Stay Vigilant Against Bogus IRS Phone Calls and Emails

Tax scams take many different forms. Recently, the most common scams are phone calls and emails from thieves who pretend to be from the IRS. They use the IRS name, logo or a fake website to try to steal your money. They may try to steal your identity too. Here are several tips from the IRS to help you avoid being a victim of these tax scams:

The real IRS will not:

  • Initiate contact with you by phone, email, text or social media to ask for your personal or financial information.
  • Call you and demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call about taxes you owe without first mailing you a bill.
  • Require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For example, telling you to pay with a prepaid debit card.

Be wary if you get a phone call from someone who claims to be from the IRS and demands that you pay immediately. Here are some steps you can take to avoid and stop these scams.

If you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page to report the incident.
  • You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your report.

If you think you may owe taxes:

  • Ask for a call back number and an employee badge number.
  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS employees can help you.

In most cases, an IRS phishing scam is an unsolicited, bogus email that claims to come from the IRS. They often use fake refunds, phony tax bills, or threats of an audit. Some emails link to sham websites that look real.  The scammers’ goal is to lure victims to give up their personal and financial information. If they get what they’re after, they use it to steal a victim’s money and their identity.

If you get a ‘phishing’ email, the IRS offers this advice:

  • Don’t reply to the message.
  • Don’t give out your personal or financial information.
  • Forward the email to phishing@irs.gov. Then delete it.
  • Don’t open any attachments or click on any links. They may have malicious code that will infect your computer.

IRS Can Help if W-2s Are Missing

In most cases you get your W-2 forms by the end of January. Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, shows your income and the taxes withheld from your pay for the year. You need your W-2 form to file an accurate tax return.

If you haven’t received your form by mid-February, here’s what you should do:

• Contact your employer.  Ask your employer (or former employer) for a copy. Be sure that they have your correct address.

• After Feb. 23.  If you can’t get a copy from your employer, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 after Feb. 23. The IRS will send a letter to your employer on your behalf. You’ll need the following when you call:

o Your name, address, Social Security number and phone number;

o Your employer’s name, address and phone number;

o The dates you worked for the employer; and

o An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld in 2014. You can use your final pay stub for these amounts.

Note: Important New Health Insurance Form. If you bought health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you should have received a Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, by early February. You will need the new form to help you complete an accurate federal tax return. You will use the information from the Form 1095-A to calculate the amount of your premium tax credit. The form is also used to reconcile advance payments of the premium tax credit made on your behalf with the amount of premium tax credit that you are eligible to claim.

If you did not receive your Form 1095-A, you should contact the Marketplace from which you received coverage to get a copy.

TurboTax halts state filings amid fraud outbreak

TurboTax turned off the ability of its software to e-file state tax returns across the USA on Thursday after the company found “an increase in suspicious filings,” the company said Friday.

The tax-preparation software company has found an increase in criminal activity where stolen personal data is used to file fake state returns with state authorities. This illegal act allows fraudsters to claim tax refunds from state governments.

An internal TurboTax investigation has found the breaches are not due to a problem with its own systems, but criminals digging up the personal information elsewhere. The company said the investigation is ongoing. Intuit says it’s working with state tax officials to get the e-filing security back to where it needs to be to turn it back on. TurboTax customers who already e-filed their state returns don’t have to do anything. The returns will be transmitted again when the problem is resolved, TurboTax says.

The e-filing halt only affects state returns. Federal tax returns can still be filed electronically, says TurboTax and confirmed by Anthony Burkes, spokesman at the IRS.

ntuit’s move comes after Minnesota’s Department of Revenue says it will no longer accept tax filings submitted electronically using TurboTax, according to a statement. The state says two taxpayers logged into TurboTax to file their tax forms but were told filings were already made, reports the StarTribune. The state is reviewing thousands of other state filings sent electronically.

The District of Columbia’s tax authority has also halted TurboTax filing, says a TurboTax spokeswoman.

So far, the problem appears to be centered on TurboTax.

All the necessary personal information to fill out a fraudulent tax return is readily available for purchase in underground sites online, said Victor Searcy, IDT911, an identity management company based in Scottsdale, Ariz..

