Tag Archives: IRS

Help! I Just Got a Letter From the IRS

Summertime means the 2020 tax filing season is firmly in the rearview mirror for millions of Americans. But summertime is also the season when the IRS sends letters to unlucky taxpayers demanding more money!

If you receive a notice from the IRS, do not automatically assume it is correct and submit payment to make it go away. Because of all the recent tax law changes and so little time to implement the changes, the IRS can be wrong more often than you think. These IRS letters, called correspondent audits, need to be taken seriously, but not without undergoing a solid review. Here’s what you need to do if you receive one.

  • Stay calm. Don’t overreact to getting a letter from the IRS. This is easier said than done, but remember that the IRS sends out millions of these correspondence audits each year. The vast majority of them correct simple oversights or common filing errors.
  • Open the envelope! You would be surprised how often taxpayers are so stressed by receiving a letter from the IRS that they cannot bear to open the envelope. If you fall into this category, try to remember that the first step in making the problem go away is to open the correspondence.
  • Conduct a careful review. Review the letter. Understand exactly what the IRS is explaining that needs to be changed and determine whether or not you agree with their findings. The IRS rarely sends correspondence to correct an oversight in your favor, but sometimes it happens.
  • Respond timely. The IRS will tell you what it believes you should do and within what time frame. Ignore this information at your own risk. Delays in responses could generate penalties and additional interest payments.
  • Get help. You are not alone. Getting assistance from someone who deals with this all the time makes the process go much smoother. And remember, some of these letters could be scams from someone impersonating the IRS!
  • Correct the IRS error. Once you understand what the IRS is asking for, a clearly written response with copies of documentation will cure most IRS correspondence audits received in error. Often the error is due to the inability of the IRS computers to match documents it receives (for example 1099s or W-2s) to your tax return. Pointing out the information on your tax return might be all it takes to solve the problem.
  • Certified mail is your friend. Any responses to the IRS should be sent via certified mail or other means that clearly show you replied to their inquiry before the IRS’s deadline. This will provide proof of your timely correspondence. Lost mail can lead to delays, penalties, and additional interest tacked on to your tax bill.
  • Don’t assume it will go away. Until receiving definitive confirmation that the problem has been resolved, you need to assume the IRS still thinks you owe them money. If no correspondence confirming the correction is received, you should follow-up with another written confirmation request to the IRS.

Make the Most of Your Vehicle Expense Deduction

Tracking your miles whenever you drive somewhere for your business can get pretty tedious, but remember that properly tracking your vehicle expenses and miles driven can lead to a significant reduction in your taxes.

Here are some tips to make the most of your vehicle expense deduction.

  • Keep track of both mileage and actual expenses. The IRS generally lets you use one of two different methods to track vehicle expenses – the standard mileage rate method or the actual expense method. One year the mileage method may result in a higher deduction, while the actual expense method may be higher in a subsequent year. But you won’t know which method results in a higher deduction unless you track both your mileage and actual expenses.
  • Consider using standard mileage the first year a vehicle is in service. If you use standard mileage the first year your car is placed in service, you can then choose which expense tracking method to use in subsequent years. If you initially use the actual expense method the first year your car is placed in service, you’re locked in to using actual expenses for the duration of using that car in your business. For a car you lease, you must use the standard mileage rate method for the entire lease period (including renewals) if you choose the standard mileage rate the first year.
  • Don’t forget about depreciation! Depreciation can significantly increase your deduction if you use the actual expense method. For heavy SUVs, trucks, and vans with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating above 6,000 pounds, 100% bonus depreciation is available through the end of the 2022 tax year if the vehicle is used more than 50% for business purposes. Regular depreciation is available for vehicles under 6,000 pounds with annual limits applied.
  • Don’t slack on recordkeeping. The IRS mandates that you track your vehicle expenses as they happen (this is called contemporaneous recordkeeping). You’re not allowed to wait until right before filing your tax return to compile all the necessary information needed to claim a vehicle deduction. Whether it’s a physical notebook you stick in your glove compartment or a mobile phone app, pick a method to track your mileage and actual expenses that’s most convenient for you.

