816-741-7882
Professional services with a personal touch.

02/15/2017

Costs of Free Online Tax Prep Tools

More taxpayers who prepare their own taxes are turning to internet resources versus software, but they should be aware of information-sharing nuances as they sign-up for the growing number of free online services.

A recent Wall Street Journal article took a look at the “free” of free online tax preparation services to identify whether there were any hidden costs.  The article reveals that while the online companies are attracting millions of do-it-yourself tax filers by offering free tax preparation tools, some service providers seek “to collect income and other data from its tax-prep users to make recommendations for credit cards and other financial products to them.”

Online tax software probeThe article confirms that when a customer follows through and buys the recommended products, that’s when the service provider makes money by being paid by a third party financial institution. This doesn’t cost the user upfront, but it’s a type of third party advertising that uses information sharing as its money-making tool.

Free online tax preparation service provider Credit Karma was interviewed in the article about the practice and the Company responded that this year it requires people to become Credit Karma “members” before they can use the free tax preparation services.  On the Company’s website members must provide their name, address, date of birth, mobile phone number and the last 4 digits of their Social Security Number.  Credit Karma says it does not charge third parties to advertise about their products or services, but rather uses a member’s information to suggest products and services that could help the member financially. The members are not charged, and Credit Karma is only paid if a member buys a product or service that it suggested.

Credit Karma members can select an “opt out” option to prevent the Company from using their tax return data, which includes their income and tax payments or refunds information, but not all customers are aware that their basic membership data may be shared.  One customer was quoted in the article saying that she had been approached by her credit-card company asking her to update her income after using Credit Karma’s free tax preparation service.  Credit Karma responded that the notice had nothing to do with her membership, but the customer deactivated her account anyway. Other providers say they also offer users ways to opt out of any information sharing.

Some of the other major online tax preparation service providers include Intuit, H&R Block, TaxAct and Blucora.  These companies may provide easy-to-use cost-free tax preparation tools via the internet, but when it comes to more complicated tax returns or state income tax returns, there are usually charges for the necessary forms and data calculation which are considered upgrades by the vendor.

It is also important for taxpayers with more complicated returns to know the questions and forms they need in order for the systems to share information and solutions, so there can be confusion and missed opportunities to claim tax credits and file the proper forms.

More taxpayers than ever before are turning to digital resources both online and through software to prepare and file their simple tax returns, but they should be mindful that even basic tax preparation services may have a complicated back-end effect on privacy and hidden advertising tactics.

Going Digital With Direct Deposits


Internet-sales-tax copyMore than ever before, taxpayers are choosing digital tools to file their tax returns and receive refunds. The latest numbers show 4 out of 5 taxpayers filed electronically in 2016 using a professional tax preparer or online software.  Of those taxpayers who qualified for a refund, 8 out of 10 chose to have the money deposited directly into a bank account rather than waiting for a check to arrive by mail.

The growth in digital tax tools use is due in part to IRS mandates.  Paper returns require more man hours to process; costing more and lengthening the time to receive a tax refund by weeks or months.  The IRS now requires most tax preparation professionals to file all tax returns and attachments electronically.  While under no mandate, more do-it-yourself taxpayers with simple tax returns are choosing to use the internet to prepare their returns using the IRS Free File software, and send electronically prepared returns through IRS e-File. This trend reflects security and privacy concerns as well as worries about delays that can come from paper filings and paper checks.

Combining IRS e-File with the direct deposit program is the fastest way to receive a refund and the transaction is free.  Most refunds are issued within 21 calendar days once the IRS receives a tax return.  A taxpayer may request that their refund be split into deposits in up to three separate financial accounts.  There are also options to purchase savings bonds, have a portion of a refund deposited into an Individual Retirement Account or make a deposit into an account with a pre-paid debit card.  A refund should only be deposited into an account or accounts that are in the taxpayer’s own name or spouse’s name, if it’s a joint account.

Tax agency officials try to reassure taxpayers the system used to receive tax records and payments as well as send refunds is the safest system available.  In the fall of 2015 and again in January 2016, new IRS software updates crashed the system and a small part of its online payment collection system was hacked causing delays and the need to reset taxpayer pins for security.