“It’s almost like going to Amazon, you can buy just one or in bulk. And just like at Costco, if you buy in bulk it costs less,” he said.

This type of boiler room tax fraud operation isn’t uncommon, although most previously uncovered fraudsters have focused on federal tax returns. A by the Government Accountability Office released in 2014 found that the IRS paid $5.2 billion in refunds filed with fraudulent identities in 2013.

The criminals often simply set up shop in a hotel room somewhere “and start banging out refunds that they file online,” said Searcy, who works with customers who are the victims of fraud.

“Usually what happens is they go and file their own tax refund and when they get a notification from the IRS that there’s already a return that’s been submitted. They then discover that somebody has already filed, using their information,” he said.

The process is highly remunerative, in part because the IRS has made it so easy for citizens to get their refunds.

Unfortunately, that “also makes it easier for the criminals. They can have checks mailed, they can have them deposited directly or they can have it put on a prepaid debit card,” he said.

The state e-file fiasco is just the latest headache for Intuit’s TurboTax this tax season. This year, users of the software have been outraged by a stealth price hike that forced many investors and self-employed people to pay 50% more for the software. Intuit hopes to put an end to the controversy Saturday when anyone who buys the less expensive Deluxe version can upgrade to the Premier or Home & Business version for free.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2015/02/06/turbotax-state-filings-halted/22979519/

Matt Krantz and Elizabeth Weise

4:23 p.m. EST February 6, 2015

IRS to Parents: Don’t Miss Out on These Tax Savers

Children may help reduce the amount of taxes owed for the year. If you’re a parent, here are several tax benefits you should look for when you file your federal tax return:

• Dependents.  In most cases, you can claim your child as a dependent. You can deduct $3,950 for each dependent you are entitled to claim. You must reduce this amount if your income is above certain limits.

• Child Tax Credit.  You may be able to claim the Child Tax Credit for each of your qualifying children under the age of 17. The maximum credit is $1,000 per child. If you get less than the full amount of the credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit.

• Child and Dependent Care Credit.  You may be able to claim this credit if you paid for the care of one or more qualifying persons. Dependent children under age 13 are among those who qualify. You must have paid for care so that you could work or could look for work.

• Earned Income Tax Credit.  You may qualify for EITC if you worked but earned less than $52,427 last year. You can get up to $6,143 in EITC. You may qualify with or without children.

• Adoption Credit.  You may be able to claim a tax credit for certain costs you paid to adopt a child.

• Education tax credits.  An education credit can help you with the cost of higher education.  There are two credits that are available. The American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit may reduce the amount of tax you owe. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may get a refund. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify.

• Student loan interest.  You may be able to deduct interest you paid on a qualified student loan. You can claim this benefit even if you do not itemize your deductions.

• Self-employed health insurance deduction.  If you were self-employed and paid for health insurance, you may be able to deduct premiums you paid during the year. This may include the cost to cover your children under age 27, even if they are not your dependent.

What You Should Know if You Get Tipped at Work

If you get tips on the job, you should know some things about tips and taxes. Here are a few tips from the IRS to help you file and report your tip income correctly:

• Show all tips on your return.  You must report all tips you receive on your federal tax return. This includes the value of tips that are not in cash. Examples include items such as tickets, passes or other items.

• All tips are taxable.  You must pay tax on all tips you received during the year. This includes tips directly from customers and tips added to credit cards. It also includes your share of tips received under a tip-splitting agreement with other employees. 

• Report tips to your employer.  If you receive $20 or more in tips in any one month, you must report your tips for that month to your employer. You should only include cash, check and credit card tips you received. Do not report the value of any noncash tips on this report. Your employer must withhold federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on the reported tips. 

Taxpayers Will Use New Information Statement to claim Premium Tax Credit

The Affordable Care Act is bringing several changes to the tax filing season this year, including a new form some taxpayers will receive. If you or anyone in your household enrolled in a health plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2014, you’ll get Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement.

 

You will receive Form 1095-A from the Marketplace where you purchased your coverage, not the IRS. This form should arrive in the mail from your Marketplace by early February. You should wait to receive your Form 1095-A before filing your taxes.

 

Form 1095-A will tell you the dates of coverage, total amount of the monthly premiums for your insurance plan, information you may use to determine the amount of your premium tax credit, and any amounts of advance payments of the premium tax credit.

