Tips for Self-Employed Taxpayers

Tips for Self-Employed Taxpayers

If you are an independent contractor or run your own business, there are a few basic things to know when it comes to your federal tax return. Here are six tips you should know about income from self-employment:

 

  • Self-employment income can include income you received for part-time work. This is in addition to income from your regular job.
  • 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 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. Use Schedule SE, Self-Employment Tax, to figure the tax. Make sure to file the schedule with your tax return.
  • You may need to make estimated tax payments. People typically make these payments on income that is not subject to withholding. You may be charged a penalty if you do not pay enough taxes throughout the year.
  • You can deduct some expenses you paid to run your trade or business. You can deduct most business expenses in full, but some must be ’capitalized.’ This means you can deduct a portion of the expense each year over a period of years.

You can deduct business costs only if they 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.

Five Tax Credits That Can Reduce Your Taxes

Five Tax Credits That Can Reduce Your Taxes

Tax credits help reduce the taxes you owe. Some credits are also refundable. That means that, even if you owe no tax, you may still get a refund.

Here are five tax credits you shouldn’t overlook when filing your 2013 federal tax return:

1. The Earned Income Tax Credit is a refundable credit for people who work but don’t earn a lot of money. It can boost your refund by as much as $6,044. You may be eligible for the credit based on the amount of your income, your filing status and the number of children in your family. Single workers with no dependents may also qualify for EITC. Visit IRS.gov and use the EITC Assistant tool to see if you can claim this credit. For more see Publication 596, Earned Income Credit.

2. The Child and Dependent Care Credit can help you offset the cost of daycare or day camp for children under age 13. You may also be able to claim it for costs paid to care for a disabled spouse or dependent. For details, see Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.

3. The Child Tax Credit can reduce the taxes you pay by as much as $1,000 for each qualified child you claim on your tax return. The child must be under age 17 in 2013 and meet other requirements. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you can claim the credit. See Publication 972, Child Tax Credit, for more about the rules.

4. The Saver’s Credit helps workers save for retirement. You may qualify if your income is $59,000 or less in 2013 and you contribute to an IRA or a retirement plan at work. Check out Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).

5. The American Opportunity Tax Credit can help you offset college costs. The credit is available for four years of post-secondary education. It’s worth up to $2,500 per eligible student enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify. However, you must complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file a tax return to claim the credit. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you can claim the credit. Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, has the details.

Special Exclusion for Cancelled Home Mortgage Debt

Special Exclusion for Cancelled Home Mortgage Debt

If a lender cancels or forgives money you owe, you usually have to pay tax on that amount. But when it comes to your home, an important exception to this rule may apply in 2013. Here are several key facts from the IRS about the special exclusion for cancelled home mortgage debt:

• If the cancelled debt was a mortgage loan on your main home, you may be able to exclude the cancelled amount from your income. To qualify you must have used the loan to buy, build or substantially improve your main home. The loan must also be secured by your main home.

• 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. Visit IRS.gov for more details about HAMP. The exclusion may also apply to the amount of debt cancelled in a foreclosure.

• 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 greatly improve your main home. Proceeds used for other purposes don’t qualify. For example, a loan that you used to pay your credit card debt doesn’t qualify.

• Other types of cancelled debt do not qualify for this special exclusion. This includes debt cancelled on second homes, rental and business property, credit card debt or car loans.

• If your lender reduced or cancelled at least $600 of your mortgage debt, you should receive Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, in January of the following year. This form shows the amount of cancelled debt and other information. Notify your lender if any information on the form is wrong.

• Report the excluded debt on Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness. File the completed form with your federal tax return.

Itemizing vs. Standard Deduction: Six Tips to Help You Choose

Itemizing vs. Standard Deduction: Six Tips to Help You Choose

When you file your tax return, you usually have a choice whether to itemize deductions or take the standard deduction. Before you choose, it’s a good idea to figure your deductions using both methods. Then choose the one that allows you to pay the lower amount of tax. The one that results in the higher deduction amount often gives you the most benefit.

The IRS offers these six tips to help you choose.

1. Figure your itemized deductions.  Add up deductible expenses you paid during the year. These may include expenses such as:

  • Home mortgage interest
  • State and local income taxes or sales taxes (but not both)
  • Real estate and personal property taxes
  • Gifts to charities
  • Casualty or theft losses
  • Unreimbursed medical expenses
  • Unreimbursed employee business expenses

Special rules and limits apply. Visit IRS.gov and refer to Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for more details.