Please call if you have any questions about maximizing your business’s vehicle expense deduction.

Get Your Child Tax Credit Payments NOW!

The first advance payment from the newly expanded child tax credit was recently sent out by the IRS. Payments are scheduled to be made on the 15th of each month through December.

Here’s what you need to know about the child tax credit and the advance payments.

Background

For the 2021 tax year, an expanded child tax credit reduces your tax bill by $3,600 if you have a qualifying child that’s age 5 or under, or by $3,000 if you have a qualifying child from age 6 to 17.

If the total amount of the child tax credit for your family exceeds the total taxes you owe, you’ll receive the amount of the credit as a refund.

Child tax credit advance payments

Instead of waiting to file your tax return to receive the entire amount of your child tax credit, the IRS is directed by Congress to send 50% of the credit to you in six monthly payments beginning in July 2021.

For example, say you have three kids, ages 10, 12 and 16. Also assume your income is not too high and your children meet the IRS definition of a qualifying child. Instead of waiting until 2022 when you file your 2021 tax return to receive the entire $9,000 child tax credit, you can get paid half of the child tax credit amount, or $4,500, in 2021.

The advance payments began July 15 and continue for six months until December 15. The family in this example would receive six payments of $750 starting July 15, for a total of $4,500.

What you need to know

The monthly payments are automatic. You’ll automatically receive advance payments if:

  • You filed a 2019 or 2020 tax return and claimed the credit, OR
  • You gave information in 2020 to receive the Economic Impact Payment using the IRS non-filer tool, AND
  • The IRS thinks you are eligible, AND
  • You did not opt-out of the early payments.

Register with the IRS. If you didn’t file a 2019 or 2020 tax return but are otherwise eligible for the child tax credit, you’ll need to register with the IRS to receive the child tax credit. Click here to visit the IRS website to find out if you need to register.

Consider if you should opt out of the advance payments. Getting half of your child tax credit ahead of time may not be the right move for everyone. For example, if your 2021 income ends up higher than expected, you may need to pay back the advance payments when you file your tax return. To opt out, click here to visit the IRS’s child tax credit update portal.

Small Business IRS Audit Mistakes

In late 2020, the IRS announced that it will increase tax audits of small businesses by 50 percent in 2021. Here are several mistakes to avoid if you do get audited by Uncle Sam.

  • Mistake: Missing income. A long history of investigating has led IRS auditors to focus on under-reported income. If you’re a business that handles cash, expect greater scrutiny from the IRS. The same is true if you generate miscellaneous income that’s reported to the IRS on 1099 forms. Be proactive by tracking and documenting all income from whatever source. Invoices, sales receipts, profit and loss statements, bank records—all can be used to substantiate income amounts.
  • Mistake: Higher than normal business losses. Some small businesses struggle in the early years before becoming profitable. If your company’s bottom line never improves, the IRS may view your enterprise as a hobby and subsequently disallow certain deductions. As a general rule, you must earn a profit in three of the past five years to be considered a legitimate business.
  • Mistake: Deductions lacking substantiation. Do you really use your home office exclusively for business? Does your company earn only $50,000 a year but claim charitable donations of $10,000? Do you write off auto expenses for your only car? The key to satisfying auditors is having clear and unequivocal documentation. They want source documents such as mileage logs that match the amount claimed on your tax return and clearly show a business purpose. If you can’t locate a specific record, look for alternative ways to support your tax return filings. In some cases, a vendor or landlord might have copies of pertinent records.
  • Mistake: No expense reports. If you use your credit card for business, create an expense report with account numbers and attach it to each statement. Then attach copies of the bills that support the charges. This is an easy place to blend in personal expenses with business expenses and auditors know it.
  • Mistake: No separate books, bank accounts or statements. Never run personal expenses through business accounts and vice versa. Have separate bank accounts and credit cards. A sure sign of asking for trouble is not keeping the business separate from personal accounts and activities.
  • Mistake: Treat the auditor as an enemy. Auditors have a job to do, and it’s in your best interest to make their task as painless as possible. Try to maintain an attitude of professional courtesy. If you’re called to their office, show up on time and dress professionally. If they come to your place of business, instruct staff to answer questions honestly and completely.

The Hidden Tax Consequences of Cryptocurrency

You may recognize the name Bitcoin and maybe even Ethereum, but what about Litecoin, Dogecoin or Ripple?

These are just some of the more than 4,500 cryptocurrencies available today. There are hidden tax complications, however, associated with every cryptocurrency transaction. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Every transaction has a tax consequence. The IRS treats cryptocurrency as investment property, like stock, and taxes every transaction as a capital gain or loss. When you pay for something in the traditional manner with U.S. dollars, the IRS doesn’t care what the value of the dollar is at the time of the transaction. For virtual currency purposes, however, the value matters. For example, assume you buy Bitcoin for $10 and two months later the market value of that Bitcoin grows to $15 and you spend that $15 worth of Bitcoin to buy something, you’ll have a $5 taxable short-term gain that needs to be reported on your tax return. If you spend a lot of cryptocurrency, tracking the gains and losses can be very complicated.
  • Big gains mean big taxes, but big losses may be limited. In classic IRS form, there is no cap on the amount of taxes you might owe in a single year for gains on the value of cryptocurrencies you sell, while losses might take many years to recoup because of the annual $3,000 loss limit against income. Adding to the complexity, virtual currencies have dramatic valuation changes…much more so than most traditional investment securities. So, you will need to budget appropriately for the taxes you’ll owe whenever you use or sell cryptocurrencies.
  • Cryptocurrency puts you on the IRS’s radar. Being relatively new, virtual currency has caused the IRS to become very concerned about potential mistakes and fraud related to how cryptocurrency is reported on tax returns. The IRS is so concerned about you not reporting cryptocurrency activity that the very first question of your tax return, right beneath where you put your name and address, asks if you took part in any virtual currency transactions over the past year.
  • You are responsible for bookkeeping. With the IRS watching so closely, it’s important to be accurate with your recordkeeping so you can properly report all virtual currency gains and losses on your tax return and substantiate all your transactions in the event of an audit.

ALERT! Late Tax Legislation Creating Havoc

Individual tax return deadline moved to May 17

Congress’ recent move to retroactively make a portion of 2020 unemployment income tax-free is creating havoc during this year’s tax filing season. Here is what you need to know.

Background

Unemployment compensation was received by millions of Americans during 2020 because of the pandemic. While unemployment income was necessary for many who lost a job, it’s also normally classified as taxable income to be reported on your tax return. Recently-passed legislation now makes the first $10,200 of 2020 unemployment compensation tax-free on your tax return.

The problem

The new legislation which contains this tax break didn’t become law until March of 2021, a full three months after the end of the tax year and after millions of Americans had already filed their 2020 tax return!

Understanding your situation

  • If you’ve already filed your 2020 tax return: Wait for further instructions. The IRS is trying to figure out a way to automatically apply this tax break for taxpayers who have already filed their 2020 tax return. This will avoid the need to file an amended tax return. There is no need to call at this time as the IRS has not provided further guidance.
  • If you HAVE NOT filed your 2020 tax return: The IRS has issued guidance on how to report this tax break on your 2020 tax return if you have not already filed. You will be notified once your tax return has been prepared.
  • Tax deadline moved to May 17. Because of all this havoc, the April 15 deadline for individual tax returns is now May 17. This extension applies only to Form 1040s. First quarter estimated tax payments for the 2021 tax year are still due by April 15.

Be assured you will be informed once the IRS issues further instruction on how to claim your tax break. In the meantime, enjoy the extra tax savings you’ll get sometime in the near future!

PPP Loan Expenses Are Now Tax Deductible

If you or your business received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the recently passed Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 will help to dramatically cut your tax bill. Here’s what you need to know.

Background

The PPP program was created by the CARES Act in March 2020 to help businesses which were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualified businesses could apply for and receive loans of up to $10 million. Loan proceeds could be used to pay for certain expenses incurred by a business, including salaries and wages, other employee benefits, rent and utilities.

If the business used at least 60% of loan proceeds towards payroll expenses, the entire amount of the loan would be forgiven.

The Dilemma

While the CARES Act spelled out that a business’s forgiven PPP loan would not be considered taxable income, the legislation was silent about how to treat expenses paid for using PPP loan proceeds if the loan was ultimately forgiven.

Congress intended for these expenses to be deductible for federal tax purposes. But since the legislation was silent on this issue, the IRS swooped in and deemed these expenses to be nondeductible.

There was considerable debate over the latter half of 2020, with Congressional politicians explaining that their intent was that the expenses be deductible and the IRS responding “Too bad, they’re nondeductible.”

The Solution

Congress overruled the IRS’s position in the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020. The legislation officially makes deductible for federal tax purposes all expenses paid for using proceeds from a forgiven PPP loan.

Stay tuned for updates as to how this new legislation affects your business.

Common IRS Surprises

No one likes surprises from the IRS, but they do occasionally happen. Here are some examples of unpleasant tax situations you could find yourself in and what to do about them.

  • An expected refund turns into a tax payment. Nothing may be more deflating than expecting to get a nice tax refund and instead being met with the reality that you actually owe the IRS more money.

    What you can do: Run an estimated tax return and see if you may be in for a surprise. If so, adjust how much federal income tax is withheld from your paycheck for the balance of the year. Consult with your company’s human resources department to figure out how to make the necessary adjustments for the future. If you’re self-employed, examine if you need to increase your estimated tax payments due in January, April, June and September.

  • Getting a letter from the IRS. Official tax forms such as W-2s and 1099s are mailed to both you and the IRS. If the figures on your income tax return do not match those in the hands of the IRS, you will get a letter from the IRS saying that you’re being audited. These audits are now done by mail and are commonly known as correspondence audits. The IRS assumes their figures are correct and will demand payment for the taxes you owe on the amount of income you omitted on your tax return.

    What you can do: Assuming you already know you received all your 1099s and W-2s and confirmed their accuracy, verify the information in the IRS letter with your records. Believe it or not, the IRS sometimes makes mistakes! It is always best to ask for help in how to correspond and make your payments in a timely fashion, if they are justified.

  • Getting a tax bill for an emergency retirement distribution. Due to the pandemic, you can withdraw money from retirement accounts in 2020 without getting a 10% early withdrawal penalty, but you’ll still have to pay income taxes on the amount withdrawn. If you don’t plan for this extra tax you will be surprised with an additional tax bill. And you may still get an underpayment penalty bill from the IRS because you did not withhold enough during the year. You may also still receive an early withdrawal penalty in error because the IRS is still scrambling to update their systems with all of this year’s tax relief changes.

    What you can do: Set aside a percentage of your distribution for taxes. Your account administrator may withhold funds automatically for you when you request the withdrawal, so check your statements. Your review should be for both federal and any state tax obligations. If the withholding is not sufficient, consider sending in an estimated tax payment. And if you are charged a withdrawal penalty, ask for help to correspond with the IRS to get this charge reversed.

No one likes surprises when filing their taxes. With a little planning now, you can reduce the chance of having a surprise hit your tax return later.

Turn Your Home Office Into a Tax Deduction

If you are working from home for the first time in 2020, you may be wondering if your home office is tax deductible. The bad news? If you’re working from home for an employer, you normally can’t deduct your home office expenses.

Here’s a quick look at the basic requirements to be able to deduct your home office expenses, along with some suggestions for how to qualify for the deduction if you’re currently working for your company as an employee.

The basics

There are two requirements for having a tax-deductible home office:

  • Your home office is only used for business purposes. Your home office must be used exclusively for operating your business. It can’t double as the family media center or living room. To meet this requirement, set up your office in a separate area of your house. Then if you get audited by the IRS, there is no doubt that your office is used exclusively for business purposes.
  • Your home office is your primary place of business. You need to demonstrate that your home office is the primary place you conduct your business. The IRS has clarified that you can meet clients and conduct meetings at separate office locations, but your home office must be the only location where your administrative work is completed. So, if you meet with clients or work on any part of your business away from your home office, keep a journal of each specific activity undertaken and describe how it doesn’t violate the primary place-of-business rule.