 

You will use the information to calculate the amount of your premium tax credit and reconcile advance payments of the premium tax credit made on your behalf to your insurance provider with the premium tax credit you are claiming on your tax return. 

 

If you do not receive your Form 1095-A by early February, you should contact the state or federal Marketplace from which you received coverage. If you believe any information on your Form 1095-A is incorrect, you should contact the state or federal Marketplace from which you received coverage. The Marketplace may need to send you a corrected Form 1095-A.

 

You may receive more than one Form 1095-A if different members of your household had different health plans, you updated your coverage information during the year, or you switched plans during the year.

If You Work, The Earned Income Tax Credit Can Work For You!

Since 1975, the Earned Income Tax Credit has helped workers with low and moderate incomes get a tax break each year. Four out of five eligible workers claim EITC, but the IRS wants everyone who is eligible to claim this credit. Here are some things you should know about this valuable credit:

Review your eligibility.  If you worked and earned under $52,427, you may qualify for EITC. If your financial or family situation has changed, you should review the EITC eligibility rules. You might qualify for EITC this year even if you didn’t in the past. If you qualify for EITC you must file a federal income tax return and claim the credit to get it. This is true even if you are not otherwise required to file a tax return. Don’t guess about your EITC eligibility. Use the EITC Assistant tool on IRS.gov. The tool helps you find out if you qualify and estimates the amount of your EITC.

Know the rules.  You need to understand the rules before you claim the EITC, to be sure you qualify. It’s important that you get this right. Here are some factors you should consider:

  • Your filing status can’t be Married Filing Separately.
  • You must have a Social Security number that is valid for employment for yourself, your spouse if married, and any qualifying child listed on your tax return.
  • You must have earned income. Earned income includes earnings from working for someone else or working for yourself.
  • You may be married or single, with or without children to qualify. If you don’t have children, you must also meet age, residency and dependency rules. If you have a child who lived with you for more than six months of 2014, the child must meet age, residency, relationship and the joint return rules to qualify.
  • If you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces serving in a combat zone, special rules apply.

Lower your tax or get a refund.  The EITC reduces your federal tax and could result in a refund. If you qualify, the credit could be worth up to $6,143. The average credit was $2,407 last year.

Ten IRS Tips to Help You Choose a Tax Preparer

Many people pay to have their taxes prepared. You need to be careful when you pick a preparer to do your taxes. You are legally responsible for all the information on the tax return even if someone else prepares it. Here are 10 IRS tax tips to help you choose a tax preparer:

1. Check the preparer’s qualifications.  All paid tax preparers are required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number or PTIN. The IRS will soon offer a new Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications on IRS.gov. You will be able to use this tool to help you find a tax return preparer with the qualifications that you prefer. The Directory will be a searchable and sortable listing of certain preparers with a valid PTIN for 2015. It will include the name, city, state and zip code of:

  • Attorneys.
  • CPAs.
  • Enrolled Agents.
  • Enrolled Retirement Plan Agents.
  • Enrolled Actuaries.
  • Annual Filing Season Program participants.

2. Check the preparer’s history.  You can check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if a preparer has a questionable history. Check for disciplinary actions and the license status for credentialed preparers. For CPAs, check with the State Board of Accountancy. For attorneys, check with the State Bar Association. For Enrolled Agents, go to IRS.gov and search for “verify enrolled agent status.”

3. Ask about service fees.  Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who say they can get larger refunds than others can. Always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into your bank account. You should not have your refund deposited into a preparer’s bank account.

4. Ask to e-file your return.  Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns generally must e-file their clients’ returns. The IRS has safely processed more than 1.3 billion e-filed tax returns.

5. Make sure the preparer is available.  You need to ensure that you can contact the tax preparer after you file your return. That’s true even after the April 15 due date. You may need to contact the preparer if questions come up about your tax return at a later time.

6. Provide tax records.  A good preparer will ask to see your records and receipts. They ask you questions to report your total income and the tax benefits you’re entitled to claim. These may include tax deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.

7. Never sign a blank tax return.  Do not use a tax preparer who asks you to sign a blank tax form.

8. Review your return before signing.  Before you sign your tax return, review it thoroughly. Ask questions if something is not clear to you. Make sure you’re comfortable with the information on the return before you sign it.