2. Know your standard deduction.  If you don’t itemize, your basic standard deduction for 2013 depends on your filing status:

  • Single $6,100
  • Married Filing Jointly $12,200
  • Head of Household $8,950
  • Married Filing Separately $6,100
  • Qualifying Widow(er) $12,200

Your standard deduction is higher if you’re 65 or older or blind. If someone can claim you as a dependent, that can limit the amount of your deduction.

3. Check the exceptions.  Some people don’t qualify for the standard deduction and therefore should itemize. This includes married couples who file separate returns and one spouse itemizes.

4. Use the IRS’s ITA tool.  Visit IRS.gov and use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool to help determine your standard deduction.

5. File the right forms.  To itemize your deductions, use Form 1040 and Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. You can take the standard deduction on Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ.

6. File Electronically through a paid preparer.

Ten Facts about Capital Gains and Losses

Ten Facts about Capital Gains and Losses

When you sell a ’capital asset,’ the sale usually results in a capital gain or loss. A ‘capital asset’ includes most property you own and use for personal or investment purposes. Here are 10 facts from the IRS on capital gains and losses:

1. Capital assets include property such as your home or car. They also include investment property such as stocks and bonds.

2. A capital gain or loss is the difference between your basis and the amount you get when you sell an asset. Your basis is usually what you paid for the asset.

3. You must include all capital gains in your income. Beginning in 2013, you may be subject to the Net Investment Income Tax. The NIIT applies at a rate of 3.8% to certain net investment income of individuals, estates, and trusts that have income above statutory threshold amounts. For details see IRS.gov/aca.

4. You can deduct capital losses on the sale of investment property. You can’t deduct losses on the sale of personal-use property.

5. Capital gains and losses are either long-term or short-term, depending on how long you held the property. If you held the property for more than one year, your gain or loss is long-term. If you held it one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.

6. If your long-term gains are more than your long-term losses, the difference between the two is a net long-term capital gain. If your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, you have a ‘net capital gain.’

7. The tax rates that apply to net capital gains will usually depend on your income. For lower-income individuals, the rate may be zero percent on some or all of their net capital gains. In 2013, the maximum net capital gain tax rate increased from 15 to 20 percent. A 25 or 28 percent tax rate can also apply to special types of net capital gains.

8. If your capital losses are more than your capital gains, you can deduct the difference as a loss on your tax return. This loss is limited to $3,000 per year, or $1,500 if you are married and file a separate return.

9. If your total net capital loss is more than the limit you can deduct, you can carry over the losses you are not able to deduct to next year’s tax return. You will treat those losses as if they happened that year.

10. You must file Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, with your federal tax return to report your gains and losses. You also need to file Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses with your return.

Four Things You Should Know if You Barter

Four Things You Should Know if You Barter

Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another. Often there is no exchange of cash. Small businesses sometimes barter to get products or services they need. For example, a plumber might trade plumbing work with a dentist for dental services.

If you barter, you should know that the value of products or services from bartering is taxable income.

Here are four facts about bartering:

1. Barter exchanges.  A barter exchange is an organized marketplace where members barter products or services. Some exchanges operate out of an office and others over the Internet. All barter exchanges are required to issue Form 1099-B, Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions. The exchange must give a copy of the form to its members who barter and file a copy with the IRS.

2. Bartering income.  Barter and trade dollars are the same as real dollars for tax purposes and must be reported on a tax return. Both parties must report as income the fair market value of the product or service they get.

3. Tax implications.  Bartering is taxable in the year it occurs. The tax rules may vary based on the type of bartering that takes place. Barterers may owe income taxes, self-employment taxes, employment taxes or excise taxes on their bartering income.

4. Reporting rules.  How you report bartering on a tax return varies. If you are in a trade or business, you normally report it on Form 1040, Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business.

Are Your Social Security Benefits Taxable?

Are Your Social Security Benefits Taxable?

Some people must pay taxes on part of their Social Security benefits. Others find that their benefits aren’t taxable. If you get Social Security, the IRS can help you determine if some of your benefits are taxable.

Here are seven tips about how Social Security affects your taxes:

1. If you received these benefits in 2013, you should have received a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, showing the amount.

2. If Social Security was your only source of income in 2013, your benefits may not be taxable. You also may not need to file a federal income tax return.

3. If you get income from other sources, then you may have to pay taxes on some of your benefits.

4. Your income and filing status affect whether you must pay taxes on your Social Security.

5. The best, and free, way to find out if your benefits are taxable is to use IRS Free File to prepare and e-file your tax return. If you made $58,000 or less, you can use Free File tax software. The software will figure the taxable benefits for you. If your income was more than $58,000 and you feel comfortable doing your own taxes, use Free File Fillable Forms. Free File is available only at IRS.gov/freefile.

6. If you file a paper return, visit IRS.gov and use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool to see if any of your benefits are taxable.

