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Business Tax Preparation

02/15/2017

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.

02/10/2017

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.

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

Tax Payment Options to Meet Deadline Date

The IRS says more than 70 percent of taxpayers will receive tax refunds this year due to tax credits and having too much of their income withheld.  Last year’s average tax refund was $2,797 and it’s expected to be close to the same average for this year’s tax season.

Meanwhile, for the rest of taxpayers who owe taxes there are new and faster ways to pay.  The IRS offers several online or direct-call opportunities to pay taxes even without filing on time. 

Paying-moneyThe Direct Pay option allows individuals to pay their outstanding taxes or estimated taxes directly from a checking or savings account.  A taxpayer receives an immediate confirmation of payment if making an instant payment or can schedule a payment to be made at a later time or at future intervals.  The IRS system does not store the payment information after the transaction to avoid online hackers.  See a previous ReSource article Another Cyberattack on Taxpayer Information for more information about tax-related identity theft occurring through IRS systems.

For the first time there’s a new cash payment option for taxpayers in partnership with two online payment processing companies including OfficialPayments.com and PayNearMe.  Individuals may now use up to $1,000 cash per day to pay outstanding taxes if they do not have or do not want to use a bank account or credit card.  Payments can be made at more than 7,000 participating 7-Eleven convenience stores across the country.

The IRS still promotes that the easiest way to pay individual and business taxes is through the Department of Treasury’s Electronic Federal Tax Payment System or EFTPS.  A relatively new feature to this online registration payment method is the EFTPS Voice Response System.  Both services are offered for free with no extra fees charged for processing and scheduling regular payments.

Through EFTPS a taxpayer can use the internet, phone or mobile device to make, schedule and review tax payments any time of day.  Businesses and individuals can schedule payments up to a year in advance. Payments can be changed or cancelled up to two days before the scheduled transaction date. This method provides a way to pay all types of federal taxes from individual to business federal income taxes, employment taxes, estimated taxes and excise taxes.

Should a taxpayer prefer to use a credit or debit card to pay taxes, the IRS accepts payments from Visa, MasterCard, American Express and other card vendors.  The taxpayer must submit the payment information through IRS-approved secure credit card processing companies.  Each processing company charges a fee for the transaction.  The system is not designed to accept high balance tax payments nor federal tax deposits. Generally, the payments are limited to 2 per year for individuals and 2 per quarter for estimated tax payments.  The providers are Pay1040.com, PayUSATax.com and OfficialPayments. You can review the the IRS-approved options by clicking here.

We’ve explained a lot about federal income taxes, but don’t forget that you also have state and local tax obligations and deadlines.  Each state, county and municipality has different ways of accepting tax filings and payments.  Most have online payment programs in place.  Check with your state and local tax collector’s office online or by phone if you have questions about how, when and where to file your tax return and make tax payments as needed.

If you continually receive tax refunds, it may be a sign that you’re having too much withheld.  The money could be put to better use than loaning it to the government for free.  On the other hand, if you owe taxes every year that you did not expect, you may benefit from strategic tax planning that could lessen your tax burden or provide a more consistent tax payment structure that could ease tax deadline pressures. 

At McRuer CPAs it is our goal to make certain you pay only the taxes you owe. Contact us to set up a tax review session with one of our tax preparation experts.

02/04/2016

IRS Computer Failures Occur

The IRS reports it suffered a temporary computer failure that involved several of its processing systems just two weeks into the federal individual income tax-filing season. The system failure left the agency temporarily unable to process electronically filed tax returns Wednesday, February 3rd, and most of the day Thursday, February 4th.  The IRS began accepting 2015 tax returns for processing January 19th.

Computer hardwareThe agency explained in an online statement it had experienced a "hardware failure" that was "affecting a number of tax processing systems".  Tools that both taxpayers and tax preparers use were not working including the "Where's My Refund" online search tool and the updated e-file system that was just put into practice for 2015 tax returns.  By Thursday morning, the "Where's My Refund" tool and other services were operating again.  However, preparers reported the e-file service was not yet running consistently.