9. Preparer must sign and include their PTIN.  Paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.

10. Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS.  You can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or changed the return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit.

Top 10 Tax Facts about Exemptions and Dependents

Nearly everyone can claim an exemption on their tax return. It usually lowers your taxable income. In most cases, that reduces the amount of tax you owe for the year. Here are the top 10 tax facts about exemptions to help you file your tax return.

1. E-file your tax return.  Filing electronically is the easiest way to file a complete and accurate tax return. The software that you use to e-file will help you determine the number of exemptions that you can claim. AFS Taxsavers E-files your return!

2. Exemptions cut income.  There are two types of exemptions. The first type is a personal exemption. The second type is an exemption for a dependent. You can usually deduct $3,950 for each exemption you claim on your 2014 tax return.

3. Personal exemptions.  You can usually claim an exemption for yourself. If you’re married and file a joint return, you can claim one for your spouse, too. If you file a separate return, you can claim an exemption for your spouse only if your spouse: had no gross income, is not filing a tax return, and was not the dependent of another taxpayer.

4. Exemptions for dependents.  You can usually claim an exemption for each of your dependents. A dependent is either your child or a relative who meets a set of tests. You can’t claim your spouse as a dependent. You must list the Social Security number of each dependent you claim on your tax return.

5. Report health care coverage. The health care law requires you to report certain health insurance information for you and your family. The individual shared responsibility provision requires you and each member of your family to either:

• Have qualifying health insurance, called minimum essential coverage, or

• Have an exemption from this coverage requirement, or

• Make a shared responsibility payment when you file your 2014 tax return.

6. Some people don’t qualify.  You normally may not claim married persons as dependents if they file a joint return with their spouse. There are some exceptions to this rule.

7. Dependents may have to file.  A person who you can claim as your dependent may have to file their own tax return. This depends on certain factors, like the amount of their income, whether they are married and if they owe certain taxes.

8. No exemption on dependent’s return.  If you can claim a person as a dependent, that person can’t claim a personal exemption on his or her own tax return. This is true even if you don’t actually claim that person on your tax return. This rule applies because you can claim that person is your dependent.

9. Exemption phase-out.  The $3,950 per exemption is subject to income limits. This rule may reduce or eliminate the amount you can claim based on the amount of your income.

10. Try the IRS online tool.  Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if a person qualifies as your dependent.

Six Tips on Who Should File a 2014 Tax Return

Most people file their tax return because they have to, but even if you don’t, there are times when you should. You may be eligible for a tax refund and not know it. This year, there are a few new rules for some who must file. Here are six tax tips to help you find out if you should file a tax return:

1. General Filing Rules.  Whether you need to file a tax return depends on a few factors. In most cases, the amount of your income, your filing status and your age determine if you must file a tax return. For example, if you’re single and 28 years old you must file if your income was at least $10,150. Other rules may apply if you’re self-employed or if you’re a dependent of another person. There are also other cases when you must file. Go to IRS.gov/filing to find out if you need to file.

2. New for 2014: Premium Tax Credit.  If you bought health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2014, you may be eligible for the new Premium Tax Credit. You will need to file a return to claim the credit. If you purchased coverage from the Marketplace in 2014 and chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit sent directly to your insurer during the year you must file a federal tax return. You will reconcile any advance payments with the allowable Premium Tax Credit. You should receive Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, by early February. The new form will have information that you need to file your tax return.

3. Tax Withheld or Paid.  Did your employer withhold federal income tax from your pay? Did you make estimated tax payments? Did you overpay last year and have it applied to this year’s tax? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you could be due a refund. But you have to file a tax return to get it.

4. Earned Income Tax Credit.  Did you work and earn less than $52,427 last year? You could receive EITC as a tax refund if you qualify with or without a qualifying child. You may be eligible for up to $6,143.

5. Additional Child Tax Credit.  Do you have at least one child that qualifies for the Child Tax Credit? If you don’t get the full credit amount, you may qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit.

6. American Opportunity Credit.  The AOTC is available for four years of post secondary education and can be up to $2,500 per eligible student.  You or your dependent must have been a student enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify.