Are You Self Employed? Check Out These IRS Tax Tips

Many people who carry on a trade or business are self-employed. Sole proprietors and independent contractors are two examples of self-employment. If this applies to you, there are a few basic things you should know about how your income affects your federal tax return. Here are six important tips about income from self-employment:

SE Income.  Self-employment can include income you received for part-time work. This is in addition to income from your regular job.

Schedule C or C-EZ.  There are two forms to report self-employment income. You must file a Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, or Schedule C-EZ, Net Profit from Business, with your Form 1040. You may use Schedule C-EZ if you had expenses less than $5,000 and meet other conditions.

SE Tax.  You may have to pay self-employment tax as well as income tax if you made a profit. Self-employment tax includes Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Estimated Tax.  You may need to make estimated tax payments. People typically make these payments on income that is not subject to withholding. You usually pay this tax in four installments for each year. If you do not pay enough tax throughout the year, you may owe a penalty.

Allowable Deductions.  You can deduct expenses you paid to run your business that are both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and proper for your trade or business.

When to Deduct.  In most cases, you can deduct expenses in the same year you paid for them, or incurred them. However, you must ‘capitalize’ some costs. This means you can deduct part of the cost over a number of years.

Education Tax Credits: Two Benefits to Help You Pay for College

Did you pay for college in 2014? If you did it can mean tax savings on your federal tax return. There are two education credits that can help you with the cost of higher education. The credits may reduce the amount of tax you owe on your tax return. Here are some important facts you should know about education tax credits.

American Opportunity Tax Credit:

  • You may be able to claim up to $2,500 per eligible student.
  • The credit applies to the first four years at an eligible college or vocational school.
  • It reduces the amount of tax you owe. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may receive up to $1,000 as a refund.
  • It is available for students earning a degree or other recognized credential.
  • The credit applies to students going to school at least half-time for at least one academic period that started during the tax year
  • Costs that apply to the credit include the cost of tuition, books and required fees and supplies.

Lifetime Learning Credit:

  • The credit is limited to $2,000 per tax return, per year.
  • The credit applies to all years of higher education. This includes classes for learning or improving job skills.
  • The credit is limited to the amount of your taxes.
  • Costs that apply to the credit include the cost of tuition, required fees, books, supplies and equipment that you must buy from the school.

For both credits:

  • The credits apply to an eligible student. Eligible students include yourself, your spouse or a dependent that you list on your tax return.
  • You must file Form 1040A or Form 1040 and complete Form 8863, Education Credits, to claim these credits on your tax return.
  • Your school should give you a Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, showing expenses for the year. This form contains helpful information needed to complete Form 8863. The amounts shown in Boxes 1 and 2 of the form may be different than what you actually paid. For example, the form may not include the cost of books that qualify for the credit.
  • You can’t claim either credit if someone else claims you as a dependent.
  • You can’t claim both credits for the same student or for the same expense, in the same year.
  • The credits are subject to income limits that could reduce the amount you can claim on your return.

Top 10 Tax Tips about Home Mortgage Debt Cancellation

If your lender cancels part or all of your debt, you normally must pay tax on that amount. However, the law provides for an exclusion that may apply to homeowners who had their mortgage debt cancelled in 2014. In most cases where the exclusion applies, the amount of the cancelled debt is not taxable. Here are the top 10 tax tips about mortgage debt cancellation:

1. Main Home.  If the cancelled debt was a loan on your main home, you may be able to exclude the cancelled amount from your income. You must have used the loan to buy, build or substantially improve your main home to qualify. Your main home must also secure the mortgage.

2. Loan Modification.  If your lender cancelled part of your mortgage through a loan modification or ‘workout,’ you may be able to exclude that amount from your income. You may also be able to exclude debt discharged as part of the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP. The exclusion may also apply to the amount of debt cancelled in a foreclosure.

3. Refinanced Mortgage.  The exclusion may apply to amounts cancelled on a refinanced mortgage. This applies only if you used proceeds from the refinancing to buy, build or substantially improve your main home. Amounts used for other purposes don’t qualify.

4. Other Cancelled Debt.  Other types of cancelled debt such as second homes, rental and business property, credit card debt or car loans do not qualify for this special exclusion. On the other hand, there are other rules that may allow those types of cancelled debts to be nontaxable.

5. Form 1099-C.  If your lender reduced or cancelled at least $600 of your debt, you should receive Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, in January of the next year. This form shows the amount of cancelled debt and other information.

6. Form 982.  If you qualify, report the excluded debt on Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness. File the form with your federal income tax return.

7.  IRS Free File.  IRS e-file is fastest, safest, and easiest way to file.

8. IRS.gov tool.  The IRS has several free tools on its website to help you file your tax return. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to find out if your cancelled mortgage debt is taxable.

9. Exclusion extended.  The law that authorized this exclusion had expired at the end of 2013. The Tax Increase Prevention Act extended it to apply for one year, through Dec. 31, 2014.

10. More Information.  For more on this topic see Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions and Abandonments.

Claiming a Tax Deduction for Medical and Dental Expenses

Your medical expenses may save you money at tax time, but a few key rules apply. Here are some tax tips to help you determine if you can claim a tax deduction:

  • You must itemize.  You can only claim your medical expenses that you paid for in 2014 if you itemize deductions on your federal tax return. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t claim these expenses.
  • AGI threshold.  You include all the qualified medical costs that you paid for during the year. However, you can only deduct the amount that is more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  • Temporary threshold for age 65.  If you or your spouse is age 65 or older, the AGI threshold is 7.5 percent of your AGI. This exception applies through Dec. 31, 2016.
  • Costs to include.  You can include most medical and dental costs that you paid for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Exceptions and special rules apply. Costs reimbursed by insurance or other sources do not qualify for a deduction.
  • Expenses that qualify.  You can include the costs of diagnosing, treating, easing or preventing disease. The costs you pay for prescription drugs and insulin qualify. The costs you pay for insurance premiums for policies that cover medical care qualify. Some long-term care insurance costs also qualify.
  • Travel costs count.  You may be able to claim travel costs you pay for medical care. This includes costs such as public transportation, ambulance service, tolls and parking fees. If you use your car, you can deduct either the actual costs or the standard mileage rate for medical travel. The rate is 23.5 cents per mile for 2014.
  • No double benefit.  You can’t claim a tax deduction for medical expenses you paid for with funds from your Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Arrangements. Amounts paid with funds from those plans are usually tax-free. This rule prevents two tax benefits for the same expense.

Five Key Facts about Unemployment Benefits

If you lose your job, you may qualify for unemployment benefits. The payments may serve as much needed relief. But did you know unemployment benefits are taxable? Here are five key facts about unemployment compensation:

1. Unemployment is taxable.  You must include all unemployment compensation as income for the year. You should receive a Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments by Jan. 31 of the following year. This form will show the amount paid to you and the amount of any federal income tax withheld.

2. Paid under U.S. or state law.  There are various types of unemployment compensation. Unemployment includes amounts paid under U.S. or state unemployment compensation laws.

3. Union benefits may be taxable.  You must include benefits paid to you from regular union dues in your income. Other rules may apply if you contributed to a special union fund and those contributions are not deductible. In that case, you only include as income any amount that you got that was more than the contributions you made.

4. You may have tax withheld.  You can choose to have federal income tax withheld from your unemployment. You can have this done using Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request. If you choose not to have tax withheld, you may need to make estimated tax payments during the year.

5. Visit IRS.gov for help.  If you’re facing financial difficulties, you should visit the IRS.gov page: “What Ifs” for Struggling Taxpayers. This page explains the tax effect of events such as job loss. For example, if your income decreased, you may be eligible for certain tax credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit. If you owe federal taxes and can’t pay your bill, contact the IRS. In many cases, the IRS can take steps to help ease your financial burden.

Key Points to Know about Early Retirement Distributions

Some people take an early withdrawal from their IRA or retirement plan. Doing so in many cases triggers an added tax on top of the income tax you may have to pay. Here are some key points you should know about taking an early distribution:

1. Early Withdrawals.  An early withdrawal normally means taking the money out of your retirement plan before you reach age 59½.

2. Additional Tax.  If you took an early withdrawal from a plan last year, you must report it to the IRS. You may have to pay income tax on the amount you took out. If it was an early withdrawal, you may have to pay an added 10 percent tax.

3. Nontaxable Withdrawals.  The added 10 percent tax does not apply to nontaxable withdrawals. They include withdrawals of your cost to participate in the plan. Your cost includes contributions that you paid tax on before you put them into the plan.

  • A rollover is a type of nontaxable withdrawal. A rollover occurs when you take cash or other assets from one plan and contribute the amount to another plan. You normally have 60 days to complete a rollover to make it tax-free.

4. Check Exceptions.  There are many exceptions to the additional 10 percent tax. Some of the rules for retirement plans are different from the rules for IRAs.

5. File Form 5329.  If you made an early withdrawal last year, you may need to file a form with your federal tax return.

Top Six Things You Should Know about the Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit may save you money at tax-time if you have a qualified child. Here are six things you should know about the credit.

1. Amount.  The Child Tax Credit may help reduce your federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child that you are eligible to claim on your tax return.

2. Additional Child Tax Credit.  If you qualify and get less than the full Child Tax Credit, you could receive a refund even if you owe no tax with the Additional Child Tax Credit.

  1.  Qualifications.  For this credit, a qualifying child must pass several tests:
  • Age test.  The child must have been under age 17 at the end of 2014.
  • Relationship test.  The child must be your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister. The child may be a descendant of any of these individuals. A qualifying child could also include your grandchild, niece or nephew. You would always treat an adopted child as your own child. An adopted child includes a child lawfully placed with you for legal adoption.
  • Support test.  The child must not have provided more than half of their own support for the year.
  • Dependent test.  The child must be a dependent that you claim on your federal tax return.
  • Joint return test.  The child cannot file a joint return for the year, unless the only reason they are filing is to claim a refund.
  • Citizenship test.  The child must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national or a U.S. resident alien.
  • Residence test.  In most cases, the child must have lived with you for more than half of 2014.

4. Limitations.  The Child Tax Credit is subject to income limitations. The limits may reduce or eliminate your credit depending on your filing status and income.

5. Schedule 8812.  If you qualify to claim the Child Tax Credit, make sure to check whether you must complete and attach Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, with your tax return.

6. IRS E-file.  Electronic filing is the best way to file your tax return. IRS E-file is the safe, accurate and easiest way to file.

800,000 Taxpayers Received Wrong Tax Info from Health Insurance Marketplace

Approximately 800,000 taxpayers who received health care coverage through the federal insurance marketplace Healthcare.gov were sent the wrong information on their Form 1095-A and are being urged to wait to file their taxes until the first week of March when they receive the correct information from the federal government.

“About 20 percent of the tax filers who had Federally-facilitated Marketplace coverage in 2014 and used tax credits to lower their premium cost —about 800,000 (< 1% of total tax filers) —will soon receive an updated Form 1095-A because the original version they were issued listed an incorrect benchmark plan premium amount,” said a blog post on the Web site of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Based upon preliminary estimates, we understand that approximately 90-95% of these tax filers haven’t filed their tax return yet. We are advising them to wait until the first week of March when they receive their new form or go online for correct information before filing. For those who have filed their taxes—approximately 50,000 (< 0.05% of total tax filers) —the Treasury Department will provide additional information soon.”

CMS noted that taxpayers who received health coverage under the Affordable Care Act should have received a statement in the mail in February from the health insurance marketplace called a Form 1095-A. The statement includes important information needed to complete and file their tax returns. One piece of information included on the 1095-A is the premium amount for the “second lowest cost Silver plan” in the taxpayer’s area. This premium amount represents the benchmark plan used to determine the amount of premium tax credit they were eligible to receive. Unfortunately that information was calculated incorrectly for many taxpayers, although CMS stressed that it won’t be an issue for the majority who received health coverage through Healthcare.gov.

“It’s important to note that this issue does not affect the majority of Marketplace consumers and only affects people who signed up through one of the 37 states using HealthCare.gov,” said CMS. “About 80 percent of Marketplace consumers who received a 1095-A from the federal Marketplace do not have affected forms and should go ahead and file their annual tax return. Additionally, this issue does not mean that consumers received the incorrect amount of tax credit throughout the year. It’s also important to note that this does not affect the vast majority of tax filers who will just need to check a box on their tax return to indicate that they had health coverage in 2014 either through their employer, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans care, or other qualified health coverage programs.“

CMS noted that taxpayers whose forms were affected will receive a phone call about the problem from the Marketplace by early March, in addition to letters and emails with additional information about the status of their forms.

Taxpayers who are concerned about the status of their 1095-A forms can find out if they are affected by logging in to their account at HealthCare.gov. They will see a notice message that will let them know if their form was or was not affected. Approximately 80 percent of tax filers with Marketplace coverage through HealthCare.gov who received a 1095-A will find that their form was not affected by the issue, according to CMS, and will be able to file their taxes with their current form.

If their form was affected, CMS advised them to wait to file their tax return until they receive a corrected 1095-A Form from the Marketplaces. New forms will be sent from the Marketplace beginning in early March and taxpayers will also receive a message in their Marketplace account on HealthCare.gov.

If taxpayers need to file their taxes before them, CMS is making available a tool to help them determine the correct amount of the second lowest cost Silver plan that applied to their household in 2014. They can also call the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325) for assistance.

CMS said it acted quickly once it learned about the problem. “As soon as we discovered the error, we immediately began examining who was affected, how to communicate about the error, and how to make the corrections process as simple as possible for consumers,” said CMS. “We are committed to making sure that consumers who need corrected forms are contacted with updates and will receive new forms quickly. We are focused on making sure that every Marketplace consumer understands how taxes and health care intersect and if they need to get a corrected form, the steps they need to take.”

An unidentified Treasury spokesperson also issued a statement on the announcement about the 1095-A Forms. “Today, CMS announced that approximately 800,000 1095-A forms containing errors were issued to Marketplace consumers,” said the spokesperson. “CMS is in the process of notifying affected individuals and the Marketplace will be issuing corrected forms in early March.  Affected individuals who have not yet filed their taxes should wait to file until they receive their corrected form. For affected individuals who have already filed their taxes, the IRS and Treasury are currently reviewing the issue and will be providing additional information shortly.”

Separately, CMS also announced Friday that it will implement a special enrollment period for individuals who learn, at the time they file their taxes, of the Affordable Care Act-mandated tax penalty for not having health insurance coverage.

Several lawmakers in Congress expressed their outrage about the glitch. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., a member of the House Ways & Means Health Subcommittee and a nurse for more than 40 years, said in a statement, “The Obama Administration has built a healthcare law so complex, so confusing, and so costly that even they don’t know how to properly administer it. From a faulty website, to staggering cost estimates, to more Administration-led delays, the hits just keep coming under Obamacare. Now, the White House tells us in a classic Friday news dump that nearly one million Americans could see their tax refunds delayed because of this President’s inability to implement his own law. This is beyond embarrassing for President Obama and is an unfair blow to taxpayers who are once again left holding the bag for this Administration’s incompetence. Moreover, it is yet another example of why the House voted earlier this month with my support to repeal this disastrous law once and for all.”

Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also issued a statement criticizing the Obama administration for the problem. “While the Administration struggles with how to enforce the individual mandate, taxpayers and patients are suffering the real consequences of the law,” he said. “Whether it’s providing taxpayers with incorrect subsidy information or having to create special enrollment periods so that taxpayers can avoid costly penalties, Obamacare continues to frustrate and confuse Americans. The Administration’s latest attempt to unilaterally tweak their own law to avoid political fallout once again underscores the failed policies rooted in Obamacare’s DNA.”

 

BY MICHAEL COHN

www.accountingtoday.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. (FEBRUARY 20, 2015)

Taxable or Not – What You Need to Know about Income

All income is taxable unless the law excludes it. Here are some basic rules you should know to help you file an accurate tax return:

  • Taxed income.  Taxable income includes money you earn, like wages and tips. It also includes bartering, an exchange of property or services. The fair market value of property or services received is taxable.

Some types of income are not taxable except under certain conditions, including:

  • Life insurance.  Proceeds paid to you because of the death of the insured person are usually not taxable. However, if you redeem a life insurance policy for cash, any amount that you get that is more than the cost of the policy is taxable.
  • Qualified scholarship.  In most cases, income from this type of scholarship is not taxable. This means that amounts you use for certain costs, such as tuition and required books, are not taxable. On the other hand, amounts you use for room and board are taxable.
  • State income tax refund.  If you got a state or local income tax refund, the amount may be taxable. You should have received a 2014 Form 1099-G from the agency that made the payment to you. If you didn’t get it by mail, the agency may have provided the form electronically. Contact them to find out how to get the form. Report any taxable refund you got even if you did not receive Form 1099-G.

Here are some types of income that are usually not taxable:

  • Gifts and inheritances
  • Child support payments
  • Welfare benefits
  • Damage awards for physical injury or sickness
  • Cash rebates from a dealer or manufacturer for an item you buy
  • Reimbursements for qualified adoption expenses

What You Should Know if You Changed Your Name

Did you change your name last year? If you did, it can affect your taxes. All the names on your tax return must match Social Security Administration records. A name mismatch can delay your refund. Here’s what you should know if you changed your name:

  • Report Name Changes.  Did you get married and are now using your new spouse’s last name or hyphenated your last name? Did you divorce and go back to using your former last name? In either case, you should notify the SSA of your name change. That way, your new name on your IRS records will match up with your SSA records.
  • Dependent Name Change.  Notify the SSA if your dependent had a name change. For example, this could apply if you adopted a child and the child’s last name changed.

If you adopted a child who does not have a SSN, you may use an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number on your tax return. An ATIN is a temporary number. You can apply for an ATIN by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions, with the IRS. You can visit IRS.gov to view, download, print or order the form at any time.

  • Get a New Card.  File Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, to notify SSA of your name change. You can get the form on SSA.gov or call 800-772-1213 to order it. Your new card will show your new name with the same SSN you had before.
  • Report Changes in Circumstances in 2015.  If you purchase health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace you may get advance payments of the premium tax credit in 2015. If you do, be sure to report changes in circumstances, such as a name change, a new address and a change in your income or family size to your Marketplace throughout the year. Reporting changes will help make sure that you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance and will help you avoid getting too much or too little in advance.