When the incident occurred an agency spokesman said, "Taxpayers can still prepare their returns, and tax preparers will have to hold them until the IRS is able to take them again."  A new statement said it had resumed processing returns by 5pm Thursday and the system outage issues had been resolved.  

The agency continues to say that it expects to meet its goal of processing 90% of refunds within 21 days.  For more information, click here to read the IRS news release.

01/26/2016

New ACA-Related Tax Forms on Their Way

Your 2015 individual income tax return may need to include new documentation to meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  For the first time,   Taxpayers may need to file the new forms with their 2015 federal income tax returns or keep the information with their tax records.

Enews pic affordable-care-act-logo-obamacareThis requirement is part of the ACA mandate that all Americans have “minimum essential coverage” under the federal health insurance law. If you do not have the minimum required coverage, you will need to prove you qualify for an exemption or pay a shared responsibility payment when you file your tax return.

What’s new for the filing of 2015 individual federal income tax returns is that qualifying taxpayers should be receiving the new tax information Forms 1095-A, 1095-B, or 1095-C. Taxpayers who may qualify for a premium tax credit should wait to receive a Form 1095-A before filing their tax return. Other taxpayers who are not seeking a credit are not required to submit the forms they may receive, but should keep the records on hand in case they need to verify their health insurance coverage if audited.

Businesses, the Marketplace (which is government managed) and employers who are providing health coverage plans or options to employees bear the responsibility of completing and sending new forms.

Form 1095-A

The new Form 1095-A is called the Health Insurance Marketplace Statement. Taxpayers who are enrolled in coverage through the Marketplace must file a tax return using Form 1095-A if they qualify for a premium tax credit and reimbursement of any advance payments made in 2015. This new form is created and sent from the Marketplace and should be sent by mail to qualifying taxpayers by early February.

It is possible that a taxpayer’s household will receive more than one Form 1095-A. This may happen if more than one policy covers people in the same household, if any household member switched plans in 2015, or had a life change after their coverage began (such as getting married or the addition or deletion of a dependent). Make certain the dates reflected on the form(s) include the correct start and end dates of coverage as well as the correct number of people in the household.

Form 1095-B

The new Form 1095-B is a form that is compiled and sent from health care insurance providers to individuals documenting the nature and duration of coverage. Though for the first time providers are required to send these forms, the forms are not yet required to be included with a federal income tax return. Taxpayers are urged not to wait to receive this new form before filing their return, but rather to file on time and then keep the Form 1095-B with their tax records should the documentation be needed later.

As with 2014 individual federal tax returns, other documents may be used to prove a taxpayer has the minimum essential health insurance coverage. Among statements that may prove a taxpayer and/or a member of the taxpayer’s family has health care coverage are:

  • Insurance cards
  • Explanation of benefits
  • Statements from an insurer
  • W-2 reflecting health insurance deductions
  • Payroll statement reflecting health insurance deductions

Form 1095-C

The new Form 1095-C is a form that is compiled and sent by employers who provide health insurance and coverage to certain employees. The form includes details about the type of coverage, the insured who were covered and for how long. This form can be used to determine whether a person qualifies for a premium tax credit, and to prove whether an employer offered that person and/or family members “self-insured coverage”.

For now, you should wait for one of these new forms to arrive before preparing and filing your tax return only if you wish to receive a tax credit. For more information on gathering your health insurance coverage documentation, click here.

If you need more information, please contact one of our tax preparation experts at McRuer CPAs.

01/25/2016

Tips to Keep Tax Records Safe

Imagine a burglar breaks into your home while you’re at work. The thief doesn’t steal jewelry, your TV or your favorite collectible. Instead, the thief heads directly to the home office files and steals your tax documents and bills where you’ve organized your records alphabetically to make them easier to find. The thief checks out your basement, closet and upstairs attic for boxes that look like they contain financial records. The thief walks out with paper. Tax_related_identity_theft

All in all, the paper value of the loss is negligible, but the thief has stolen all of your and your family members’ personal information and private financial data. The end result is that you and your loved ones could suffer hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in identity-theft related damages that may follow you the rest of your lives. It could also affect your taxes.

Tax documents in particular contain your and your dependent’s tax and personal information including receipts, old W-2 forms and bank account information. Experts point out that all documents containing your financial, health and tax information, especially records with your Social Security number on them, should be kept securely.

Most of us are being more diligent about using passwords and keeping digital connections and information about our personal data secure online. However, many taxpayers may have forgotten about the old paper copies that remain unprotected and vulnerable. Almost daily the IRS uncovers new scams using stolen identities. These scammers file fake tax returns under legitimate taxpayer Social Security numbers seeking refunds. The stolen IDs come from online and paper copy sources.

The issue is that taxpayers are supposed to keep records but doing so may provide an opportunity for someone else to take advantage. Regulations mandate that we keep a record of our tax returns and their supporting documents (receipts, statements, etc.) for a minimum of three years to a maximum of seven years. Additionally, we are to keep records related to a property we own for three to seven years after disposing of it.

To keep things safe, if you keep paper tax records, make certain they are stored in a locked and secure area such as a locked desk drawer, locked file or safe. Consider scanning your records instead and saving them electronically in encrypted files, both on your computer and your hard drive back-up. This also applies to all financial and health records that contain your personal and account information.

Converting paper files to digital files takes time and may require a scanner and a small investment in software to accept scanned documents (though many printers today serve that function). Remember that you’ll need encryption software. Make certain you keep your passwords in a secure place as well. You may also request electronic versions of your tax documents from your tax preparer, who should already be submitting your records in an electronic version to the IRS.

Dispose of paper tax records by shredding them first. If you are disposing of an old computer or any other product with a hard drive, remember that just “deleting” a file does not erase it completely from the computer. Electronic products that can hold data should be “wiped” to ensure all data is wiped out. This will require specialized disk utility software. Your computer, your mobile phones and tablets, most printers, copiers and all other electronic devices that can save files should be wiped before disposal.

To keep your computer files secure from an online thief, experts recommend you use reputable security software that updates automatically with essential tools including a firewall, virus and malware protection and file encryption options for sensitive data. Use strong passwords, protect them and back up your files regularly.

An IRS publication sums it up this way, “Treat your personal information like cash, don’t leave it lying around.”

01/20/2016

IRS Releases ID Theft Videos

ENews 2016 pic tax theif graphicA series of new videos titled “Taxes. Security. Together.” is being released on YouTube to provide more information about how to protect your identity online. The information includes tips for properly handling the online exchange of tax and financial data.

The videos are a joint effort between the IRS, state revenue departments and tax preparation professionals. The information campaign follows last year’s “Security Summit” where experts gathered to exchange ideas and tactics to fight online tax-related identity theft and tax refund fraud.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says, “We are jointly implementing major new procedures to protect taxpayers on our end, but people can help by taking some precautionary steps themselves to help us work to prevent identity theft.”

Many new IRS identity-theft protection steps may be invisible to taxpayers, but you may notice updates for the 2016 tax season that include new password standards for tax software admissions, faster information sharing about tax fraud and tax-related identity theft schemes, and updated verification standards.

The number one tip to prevent your identity from being stolen in a tax-related fraud scheme is to remember the IRS NEVER contacts you by email or telephone. The IRS communicates by letter through the US Postal Service. The department already knows your social security number and an authentic letter will not request you to submit that information.

To review the six new videos released by the IRS, click here.

To read more about online tax-related identity theft, click here.

If you need more information or feel you may have been a victim of tax-related identity theft, contact one of our tax planning and preparation experts at McRuer CPAs.

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