Today, the IRS uses the same electronic transfer system for refunds that is used to deliver almost all Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits to millions of accounts.  It combines built-in security protection tools with layers of online protection programs provided by banks and financial institutions.

You can request the electronic direct deposit option to receive your refund even if you file a paper return by mail; yet know that processing a paper return takes the IRS on average two months longer than processing a digital return.  Requesting a direct deposit of your refund will not speed up the processing time.

If you have questions about the direct deposit option for income tax refunds, please contact one of our tax preparation specialists at McRuer CPAs for more information.

02/14/2017

Saving with myRA

The US Department of Treasury is offering the new myRA retirement savings account for people who have no access to a retirement savings plan at their job or lack other options to save.  It is a simple fund that is easy and free to open.  The idea is that if you give people a bit of help, they will learn the benefits of saving money and begin new habits that will last a lifetime.

MyRA logoA myRA account earns interest at the same rate as investments in the Government Securities Fund (average annual return of 2.94% over the last ten years) which are backed by the US Treasury.  It costs nothing to open the account and there are no fees.  A myRA is operated under Roth IRA Rules, so there is an annual contribution limit of $5,500 ($6,500 for individuals 50 years of age or older).  The fund is limited to a maximum $15,000.

The fund’s owner may withdraw any amount of money at any time tax-free and with no penalty.  The money can also be transferred to a private-sector Roth IRA at any time with no penalty.

Contributions may be made from direct deposits from a person’s paycheck, checking or savings account, and a federal income tax refund by marking the “savings” box on the refund section of a return.

The fund is designed to be a part of what is described as a “larger savings journey” with online tracking tools including a myRA Savings Goal calculator.  For more information, click here to visit the “Get Answers” page of the myRA website.

02/13/2017

EITC Refunds Slow

Big-tax-refundChanges in tax law may cause a delay in receiving tax refunds for early tax filers.  New in 2017, the 2015 Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act has moved up the Forms W-2 filing deadline for employers and small businesses to January 31st from the previous end-of-February deadline.  The new deadline also applies to certain Forms 1099.  The new January 31st deadline is designed to help the IRS spot errors in early returns filed by taxpayers.  Having the Forms W-2 and 1099 sooner makes it easier to verify legitimate tax returns and send out refunds.

However, the changes will mean that early tax filers who apply for certain tax credits should expect that their refunds will arrive later than in past years.  If you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), the law prevents the issuing of the refund(s) until February 15th.

The way the calendar dates occur this tax season, even if a qualifying taxpayer has a refund issued on the first available day, February 15th, the money may not arrive even through a direct deposit until the week of February 27th.  Financial institutions need a few days to process the deposits and many do not process payments on weekends or holidays.  The President’s Day holiday on February 20th will also delay processing.  If a taxpayer has requested their refund to be paid by check, the delay in receiving payment could be several days or weeks longer, even into March.

02/10/2017

W-2 Scam Targets Small Business

Question-yikA5pBiEThe IRS has issued a new tax-related identity-theft scam warning to small businesses and human resources professionals.  The email phishing scam uses a business owner’s, corporate officer’s or human resource professional’s name in what looks like company or even official tax agency emails. The emails request copies of employee Forms W-2 from company payroll, internal accounting or human resources departments.

This is the second time the email scam has been identified as attacking businesses nationwide. The IRS urges business owners, internal accountants and company payroll officials to double check any executive-level requests for lists of Forms W-2 or Social Security Numbers.

The W-2 scam first appeared in early 2016. The IRS reports that cybercriminals tricked payroll and human resource officials into disclosing employee names, SSNs and income information. The thieves then attempted to file fraudulent tax returns to create fraudulent income tax refunds in a tax-related identity theft scheme.

This phishing variation is known as a “spoofing” e-mail.  It will contain, for example, the actual company chief executive officer’s name.  In this variation, the “CEO” sends an email to a company payroll office or human resource employee requesting a list of employees and information including their SSNs.

Crime investigators say some of the wording used in actual scam emails included:

  • “Kindly send me the individual 2016 Forms W-2 (PDF) and earnings summaries of our company staff for a quick review.”
  • “Can you send me the updated list of employees with full details (Name, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Home Address, Salary).”
  • “I want you to send me the list of Form W-2 copies of employees’ wage and tax statement for 2016.  I need them in PDF file type, and please send it as an attachment.  Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me asap.”

Working together in the Security Summit, the IRS, states and tax industry representatives have made progress fighting against tax-related identity theft.  However, cybercriminals continue developing more sophisticated tactics to impersonate taxpayers in their effort to steal even more data.

For more information about tax-related identity theft and other tax scams, click here to link to The Security Summit’s national taxpayer awareness campaign called “Taxes. Security. Together.

01/09/2017

2017 Mileage Rates for Business Use of a Vehicle

As reported by the Journal of Accountancy: The IRS has announced  the optional standard mileage rates for business use of a vehicle will drop slightly in 2017, the second consecutive annual decline. For business use of a car, van, pickup truck, or panel truck, the rate for 2017 will be 53.5 cents per mile, down from 54 cents per mile in 2016. Taxpayers can use the optional standard mileage rates to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile.

Driving for medical or moving purposes may be deducted at 17 cents per mile, which is two cents lower than for 2016. The rate for service to a charitable organization is unchanged, set by statute at 14 cents per mile (Sec. 170(i)).

The portion of the business standard mileage rate that is treated as depreciation will be 25 cents per mile for 2017, one cent higher than for 2016.

To compute the allowance under a fixed and variable rate (FAVR) plan, the maximum standard automobile cost is $27,900 for 2017 (down from $28,000 for 2016) for automobiles (not including trucks and vans) and $31,300 for trucks and vans (an increase of $300 from 2016). Under a FAVR plan, a standard amount is deemed substantiated for an employer’s reimbursement to employees for expenses they incur in driving their vehicle in performing services as an employee for the employer.

See more at: http://www.journalofaccountancy.com/news/2016/dec/irs-2017-mileage-rates-201615701.html#sthash.sxZ6OHvw.dpuf

01/06/2017

2017 Tax Rates (If Nothing Changes)

Income tax graphicPending any immediate changes under a new administration, tax officials say low inflation rates will ensure that current tax brackets and most other tax system features will change only slightly in 2017 with the exception of effects of health coverage mandates.

The standard deduction will rise $50 for individuals to $6,350 from $6,300.  The personal exemption increased $4,050 in 2016 and will remain the same in 2017. The standard deduction for married filing jointly rises $100 to $12,700.

The personal exemption for tax year 2017 remains at $4,050.  However, the exemption is subject to a phase-out that begins with adjusted gross incomes of $261,500 ($313,800 for married couples filing jointly). It phases out completely at $384,000 ($436,300 for married couples filing jointly).

But for those taxpayers who do not maintain the minimum essential health coverage in 2017, the penalty which is collected by the IRS will increase significantly. The charge for failing to have qualified health insurance coverage will be $695 or 2.5% of income for individuals and $2,085 or 2.5% of income for families.  The penalty was $325 for individuals and $975 for families in 2015. That was an increase from the penalty of $95 for individuals or $285 for families in 2014.

The 2017 top individual tax rate of 39.6% will apply to income above $470,000 for married couples, up
from $466,950.  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) or ‘Obamacare’ mandates that high-income taxpayers pay another 3.8% surtax on net investment income, so the top federal income tax rate for individuals is actually 43.4% and will remain at that level pending a possible ACA repeal.

Qualified dividends and long-term capital gains are also taxed an additional 15% or 20% depending upon income and are subject to another 3.8% net investment income tax.

Estates of decedents who die during 2017 have a basic exclusion amount of $5,490,000, up from a total of $5,450,000 for estates of decedents who died in 2016.

These rates are set to apply to 2017 taxes which will be filed in early 2018.

Call us at McRuer CPAs if you have any questions: 816.741.7882 or contact us online by clicking here.

01/03/2017

2016 Individual Income Tax Filing Season Launches January 23

Taxtime graphicThe tax season for processing 2016 federal income tax returns begins Monday, January 23, 2017.  The tax day deadline will be April 18th this season, to adapt to the Easter holiday weekend.

