drivers license, costs of buying or selling a home, expenses of entering into or breaking a lease, security deposits and storage charges except those incurred in transit.

8. Form You can deduct only those expenses that are reasonable for the circumstances of your move. To figure the amount of your moving expense deduction use Form 3903, Moving Expenses.

9. Reimbursed expenses If your employer reimburses you for the cost of the move, the reimbursement may have to be included on your income tax return.

10. Update your address When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive refunds or correspondence from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS.

For more details, review IRS Publication 521, Moving Expenses, and Form 3903, Moving Expenses. IRS publications and forms are available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Know rules when hiring contractors

Q: My business is growing, and I need additional help. Are independent contractors a good way of expanding the workforce of small businesses?

A: Maybe, but it's important to follow the rules for hiring and working with contract labor, or you may get an unpleasant surprise.

Small-business owners often can save money, especially in the early going, by using independent contractors instead of hiring full-time employees. An independent contractor is a person contracted to perform services for another business.

Using contract workers means the business doesn't have to withhold taxes and pay Social Security, Medicare, workers compensation premiums, or benefits such as health insurance, vacation and sick leave. Many such arrangements, however, wilt under Internal Revenue Service or Labor Department scrutiny if workers later claim they should have been classified legally as employees.

That can result in a business paying benefits, back taxes with interest and penalties, and possibly fines.

Deciding who can work legitimately as a contractor and who must be given employee status has become a difficult matter for small-business owners. You can't simply choose what's best for you. The IRS and equivalent state agencies are strict on worker classification issues.

Remember that independent contractors work for themselves. You are their client, not their employer. You don't dictate their hours or control how they perform their work.

Contractors control when and where they work. Therefore, avoid setting a pattern of daily or weekly work hours dictated by your business. Also, contractors do not usually have a permanent or continuing relationship with the business and have time to pursue other clients. Try to compensate contractors on a per-job basis, not weekly or monthly. They also should use their own tools and technology and be responsible for their incremental expenses.

Contractors can't be terminated as long as they produce results that meet their contract specifications. Always require an invoice before making payment.

Employers are also required to follow the IRS procedures for reporting each contractor's compensation.

If you have questions, call the Houston office of the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division at 713-339-5500.

Ron Consolino is a management counselor for SCORE, Counselors to America's Small Business, a volunteer, nonprofit association and a partner of the U.S. Small Business Association. Send questions to score37@scorehouston.org.


Ten Tax Tips for Individuals Selling Their Home

The Internal Revenue Service has some important information to share with individuals who have sold or are about to sell their home. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may qualify to exclude all or part of that gain from your income. Here are ten tips from the IRS to keep in mind when selling your home.

1. In general, you are eligible to exclude the gain from income if you have owned and used your home as your main home for two years out of the five years prior to the date of its sale.

2. If you have a gain from the sale of your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 on a joint return in most cases).

3. You are not eligible for the exclusion if you excluded the gain from the sale of another home during the two-year period prior to the sale of your home.

4. If you can exclude all of the gain, you do not need to report the sale on your tax return.

5. If you have a gain that cannot be excluded, it is taxable. You must report it on Form 1040, Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses.

6. You cannot deduct a loss from the sale of your main home.
7. Worksh
eets are included in Publication 523, Selling Your Home, to help you figure the adjusted basis of the home you sold, the gain (or loss) on the sale, and the gain that you can exclude.

8. If you have more than one home, you can exclude a gain only from the sale of your main home. You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home. If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is ordinarily the one you live in most of the time.

9. If you received the first-time homebuyer credit and within 36 months of the date of purchase, the property is no longer used as your principal residence, you are required to repay the credit. Repayment of the full credit is due with the income tax return for the year the home ceased to be your principal residence, using Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit. The full amount of the credit is reflected as additional tax on that year’s tax return.

10. When you move, be sure to update your address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure you receive refunds or correspondence from the IRS. Use Form 8822, Change of Address, to notify the IRS of your address change.

For more information about selling your home, see IRS Publication 523, Selling Your Home. This publication is available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Basics of Accounting Are Vital to Survival for Entrepreneurs

see this article at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/business/smallbusiness/a-few-accounting-essentials-are-crucial-for-survival.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1


Does the IRS Have Money Waiting For You?

If you earned income in the last few years but you didn’t file a tax return because your wages were below the filing requirement, the Internal Revenue Service may have some money for you. The IRS also has millions of dollars in checks that are returned each year as undeliverable.
Here’s what you need to know about these two types of “missing money” and how to claim it:

Unclaimed Refunds

Some people earn income and may have taxes withheld from their wages but are not required to file a tax return because they have too little income. In this case, you can claim a refund for the tax that was withheld from your pay. Other workers may not have had any tax withheld but would be eligible for the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, but must file a return to claim it.

• To collect this money a return must be filed with the IRS no later than three years from the due date of the return.

• If no return is filed to claim the refund within three years, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury.

• There is no penalty assessed by the IRS for filing a late return qualifying for a refund.

• Current and prior year tax forms and instructions are available on the Forms and Publications page of www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

• Information about the Earned Income Tax Credit and how to claim it is also available on www.irs.gov.

Undeliverable Refunds

Were you expecting a refund check but didn't get it?

• Refund checks are mailed to your last known address. Checks are returned to the IRS if you move without notifying the IRS or the U.S. Postal Service.

• You may be able to update your address with the IRS on the “Where’s My Refund?” feature available on IRS.gov. You will be prompted to provide an updated address if there is an undeliverable check outstanding within the last 12 months.

• You can also ensure the IRS has your correct address by filing Form 8822, Change of Address, which is available on www.irs.gov or can be ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

• If you do not have access to the Internet and think you may be missing a refund, you should first check your records or contact your tax preparer. If your refund information appears correct, call the IRS toll-free assistance line at 800-829-1040 to check the status of your refund and confirm your address.


Ten Facts from the IRS about Amending Your Tax Return

If you discover an error after you file your tax return, you can correct it by amending your return. Here are ten facts from the Internal Revenue Service about amending your federal tax return:

1. When to amend a return You should file an amended return if your filing status, your dependents, your total income or your deductions or credits were reported incorrectly.

2. When NOT to amend a return In some cases, you do not need to amend your tax return. The IRS usually corrects math errors or requests missing forms – such as W-2s or schedules – when processing an original return. In these instances, do not amend your return.

3. Form to use Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to amend a previously filed Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ. Make sure you check the box for the year of the return you are amending on the Form 1040X. Amended tax returns cannot be filed electronically.

4. Multiple amended returns If you are amending more than one year’s tax return, prepare a 1040X for each return and mail them in separate envelopes to the appropriate IRS processing center.

5. Form 1040X The Form 1040X has three columns. Column A shows original figures from the original return (if however, the return was previously amended or adjusted by IRS, use the adjusted figures). Column C shows the corrected figures. The difference between Column A and C is shown in Column B. There is an area on the back of the form to explain the specific changes and the reason for the change. (Actually, this form has changed. Call me if you need help.)

6. Other forms or schedules If the changes involve other schedules or forms, attach them to the Form 1040X.

7. Additional refund If you are filing to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original refund before filing Form 1040X. You may cash that check while waiting for any additional refund.

8. Additional tax If you owe additional tax, you should file Form 1040X and pay the tax as soon as possible to limit interest and penalty charges.

9. When to file Generally, to claim a refund, you must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original return or within two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.

10. Processing time Normal processing time for amended returns is 8 to 12 weeks.


Seven Tax Tips for Job Seekers

Many taxpayers spend time during the summer months updating their résumé and attending career fairs. The Internal Revenue Service reminds job seekers that you may be able to deduct some of the expenses on your tax return.
Here are seven things the IRS wants you to know about deducting costs related to your job search.

1. To qualify for a deduction, the expenses must be spent on a job search in your current occupation. You may not deduct expenses you incur while looking for a job in a new occupation.

2. You can deduct employment and outplacement agency fees you pay while looking for a job in your present occupation. If your employer pays you back in a later year for employment agency fees, you must include the amount you receive in your gross income, up to the amount of your tax benefit in the earlier year.

3. You can deduct amounts you spend for preparing and mailing copies of your résumé to prospective employers as long as you are looking for a new job in your present occupation.

4. If you travel to an area to look for a new job in your present occupation, you may be able to deduct travel expenses to and from the area. You can only deduct the travel expenses if the trip is primarily to look for a new job. The amount of time you spend on personal activity compared to the amount of time you spend looking for work is important in determining whether the trip is primarily personal or is primarily to look for a new job.

5. You cannot deduct job search expenses if there was a substantial break between the end of your last job and the time you begin looking for a new one.

6. You cannot deduct job search expenses if you are looking for a job for the first time.

7. The amount of job search expenses that you can claim on your tax return is limited. You can claim the amount that is more than 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. You figure your deduction on Schedule A.

For more information about job search expenses, see IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions. This publication is available on www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Five "Social" Ways to Get Tax Information You Need

If you use your smartphone to work smarter or you prefer social media resources over hard copy documents, check out the ways the Internal Revenue Service delivers the latest information on tax changes, initiatives, products and services through social media.

1. IRS2Go The IRS launched a smartphone application this year that lets you interact with the IRS using your mobile device. The mobile application can help you get your refund status and tax updates. IRS2Go is available for the iPhone or iTouch and the Android.

2. YouTube The IRS has video channels on YouTube with short, informative videos on various tax-related topics. The videos are in English, American Sign Language and a variety of foreign languages.

3. Twitter IRS tweets include tax-related announcements, news for tax professionals and updates for job seekers. Follow us @IRSnews.

4. Audio files for Podcasts These short audio recordings provide useful information on one tax-related topic per podcast. The audio files are available on iTunes or through the Multimedia Center on IRS.gov (along with their transcripts).

5. Widgets These tools, which can be placed on websites, blogs or social media networks, direct others to IRS.gov for information. The widgets feature the latest tax initiatives and programs and can be found on Marketing Express, the marketing site that allows IRS partners and tax preparers to customize their IRS communications products.

Just remember that the IRS uses these tools to share information with you. Do not post any confidential information on new or social media sites, especially your Social Security number or confidential information. The IRS will not be able to answer personal tax or account questions on any of these sites.

To find links to all of IRS’s social media tools, visit www.irs.gov and click on “IRS New Media.”


2011 standard mileage rate increase

The standard mileage rate for business miles increased to 55.5 cents a mile July 1. This is an increase of 4.5 cents from the 51 cent rate in effect for the first six months of 2011.


IRS Withholding Calculator Can Help Figure Your Tax

If you have too little federal tax withheld from your pay, you could end up owing a lot of money when you file your taxes. If you withhold too much, you will get a large refund next year, but that means you gave up the use of your money for several months during the year.
You may want to adjust your federal tax withholding with your employer. You should also evaluate your withholding if you have recently married or divorced, added a dependent, purchased a home, changed jobs or retired.
The withholding calculator at IRS.gov can help you figure the correct amount of federal withholding and provide information you can use to complete a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate.

Before you begin, have these items:

• Your most recent pay stubs.

• Your most recent federal income tax return.

• Here are some tips for using the withholding calculator:

• Fill in all information that applies to your situation.

• Estimate when necessary. But remember, the results are only as accurate as the information you provide.

• Check the information links embedded in the program whenever you have a question.

• Print out the final screen that summarizes your entries and the results. Use it to complete a new Form W-4 (if necessary) and give the completed W-4 to your employer. Keep the print of the final screen and a copy of your new W-4 with your tax records.

For many people, the withholding calculator is a great tool that can simplify the process of determining your withholding.

However, if you are subject to the alternative minimum tax or self-employment tax or if your current job will end before the end of the year, you will probably achieve more accurate withholding by following the instructions in Publication 919, How Do I Adjust My Tax Withholding, which is available at www.irs.gov or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).


10 Tips to Ease Tax Time for Military

Military personnel have some unique duties, expenses and transitions. Some special tax benefits may apply when moving to a new base, traveling to a duty station, returning from active duty and more. These tips may put military members a bit “at ease” when it comes to their taxes.
1. Moving Expenses If you are a member of the Armed Forces on active duty and you move because of a permanent change of station, you can deduct the reasonable unreimbursed expenses of moving you and members of your household.
2. Combat Pay If you serve in a combat zone as an enlisted person or as a warrant officer for any part of a month, all your military pay received for military service that month is not taxable. For officers, the monthly exclusion is capped at the highest enlisted pay, plus any hostile fire or imminent danger pay received.
3. Extension of Deadlines The time for taking care of certain tax matters can be postponed. The deadline for filing tax returns, paying taxes, filing claims for refund, and taking other actions with the IRS is automatically extended for qualifying members of the military.
4. Uniform Cost and Upkeep If military regulations prohibit you from wearing certain uniforms when off duty, you can deduct the cost and upkeep of those uniforms, but you must reduce your expenses by any allowance or reimbursement you receive.
5. Joint Returns Generally, joint returns must be signed by both spouses. However, when one spouse may not be available due to military duty, a power of attorney may be used to file a joint return.
6. Travel to Reserve Duty If you are a member of the US Armed Forces Reserves, you can deduct unreimbursed travel expenses for traveling more than 100 miles away from home to perform your reserve duties.
7. ROTC Students Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay – such as pay received during summer advanced camp – is taxable.
8. Transitioning Back to Civilian Life You may be able to deduct some costs you incur while looking for a new job. Expenses may include travel, resume preparation fees, and outplacement agency fees. Moving expenses may be deductible if your move is closely related to the start of work at a new job location, and you meet certain tests.
9. Tax Help Most military installations offer free tax filing and preparation assistance during the filing season.
Tax Information IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, summarizes many important military-related tax topics. Publication 3 can be downloaded from www.irs.gov or may be ordered by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Trucker use tax: IRS announces new filing date

The Internal Revenue Service has advised truckers and other owners of heavy highway vehicles that their next federal highway use tax return, usually due August 31, will now be due on November 30, 2011.

Because the highway use tax is currently scheduled to expire on September 30, 2011, this extension is designed to alleviate any confusion and possible multiple filings that could result if Congress reinstates or modifies the tax after that date. Under temporary and proposed regulations filed in the Federal Register, the November 30 filing deadline for Form 2290, Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax Return, for the tax period that begins on July 1, 2011, applies to vehicles used during July, as well as those first used during August or September. Returns should not be filed and payments should not be made prior to November 1.

To aid truckers applying for state vehicle registration on or before November 30, the new regulations require states to accept as proof of payment the stamped Schedule 1 of the Form 2290 issued by the IRS for the prior tax year, ending on June 30, 2011. Under federal law, state governments are required to receive proof of payment of the federal highway use tax as a condition of vehicle registration. Normally, after a taxpayer files the return and pays the tax, the Schedule 1 is stamped by the IRS and returned to filers for this purpose. A state normally may accept a prior year’s stamped Schedule 1 as a substitute proof of payment only through September 30.

For those acquiring and registering a new or used vehicle during the July-to-November period, the new regulations require a state to register the vehicle, without proof that the highway use tax was paid, if the person registering the vehicle presents a copy of the bill of sale or similar document showing that the owner purchased the vehicle within the previous 150 days.

In general, the highway use tax applies to trucks, truck tractors, and buses with a gross taxable weight of 55,000 pounds or more. Ordinarily, vans, pick-up trucks, and panel trucks are not taxable because they fall below the 55,000-pound threshold.

For trucks and other taxable vehicles in use during July, the Form 2290 and payment are, under normal circumstances, due on August 31. The tax of up to $550 per vehicle is based on weight, and a variety of special rules apply to vehicles with minimal road use, logging or agricultural vehicles, vehicles transferred during the year and those first used on the road after July.

Last year, the IRS received about 650,000 Forms 2290 and highway use tax payments totaling $886 million.


Summer day camp expenses may qualify for a tax credit

Along with the summer come some extra expenses, including (possibly) day camp for children. It may be a pleasant surprise for some parents that the costs of sending their children to these camps may qualify for the child and dependent care tax credit.

Section 21 of the Internal Revenue Code provides for a credit, throughout the year, for child care costs incurred while a taxpayer is gainfully employed.

Many parents who work (or are looking for work) must arrange for the care of their children during the summer months when school is not in session. As such, the cost of day camp may count as an expense towards this credit, even if the camp specializes in a particular activity (such as soccer or computers). However, the costs of overnight camps do not qualify for the credit, nor do summer school or tutoring programs.

Claiming the credit

To be able to claim the credit, a taxpayer must meet several requirements and tests.

Qualifying person. In general, the expenses must be for the care of a person who may be claimed as a dependent by the taxpayer and who was under age 13 at the time the care was provided. Note: The taxpayer must include the qualifying person's name and social security number (or individual tax identification number) on the return on which the credit is claimed.

Earned income. To claim the credit, a taxpayer (and spouse, if filing jointly) must have earned income. This includes wages, salaries, tips, and other taxable employee compensation, and net earnings from self-employment; it also includes strike benefits and disability pay reported as wages. Earned income does not include pensions, annuities, Social Security and retirement benefits, interest and dividends, workers' compensation and unemployment benefits, or child support payments.

Work-related expenses. The camp expenses must be work-related; that is, they must allow the taxpayer (and the spouse) to work or look for work. This work can be work for others or in the taxpayer's own business or partnership. In addition, the work can be either full-time or part-time work.

Joint return. Generally, married couples must file a joint return to claim the credit. However, if a taxpayer is legally separated, he or she may be able to file a separate return and still take the credit,

Provider identification. The taxpayer must identify the person(s) or organization(s) that provide care for the child or dependent. The taxpayer must give the provider's name, address, and taxpayer identification number. If the care provider is an individual, the identification number is his or her Social Security number. If the provider is an organization, the identification number is the organization's employer identification number; if the care provider is a tax-exempt organization (such as a church or a school), the taxpayer need only write "TAX-EXEMPT" in the space in which the number is to be included.

Calculating the credit

The credit is a percentage of a taxpayer's work-related expenses.

Figuring total work-related expenses. Only those expenses paid during the current year may be counted. If a taxpayer paid for services in advance, the prepaid expenses can be counted only in the year in which the care is received.

Earned income limit. The amount of work-related expenses used to figure the credit cannot be more than the taxpayer's earned income for the year (if the taxpayer is single), or the smaller of the taxpayer's or spouse's earned income for the year (if the taxpayer is married, filing jointly). If a taxpayer is legally separated, or is married and living apart from his or her spouse, the taxpayer is not considered married for purposes of the earned income limit.

Note that community property laws are disregarded for purposes of this computation.

The earned income amount will include a taxpayer's net income from self-employment (generally the amount on line 3 of Schedule SE). If a taxpayer has low earnings from self-employment or a net loss, an optional method may be used for this calculation. This method may increase a taxpayer's earned income, which could increase his or her credit. (Note, however: this increase in earned income would, at the same time, lead to an increase in self-employment tax that the taxpayer would be required to pay.)

Dollar limit. Each year, a taxpayer may use up to $3,000 of the unreimbursed expenses paid in a year for one qualifying individual or $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals, to figure the credit. This $6,000 amount need not be divided equally among the qualifying persons.

If a taxpayer receives dependent care benefits from an employer, the applicable dollar to be used in the credit calculation limit may be reduced.

Amount of the credit. To determine the credit, a taxpayer must multiply the amount of work-related expenses by a percentage (between 20% and 35%), based on the taxpayer's adjusted gross income

Claiming the credit

To claim the dependent care credit, a taxpayer must use Form 1040, 1040A or 1040NR) as applicable) for reporting income tax. The credit may not be claimed on Form 1040EZ or 1040NR-EZ.

The amount of credit that may be claimed is limited to a taxpayer's regular tax plus any alternative minimum tax; that is, a taxpayer cannot receive a refund for any part of the credit that is more than this limit.


Summer day camp expenses may qualify for a tax credit


Tax Tips from the IRS for Students Starting a Summer Job

School’s out and many students will be starting summer jobs. The Internal Revenue Service reminds students that not all the money you earn may make it to your pocket. That’s because your employer must withhold taxes.

Here are six things the IRS wants students to be aware of when they start a summer job.

1. When you first start a new job you must fill out a Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. This form is used by employers to determine the amount of tax that will be withheld from your paycheck. If you have multiple summer jobs, make sure all your employers are withholding an adequate amount of taxes to cover your total income tax liability. To make sure your withholding is correct, use the Withholding Calculator on www.irs.gov.

2. Whether you are working as a waiter or a camp counselor, you may receive tips as part of your summer income. All tips you receive are taxable income and are therefore subject to federal income tax.

3. Many students do odd jobs over the summer to make extra cash. Earnings you receive from self-employment – including jobs like baby-sitting and lawn mowing – are subject to income tax.

4. If you have net earnings of $400 or more from self-employment, you will also have to pay self-employment tax. This tax pays for your benefits under the Social Security system. Social Security and Medicare benefits are available to individuals who are self-employed the same as they are to wage earners who have Social Security tax and Medicare tax withheld from their wages. The self-employment tax is figured on Form 1040, Schedule SE.

5. Food and lodging allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay – such as pay received during summer advanced camp – is taxable.

6. Special rules apply to services you perform as a newspaper carrier or distributor. You are a direct seller and treated as self-employed for federal tax purposes if you meet the following conditions:

• You are in the business of delivering newspapers.

• All your pay for these services directly relates to sales rather than to the number of hours worked.

• You perform the delivery services under a written contract which states that you will not be treated as an employee for federal tax purposes.


Summer Day Camp Expenses May Qualify for a Tax Credit

Along with the lazy, hazy days of summer come some extra expenses, including summer day camp. But, the IRS has some good news for parents: those added expenses may help you qualify for a tax credit.

Many parents who work or are looking for work must arrange for care of their children under 13 years of age during the school vacation.

Here are five facts the IRS wants you to know about a tax credit available for child care expenses. The Child and Dependent Care Credit is available for expenses incurred during the summer and throughout the rest of the year.

1. The cost of day camp may count as an expense towards the child and dependent care credit.

2. Expenses for overnight camps do not qualify.

3. Whether your childcare provider is a sitter at your home or a daycare facility outside the home, you'll get some tax benefit if you qualify for the credit.

4. The credit can be up to 35 percent of your qualifying expenses, depending on your income.

5. You may use up to $3,000 of the unreimbursed expenses paid in a year for one qualifying individual or $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals to figure the credit.

For more information check out IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses. This publication is available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


THE PERILS OF TAX SOFTWARE OR WHY IT PAYS TO HIRE A TAX PROFESSIONAL

The IRS’s statistics show that an increasing number of taxpayers are using software programs to prepare and file their own returns. However, the cost savings may not always be worth it. Especially when starting a new business, with the complexity of the laws, it is easy for taxpayers to overlook required filings and to mishandle business deductions. As your tax professional, I can help ensure that you do not pay too much or too little, and I can help you avoid mistakes that can lead to penalties.

Recently, a number of court cases have involved taxpayers who tried to avoid penalties by claiming the tax software program they were using caused the underpayment of tax. In case after case, the courts denied relief to the taxpayers, pointing out that the programs are only as good as the information the taxpayer puts into them. In not one case did the taxpayer win with this argument. Thus, hiring a tax professional can pay for itself very quickly with just the addition of often-overlooked business deductions and the avoidance of even small penalty amounts.


Eight Facts on Penalties

When it comes to filing a tax return – or not filing one - the IRS can assess a penalty if you fail to file, fail to pay or both. Here are eight important points the IRS wants you to know about the two different penalties you may face if you do not file or pay timely.

1. If you do not file by the deadline, you might face a failure-to-file penalty. If you do not pay by the due date, you could face a failure-to-pay penalty.

2. The failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty. So if you cannot pay all the taxes you owe, you should still file your tax return on time and explore other payment options in the meantime. The IRS will work with you.

3. The penalty for filing late is usually 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a return is late. This penalty will not exceed 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

4. If you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.

5. If you do not pay your taxes by the due date, you will generally have to pay a failure-to-pay penalty of ½ of 1 percent of your unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month after the due date that the taxes are not paid. This penalty can be as much as 25 percent of your unpaid taxes.

6. If you timely filed a request for an extension of time to file and you paid at least 90 percent of your actual tax liability by the original due date, you will not be faced with a failure-to-pay penalty if the remaining balance is paid by the extended due date.

7. If both the failure-to-file penalty and the failure-to-pay penalty apply in any month, the 5 percent failure-to-file penalty is reduced by the failure-to-pay penalty. However, if you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100% of the unpaid tax.

8. You will not have to pay a failure-to-file or failure-to-pay penalty if you can show that you failed to file or pay on time because of reasonable cause and not because of willful neglect.


Seven Facts about Injured Spouse Relief

If you file a joint return and all or part of your refund is applied against your spouses’ past-due federal tax, state income tax, child or spousal support or federal nontax debt, such as a student loan, you may be entitled to injured spouse relief.

Here are seven facts the IRS wants you to know about claiming injured spouse relief:

1. To be considered an injured spouse, you must have made and reported tax payments, such as federal income tax withheld from wages or estimated tax payments, or claimed a refundable tax credit, such as the earned income credit or additional child tax credit on the joint return, and not be legally obligated to pay the past-due amount.

2. If you live in a community property state, special rules apply. For more information about the factors used to determine whether you are subject to community property laws, see IRS Publication 555, Community Property.

3. If you filed a joint return and you're not responsible for the debt, but you are entitled to a portion of the refund you may request your portion of the refund by filing Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation.

4. You may file form 8379 along with your original tax return or your may file it by itself after you are notified of an offset.

5. You can file the Form 8379 electronically. If you file a paper tax return you can include Form 8379 with your return, write "INJURED SPOUSE" at the top left corner of the Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ. IRS will process your allocation request before an offset occurs.

6. If you are filing Form 8379 by itself, it must show both spouses' social security numbers in the same order as they appeared on your income tax return. You, the "injured" spouse, must sign the form.

7. Do not use Form 8379 if you are claiming innocent spouse relief. Instead, file Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief. This relief from a joint liability applies only in certain limited circumstances. IRS Publication 971, Innocent Spouse Relief, explains who may qualify, and how to request this relief.


Tax Refund Withholdings and Offsets

If you owe money because of certain delinquent debts, the IRS or the Department of Treasury's Financial Management Service (FMS), which issues IRS tax refunds, can offset or reduce your federal tax refund or withhold the entire amount to satisfy the debt.

Here are seven important facts the IRS wants you to know about tax refund offsets:

1. If you owe federal or state income taxes your refund will be offset to pay those taxes. If you had other debt such as child support or student loan debt that was submitted for offset, FMS will take as much of your refund as is needed to pay off the debt, and send it to the agency authorized to collect the debt. Any portion of your refund remaining after an offset will be refunded to you.

2. You will receive a notice if an offset occurs. The notice will reflect the original refund amount, your offset amount, the agency receiving the payment, and the address and telephone number of the agency.

3. You should contact the agency shown on the notice if you believe you do not owe the debt or you are disputing the amount taken from your refund.

4. If you filed a joint return and you're not responsible for the debt, but you are entitled to a portion of the refund, you may request your portion of the refund by filing IRS Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation. Attach Form 8379 to your original Form 1040, Form 1040A, or Form 1040EZ or file it by itself after you are notified of an offset.

5. If you file a Form 8379 with your return, write "INJURED SPOUSE" at the top left corner of the Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ. IRS will process your allocation request before an offset occurs.

6. If you are filing Form 8379 by itself, it must show both spouses' social security numbers in the same order as they appeared on your income tax return. You, the "injured" spouse, must sign the form. Do not attach the previously filed Form 1040 to the Form 8379. Send Form 8379 to the Service Center where you filed your original return.

7. The IRS will compute the injured spouse's share of the joint return for you. Contact the IRS only if your original refund amount shown on the FMS offset notice differs from the refund amount shown on your tax return.

Follow the instructions on Form 8379 carefully and be sure to attach the required forms to avoid delays. If a notice is not received contact the Financial Management Service at 800–304–3107, Monday through Friday from 7:30AM to 5 PM (Central Time).

For assistance with completing Form 8379, call the IRS toll-free number 800-829-1040.


Four Facts About Bartering

In today’s economy, small business owners sometimes look to the oldest form of commerce – the exchange of goods and services, or bartering. The IRS wants to remind small business owners that the fair market value of property or services received through barter is taxable income.

Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another. Usually there is no exchange of cash. However, the fair market value of the goods and services exchanged must be reported as income by both parties.

Here are four facts about bartering that the IRS wants small business owners to be aware of:

1. Barter Exchange A barter exchange functions primarily as the organizer of a marketplace where members buy and sell products and services among themselves. Whether this activity operates out of a physical office or is internet based, a barter exchange is generally required to issue Form 1099-B, Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions, annually to their clients or members and to the IRS.

2. Barter Income Barter dollars or trade dollars are identical to real dollars for tax reporting. If you conduct any direct barter - barter for another’s products or services - you will have to report the fair market value of the products or services you received on your tax return.

3. Taxes Income from bartering is taxable in the year it is performed. Bartering may result in liabilities for income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax, or excise tax. Your barter activities may result in ordinary business income, capital gains or capital losses, or you may have a nondeductible personal loss.

4. Reporting The rules for reporting barter transactions may vary depending on which form of bartering takes place. Generally, you report this type of business income on Form 1040, Schedule C Profit or Loss from Business, or other business returns such as Form 1065 for Partnerships, Form 1120 for Corporations, or Form 1120-S for Small Business Corporations.

NOTE; EVEN IF YOU DO NOT USE A BARTERING EXCHANGE, THESE RULES STILL APPLY.


Five Tips if You Changed Your Name Due to Marriage or Divorce

If you changed your name as a result of a recent marriage or divorce you’ll want to take the necessary steps to ensure the name on your tax return matches the name registered with the Social Security Administration. A mismatch between the name shown on your tax return and the SSA records can cause problems in the processing of your return and may even delay your refund.

Here are five tips from the IRS for recently married or divorced taxpayers who have a name change.

1. If you took your spouse’s last name or if both spouses hyphenate their last names, you may run into complications if you don’t notify the SSA. When newlyweds file a tax return using their new last names, IRS computers can’t match the new name with their Social Security Number.

2. If you were recently divorced and changed back to your previous last name, you’ll also need to notify the SSA of this name change.

3. Informing the SSA of a name change is easy; you’ll just need to file a Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card at your local SSA office and provide a recently issued document as proof of your legal name change.

4. Form SS-5 is available on SSA’s website at http://www.socialsecurity.gov, by calling 800-772-1213 or at local offices. Your new card will have the same number as your previous card, but will show your new name.

5. If you adopted your spouse’s children after getting married, you’ll want to make sure the children have an SSN. Taxpayers must provide an SSN for each dependent claimed on a tax return. For adopted children without SSNs, the parents can apply for an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number – or ATIN – 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 website at http://www.irs.gov, or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Don’t Panic! Eight Things to Know If You Receive an IRS Notice

The Internal Revenue Service sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers every year. Here are eight things taxpayers should know about IRS notices – just in case one shows up in your mailbox.

1. Don’t panic. Many of these letters can be dealt with simply and painlessly.

2. There are a number of reasons why the IRS might send you a notice. Notices may request payment of taxes, notify you of changes to your account, or request additional information. The notice you receive normally covers a very specific issue about your account or tax return.

3. Each letter and notice offers specific instructions on what you are asked to do to satisfy the inquiry.

4. If you receive a correction notice, you should review the correspondence and compare it with the information on your return.

5. If you agree with the correction to your account, then usually no reply is necessary unless a payment is due or the notice directs otherwise.

6. If you do not agree with the correction the IRS made, it is important that you respond as requested. You should send a written explanation of why you disagree and include any documents and information you want the IRS to consider, along with the bottom tear-off portion of the notice. Mail the information to the IRS address shown in the upper left-hand corner of the notice. Allow at least 30 days for a response.

7. Most correspondence can be handled without calling or visiting an IRS office. However, if you have questions, call the telephone number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice. Have a copy of your tax return and the correspondence available when you call to help us respond to your inquiry.

8. It’s important that you keep copies of any


Three Ways to Pay Your Federal Income Tax

People who owe taxes but can’t pay the full amount owed by the April deadline should still file their return on time and pay as much as they can to avoid penalties and interest. If you can’t pay the full amount, you should contact the IRS to ask about alternative payment options. Here are some of the alternative payment options you may want to consider:

Additional Time to Pay Based on your circumstances, you may be granted a short additional time to pay your tax in full. A brief additional amount of time to pay can be requested through the Online Payment Agreement application at IRS.gov or by calling 800-829-1040. Taxpayers who request and are granted an additional 30 to 120 days to pay the tax in full generally will pay less in penalties and interest than if the debt were repaid through an installment agreement over a greater period of time.

Installment Agreement You can apply for an IRS installment agreement using the Web-based Online Payment Agreement application on IRS.gov. This Web-based application allows taxpayers who owe $25,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interestto self-qualify, apply for, and receive immediate notification of approval. You can also request an installment agreement before your current tax liabilities are actually assessed by using OPA. The OPA option provides you with a simple and convenient way to establish an installment agreement and eliminates the need for personal interaction with IRS and reduces paper processing. You may also complete and submit a Form 9465, make your request in writing, or call 1-800-829-1040 to make your request. For balances over $25,000, you are required to complete a financial statement to determine the monthly payment amount for an installment plan. For more complete information see Tax Topic 202, Tax Payment Options on IRS.gov.

Pay by Credit Card or Debit Card You can charge your taxes on your American Express, MasterCard, Visa or Discover credit cards. Additionally, you can pay by using your debit card. However, the debit card must be a Visa Consumer Debit Card, or a NYCE, Pulse or Star Debit Card.

To pay by credit card or debit card, contact one of the service providers at its telephone number or Web site listed below and follow the instructions. There is no IRS fee for credit or debit card payments, but the processing companies charge a convenience fee or flat fee. If you are paying by credit card, the service providers charge a convenience fee based on the amount you are paying. If you are paying by debit card, the service providers charge a flat fee of $3.89 to $3.95.Do not add the convenience fee or flat fee to your tax payment.

The processing companies are:

Official Payments Corporation:
To pay by debit or credit card: 888-UPAY-TAX (888-872-9829),
www.officialpayments.com/fed

Link2Gov Corporation:
To pay by debit or credit card: 888-PAY-1040 (888-729-1040),
www.pay1040.com

RBS WorldPay, Inc.
To pay by debit or credit card: 888-9PAY-TAX (888-972-9829),
www.payUSAtax.com

For more information about filing and paying your taxes, visit IRS.gov and choose 1040 Central or refer to the Form 1040 Instructions or IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax. You can download forms and publications at IRS.gov or request a free copy by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Ten Tips for Deducting Charitable Contributions

When preparing to file your federal tax return, don’t forget your contributions to charitable organizations. If you made qualified donations last year, you may be able to take a tax deduction if you itemize on IRS Form 1040, Schedule A.

The IRS has put together the following 10 tips to help ensure your contributions pay off on your tax return.

1. Contributions must be made to qualified organizations to be deductible. You cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates.

2. You cannot deduct the value of your time or services. Nor can you deduct the cost of raffles, bingo or other games of chance.

3. If your contributions entitle you to merchandise, goods or services, including admission to a charity ball, banquet, theatrical performance or sporting event, you can deduct only the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received.

4. Donations of stock or other property are usually valued at the fair market value of the property. Special rules apply to donation of vehicles.

5. Clothing and household items donated must generally be in good used condition or better to be deductible.

6. Regardless of the amount, to deduct a contribution of cash, check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written communication from the organization containing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution and amount of the contribution. For donations by text message, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the organization receiving your donation, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.

7. To claim a deduction for contributions of cash or property equaling $250 or more you must have a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written acknowledgment from the qualified organization showing the amount of the cash and a description of any property contributed, and whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the gift. One document may satisfy both the written communication requirement for monetary gifts and the written acknowledgement requirement for all contributions of $250 or more.

8. If your total deduction for all noncash contributions for the year is over $500, you must complete and attach IRS Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, to your return.

9. Taxpayers donating an item or a group of similar items valued at more than $5,000 must also complete Section B of Form 8283, which requires an appraisal by a qualified appraiser.

10. To deduct a charitable contribution, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A.

For more information on charitable contributions, refer to Form 8283 and its instructions, as well as Publication 526, Charitable Contributions. For information on determining value, refer to Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property. These forms and publications are available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Six Things You Need to Know About Your Economic Recovery Payment

Did you receive a $250 Economic Recovery Payment in 2009? You'll need to know if you are claiming the Making Work Pay Tax Credit on your 2009 tax return.

Only individuals who received income from the Social Security Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and Railroad Retirement Board received a $250 Economic Recovery Payment.

If you received benefits from one or more of these agencies, but you are unsure if you received the $250 Economic Recovery Payment, you can find out by using the "Did I Receive a 2009 Economic Recovery Payment?" feature online at IRS.gov or by calling 1-866-234-2942. These tools give you an easy way to verify if you received the one-time Economic Recovery Payment and which agency made the payment. These payments must be included when claiming the Making Work Pay Tax Credit on 2009 tax returns.

Here are six tips from the IRS that will help you determine if you received an Economic Recovery Payment:

1. If you had earned income in 2009 or are a government retiree and received an Economic Recovery Payment you need to report the payment and the amount when claiming the Making Work Pay and Government Retiree Credit on Schedule M, Making Work Pay Credit and Government Retiree Credits or as you complete your return using e-file software.

2. The Economic Recovery Payments are not taxable income; however, anyone who receives social security, veteran or railroad retirement benefits, as well as certain other government retirement benefits, must reduce the Making Work Pay Tax Credit they claim by the amount of any payment they received in 2009.

3. To verify whether you received the $250 payment, you can call 1-866-234-2942 and select Option 1 to access the "Did I Receive a 2009 Economic Recovery Payment?" telephone feature. The online version for verifying your Economic Recovery Payment will be available on IRS.gov in mid-March.

4. When using the "Did I Receive a 2009 Economic Recovery Payment?" feature to determine if you received an Economic Recovery Payment, you must provide your Social Security number, date of birth and zip code from your last filed tax return.

5. You must make a separate inquiry for each person on the tax return when using the "Did I Receive a 2009 Economic Recovery Payment?", even if you are filing a joint tax return.

6. Not claiming the Economic Recovery Payment on the Schedule M can delay the processing of your tax return. To avoid delays be sure to use the "Did I Receive a 2009 Economic Recovery Payment?" feature to find out if you received the payment.

More information about the Economic Recovery Payment and the Making Work Pay Tax Credit can be found at IRS.gov/recovery. Schedule M and the related instructions can be obtained at IRS.gov or can be ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Additional Standard Deduction for Real Estate Taxes

The IRS wants taxpayers who pay state or local real estate taxes but don’t qualify to itemize their tax deductions, to know that they may qualify for an increased standard deduction. This is the last year that the higher standard deduction for real estate taxes is available.

Here are six things you need to know about the higher standard deduction for real estate taxes:

1. The additional deduction amount is equal to the amount of real estate taxes paid, or $500 for single filers or $1,000 for joint filers, whichever is less.

2. The taxes must be imposed on you.

3. You must have paid the taxes during your tax year.

4. The taxes must be levied for general public welfare on the assessed value of the real property and charged uniformly on all property under the jurisdiction of the taxing authority. Many states and counties also impose local benefit taxes for improvements to property, such as assessments for streets, sidewalks and sewer lines. These taxes usually cannot be deducted.

5. Real estate taxes paid on foreign or business property do not qualify for the increased standard deduction.

6. You must file a Form 1040 or 1040A and attach Schedule L, Standard Deduction for Certain Filers, to claim the increased deduction. When claiming the higher standard deduction for real estate taxes, be sure to check the box on line 40b of Form 1040 or line 24b of Form 1040A.

For more information, see Form 1040 or 1040A Instructions and Schedule L instructions. The forms and instructions can be downloaded at IRS.gov or ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Ten Facts about Claiming the Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit is a valuable credit that can significantly reduce your tax liability. Here are 10 important facts from the IRS about this credit and how it may benefit your family.

1. Amount - With the Child Tax Credit, you may be able to reduce your federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child under the age of 17.

2. Qualification - A qualifying child for this credit is someone who meets the qualifying criteria of six tests: age, relationship, support, dependent, citizenship, and residence.

3. Age Test - To qualify, a child must have been under age 17 – age 16 or younger – at the end of 2009.

4. Relationship Test - To claim a child for purposes of the Child Tax Credit, they must either be your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister or a descendant of any of these individuals, which includes your grandchild, niece or nephew. An adopted child is always treated as your own child. An adopted child includes a child lawfully placed with you for legal adoption.

5. Support Test - In order to claim a child for this credit, the child must not have provided more than half of their own support.

6. Dependent Test - You must claim the child as a dependent on your federal tax return.

7. Citizenship Test - To meet the citizenship test, the child must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or U.S. resident alien.

8. Residence Test - The child must have lived with you for more than half of 2009. There are some exceptions to the residence test, which can be found in IRS Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.

9. Limitations - The credit is limited if your modified adjusted gross income is above a certain amount. The amount at which this phase-out begins varies depending on your filing status. For married taxpayers filing a joint return, the phase-out begins at $110,000. For married taxpayers filing a separate return, it begins at $55,000. For all other taxpayers, the phase-out begins at $75,000. In addition, the Child Tax Credit is generally limited by the amount of the income tax you owe as well as any alternative minimum tax you owe.

10. Additional Child tax Credit - If the amount of your Child Tax Credit is greater than the amount of income tax you owe, you may be able to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit.

For more information, see IRS Publication 972, Child Tax Credit, available at the IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Seven Things You Should Know About Checking the Status of Your Refund

Are you expecting a tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service this year? If so, here are seven things you should know about checking the status of your refund once you have filed your federal tax return.

1. Online Access to Refund Information Where’s My Refund? or ¿Dónde está mi reembolso? are interactive tools on IRS.gov and the fastest, easiest way to get information about your federal income tax refund. Whether you split your refund among several accounts, opted for direct deposit into one account, used part of your refund to buy U.S. savings bonds or asked the IRS to mail you a check, Where’s My Refund? and ¿Dónde está mi reembolso? give you online access to your refund information nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s quick, easy and secure.

2. When to Check Refund Status If you e-file, you can get refund information 72 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of your return. If you file a paper return, refund information will generally be available three to four weeks after mailing your return.

3. What You Need to Check Refund Status When checking the status of your refund, have your federal tax return handy. To get your personalized refund information you must enter:

• Your Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number

• Your filing status which will be Single, Married Filing Joint Return, Married Filing Separate Return, Head of Household, or Qualifying Widow(er)

• Exact whole dollar refund amount shown on your tax return

4. What the Online Tool Will Tell You Once you enter your personal information, you could get several responses, including:

• Acknowledgement that your return was received and is in processing.

• The mailing date or direct deposit date of your refund.

• Notice that the IRS could not deliver your refund due to an incorrect address. In this instance, you may be able to change or correct your address online using Where’s My Refund?.

5. Customized Information Where’s My Refund? also includes links to customized information based on your specific situation. The links guide you through the steps to resolve any issues affecting your refund. For example, if you do not get the refund within 28 days from the original IRS mailing date shown on Where’s My Refund?, you may be able to start a refund trace.

6. Visually Impaired Taxpayers Where’s My Refund? is also accessible to visually impaired taxpayers who use the Job Access with Speech screen reader used with a Braille display and is compatible with different JAWS modes.

7. Toll-free Number If you do not have internet access, you can check the status of your refund in English or Spanish by calling the IRS Refund Hotline at 800-829-1954 or the IRS TeleTax System at 800-829-4477. When calling, you must provide your or your spouse’s Social Security number, filing status and the exact whole dollar refund amount shown on your return.

Refund checks are normally sent out weekly on Fridays. If you check the status of your refund and are not given the date it will be issued, please wait until the next week before checking back.


10 Facts About Capital Gains and Losses

Have you heard of capital gains and losses? If not, you may want to read up on them because they might have an impact on your tax return. The IRS wants you to know these ten facts about gains and losses and how they could affect your tax situation.

1. Almost everything you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset.

2. When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you sell it for and your basis – which is usually what you paid for it – is a capital gain or a capital loss.

3. You must report all capital gains.

4. You may deduct capital losses only on investment property, not on property held for personal use.

5. Capital gains and losses are classified as long-term or short-term, depending on how long you hold the property before you sell it. If you hold it more than one year, your capital gain or loss is long-term. If you hold it one year or less, your capital gain or loss is short-term.

6. If you have long-term gains in excess of your long-term losses, you have a net capital gain to the extent your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, if any.

7. The tax rates that apply to net capital gain are generally lower than the tax rates that apply to other income. For 2009, the maximum capital gains rate for most people is15%. For lower-income individuals, the rate may be 0% on some or all of the net capital gain. Special types of net capital gain can be taxed at 25% or 28%.

8. If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, the excess can be deducted on your tax return and used to reduce other income, such as wages, up to an annual limit of $3,000, or $1,500 if you are married filing separately.

9. If your total net capital loss is more than the yearly limit on capital loss deductions, you can carry over the unused part to the next year and treat it as if you incurred it in that next year.

10. Capital gains and losses are reported on Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses, and then transferred to line 13of Form 1040.

For more information about reporting capital gains and losses, see the Schedule D instructions, Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses or Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax. All forms and publications are available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Gambling Winnings Are Always Taxable Income

Gambling winnings are fully taxable and must be reported on your tax return. Here are the top seven facts the Internal Revenue Service wants you to know about gambling winnings.

1. Gambling income includes – but is not limited to – winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse and dog races and casinos, as well as the fair market value of prizes such as cars, houses, trips or other noncash prizes.

2. Depending on the type and amount of your winnings, the payer might provide you with a Form W-2G and may have withheld federal income taxes from the payment.

3. The full amount of your gambling winnings for the year must be reported on line 21 of IRS Form 1040. You may not use Form 1040A or 1040EZ. This rule applies regardless of the amount and regardless of whether you receive a Form W-2G or any other reporting form.

4. If you itemize deductions, you can deduct your gambling losses for the year on line 28 of Schedule A, Form 1040.

5. You cannot deduct gambling losses that are more than your winnings.

6. It is important to keep an accurate diary or similar record of your gambling winnings and losses.

7. To deduct your losses, you must be able to provide receipts, tickets, statements or other records that show the amount of both your winnings and losses.

For more information see IRS Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions, or Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income, both available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Seven Facts About Social Security Benefits

If you received Social Security benefits in 2009, you need to know whether or not these benefits are taxable. Here are seven facts the Internal Revenue Service wants you to know about Social Security benefits so you can determine whether or not they are taxable to you.

1. How much – if any – of your Social Security benefits are taxable depends on your total income and marital status.

2. Generally, if Social Security benefits were your only income for 2009, your benefits are not taxable and you probably do not need to file a federal income tax return.

3. If you received income from other sources, your benefits will not be taxed unless your modified adjusted gross income is more than the base amount for your filing status.

4. Your taxable benefits and modified adjusted gross income are figured on a worksheet in the Form 1040A or Form 1040 Instruction booklet.

5. You can do the following quick computation to determine whether some of your benefits may be taxable:

• First, add one-half of the total Social Security benefits you received to all your other income, including any tax exempt interest and other exclusions from income.

• Then, compare this total to the base amount for your filing status. If the total is more than your base amount, some of your benefits may be taxable.

6. The 2009 base amounts are:

• $32,000 for married couples filing jointly.

• $25,000 for single, head of household, qualifying widow/widower with a dependent child, or married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouses at any time during the year.

• $0 for married persons filing separately who lived together during the year.

7. For additional information on the taxability of Social Security benefits, see IRS Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits. Publication 915 is available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676)


Top Ten Facts about Taking Early Distributions from Retirement Plans

Some taxpayers may have needed to take an early distribution from their retirement plan last year. The IRS wants individuals who took an early distribution to know that there can be a tax impact to tapping your retirement fund. Here are ten facts about early distributions.

1. Payments you receive from your Individual Retirement Arrangement before you reach age 59 ½ are generally considered early or premature distributions.

2. Early distributions are usually subject to an additional 10 percent tax.

3. Early distributions must also be reported to the IRS.

4. Distributions you rollover to another IRA or qualified retirement plan are not subject to the additional 10 percent tax. You must complete the rollover within 60 days after the day you received the distribution.

5. The amount you roll over is generally taxed when the new plan makes a distribution to you or your beneficiary.

6. If you made nondeductible contributions to an IRA and later take early distributions from your IRA, the portion of the distribution attributable to those nondeductible contributions is not taxed.

7. If you received an early distribution from a Roth IRA, the distribution attributable to your prior contributions is not taxed.

8. If you received a distribution from any other qualified retirement plan, generally the entire distribution is taxable unless you made after-tax employee contributions to the plan.

9. There are several exceptions to the additional 10 percent early distribution tax, such as when the distributions are used for the purchase of a first home, for certain medical or educational expenses, or if you are disabled.

10. For more information about early distributions from retirement plans, the additional 10 percent tax and all the exceptions see IRS Publication 575, Pension and Annuity Income and Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). Both publications are available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Five Ways to Offset Education Cost

College can be very expensive. To help students and their parents, the IRS offers the following five ways to offset education costs.

1. The American Opportunity Credit This credit can help parents and students pay part of the cost of the first four years of college. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act modifies the existing Hope Credit for tax years 2009 and 2010, making it available to a broader range of taxpayers. Eligible taxpayers may qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Generally, 40 percent of the credit is refundable, which means that you may be able to receive up to $1,000, even if you owe no taxes.

2. The Hope Credit The credit can help students and parents pay part of the cost of the first two years of college. This credit generally applies to 2008 and earlier tax years. However, for tax year 2009 a special expanded Hope Credit of up to $3,600 may be claimed for a student attending college in a Midwestern disaster area as long as you do not claim an American Opportunity Tax Credit for any other student in 2009.

3. The Lifetime Learning Credit This credit can help pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses – including courses to improve job skills – regardless of the number of years in the program. Eligible taxpayers may qualify for up to $2,000 – $4,000 if a student in a Midwestern disaster area – per tax return.

4. Enhanced benefits for 529 college savings plans Certain computer technology purchases are now added to the list of college expenses that can be paid for by a qualified tuition program, commonly referred to as a 529 plan. For 2009 and 2010, the law expands the definition of qualified higher education expenses to include expenses for computer technology and equipment or Internet access and related services.

5. Tuition and fees deduction Students and their parents may be able to deduct qualified college tuition and related expenses of up to $4,000. This deduction is an adjustment to income, which means the deduction will reduce the amount of your income subject to tax. The Tuition and Fees Deduction may be beneficial to you if you do not qualify for the American opportunity, Hope, or lifetime learning credits.

You cannot claim the American Opportunity and the Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits for the same student in the same year. You also cannot claim any of the credits if you claim a tuition and fees deduction for the same student in the same year. To qualify for an education credit, you must pay post-secondary tuition and certain related expenses for yourself, your spouse or your dependent. The credit may be claimed by the parent or the student, but not by both. Students who are claimed as a dependent cannot claim the credit.

For more information, see Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, which can be obtained online at IRS.gov or by calling the IRS at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Five Important Facts About Your Unemployment Benefits

Taxpayers who received unemployment benefits in 2009 are entitled to a special tax break when they file their 2009 federal tax returns. This tax break is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Here are five important facts the Internal Revenue Service wants you to know about your unemployment benefits.

1. Unemployment compensation generally includes any amounts received under the unemployment compensation laws of the United States or of a specific state. It includes state unemployment insurance benefits, railroad unemployment compensation benefits and benefits paid to you by a state or the District of Columbia from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund. It does not include worker's compensation.

2. Normally, unemployment benefits are taxable; however, under the Recovery Act, every person who receives unemployment benefits during 2009 is eligible to exclude the first $2,400 of these benefits when they file their federal tax return.

3. For a married couple, if each spouse received unemployment compensation then each is eligible to exclude the first $2,400 of benefits.

4. You should receive a Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments, which shows the total unemployment compensation paid to you in 2009 in box 1.

5. You must subtract $2,400 from the amount in box 1 of Form 1099-G to figure how much of your unemployment compensation is taxable and must be reported on your federal tax return. Do not enter less than zero.
For more information, visit IRS.gov/recovery.


Four Steps to Follow If You Are Missing a W-2

Four Steps to Follow If You Are Missing a W-2
Getting ready to file your tax return? Make sure you have all your documents before you start. You should receive a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement from each of your employers. Employers have until February 1, 2010 to send you a 2009 Form W-2 earnings statement. If you haven’t received your W-2, follow these four steps:

1. Contact your employer If you have not received your W-2, contact your employer to inquire if and when the W-2 was mailed. If it was mailed, it may have been returned to the employer because of an incorrect or incomplete address. After contacting the employer, allow a reasonable amount of time for them to resend or to issue the W-2.

2. Contact the IRS If you do not receive your W-2 by February 16th, contact the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040. When you call, you must provide your name, address, city and state, including zip code, Social Security number, phone number and have the following information:

• Employer’s name, address, city and state, including zip code and phone number
• Dates of employment
• An estimate of the wages you earned, the federal income tax withheld, and when you worked for that employer during 2009. The estimate should be based on year-to-date information from your final pay stub or leave-and-earnings statement, if possible.

3. File your return You still must file your tax return or request an extension to file by April 15, even if you do not receive your Form W-2. If you have not received your Form W-2 by April 15th, and have completed steps 1 and 2, you may use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Attach Form 4852 to the return, estimating income and withholding taxes as accurately as possible. There may be a delay in any refund due while the information is verified.

4. File a Form 1040X On occasion, you may receive your missing W-2 after you filed your return using Form 4852, and the information may be different from what you reported on your return. If this happens, you must amend your return by filing a Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Form 4852, Form 1040X, and instructions are available on the IRS Web site, IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Seven Important Facts about Claiming the First-Time Homebuyer Credit

If you purchased a home in 2009 or early 2010, you may be eligible to claim the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, whether you are a first-time homebuyer or a long-time resident purchasing a new home.

Here are seven things the IRS wants you to know about claiming the credit:

1. You must buy – or enter into a binding contract to buy – a principal residence located in the United States on or before April 30, 2010. If you enter into a binding contract by April 30, 2010, you must close on the home on or before June 30, 2010.

2. To be considered a first-time homebuyer, you and your spouse – if you are married – must not have jointly or separately owned another principal residence during the three years prior to the date of purchase.

3. To be considered a long-time resident homebuyer you and your spouse – if you are married – must have lived in the same principal residence for any consecutive five-year period during the eight-year period that ended on the date the new home is purchased. Additionally, your settlement date must be after November 6, 2009.

4. The maximum credit for a first-time homebuyer is $8,000. The maximum credit for a long-time resident homebuyer is $6,500.

5. You must file a paper return and attach Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit and Repayment of the Credit with additional documents to verify the purchase. Therefore, if you claim the credit you will not be able to file electronically.

6. New homebuyers must attach a copy of a properly executed settlement statement used to complete such purchase. Buyers of a newly constructed home, where a settlement statement is not available, must attach a copy of the dated certificate of occupancy. Mobile home purchasers who are unable to get a settlement statement must attach a copy of the retail sales contract.

7. If you are a long-time resident claiming the credit, the IRS recommends that you also attach any documentation covering the five-consecutive-year period, including Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement or substitute mortgage interest statements, property tax records or homeowner’s insurance records.

For more information about these rules including details about documentation and other eligibility requirements visit IRS.gov/recovery.


Is this Income Taxable?

While most income you receive is generally considered taxable, there are some situations when certain types of income are partially taxed or not taxed at all.

To ensure taxpayers are familiar with the difference between taxable and non-taxable income, the Internal Revenue Service offers these common examples of items that are not included in your income:

• Adoption Expense Reimbursements for qualifying expenses

• Child support payments

• Gifts, bequests and inheritances

• Workers' compensation benefits

• Meals and Lodging for the convenience of your employer

• Compensatory Damages awarded for physical injury or physical sickness

• Welfare Benefits

• Cash Rebates from a dealer or manufacturer
Some income may be taxable under certain circumstances, but not taxable in other situations. Examples of items that may or may not be included in your income are:

• Life Insurance If you surrender a life insurance policy for cash, you must include in income any proceeds that are more than the cost of the life insurance policy. Life insurance proceeds, which were paid to you because of the insured person’s death, are not taxable unless the policy was turned over to you for a price.

• Scholarship or Fellowship Grant If you are a candidate for a degree, you can exclude amounts you receive as a qualified scholarship or fellowship. Amounts used for room and board do not qualify.

• Non-cash Income Taxable income may be in a form other than cash. One example of this is bartering, which is an exchange of property or services. The fair market value of goods and services exchanged is fully taxable and must be included as income on Form 1040 of both parties.

All other items—including income such as wages, salaries and tips—must be included in your income unless it is specifically excluded by law.

These examples are not all-inclusive. For more information, see Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income, which can be obtained at IRS.gov or by calling the IRS at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Be Sure to Know Whether You Qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit, commonly referred to as EITC, can be a financial boost for working people adversely impacted by hard economic times. However, one in four eligible taxpayers could miss out on the credit because they don’t check it out. Here are the top 10 things the Internal Revenue Service wants you to know about this valuable credit, which has been making the lives of working people a little easier for 35 years.

1. Just because you didn’t qualify last year, doesn’t mean you won’t this year. As your financial, marital or parental situations change from year-to-year, you should review the EITC eligibility rules to determine whether you qualify.

2. If you qualify, it could be worth up to $5,657 this year. EITC not only reduces the federal tax you owe, but could result in a refund. The amount of your EITC is based on the amount of your earned income and whether or not there are qualifying children in your household. New EITC provisions mean more money for larger families.

3. If you qualify, you must file a federal income tax return and specifically claim the credit in order to get it – even if you are not otherwise required to file.

4. Your filing status cannot be Married Filing Separately.

5. You must have a valid Social Security Number. You, your spouse – if filing a joint return – and any qualifying child listed on Schedule EIC must have a valid SSN issued by the Social Security Administration.

6. You must have earned income. You have earned income if you work for someone who pays you wages, you are self-employed, you have income from farming, or – in some cases – you receive disability income.

7. Married couples and single people without kids may qualify. If you do not have qualifying children, you must also meet the age and residency requirements as well as dependency rules.

8. Special rules apply to members of the U.S. Armed Forces in combat zones. Members of the military can elect to include their nontaxable combat pay in earned income for the EITC. If you make this election, the combat pay remains nontaxable.

9. It’s easy to determine whether you qualify. The EITC Assistant, an interactive tool available on IRS.gov, removes the guesswork from eligibility rules. Just answer a few simple questions to find out if you qualify and estimate the amount of your EITC.

10. Free help is available at volunteer assistance sites and IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers to help you prepare and claim your EITC. If you are preparing your taxes electronically, the software program you use will figure the credit for you. If you qualify for the credit you may also be eligible for Free File. You can access Free File at IRS.gov.

For more information about the EITC, see IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit. This publication – available in both English and Spanish – can be downloaded from IRS.gov or ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Five Tips for Avoiding Refund Delays Relating to Your Economic Recovery Payment

The $250 Economic Recovery Payments that were issued in 2009 by the Social Security Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and Railroad Retirement Board must be included when claiming the Making Work Pay Tax Credit on 2009 tax returns. Many people who worked during 2009 and also received a $250 Economic Recovery Payment in 2009 are slowing down their tax refunds by not properly including the payments when claiming the Making Work Pay Tax Credit.
Here are five tips from the IRS that will help you avoid these refund delays:

1. If you worked during 2009, you may be eligible to claim the Making Work Pay Tax Credit that was established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and is worth up to $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples.

2. The Economic Recovery Payments are not taxable income; however, anyone who receives social security, veteran or railroad retirement benefits, as well as certain other government retirement benefits, must reduce the Making Work Pay Tax Credit they claim by the amount of any payment they received in 2009.

3. Taxpayers with earned income should claim the credit by attaching Schedule M to their 2009 income tax return.

4. To help avoid delays when you claim the credit, make sure you properly report your Economic Recovery Payment on IRS Schedule M, Making Work Pay and Government Retiree Credits.

5. If you are not certain whether you received the $250 payment, you should verify that information by contacting the appropriate agency before preparing and filing your tax return and claiming the Making Work Pay Tax Credit.

More information about the Economic Recovery Payment and the Making Work Pay Tax Credit can be found at IRS.gov/recovery. Schedule M and the related instructions can be obtained at IRS.gov or can be ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Seven Things You Need to Know About the Government Retiree Credit

Certain government retirees who receive a government pension or annuity payment in 2009 may be eligible for the Government Retiree Credit. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides this one-time credit of $250 for certain federal and state pensioners.
Here are seven things the IRS wants you to know about the Government Retiree Credit:

1. You can take this credit if you receive a pension or annuity payment in 2009 for service performed for the U.S. Government or any U.S. state or local government and the service was not covered by social security.

2. Recipients of the Making Work Pay Credit will have that credit reduced by any Government Retiree Credit they receive.

3. The credit is $250 for individuals and $500 if married filing jointly and both you and your spouse receive a qualifying pension or annuity.

4. You must have a valid social security number to claim the credit. If married filing jointly, both spouses must have a valid social security number to each claim the $250 credit.

5. You cannot take the credit if you received a $250 economic recovery payment in 2009.

6. This is a refundable credit, which means it may give you a refund even if you had no tax withheld from your pension.

7. To claim the credit, you must complete Schedule M, Making Work Pay and Government Retiree Credits, and attach it to your Form 1040A or 1040.


Ten Facts About Claiming Donations Made to Haiti

If you are donating to charities providing earthquake relief in Haiti, you may be able to claim those donations on your 2009 tax return. Here are 10 important facts the Internal Revenue Service wants you to know about this special provision.

1. A new law allows you to claim donations for Haitian relief on your 2009 tax return, which you will be filing this year.

2. The contributions must be made specifically for the relief of victims in areas affected by the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.

3. To be eligible for a deduction on the 2009 tax return, donations must be made after Jan. 11, 2010 and before March 1, 2010.

4. In order to be deductible, contributions must be made to qualified charities and can not be designated for the benefit of specific individuals or families.

5. The new law applies only to cash contributions.

6. Cash contributions made by text message, check, credit card or debit card may be claimed on your federal tax return.

7. You must itemize your deductions in order to claim these donations on your tax return.

8. You have the option of deducting these contributions on either your 2009 or 2010 tax return, but not both.

9. Contributions made to foreign organizations generally are not deductible. You can find out more about organizations helping Haitian earthquake victims from agencies such as the U.S. Agency for International Development ( www.usaid.gov).

10. Federal law requires that you keep a record of any deductible donations you make. For donations by text message, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the organization receiving your donation, the date of the contribution, and the amount given. For cash contributions made by other means, be sure to keep a bank record, such as a cancelled check or a receipt from the charity. Receipts should show the name of the charity, the date and amount of the contribution.

For more information see IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions and Publication 3833 , Disaster Relief: Providing Assistance through Charitable Organizations. To determine if an organization is a qualified charity visit IRS.gov, keyword "Search for Charities". Note that some organizations, such as churches or governments, may be qualified even though they are not listed on IRS.gov.


Ten Things You Should Know about the Making Work Pay Tax Credit

Many working taxpayers are eligible for the Making Work Pay Tax Credit, a provision created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in early 2009.
Here are 10 things the IRS wants you to know about this tax credit to ensure you receive the entire amount for which you are eligible.

1. In 2009 and 2010, the Making Work Pay provision provides a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for individuals and up to $800 for married taxpayers filing joint returns.

2. For taxpayers who receive a paycheck and are subject to withholding, the credit will typically be handled by their employers through automated withholding changes.

3. Taxpayers receiving less than the full amount of the allowable credit through reduced withholding will be entitled to claim any remaining credit when they file their tax return.

4. The amount of the credit actually received during 2009 in the form of reduced withholding will be reported on your 2009 tax return. Taxpayers who do not have taxes withheld by an employer during the year can claim the credit on their 2009 tax return filed in 2010.

5. Taxpayers who file Form 1040 or 1040A will use Schedule M, Making Work Pay and Government Retiree Credits to figure the Making Work Pay Tax Credit. Completing Schedule M will help taxpayers determine whether they have already received the full credit in their paycheck or are due more money as a result of the credit.

6. Taxpayers who file Form 1040-EZ will use the worksheet for Line 8 on the back of the 1040-EZ to figure their Making Work Pay Tax Credit.

7. In 2010, you may notice that your paychecks are slightly lower than in 2009. The slight decrease may be because of the Making Work Pay Credit. Most of the credit for wage earners is distributed through reduced withholding. The credit – which was spread out over nine months last year – is being spread over 12 months this year. A little less credit in each paycheck means slightly higher withholding. But don’t worry, in the end it all adds up.

8. Certain taxpayers should review their tax withholding to ensure enough tax is being withheld in 2010. Those who should pay particular attention to their withholding include: married couples with two incomes, individuals with multiple jobs, dependents, pensioners, Social Security recipients who also work, and workers without valid Social Security numbers.

Having too little tax withheld could result in potentially smaller refunds or – in limited instances – small balance due rather than an expected refund.

9. To ensure your current withholding is appropriate for your individual situation, you can review Publication 919, How Do I Adjust My Tax Withholding? You can also perform a quick check of your withholding using the interactive IRS Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov.

10. If you find you need to adjust your withholding, submit a revised Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate to your employer.

Visit IRS.gov for more information about the making Work Pay Tax Credit, Schedule M, Form W-4 or Publication 919. You can also call 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) to order forms and publications.


How to Obtain a Transcript of Your Past Tax Information

Taxpayers who need their past tax return information can obtain it from the IRS. Here are nine things to know if you need copies of your federal tax return information.

1. There are two easy and convenient options for obtaining free copies of your federal tax return information — tax return transcripts and tax account transcripts.

2. The IRS does not charge a fee for transcripts, which are available for the current year as well as the past three years.

3. A tax return transcript shows most line items from your tax return as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules. It does not reflect any changes you, your representative or the IRS made after the return was filed. In many cases, a return transcript will meet the requirements of lending institutions, such as those offering mortgages and student loans.

4. A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments either you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed. This transcript shows basic data – including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income and taxable income.

5. To request either transcript by phone, call 800-829-1040 and follow the prompts in the recorded message.

6. To request a tax return transcript through the mail, individual taxpayers should complete IRS Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript. Form 4506T-EZ is only for individuals who filed a Form 1040 series return. Businesses, partnerships and individuals who need transcript information from other forms or need a tax account transcript must use the Form 4506T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

7. You should receive your tax return transcript within 10 working days from the time the IRS receives your request. Allow 30 calendar days for delivery of a tax account transcript.

8. If you still need an actual copy of a previously processed tax return, it will cost $57 per tax year and take much longer. Complete Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Form, and mail it to the IRS address listed on the form for your area. Please allow 60 days for actual copies of your return. Copies are generally available for the current year as well as the past six years.

9. Visit the IRS Web site, IRS.gov, to determine which form will meet your needs. Forms 4506, 4506T and 4506T-EZ can be found at IRS.gov or by calling the IRS forms and publications order line at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


A New Option for Your Federal Tax Refund: Savings Bonds

If you are receiving a federal tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service, you can choose to use that money to purchase U.S. savings bonds.

Here are the top six things you'll need to know about using your federal refund to purchase savings bonds.

1. You may use a portion of your refund to purchase up to $5,000 in U.S. Series I Savings Bonds.

2. The total amount of saving bonds purchased must be a multiple of $50. Additional money over the specified amount must be deposited into another financial account – such as a checking or savings account.

3. The bonds will be issued in your name. For married taxpayers filing a joint return, the bonds will be issued in the names of both spouses.

4. You will receive the U.S. savings bonds in the mail.

5. You normally select this option by filing Form 8888, Direct Deposit of Refund to More Than One Account.

6. Form 8888 has step-by-step instructions on how to select this option and how to specify the amount of your refund you want to use to purchase savings bonds.

For more information about the U.S. Savings Bonds refund option, visit IRS.gov.


Ten Tax Topics for Taxpayers with Tots and Teens

Got Kids? They may have an impact on your tax situation. Listed below are the top 10 things the IRS wants you to consider if you have children.

1. Dependents In most cases, a child can be claimed as a dependent in the year they were born. For more information see IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.

2. Child Tax Credit You may be able to take this credit on your tax return for each of your children under age 17. If you do not benefit from the full amount of the Child Tax Credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. The Additional Child Tax Credit is a refundable credit and may give you a refund even if you do not owe any tax. For more information see IRS Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.

3. Child and Dependent Care Credit You may be able to claim the credit if you pay someone to care for your child under age 13 so that you can work or look for work. For more information see IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.

4. Earned Income Tax Credit The EITC is a benefit for certain people who work and have earned income from wages, self-employment or farming. EITC reduces the amount of tax you owe and may also give you a refund. For more information see IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit.

5. Adoption Credit You may be able to take a tax credit for qualifying expenses paid to adopt an eligible child. For more information see the instructions for IRS Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses.

6. Children with Earned Income If your child has income earned from working they may be required to file a tax return. For more information see IRS Publication 501.

7. Children with Investment Income Under certain circumstances a child’s investment income may be taxed at the parent’s tax rate. For more information see IRS Publication 929, Tax Rules for Children and Dependents.

8. Coverdell Education Savings Account This savings account is used to pay qualified educational expenses at an eligible educational institution. Contributions are not deductible, however, qualified distributions generally are tax-free. For more information see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.

9. Higher Education Credits Education tax credits can help offset the costs of education. The American Opportunity and the Lifetime Learning Credit are education credits that reduce your federal income tax dollar-for-dollar, unlike a deduction, which reduces your taxable income. For more information see IRS Publication 970.

10. Student Loan Interest You may be able to deduct interest you pay on a qualified student loan. The deduction is claimed as an adjustment to income so you do not need to itemize your deductions. For more information see IRS Publication 970.

The forms and publications on these topics can be found on IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Three Reasons to Prepare and File Your Taxes Electronically

Last year, 2 out of 3 tax returns were filed electronically. Was yours? If not, here are three important reasons to e-file your return.

1. It’s fast Your tax return will get processed more quickly if you use e-file. If there is an error on your return, it will typically be identified and can be corrected right away. If you file electronically and choose to have your tax refund deposited directly into your bank account, you will have your money in as few as 10 days.

2. It’s safe When you file a tax return electronically, the IRS is fully committed to protecting your information on our tax processing systems.

3. It’s time Don’t miss out on the benefits of e-file, 2 out of 3 taxpayers, 95 million, already get the benefits of e-file.

E-file software reduces the chance of making errors when you prepare your return. However, some people still print the computer generated return and mail it to the IRS instead of hitting the “Send” button. By mailing the return, taxpayers miss out on some important benefits of IRS e-file.

• With e-file, you get the peace of mind that comes with the electronic receipt you’ll receive notifying you that the IRS received your tax return.

• Virtually everyone can prepare a return and file it for free. For the second year, the IRS and its partners are offering the option of Free File Fillable Forms. Another option is Traditional Free File. About 98 million taxpayers – 70% of all taxpayers – are eligible for the IRS Traditional Free File. Traditional Free File is a service offered by software companies and the IRS in partnership to provide free tax preparation software and free filing.

• E-file is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from the convenience of your own home.

• If you owe money to the IRS, e-file also allows you to file your tax return early and delay payment up until the due date.

• In 37 states and the District of Columbia, you can simultaneously e-file your federal and state tax returns.

Find out more about E-file at IRS.gov.


Eight Tips to Help You Choose a Tax Preparer

The IRS urges people to use care and caution when choosing a tax preparer. Remember, you are legally responsible for what’s on your tax return even if it was prepared by an another individual or firm.

Most tax return preparers are professional, honest and provide excellent service to their clients. However, unscrupulous tax return preparers do exist and can cause considerable financial and legal problems for their clients. Therefore, it’s important to find a qualified tax professional.

The following tips will help you choose a preparer who will offer the best service for your tax preparation needs.

1. Check the person’s qualifications Ask if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides its members with continuing education and resources and holds them to a code of ethics.

2. Check on the preparer’s history Check to see if the preparer has any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state’s board of accountancy for CPAs or the state’s bar association for attorneys.

3. Find out about their service fees Avoid preparers that base their fee on a percentage of the amount of your refund or those who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.

4. Make sure the tax preparer is accessible Make sure you will be able to contact the tax preparer after the return has been filed, even after April 15, in case questions arise.

5. Provide all records and receipts needed to prepare your return Most reputable preparers will request to see your records and receipts and will ask you multiple questions to determine your total income and your qualifications for expenses, deductions and other items.

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

7. Review the entire return before signing it 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.

8. Make sure the preparer signs the form A paid preparer must sign the return as required by law. Although the preparer signs the return, you are responsible for the accuracy of every item on your return. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.

You can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS on Form 3949-A, Information Referral or by sending a letter to Internal Revenue Service, Fresno, CA 93888. Download Form 3949-A from IRS.gov or order by mail at 800-829-3676.


Five Important Facts about Dependents and Exemptions

When you prepare to file your tax return, there are two things that will factor into your tax situation: dependents and exemptions. Here are five important facts the IRS wants you to know about dependents and exemptions before you file your 2009 tax return.

1. If someone else claims you as a dependent, you may still be required to file your own tax return. Whether or not you must file a return depends on several factors, including the amount of your unearned, earned or gross income, your marital status, any special taxes you owe and, any advance Earned Income Tax Credit payments you received.

2. Exemptions reduce your taxable income. There are two types of exemptions: personal exemptions and exemptions for dependents. For each exemption you can deduct $3,650 on your 2009 tax return. Exemption amounts are reduced for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is above certain levels, depending on your filing status.

3. If you are a dependent, you may not claim an exemption. If someone else – such as your parent – claims you as a dependent, you may not claim your personal exemption on your own tax return.

4. Your spouse is never considered your dependent. On a joint return, you may claim one exemption for yourself and one for your spouse. If you’re filing a separate return, you may claim the exemption for your spouse only if they had no gross income, are not filing a joint return, and were not the dependent of another taxpayer.

5. Some people cannot be claimed as your dependent. Generally, you may not claim a married person as a dependent if they file a joint return with their spouse. Also, to claim someone as a dependent, that person must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national or resident of Canada or Mexico for some part of the year. There is an exception to this rule for certain adopted children. See IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information for additional tests to determine who can be claimed as a dependent.

For more information on exemptions, dependents and whether or not you or your dependent needs to file a tax return, see IRS Publication 501. The publication is available on IRS.gov or can be ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Eight Facts About Filing Status

Everyone who files a federal tax return must determine which filing status applies to them. It’s important you choose your correct filing status as it determines your standard deduction, the amount of tax you owe and ultimately, any refund owed to you.

Here are eight facts about the five filing status options the IRS wants you to know in order to choose the correct filing status for your situation.

1. Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your marital status for the entire year.

2. If more than one filing status applies to you, choose the one that gives you the lowest tax obligation.

3. Single filing status generally applies to anyone who is unmarried, divorced or legally separated according to state law.

4. A married couple may file a joint return together. The couple’s filing status would be Married Filing Jointly.

5. If your spouse died during the year and you did not remarry during 2009, you may still file a joint return with that spouse for the year of death, provided the joint return election is not revoked by a personal representative for the deceased spouse.

6. A married couple may elect to file their returns separately. Each person’s filing status would generally be Married Filing Separately.

7. Head of Household generally applies to taxpayers who are unmarried. You must also have paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home for you and a qualifying person to qualify for this filing status.

8. You may be able to choose Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child as your filing status if your spouse died during 2007 or 2008, you have a dependent child and you meet certain other conditions.

There’s much more information about determining your filing status in Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information. Publication 501 is available on IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


IRS Offers Tips for Year-End Donations

Individuals and businesses making contributions to charity should keep in mind several important tax law provisions that have taken effect in recent years.

Some of these changes include the following:

Special Charitable Contributions for Certain IRA Owners

This provision, currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2009, offers older owners of individual retirement accounts (IRAs) a different way to give to charity. An IRA owner, age 70½ or over, can directly transfer tax-free up to $100,000 per year to an eligible charity. This option, created in 2006, is available for distributions from IRAs, regardless of whether the owners itemize their deductions. Distributions from employer-sponsored retirement plans, including SIMPLE IRAs and simplified employee pension (SEP) plans, are not eligible.

To qualify, the funds must be contributed directly by the IRA trustee to the eligible charity. Amounts so transferred are not taxable and no deduction is available for the transfer.

Not all charities are eligible. For example, donor-advised funds and supporting organizations are not eligible recipients.

Amounts transferred to a charity from an IRA are counted in determining whether the owner has met the IRA’s required minimum distribution. Where individuals have made nondeductible contributions to their traditional IRAs, a special rule treats transferred amounts as coming first from taxable funds, instead of proportionately from taxable and nontaxable funds, as would be the case with regular distributions. See Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), for more information on qualified charitable distributions.

Rules for Clothing and Household Items

To be deductible, clothing and household items donated to charity generally must be in good used condition or better. A clothing or household item for which a taxpayer claims a deduction of over $500 does not have to meet this standard if the taxpayer includes a qualified appraisal of the item with the return. Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens.

Guidelines for Monetary Donations

To deduct any charitable donation of money, regardless of amount, a taxpayer must have a bank record or a written communication from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, bank or credit union statements, and credit card statements. Bank or credit union statements should show the name of the charity, the date, and the amount paid. Credit card statements should show the name of the charity, the date, and the transaction posting date.

Donations of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. For payroll deductions, the taxpayer should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document furnished by the employer showing the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

These requirements for the deduction of monetary donations do not change the long-standing requirement that a taxpayer obtain an acknowledgment from a charity for each deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. However, one statement containing all of the required information may meet both requirements.

Reminders

To help taxpayers plan their holiday-season and year-end giving, the IRS offers the following additional reminders:

• Contributions are deductible in the year made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2009 count for 2009. This is true even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until 2010. Also, checks count for 2009 as long as they are mailed in 2009 and clear, shortly thereafter.

• Check that the organization is qualified. Only donations to qualified organizations are tax-deductible. IRS Publication 78, available online and at many public libraries, lists most organizations that are qualified to receive deductible contributions. The searchable online version can be found at IRS.gov under Search for Charities. In addition, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations, even if they are not listed in Publication 78.

• For individuals, only taxpayers who itemize their deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A can claim deductions for charitable contributions. This deduction is not available to individuals who choose the standard deduction, including anyone who files a short form (Form 1040A or 1040EZ). A taxpayer will have a tax savings only if the total itemized deductions (mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes, etc.) exceed the standard deduction. Use the 2009 Form 1040 Schedule A, available now on IRS.gov, to determine whether itemizing is better than claiming the standard deduction.

• For all donations of property, including clothing and household items, get from the charity, if possible, a receipt that includes the name of the charity, date of the contribution, and a reasonably-detailed description of the donated property. If a donation is left at a charity’s unattended drop site, keep a written record of the donation that includes this information, as well as the fair market value of the property at the time of the donation and the method used to determine that value. Additional rules apply for a contribution of $250 or more.

• The deduction for a motor vehicle, boat or airplane donated to charity is usually limited to the gross proceeds from its sale. This rule applies if the claimed value is more than $500. Form 1098-C, or a similar statement, must be provided to the donor by the organization and attached to the donor’s tax return.

• If the amount of a taxpayer’s deduction for all noncash contributions is over $500, a properly-completed Form 8283 must be submitted with the tax return.


IRS Announces 2010 Standard Mileage Rates

The Internal Revenue Service today issued the 2010 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2010, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

• 50 cents per mile for business miles driven

• 16.5 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes

• 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

The new rates for business, medical and moving purposes are slightly lower than last year’s. The mileage rates for 2010 reflect generally lower transportation costs compared to a year ago.

The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs as determined by the same study. Independent contractor Runzheimer International conducted the study.

A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for any vehicle used for hire or for more than four vehicles used simultaneously.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.


10 Important Facts about the Extended First-Time Homebuyer Credit

If you are in the market for a new home, you may still be able to claim the First-Time Homebuyer Credit. Congress recently passed The Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act Of 2009, extending the First-Time Homebuyer Credit and expanding who qualifies.

Here are the top 10 things the IRS wants you to know about the expanded credit and the qualifications you must meet in order to qualify for it.

1. You must buy – or enter into a binding contract to buy a principal residence – on or before April 30, 2010.

2. If you enter into a binding contract by April 30, 2010 you must close on the home on or before June 30, 2010.

3. For qualifying purchases in 2010, you will have the option of claiming the credit on either your 2009 or 2010 return.

4. A long-time resident of the same home can now qualify for a reduced credit. You can qualify for the credit if you’ve lived in the same principal residence for any five-consecutive year period during the eight-year period that ended on the date the new home is purchased and the settlement date is after November 6, 2009.

5. The maximum credit for long-time residents is $6,500. However, married individuals filing separately are limited to $3,250.

6. People with higher incomes can now qualify for the credit. The new law raises the income limits for homes purchased after November 6, 2009. The full credit is available to taxpayers with modified adjusted gross incomes up to $125,000, or $225,000 for joint filers.

7. The IRS will issue a December 2009 revision of Form 5405 to claim this credit. The December 2009 form must be used for homes purchased after November 6, 2009 – whether the credit is claimed for 2008 or for 2009 – and for all home purchases that are claimed on 2009 returns.

8. No credit is available if the purchase price of the home exceeds $800,000.

9. The purchaser must be at least 18 years old on the date of purchase. For a married couple, only one spouse must meet this age requirement.

10. A dependent is not eligible to claim the credit.

For more information about the expanded First-Time Home Buyer Credit, visit IRS.gov/recovery.


Seven Facts about the Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit

Taxpayers who take energy saving steps this year may get bigger tax savings next year. The Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit, a tax credit for making energy efficient improvements to homes has been increased as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Here are seven things the IRS wants you to know about the Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit:

1. The new law increases the credit rate to 30 percent of the cost of all qualifying improvements and raises the maximum credit limit to $1,500 claimed for 2009 and 2010 combined.

2. The credit applies to improvements such as adding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems.

3. To qualify as "energy efficient" for purposes of this tax credit, products generally must meet higher standards than the standards for the credit that was available in 2007.

4. Manufacturers must certify that their products meet new standards and they must provide a written statement to the taxpayer such as with the packaging of the product or in a printable format on the manufacturers' Website.

5. Qualifying improvements must be placed into service after December 31, 2008, and before January 1, 2011.

6. The improvements must be made to the taxpayer's principal residence located in the United States.

7. To claim the credit, attach Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits to either the 2009 or 2010 tax return. Taxpayers must claim the credit on the tax return for the year that the improvements are made.

Homeowners who have been considering some energy efficient home improvements may find these tax credits will get them bigger tax savings next year.

For more information on this and other key tax provisions of the Recovery Act, visit the official IRS Website at IRS.gov/recovery.


Expanded Recovery Act Tax Credits Help Homeowners Winterize their Homes, Save Energy; Check Tax Credit Certification Before You Buy, IRS Advises

People can now weatherize their homes and be rewarded for their efforts. According to the Internal Revenue Service, homeowners making energy-saving improvements this fall can cut their winter heating bills and lower their 2009 tax bill as well.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), enacted earlier this year, expanded two home energy tax credits: the nonbusiness energy property credit and the residential energy efficient property credit.

Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit

This credit equals 30 percent of what a homeowner spends on eligible energy-saving improvements, up to a maximum tax credit of $1,500 for the combined 2009 and 2010 tax years. The cost of certain high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters and stoves that burn biomass all qualify, along with labor costs for installing these items. In addition, the cost of energy-efficient windows and skylights, energy-efficient doors, qualifying insulation and certain roofs also qualify for the credit, though the cost of installing these items does not count.

By spending as little as $5,000 before the end of the year on eligible energy-saving improvements, a homeowner can save as much as $1,500 on his or her 2009 federal income tax return. Due to limits based on tax liability, other credits claimed by a particular taxpayer and other factors, actual tax savings will vary. These tax savings are on top of any energy savings that may result.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

Homeowners going green should also check out a second tax credit designed to spur investment in alternative energy equipment. The residential energy efficient property credit, equals 30 percent of what a homeowner spends on qualifying property such as solar electric systems, solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, wind turbines, and fuel cell property. Generally, labor costs are included when calculating this credit. Also, no cap exists on the amount of credit available except in the case of fuel cell property.

Not all energy-efficient improvements qualify for these tax credits. For that reason, homeowners should check the manufacturer’s tax credit certification statement before purchasing or installing any of these improvements. The certification statement can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website or with the product packaging. Normally, a homeowner can rely on this certification. The IRS cautions that the manufacturer’s certification is different from the Department of Energy’s Energy Star label, and not all Energy Star labeled products qualify for the tax credits.

Eligible homeowners can claim both of these credits when they file their 2009 federal income tax return. Because these are credits, not deductions, they increase a taxpayer’s refund or reduce the tax he or she owes. An eligible taxpayer can claim these credits, regardless of whether he or she itemizes deductions on Schedule A. Use Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits, to figure and claim these credits. A draft version of this form is available now on IRS.gov.


Nine Facts about the New Vehicle Sales and Excise Tax Deduction

Taxpayers who buy new motor vehicles this year may be entitled to a special tax deduction for the sales or excise taxes on those purchases when they file their 2009 federal tax returns next year. This tax break is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Taxpayers in states that do not have state sales taxes may be entitled to deduct other fees or taxes imposed by the state or local government.

Here are nine important facts the IRS wants you to know about the deduction.

1. State and local sales and excise taxes paid on up to $49,500 of the purchase price of each qualifying vehicle are deductible.

2. Qualified motor vehicles generally include new cars, light trucks, motor homes and motorcycles.

3. To qualify for the deduction, the new cars, light trucks and motorcycles must weigh 8,500 pounds or less. Motor homes are not subject to the weight limit.

4. Purchases must occur after Feb. 16, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2010.

5. Taxpayers who purchase new motor vehicles in states that do not have state sales taxes may be entitled to deduct other fees or taxes assessed on the purchase of those vehicles. Fees or taxes that qualify must be based on the vehicles’ sales price or as a per unit fee. These states include Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon.

6. Taxpayers who purchase qualified motor vehicles may claim the deduction when they file their 2009 tax return in 2010.

7. The deduction may not be taken on 2008 tax returns.

8. This deduction can be taken regardless of whether the buyers itemize their deductions or choose the standard deduction.Taxpayers who do not itemize will add this additional amount to the standard deduction on their 2009 tax return.

9. The amount of the deduction is phased out for taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is between $125,000 and $135,000 for individual filers and between $250,000 and $260,000 for joint filers.


Six Recovery Tax Incentives for Individuals

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides tax incentives for first-time homebuyers, people purchasing new cars, those interested in making their homes more energy efficient, and parents and students paying for college.

Here are six things the IRS wants you to know about ARRA tax incentives for individuals:

1. First-Time Homebuyer Credit Taxpayers who haven’t owned a principal residence during the past three years prior to the purchase date of a home before Dec. 1 of this year may be eligible to receive a credit of up to $8,000 on an original or amended 2008 tax return. They can also wait and claim the credit on their 2009 return.

2. New Vehicle Purchase Incentive Qualifying taxpayers can deduct the state and local sales and excise taxes paid on the purchase of new cars, light trucks, motor homes and motorcycles. The deduction per vehicle is limited to the tax on up to $49,500 of the purchase price of each qualifying vehicle and phases out for taxpayers at higher income levels.

3. Making Work Pay and Withholding The Making Work Pay Credit lowered employees’ tax withholding rates this year and has already put more money into the pockets of wage earners. Self-employed individuals will have an opportunity to claim this credit when they file their 2009 return. Taxpayers who fall into any of the following groups should review their tax withholding rates to ensure enough tax is currently being withheld: multiple job holders, families in which both spouses work, workers who can be claimed as dependents by other taxpayers, workers without a valid social security number, some social security recipients who work and pensioners. Failure to adjust your withholding in these situations could result in potentially smaller refunds or in limited instances may cause you to owe tax rather than receive a refund next year.

4. Tax Credit for First Four Years of College The American Opportunity Credit can help parents and students pay part of the cost of the first four years of college. The new credit modifies the existing Hope Credit for tax years 2009 and 2010, making it available to a broader range of taxpayers. Eligible taxpayers may qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student.

5. Certain Computer Technology Purchases Allowed for 529 Plans ARRA adds computer technology to the list of college expenses that can be paid for by a qualified tuition program, commonly referred to as a 529 plan. For 2009 and 2010, the law expands the definition of qualified higher education expenses to include expenses for computer technology and equipment or Internet access and related services.

6. Energy-Efficient Home Improvements The credit for nonbusiness energy-efficient improvements is increased for homeowners who make qualified improvements to existing homes. Qualifying improvements include the addition of insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems.


IRS Drops and Gives You Ten…Military Tax Tips

Summer is a busy time for everyone, but particularly for military members and their families. Whether it’s moving to a new base or traveling to a duty station, members of the military have many obligations that could impact their tax situation. Here are 10 IRS tax tips military members can keep in mind this summer to help with filing a tax return next year.

1. Moving Expenses If you are a member of the Armed Forces on active duty and you move because of a permanent change of station, you can deduct the reasonable unreimbursed expenses of moving you and members of your household.

2. Combat Pay If you serve in a combat zone as an enlisted person or as a warrant officer for any part of a month, all your military pay received for military service that month is not taxable. For officers, the monthly exclusion is capped at the highest enlisted pay, plus any hostile fire or imminent danger pay received.

3. Extension of Deadlines The time for taking care of certain tax matters can be postponed. The deadline for filing tax returns, paying taxes, filing claims for refund, and taking other actions with the IRS is automatically extended for qualifying members of the military.

4. Uniform Cost and Upkeep If military regulations prohibit you from wearing certain uniforms when off duty, you can deduct the cost and upkeep of those uniforms, but you must reduce your expenses by any allowance or reimbursement you receive.

5. Joint Returns Generally, joint returns must be signed by both spouses. However, when one spouse may not be available due to military duty, a power of attorney may be used to file a joint return.

6. Travel to Reserve Duty If you are a member of the US Armed Forces Reserves, you can deduct unreimbursed travel expenses for traveling more than 100 miles away from home to perform your reserve duties.

7. ROTC Students Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay – such as pay received during summer advanced camp – is taxable.

8. Transitioning Back to Civilian Life You may be able to deduct some costs you incur while looking for a new job. Expenses may include travel, resume preparation fees, and outplacement agency fees. Moving expenses may be deductible if your move is closely related to the start of work at a new job location, and you meet certain tests.

9. Tax Help Most military installations offer free tax filing and preparation assistance during the filing season.

10. Tax Information IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, summarizes many important military-related tax topics. Publication 3 is available for download at IRS.gov or may be ordered by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).



Tax Tips for Recently Married Taxpayers

If you have recently gotten married or plan to get married in the near future, the IRS has some tips to help you avoid stress at tax time.

1. Notify the Social Security Administration: Report any name change to the Social Security Administration, so your name and SSN will match when you file your next tax return. Informing the SSA of a name change is quite simple. File a Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security card at your local SSA office. The form is available on SSA’s Web site at www.socialsecurity.gov, by calling 800-772-1213 or at local offices.

2. Notify the IRS: If you have a new address you should notify the IRS by sending Form 8822, Change of Address. You may download Form 8822 from the IRS website IRS.gov or order it by calling 800–TAX–FORM (800–829–3676).

3. Notify the U.S. Postal Service: You should also notify the U.S. Postal Service when you move so it can forward any IRS correspondence.

4. Notify Your Employer: Report any name and address changes to your employer(s) to ensure receipt of your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement after the end of the year.

5. Check Your Withholding: If both you and your spouse work, your combined income may place you in a higher tax bracket. You can use the IRS Withholding Calculator available on IRS.gov to assist you in determining the correct amount of withholding needed for your new filing status. The IRS Withholding Calculator will even provide you with a new Form W-4, Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate you can print out and give it to your employer so they can withhold the correct amount from your pay.


Top Seven Tips for Taxpayers Starting a New Business

Anyone starting a new business this summer should be aware of their federal tax responsibilities. Here are the top seven things the IRS wants you to know if you plan on opening a new business this year.

First, you must decide what type of business entity you are going to establish. The type your business takes will determine which tax form you have to file. The most common types of business are the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and S corporation.


The type of business you operate determines what taxes you must pay and how you pay them. The four general types of business taxes are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax and excise tax.


An Employer Identification Number is used to identify a business entity. Generally, businesses need an EIN. Visit IRS.gov for more information about whether you will need an EIN. You can also apply for an EIN online at IRS.gov.


Good records will help you ensure successful operation of your new business. You may choose any recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses. Except in a few cases, the law does not require any special kind of records. However, the business you are in affects the type of records you need to keep for federal tax purposes.


Every business taxpayer must figure taxable income on an annual accounting period called a tax year. The calendar year and the fiscal year are the most common tax years used.


Each taxpayer must also use a consistent accounting method, which is a set of rules for determining when to report income and expenses. The most commonly used accounting methods are the cash method and an accrual method. Under the cash method, you generally report income in the tax year you receive it and deduct expenses in the tax year you pay them. Under an accrual method, you generally report income in the tax year you earn it and deduct expenses in the tax year you incur them.


Visit the Business section of IRS.gov for resources to assist entrepreneurs with starting and operating a new business.


Five Tax Facts about Summertime Child Care Expenses

Many parents who work or are looking for work must arrange for care of their children under 13 years of age during the school vacation.

Here are five facts the IRS wants you to know about a tax credit available for child care expenses. The Child and Dependent Care Credit is available for expenses incurred during the lazy hazy days of summer and throughout the rest of the year.

1. The cost of day camp can count as an expense towards the child and dependent care credit.

2. Expenses for overnight camps do not qualify.

3. If your childcare provider is a sitter at your home or a daycare facility outside the home, you'll get some tax benefit if you qualify for the credit.

4. The actual credit can be up to 35 percent of your qualifying expenses, depending upon your income.

5. You may use up to $3,000 of the unreimbursed expenses paid in a year for one qualifying individual or $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals to figure the credit.

For more information, including rules for claiming this credit for your spouse or a dependent age 13 or over who is not able to care for himself or herself, check out IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses. This publication is available on the IRS Web site, IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Special Tax Break on New Car Purchases Available in States With No Sales Tax

The Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department today announced that a tax break for the purchase of new motor vehicles is available in states that do not have a state sales tax. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, taxpayers who buy a new motor vehicle this year are entitled to deduct state or local sales or excise taxes paid on the purchase.

The IRS and Treasury have determined that purchases made in states without a sales tax – such as Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon – can also qualify for the deduction.

The IRS said today that taxpayers who purchase a new motor vehicle in states that do not have state sales taxes are entitled to deduct other fees or taxes imposed by the state or local government. The fees or taxes that qualify must be assessed on the purchase of the vehicle and must be based on the vehicle’s sales price or as a per unit fee. According to the IRS, Congress intended for these fees or taxes to qualify for this special tax deduction.

“This special tax break is available for people purchasing a new car this year, and that can include people in states without a sales tax,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “This means that more people can take advantage of this deduction when they file their tax returns next year.”

To qualify for this deduction, the vehicle must be purchased after Feb. 16, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2010. Taxpayers can claim this special deduction only on their 2009 tax returns to be filed next year.

The deduction is limited to the fees or taxes paid on up to $49,500 of the purchase price of a qualified new car, light truck, motor home or motorcycle.

The amount of the deduction is phased out for taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is between $125,000 and $135,000 for individual filers and between $250,000 and $260,000 for joint filers.

The special deduction is available regardless of whether taxpayers itemize deductions on their returns. Taxpayers who do not itemize will add this additional amount to the standard deduction on their 2009 tax return. The IRS reminded taxpayers the deduction may not be taken on 2008 returns.


Energy-Saving Steps This Year May Result in Tax Savings Next Year

WASHINGON — The Internal Revenue Service today reminded individual and business taxpayers that many energy-saving steps taken this year may result in bigger tax savings next year.

The recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) of 2009 contained a number of either new or expanded tax benefits on expenditures to reduce energy use or create new energy sources.

The IRS encouraged individuals and businesses to explore whether they are eligible for any of the new energy tax provisions. More information on the wide range of energy items is available on the special Recovery section of IRS.gov. For a larger listing of ARRA’s energy-related tax benefits, see Fact Sheet 2009-10.

Tax Credits for Home Energy Efficiency Improvements Increase

Homeowners can get bigger tax credits for making energy efficiency improvements or installing alternative energy equipment.

The IRS also announced homeowners seeking these tax credits can temporarily rely on existing manufacturer certifications or appropriate Energy Star labels for purchasing qualifying products until updated certification guidelines are announced later this spring.

“These new, expanded credits encourage homeowners to make improvements that will make their homes more energy efficient,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “People can improve their homes and save money over the long run.”

ARRA provides for a uniform credit of 30 percent of the cost of qualifying improvements up to $1,500, such as adding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows, and energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems. The new law replaces the old law combination available in 2007 of a 10-percent credit for certain property and a credit equal to cost up to a specified amount for other property.

The new law also raised the limit on the amount that can be claimed for improvements placed in service during 2009 and 2010 to $1,500, instead of the $500 lifetime limit under the old law.

In addition, the new law has increased the energy efficiency standards for building insulation, exterior windows, doors, and skylights, certain central air conditioners, and natural gas, propane or oil water heaters placed in service after Feb. 17, 2009.

IRS guidance issued before the enactment of ARRA will be modified in the near future to reflect the new energy efficiency standards. In the meantime, homeowners may continue to rely on manufacturers’ certifications that were provided under the old guidance and on Energy Star labels for exterior windows and skylights in determining whether property purchased before June 1, 2009, qualifies for the credit. Manufacturers should not continue to provide certifications for property that fails to meet the new standards.

The new law also eliminates the cap on the 30 percent tax credit for alternative energy equipment, such as solar water heaters, geothermal heat pumps and small wind turbines, installed in a home. The cap generally has been eliminated for these improvements beginning in the 2009 tax year. The IRS today issued Notice 2009-41, which explains the effects of this change.


Seven Facts about the New Sales Tax Deduction for Vehicle Purchases

Taxpayers who buy a new car or several other types of motor vehicles this year may be entitled to a special tax deduction when they file their 2009 federal tax returns next year. The tax break is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Here are seven things you should know about this new deduction:

1. State and local sales taxes paid on up to $49,500 of the purchase price of qualifying vehicles are deductible.

2. Qualified motor vehicles generally include new (not used) cars, light trucks, motor homes and motorcycles.

3. Purchases must occur after Feb. 16, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2010.

4. This deduction can be taken regardless of whether or not you itemize other deductions on your tax return.


5. Taxpayers will claim this deduction when filing their 2009 federal income tax return next year.

6. The amount of the deduction is phased out for taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income is between $125,000 and $135,000 for individual filers and between $250,000 and $260,000 for joint filers.

7. The deduction may not be taken on 2008 tax returns.
Consumers who are considering buying a new car may find that this tax incentive means there has never have been a better time to buy.

For more information about the sales and excise tax deduction for motor vehicle purchases visit the official IRS web site at IRS.gov.


First $2,400 of Unemployment Benefits Tax Free for 2009

All or part of unemployment benefits received in 2009 will be tax free for many unemployed workers, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

“This morning we learned that a record 5.6 million people were receiving unemployment benefits in the middle of March. This underscores the need for the relief provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which includes making the first $2,400 of unemployment insurance exempt from tax,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “I urge all unemployed workers to take this special tax break into account as they plan their tax withholding and quarterly estimated tax payments for the year. This change offers a helping hand to millions of Americans who are out of work and struggling to make ends meet.”

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enacted last month, every person who receives unemployment benefits during 2009 is eligible to exclude the first $2,400 of these benefits when they file their tax return next year. For a married couple, the exclusion applies to each spouse, separately. Thus, if both spouses receive unemployment benefits during 2009, each may exclude from income the first $2,400 of benefits they receive.

The new law doesn’t affect the return taxpayers are filling out now. Unemployment benefits received in 2008 and prior years remain fully taxable.

Unemployed workers can choose to have income tax withheld from their unemployment benefit payments. Withholding on these payments is voluntary. However, choosing this option may help avoid a surprise year-end tax bill or a possible penalty for having paid too little tax during the year. Those who choose this option will have a flat 10 percent tax withheld from their benefits.

Unemployed workers who expect to receive more than $2,400 in benefits this year should consider having tax withheld from their benefit payments in excess of that amount. Those unemployed workers who have already chosen to have tax taken out of their benefits, should consider the $2,400 exclusion in determining whether to continue to have tax withheld.

Use Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request, or the equivalent form provided by the payer to request withholding to begin or end. Form W-4V is also available on IRS.gov or by calling the IRS toll-free at 1-800-TAX-FORM (829-3676).


Seven Important Points about Penalties

Taxpayers who do not file their return and pay their tax by the due date may have to pay a penalty. Here are seven things you should know about failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties.

1. The failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty. So if you cannot pay all the taxes you owe, you should still file your tax return and explore other payment options in the meantime.

2. The penalty for filing late is usually 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month of part of a month that a return is late. This penalty will not exceed 25 percent of the taxpayer’s unpaid taxes.

3. If you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.

4. You will not have to pay a failure-to-file penalty if you can show that you failed to file on time because of reasonable cause and not because of willful neglect.

5. You will have to pay a failure-to-pay penalty of ½ of 1 percent of your unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month after the due date that the taxes are not paid.

6. If you filed an extension and you paid at least 90 percent of your actual tax liability by the due date, you will not be faced with a failure-to-pay penalty.

7. If both the failure-to-file penalty and the failure-to-pay penalty apply in any month, the 5 percent failure-to-file penalty is reduced by the failure-to-pay penalty. However, if you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100% of the unpaid tax.


What to Do If You Are Missing a W-2

Did you get your W-2? These documents are essential to filling out most individual tax returns. You should receive a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, from each of your employers each year. Employers have until February 2, 2009 to provide or send you a 2008 W-2 earnings statement either electronically or in paper form. If you haven’t received your W-2, follow these steps:

1. Contact your employer. If you have not received your Form W-2, contact your employer to inquire if and when the W-2 was mailed. If it was mailed, it may have been returned to the employer because of an incorrect or incomplete address. After contacting the employer, allow a reasonable amount of time for them to resend or to issue the W-2.

2. Contact the IRS. If you still do not receive your W-2 by February 17th, contact the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040. When you call, have the following information:

• Employer's name, address, city, and state, including zip code;

• Your name, address, city and state, including zip code, and Social Security number; and

• An estimate of the wages you earned, the federal income tax withheld, and the period you worked for that employer. The estimate should be based on year-to-date information from your final pay stub or leave-and-earnings statement, if possible.

3. File your return. You still must file your tax return on time even if you do not receive your Form W-2. If you have not received your Form W-2 by February 17th, and have completed steps 1 and 2 above, you may use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Attach Form 4852 to the return, estimating income and withholding taxes as accurately as possible. There may be a delay in any refund due while the information is verified.

4. File a Form 1040X. On occasion, you may receive your missing documents at a later date and some may have conflicting information. You may receive a Form W-2 or W-2C (corrected form) after you filed your return using Form 4852, and the information differs from what you reported on your return. If this happens, you must amend your return by filing a Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Form 4852, Form 1040X, and instructions are available on the IRS Web site, IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Tips for Recently Married or Divorced Taxpayers

If you were married or divorced recently, there are a couple of things you’ll want to do to ensure the name on your tax return matches the name registered with the Social Security Administration.

If a taxpayer takes their spouse’s last name or if both spouses hyphenate their last names, they may run into complications if they don’t notify the SSA. If the newlyweds file a tax return using their new last names, IRS computers would not be able to match the new name with their Social Security Number.

After a divorce, taxpayers who change back to their previous last name also need to notify the SSA of the change.

Informing the SSA of a name change is quite simple. File a Form SS-5 at your local SSA office. The form is available on SSA’s Web site at www.socialsecurity.gov, by calling 800-772-1213 or at local offices. It usually takes about two weeks to have the change verified.

Taxpayers who adopt their spouse’s child after getting married will want to make sure the children have an SSN. Taxpayers must provide SSNs for each dependent claimed on a tax return. For adopted children without SSNs, the parents can apply for an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number – or ATIN – 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. The W-7A is available on the IRS Web site, IRS.gov, or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).


Top Five Facts about Dependents and Exemptions

1. Dependents may be required to file their own tax return. Even though you are a dependent on someone else’s tax return, you may still have to file your own tax return. Whether or not you must file a return depends on several factors, including: the amount of your unearned, earned or gross income, your marital status, any special taxes you owe and any advance Earned Income Credit payments you received.

2. Exemptions reduce your taxable income. There are two types of exemptions: personal exemptions and exemptions for dependents. For each exemption you can deduct $3,500 on your 2008 tax return. Exemptions amounts are reduced for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is above certain levels, which is determined by your filing status.

3. Dependents may not claim an exemption. If you claim someone as a dependent, such as your child, that dependent may not claim a personal exemption on their own tax return.

4. Your spouse is never considered your dependent. On a joint return, you may claim one exemption for yourself and one for your spouse. If you’re filing a separate return, you may claim the exemption for your spouse only if they had no gross income, are not filing a joint return and were not the dependent of another taxpayer.

5. Some people cannot be claimed as your dependent. Generally, you may not claim a married person as a dependent if they file a joint return with their spouse. Also, to claim someone as a dependent, that person must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national or resident of Canada or Mexico for some part of the year. There is an exception to this rule for certain adopted children.

For more information on dependents and exemptions, including whether or not you or your dependent needs to file a tax return, see IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.


Independent Contractor vs. Employee

Are your workers independent contractors or employees? The answer can have a profound impact on how much tax you pay as a small business owner. Knowing whether your workers are or are not employees will affect the amount of taxes you must withhold from their pay. It will affect how much additional cost your business must bear, what documents and information they must provide to you, and what tax documents you must give to them.

Employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors can end up with substantial tax bills as well as penalties for failing to pay employment taxes and failing to file required tax forms. Workers can avoid higher tax bills and lost benefits if they know their proper status.

Both employers and workers can ask the IRS to make a determination on whether a specific individual is an independent contractor or an employee by filing a Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding, with the IRS.

Generally, whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor depends upon how much control you have as a business owner. If you have the right to control or direct not only what is to be done but also how it is to be done then your workers are most likely employees. If you can direct or control only the result of the work done, and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result, then your workers are probably independent contractors.

Three broad characteristics are used by the IRS to determine the relationship between businesses and workers - Behavioral Control, Financial Control, and the Type of Relationship. Behavioral Control covers facts that show whether the business has a right to direct or control how the work is done through instructions, training, or other means. Financial Control covers facts that show whether the business has a right to direct or control the financial and business aspects of the worker's job. The Type of Relationship factor relates to how the workers and the business owner perceive their relationship.

Knowing the proper worker classification can be critical to your business. Don’t guess. Act now to make certain you know for sure.

You can learn more about the critical determination of a worker’s status as an Independent Contractor or Employee at IRS.gov by selecting the Small Business link. Additional resources include IRS Publication 15-A, Employer's Supplemental Tax Guide, and Publication 1779, Independent Contractor or Employee. Both of these publications and Form SS-8 are available on the IRS Web site or by calling the IRS at 800-829-3676 (800-TAX-FORM).

Remember that for the genuine IRS Web site be sure to use .gov. Don't be confused by internet sites that end in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov. The address of the official IRS governmental Web site is www.irs.gov.


New Form for Employees Misclassified as Independent Contractors

In 2007 were you an employee whose employer paid you as an independent contractor? Employees usually receive a Form W-2 while independent contractors usually receive a Form 1099-MISC.

Generally, a worker who received a Form 1099 for services provided as an independent contractor must report the income on Schedule C and pay self-employment tax on the net profit using Schedule SE. However, if the worker was actually an employee, rather than an independent contractor, the worker is not required to pay the full self-employment tax, and expenses can only be deducted as an itemized deduction.

Beginning in 2007, Form 8919, Uncollected Social Security and Medicare Tax on Wages, may be used if you were an employee and your employer did not withhold your share these taxes and you meet certain criteria. These taxes will then be credited to you social security records.

To be eligible to use Form 8919 you must meet one of several criteria indicating that you were an employee while performing these services. The criteria include:

• You filed Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding, and received a determination letter from the IRS stating that you are an employee of the firm.

• You have been designated as a “section 530 employee” by your employer or by the IRS prior to January 1, 1997.

• You have received other correspondence from the IRS that states you are an employee.

• You were previously treated as an employee by the firm and you are performing services in a similar capacity and under similar direction and control.

• Your co-workers are performing similar services under similar direction and control and are treated as employees.

• Your co-workers are performing similar services under similar direction and control and filed Form SS-8 for the firm and received a determination that they were employees.

• You have filed Form SS-8 with the IRS and have not yet received a reply.

For more information see Form 8919, Uncollected Social Security and Medicare Tax on Wages available on the IRS Web site at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX FORM (800-829-3676).

Remember that for the genuine IRS Web site be sure to use .gov. Don't be confused by internet sites that end in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov. The address of the official IRS governmental Web site is www.irs.gov.


Are Your Social Security Benefits Taxable?

How much, if any, of your social security benefits are taxable depends on your total income and marital status. Generally, if social security benefits were your only income, your benefits are not taxable and you probably do not need to file a federal income tax return.

If you received income from other sources, your benefits will not be taxed unless your modified adjusted gross income is more than the base amount for your filing status. Your taxable benefits and modified adjusted gross income are figured in a worksheet in the Form 1040A or Form 1040 Instruction booklet.

Before you go to the instruction book, do the following quick computation to determine whether some of your benefits may be taxable:

• First, add one–half of the total social security you received to all your other income, including any tax exempt interest and other exclusions from income.

• Then, compare this total to the base amount for your filing status. If the total is more than your base amount, some of your benefits may be taxable.

The 2007 base amounts are:

• $32,000 for married couples filing jointly

• $25,000 for single, head of household, qualifying widow/widower with a dependent child, or married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouses at any time during the year

• $0 for married persons filing separately who lived together during the year

For additional information on the taxability of social security benefits, see IRS Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits. Publication 915 is available on the IRS Web site at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Remember that for the genuine IRS Web site be sure to use .gov. Don't be confused by internet sites that end in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov. The address of the official IRS governmental Web site is www.irs.gov.


Tips are Subject to Taxes

Do you work at a hair salon, barber shop, casino, golf course, hotel or restaurant or drive a taxicab? The tip income you receive as an employee from those and other services is taxable income.

Here are some tips about tips:

• Tips are taxable. Tips are subject to federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and may be subject to state income tax as well. The value of non–cash tips, such as tickets, passes or other items of value, is also income and subject to tax.

• Include tips on your tax return. You must include in gross income all cash tips you receive directly from customers, tips added to credit cards, and your share of any tips you receive under a tip–splitting arrangement with fellow employees.

• Report tips to your employer. If you receive $20 or more in tips in any one month, you should report all your tips to your employer. Your employer is required to withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes.

• Keep a running daily log of your tip income. You can use IRS Publication 1244, Employee's Daily Record of Tips and Report to Employer, to record your tip income. For a free copy of Publication 1244, call the IRS toll free at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

For more information, check out IRS Publication 531, Reporting Tip Income, or Publication 3148, Tips on Tips. They are available by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) or by going to the IRS Web site at IRS.gov.

Remember that for the genuine IRS Web site be sure to use .gov. Don't be confused by internet sites that end in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov. The address of the official IRS governmental Web site is www.irs.gov.


TAX REMINDERS FOR BUSINESSES WITH HOME OFFICES

In order to educate taxpayers, the IRS has provided this fact sheet which explains the rules for deducting home office expenses.

HOME OFFICE DEDUCTION: BASIC REQUIREMENTS

Generally, expenses related to the rent, purchase, maintenance, and repair of a personal residence may not be deducted as a business expense. However, taxpayers who use a portion of their home for business purposes may be able to take a home office deduction if they meet certain requirements. Expenses that may be deducted include the business portion of real estate taxes, mortgage interest, rent, utilities, insurance, painting, repairs, and depreciation. Note: The amount of depreciation deducted, or that could have been deducted, decreases the basis of your property.

In order to claim a deduction for that part of a home used for business, taxpayers must use that part of the home:

• Exclusively and regularly as their principal place of business, as a place to meet or deal with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of their business, or in connection with their trade or business where there is a separate structure not attached to the home; or

• On a regular basis for certain storage use such as inventory or product samples, as rental property, or as a home daycare facility.

In addition, taxpayers working as employees can claim this deduction only if the regular and exclusive business use of the home is for the convenience of their employer and the portion of the home is not rented by the employer.

"Exclusive use" means a specific area of the home is used only for trade or business. "Regular use" means the area is used regularly for trade or business. Incidental or occasional business use is not regular use.

Non-business profit-seeking endeavors such as investment activities do not qualify for a home office deduction, nor do not-for-profit activities such as hobbies.

Example: An attorney uses the den in his home to write legal briefs or prepare clients' tax returns. The family also uses the den for recreation. The den is not used exclusively in the attorney's profession, so a business deduction cannot be claimed for its use.

These requirements are discussed in greater detail in Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home.

COMPUTING THE AMOUNT OF HOME OFFICE DEDUCTION

Generally, the amount of the deduction depends on the percentage of the home that is used for business. The deduction will be limited if gross income from the business is less than the total business expenses.

A taxpayer can use any reasonable method to compute business percentage, but the most common methods are to:

• Divide the area of the home used for business by the total area of the home, or

• Divide the number of rooms used for business by the total number of rooms in the home if all rooms in the home are about the same size.

Taxpayers may not deduct expenses for any portion of the year during which there was no business use of the home. If the gross income from business use of the home is less than the total business expenses, the deduction for certain expenses is limited. Publication 587 includes examples, worksheets, and additional information on computing the allowable deduction.

PERSONAL EXPENSES ARE NOT BUSINESS EXPENSES

It is important for taxpayers to realize that business expenses may be deducted only if they are ordinary and necessary for the particular type of business. Personal, family and living expenses are not deductible under any circumstances. A common error is to deduct expenses for a portion of the home that is not used regularly and exclusively for business.

Example: The basic local telephone service charge, including taxes, for the first telephone line into a home is a nondeductible personal expense. However, charges for business long-distance phone calls on that line, as well as the cost of a second line into a home used exclusively for business, are deductible business expenses.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to familiarize themselves with the requirements before taking a home office deduction and to keep complete and accurate records to substantiate deductions. According to IRS research, understated business income, including underreported receipts and overstated expenses, is an area where compliance is a concern. In addition to increasing outreach and education in these areas, the IRS will also be focusing enforcement efforts, including examinations, on these issues.

More information about tax issues relating to home-based businesses can be found on the IRS Web site at irs.gov


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