7. A quick way to find out if any of your benefits may be taxable is to add one-half of your Social Security benefits to all your other income, including any tax-exempt interest. Next, compare this total to the base amounts below. If your total is more than the base amount for your filing status, then some of your benefits may be taxable. The three base amounts are:

  • $25,000 – for single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child or married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouse at any time during the year
  • $32,000 -for married couples filing jointly

$0 – for married persons filing separately who lived together at any time during the year

Seven Facts about Dependents and Exemptions

Seven Facts about Dependents and Exemptions

There are a few tax rules that affect everyone who files a federal income tax return. This includes the rules for dependents and exemptions. The IRS has seven facts on these rules to help you file your taxes.

1. Exemptions cut income.  There are two types of exemptions: personal exemptions and exemptions for dependents. You can usually deduct $3,900 for each exemption you claim on your 2013 tax return.

2. Personal exemptions.  You can usually claim an exemption for yourself. If you’re married and file a joint return you can also claim one for your spouse. 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 return, and was not the dependent of another taxpayer.

3. Exemptions for dependents.  You can usually claim an exemption for each of your dependents. A dependent is either your child or a relative that meets certain tests. You can’t claim your spouse as a dependent. You must list the Social Security number of each dependent you claim. See IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information, for rules that apply to people who don’t have an SSN.

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

5. Dependents may have to file.  People that you can claim as your dependent may have to file their own federal tax return. This depends on many things, including the amount of their income, their marital status and if they owe certain taxes.

6. 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 as a dependent on your tax return. The rule applies because you have to right to claim that person.

7. Exemption phase-out.  The $3,900 per exemption is subject to income limits. This rule may reduce or eliminate the amount depending on your income. See Publication 501 for details.

Deducting Medical and Dental Expenses

Deducting Medical and Dental Expenses

If you plan to claim a deduction for your medical expenses, there are some new rules this year that may affect your tax return. Here are eight things you should know about the medical and dental expense deduction:

1. AGI threshold increase.  Starting in 2013, the amount of allowable medical expenses you must exceed before you can claim a deduction is 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. The threshold was 7.5 percent of AGI in prior years.

2. Temporary exception for age 65.  The AGI threshold is still 7.5 percent of your AGI if you or your spouse is age 65 or older. This exception will apply through Dec. 31, 2016.

3. You must itemize.  You can only claim your medical and dental expenses if you itemize deductions on your federal tax return. You can’t claim these expenses if you take the standard deduction.

4. Paid in 2013. You can include only the expenses you paid in 2013. If you paid by check, the day you mailed or delivered the check is usually considered the date of payment.

5. Costs to include.  You can include most medical or dental costs that you paid for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Some exceptions and special rules apply. Any costs reimbursed by insurance or other sources don’t qualify for a deduction.

6. Expenses that qualify.  You can include the costs of diagnosing, treating, easing or preventing disease. The cost of insurance premiums that you pay for policies that cover medical care qualifies, as does the cost of some long-term care insurance. The cost of prescription drugs and insulin also qualify. For more examples of costs you can deduct, see IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses.

7. Travel costs count.  You may be able to claim the cost of travel 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 24 cents per mile for 2013.

8. No double benefit.  You can’t claim a tax deduction for medical and dental expenses you paid with funds from your Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Arrangements. Amounts paid with funds from those plans are usually tax-free.

The Child Tax Credit May Cut Your Tax

The Child Tax Credit May Cut Your Tax

If you have a child under age 17, the Child Tax Credit may save you money at tax time. Here are some key facts the IRS wants you to know about the credit.

• Amount.  The non-refundable Child Tax Credit may help cut your federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child you claim on your tax return.

• Qualifications.  A child must pass seven tests to qualify for this credit:

1. Age test. The child was under age 17 at the end of 2013.

2. Relationship test. The child is your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister. A child can also be a descendant of any of these persons. For example, your grandchild, niece or nephew will meet this test. Adopted children also qualify. An adopted child includes a child lawfully placed with you for legal adoption.

3. Support test. The child did not provide more than half of his or her own support for 2013.

4. Dependent test. You claim the child as a dependent on your 2013 federal income tax return.

5. Joint return test. A married child can’t file a joint return with their spouse they are filing jointly only to claim a tax refund.

6. Citizenship test. The child must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or U.S. resident alien. For more see Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.

7. Residence test. In most cases, the child must have lived with you for more than half of 2013.

• Limitations. Your filing status and income may reduce or eliminate the credit.

• Additional Child Tax Credit.  If you get less than the full Child Tax Credit, you may qualify for the refundable Additional Child Tax Credit. This means you could get a refund even if you owe no tax.

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