The IRS says it would start accepting electronic tax returns on January 23rd and it anticipates more than 153 million individual tax returns to be filed.  This, as Congress is expected to continue tight budget constraints on the agency under a new administration.  Taxpayer advocates warn taxpayers to expect delays in processing, more computer-driven automatic correspondence audits (letters that are sent by computers to taxpayers when a tax return issue raises a flag without a preliminary review by human eyes), and extremely long wait times should a taxpayer need to connect with the agency to ask a question or respond to a correspondence audit.

Taxpayers may also be affected by a new law that requires the IRS to hold tax refunds claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit until February 15th.  The IRS says the delays are due to the additional time needed for these tax refunds to be released and processed through financial institutions.  Factoring in weekends and the President’s Day holiday, the IRS is warning many affected taxpayers may not have actual access to their tax refunds until the week of February 27th, if they have filed a completed tax return by the end of January.  

For more information on the status of a refund, a taxpayer may use the online resource called "Where's My Refund?".

11/30/2016

Trump's Take on Taxes

President-Elect Donald Trump’s tax plan promises to take a hatchet to the current tax code affecting individuals and businesses alike.  Experts and analysts have varied views about what his administration will do and how soon, but they agree that the Republican control of both the House and Senate will enable faster action and more radical moves.

Trump speakingComprehensive tax plans which would reduce tax rates for individuals and businesses while eliminating many deductions and tax breaks have been in the works, but politics prevented their introduction.  Because most of this legislation has already been written, pulling together the plans into a Trump-approved tax bill for debate could happen at lightning speed.

Considering ordinary income taxes only, the current tax code charges individuals complicated graduated tax rates from 10% to 39.6%.  Trump’s proposal includes only three individual income tax brackets: 12%, 25% and 33%.  Itemized deductions would be capped or no longer allowed and personal exemptions would be eliminated.

Under the Trump tax plan business taxes would be slashed and corporations would pay 15% instead of 35% on earnings.  A more simplified tax structure would eliminate most business deductions including interest on debt.  Depreciation of assets would also be calculated differently through a more limited and simplified tax code.

Trump plans to eliminate estate taxes which currently charge 40% tax on assets above $5.45 million.  His plan would still allow an income tax on the appreciation inherent in the assets for larger estates that would be paid when the assets are sold by the beneficiary.

America’s new President is set to be sworn in January 20th.  In the footsteps of two former Presidents, John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover, as billionaire real estate mogul Trump has opted to forego the annual Presidential salary of $400,000.  He is quickly putting together a team of lawmakers who will fulfill his campaign promises to slash taxes and repeal major provisions of the Affordable Care Act (see more below in “2017 Tax Rates (If Nothing Changes)”) among his first days in office.

This is a good time to review and understand your options. Contact us now to confirm your year-end tax planning session and we’ll help you determine the best tax strategy during changing times.

11/29/2016

Military Service and Taxes

Military-veteran 2Here's a quick update on tax issues affecting active duty military and veterans:

The IRS has updated its tax guide with information on the special tax benefits available to active duty military personnel and disabled veterans. Click here for more.

11/28/2016

2017 Tax ID Theft Guards in Place

Taxpayer id theftLaw enforcement officials designate identity theft as the fastest growing crime in the world.  New tax-related fraud prevention steps are set to kick in for the 2017 tax season. 

New or expanded tax-related identity theft features protecting taxpayers in 2017 include:

*37 new data elements that authenticate electronically transmitted individual tax returns

*32 new data elements that authenticate electronically transmitted business tax returns

*designation of what’s called “ultimate bank accounts” to ensure the refunds are deposited into a taxpayer’s real bank account

*the 16-digit Form W-2 Verification Code that will now be added to 50 millionW-2 forms to validate the information

*additional and more elaborate password requirements for software used by individuals and tax preparation experts that will both protect personal information and prevent multiple filings under the same Social Security number

More information resources will also be shared between federal, state and local tax authorities regarding identity-theft tax fraud. This is expected to not only help with early fraud detection, but also uncover trends that can more quickly uncover more complicated schemes that may affect a large number of taxpayers all at once.