Looking at these two criteria, everyone that is now required to work from home probably meets both qualifications. If you’re a W-2 employee, however, you can’t deduct your home office expenses on your tax return.

Solving the problem

Here are three options for solving your problem of being a W-2 employee and qualifying to deduct your home office expenses on your tax return.

  • Become an independent contractor. The easiest way to deduct your home office expenses is by switching from being an employee to an independent contractor. With a number of firms cutting pay and hours due to the pandemic, it may be worth exploring. There’s a big warning label if you go this route, however. You will need to account for lost benefits, such as health insurance, and the additional cost of self-employment taxes. If you can meet the IRS requirements for becoming an independent contractor, it may be worth doing the math and considering all the deductions your home office may make available to you.
  • Start a side business. If becoming an independent contractor for your current employer isn’t an option, consider starting a side business. You can deduct all business-related expenses on your tax return, including your home office expenses. If you go this route, ensure your home office is in a different location in your home than your other work space.
  • Consider your entire household. Even if you don’t qualify for the home office deduction, maybe someone else living in your home does qualify. So, look into your options to see if a family member can take advantage of the home office deduction.

What if none of these options for deducting home office expenses are feasible for you? While you won’t be able to deduct your home office expenses on your tax return, you may still be able to end up financially ahead with the help of your employer.

Get reimbursed by your company

There’s no question you are picking up some of the expense of your home office with added electrical, heating, telephone, internet, and other expenses. One way companies are solving this is by allowing employees to submit valid expense reports to cover some of these extra costs. They do this by setting up an accountable plan. With financial pressures on businesses, this might be a tough subject to broach, but if the system is already in place you may be able to find a way to get some of your home office expense reimbursed.

So if you’re stuck working as a W-2 employee, look into whether your employer offers reimbursement for home office expenses.

Figuring out how to properly deduct your home office or get reimbursed by your employer can be a lot more complicated than it appears. If you need help, contact your financial advisor.

IRS Announces Common Tax Scams

The IRS recently announced its 2020 edition of its annual Dirty Dozen list of tax scams with a special emphasis on aggressive and evolving schemes related to COVID-19 tax relief, including Economic Impact Payments. Here are six of the more common scams.

Phishing. Phishing refers to potential fake emails or websites looking to steal your personal information. Remember the IRS will never initiate contact with you via email about an outstanding tax bill, refund or Economic Impact Payment.

What you can do. If you receive any suspicious phishing emails, forward them to phishing@irs.gov.

Fake charities. Criminals frequently exploit natural disasters and other crisis situations such as this year’s pandemic by setting up fake charities to steal donations. Fraudulent schemes normally start with unsolicited contact by telephone, text, social media, e-mail or even in person.

What you can do. Verify the charity’s existence by searching for it using the IRS’s search tool.

Threatening phone calls from IRS impersonators. IRS impersonation scams include phone calls threatening arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay a bogus tax bill. The IRS will never demand immediate payment or ask for financial information over the phone.

What you can do. If you received a phone call, contact your local IRS office to verify whether you owe any taxes.

Social media scams. A scammer will use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to obtain personal information from you, then use that information to trick you into providing them with confidential information. For example, the scammer could impersonate a family member, friend or co-worker in an attempt to obtain financial information.

What you can do. Be careful of publishing confidential information on social media. Verify the identity of any person or organization that asks you for confidential information.

Economic impact payment or tax refund theft. Criminals file false tax returns or supply other bogus information to the IRS to divert refunds or Economic Impact Payments to wrong addresses or bank accounts.

What you can do. Contact a qualified professional to help walk you through how to report identity theft to the IRS.

Senior fraud. Senior citizens have become more comfortable with various technologies such as social media. This has opened the door for scammers to take advantage of senior citizens by using fake emails, text messages and fake websites to steal personal information.

What you can do. Be the eyes and ears for the senior citizens you come in contact with. According to the IRS, anecdotal evidence indicates that senior fraud decreases substantially when a trusted friend or family member takes an interest in the senior’s affairs.