Click here to find out more about the tax-related identity theft fraud prevention campaign called “Taxes. Security. Together.”

11/15/2016

Tax-Related ID Theft Drops

The IRS and its Security Summit partners say collective efforts to stop tax-related identity theft appear to be working.  New statistics show that the number of new people filing affidavits with the IRS claiming they have been victims of identity theft regarding their federal tax returns has dropped more than 50 percent compared to 2015.

Identity thieves typically file fake tax returns seeking refunds.  A taxpayer doesn’t know their personal information has been stolen until they file a tax return and are alerted that a refund was already issued.  So far in 2016, nearly 238,000 claims of tax-related identity theft have been filed compared to more than 512,000 in the same time period of 2015.  Overall, more than 74.5 million individual tax returns were filed in the 2015 tax year. 2016 totals are not yet available.

Identity theftThe IRS credits new systems checks with catching fraudulent returns before they are processed.  Through September of this year, the IRS stopped 787,000 confirmed identity theft returns, preventing more than $4 billion in losses from fake refunds.

More banks are also joining the tax fraud fight by using internet-related signals to stop suspect refunds from being auto-deposited, especially refunds with an unusually high dollar amounts.  Shared information between state and regional tax offices has improved fraud filters and alerts.  New hidden data elements on tax returns filed by professional preparers has also helped detect suspicious returns.

11/01/2016

New IRS Installment Payment Fees in 2017

The IRS is proposing a substantial increase in the user fee it charges taxpayers who seek to pay the taxes they owe through the agency’s installment agreement program.  But, as a means of balance, if the taxpayer chooses more online and automatic deduction options, the fee will be greatly reduced compared to 2016 rates.

Currently, it costs $120 to apply for the payment agreement which sets the taxpayer up to pay off the tax amount owed month-by-month.  The application fee can be lowered to $52 for a taxpayer who agrees to have the payment automatically deducted as direct debits (auto-debits) from their bank account.

Pvc-incremento-estados-unidos-gUnder proposed changes, the new application fee would be $225 or may be lowered to $107 if the taxpayer agrees to auto-debits.  Taxpayers who apply online, but pay by check or through the online EFTPS system would pay a $149 fee.  The fee would lower considerably to $31 if the taxpayer chooses an all-digital option by applying online and agreeing to auto-debits.

Taxpayers have the option of contacting the IRS online, in person, by phone or by mail to set up an installment agreement.  As the tax collection agency continues to update software and systems, it is finding new ways to utilize the internet to speed up the time it takes to file and process a return, collect tax payments and administer tax refunds.

Click here to find out more.

04/15/2016

Filing For a Tax Extension to Meet Deadline Time

Paying-taxesAlthough taxpayers have an extra weekend to prepare and file individual income tax returns due to the Friday April 15th federal holiday, the Monday April 18th deadline arrives with the same rules.  You must file your 2015 individual income tax return by the deadline or face penalties as well as additional penalties and interest charges on any unpaid taxes owed.

Even if you’re filing an extension allowing up to six months more time to complete and file your final return, you are still required to pay the estimated taxes you owe by the April 18th deadline.

Filing an Extension

At this point, there are only a few more days to complete your tax return on or before the deadline.  If you have a complicated return and have not yet submitted tax information to your tax preparation professional, requesting an extension of time to file may be your best option.

Form 4868 is the application you need for an automatic extension of time to file your federal individual income taxes.  The IRS will give you up to October 17, 2016 to file your 2015 individual income tax return before new late filing penalties will be assessed. You may file it any time before the extension expires.  Qualifying taxpayers who are out of the country are allowed two extra months to file and pay taxes owed without facing a penalty.  Those taxpayers include citizens who are in the military serving outside the country or live and/or work outside the United States and Puerto Rico. (Read more about military service tax benefits by clicking here.)

If you request an extension, you will still owe interest on any tax that was not paid by the regular due date, even if you qualify for the two-month extension to file your return. (Find out more about the penalties you may face by clicking here to read The Price of Missed Tax Deadlines.)

One way to escape having to file the extension request tax form is to pay the taxes you owe through an IRS venue such as Direct Pay, EFTPS or using your own credit card on irs.gov.  When you pay all that you owe online by the deadline through these venues you will receive a confirmation number for your records and do not have to file the Form 4868.  However, you will need to file your tax return as soon as you can.  On that return you will be asked to share your confirmation of paying your taxes by the deadline.  You still face a late filing penalty, but will not have to pay penalty and interest on the taxes owed. (For information about ways to pay the tax you owe, click here to read Tax Payment Options to Meet Deadline Date.)

Businesses may also apply for an extension of time to file tax returns under certain circumstances, such as being in the middle of declaring bankruptcy. Form 7004 provides a tool to request a 5-month or 6-month extension of time without paying a late filing penalty. Form 1138 allows certain corporations an extension of time to file if the entity is expecting a net operating loss carryback that cannot be calculated by the designated tax deadline date.

If you have any questions about filing an extension or meeting your tax deadline obligation, please contact us at McRuer CPAs for more information.

04/08/2016

The Price of Missed Tax Deadlines

Ouch! When you don’t file and don’t pay your income taxes on time, you’re going to pay a price in penalties and interest that will apply to the taxes you owe and the time it takes you to file your return. These penalties and interest charges begin the day after you miss the deadline...AND like the Energizer Bunny, they keep adding and adding and adding to the amount you owe until the taxes owed are paid in full and the required tax returns are filed.Money-1ccc

Interest - If you don’t pay your taxes by the deadline, interest begins right away on the amount of tax you owe.  It adds up until the day you pay the tax owed.  Even if you had what the IRS would determine as a “good reason” for not paying on time, you will still owe the interest on any outstanding amount.  Interest is charged in addition to penalties assessed.

Late Payment Penalty - Even if you make a partial payment of the taxes you owe by the tax deadline date, you will still be assessed a penalty for paying any remaining balance late.  The late payment penalty is usually ½ of 1% of any tax that is owed.  The penalty is charged for each month or part of a month the tax remains unpaid. The maximum penalty charged is 25% of what is owed.

The late payment penalty will not be charged if you can prove to the IRS that you have a reasonable cause for not paying on time.  A reasonable cause must be documented and could include things such as serious illness or incapacitation, a natural disaster or fire, the inability to obtain records, and the unavoidable absence or death of a member of the taxpayer’s family that causes a delay in completing a tax return.  However, the lack of funds to pay taxes cannot be used as an excuse to file late or fail to file a return.

Late Filing Penalty - A late filing penalty is charged even when you request an extension. The penalty is usually 5% of the amount due for each month or part of a month your return is late.  This penalty is assessed on top of the late payment penalty and in addition to interest charged on outstanding taxes.  The maximum penalty for filing late is 25%.  If your return is more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty is $135 or the balance of the tax due on your return, whichever is smaller.  Again, you may avoid this penalty if you have a reasonable cause.

Now, let’s also consider the penalties and interest owed on any late state and local tax filings or taxes owed.  Sometimes taxpayers forget that tax deadlines also apply to state and local tax filings. States, counties and municipalities have different ways of assessing and collecting taxes and also enforce penalties for failure to file, failure to file on time and failure to pay taxes.  All of this can add up very quickly.

Another issue taxpayers sometimes miss is that all the different penalties and interest charges are independent of each other and may be added one on top of the other to the original tax obligation.  They also don't go away. New tallies on remaining balances continue to calculate until all obligations are met.  This is how the interest and penalties can add up making paying on time and in full as well as filing on time a much better choice.

The longer you wait to settle current or past tax issues with late filings and payments, the more it will cost you in money and anxiety. There are ways to ease the burden. If you need more information on how much you may owe for not filing or not paying your taxes on time, please contact us at McRuer CPAs.  We’ll help you figure the cost as well as your options to pay any penalties and interest you may owe.

RSS Feed

Welcome from Scott McRuer
& the McRuer CPAs Team

Scott McRuer
Learn more about Scott

Follow Scott and his team on your favorite social media

Facebook LinkedIn YouTube