With your name, birth date, and social security number, I can ruin you. Now I wouldn’t– I have laws to follow and a code of ethics too, but basically those are all the tools an identity thief needs to ruin your life.
Scary isn’t it? And how easy is it to get that information? Got a Facebook page? There’s your name. Did you post your birthday on it for all your friends? That’s two. The social security number is harder to get—or at least it should be.
Do you have a driver’s license that uses your social security number as the ID number? Do you keep your social security card in your purse? Both of those practices are extremely dangerous.
Why am I obsessing over identity theft in my tax blog? It’s a really hot issue in taxes this year. Fake tax returns reflecting huge refunds have risen exponentially, and the IRS is having a hard time fighting the phenomena. I’ve written about children’s identities being stolen for tax returns before, but the issue of adult identities being stolen is what has really caused problems this past season.
Here’s the thing: A fraudulent tax return gets filed in your name with a large refund. You go to file your taxes, maybe you even owe, but you can’t file because your identity has already been claimed. Next thing you know, you’re under criminal investigation for tax fraud. Ugly, isn’t it? You don’t want this to be you.
What can you do? Prevention is the best. Guard your social security number like your life depended upon it. It does. Take your birthday down from your Facebook page. My apologies to everyone who’s sent me requests to sign up for the birthday club—sorry, I just won’t do it.
If you do get hit, be sure to report it right away. Even if the police will do nothing about your case, you’ll have the fact of reporting it on file. If you’ve been the victim of identity theft for tax purposes, you’ll need to fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039. Here’s a link to get it: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14039.pdf.
Even if you haven’t been affected by tax identity theft, if your purse has been stolen and your social security number is at risk, you should contact the IRS before a problem comes up. You can call this number for assistance: 1 800-908-4490. That’s the IRS Identity Protection specialized Unit. They can take steps in
advance to protect your account.
I worked on an identity theft case years ago, before it was a common problem. It was a nightmare—because not only had the man’s identity been stolen, but the IRS was charging him with fines, penalties, and tax fraud for getting a huge tax refund for claiming some children that weren’t his. It all started with an IRS letter asking him if Billy and Susie were his children. He responded back saying , “No,” he didn’t have any children at all. He wasn’t thinking about identity theft, he was thinking that maybe an old girlfriend was trying to pin paternity on him for some kids that weren’t his. He had no idea that it was the beginning of a tax problem that took over a year to solve.
He hadn’t filed a tax return for that year due to lack of work, so he was a good candidate for identity theft. Once the IRS determined that the return as fraudulent, they weren’t looking for someone else—they went to my client who happened to have the name and social security number on the tax return. Like I said, it was a nightmare.
So be careful. Protect yourself and your social security number. You’ll be glad you did.
I recently received a question from a reader about winning the lottery. His question was, “If I win the lottery, will I have to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax?” My answer to that question was, “probably not” because under most circumstance it wouldn’t appy–but the idea of winning the lottery is so fun, I thought I’d do a whole post about it.
Filed under: Debt Resolution, IRS Debts, Tax Debt, Uncategorized
Did you get one of those notices by the IRS that says you owe money for 2005, 06, and 07 but you never even filed a return in the first place? You’d be surprised, you’re definitely not alone. Lots of those notices have gone out lately. If you’ve got several years of back taxes that need to be filed, I recommend hiring a professional to do it for you. (Okay, namely I think you should hire me, but then again this is my website.)
But seriously, there’s a reason you didn’t file your taxes in the first place; maybe they were too complicated, maybe you were going through a divorce or suffering from a death in the family, or maybe you were just being lazy. Whatever the reason, the problem has gotten to the point where the IRS is threatening you– so you need to get yourself a buffer zone. Someone to put a little distance between you and the IRS, it keeps it a little less personal. Plus a professional will know all those funky little tax law changes: 2007 was the telephone tax credit, 2008 had that $300 recovery rebate credit you missed because you didn’t file, and stuff like that. You don’t want to lose out on those things.
If you hire a tax professional that’s worth her salt, the first thing she’s going to do is to contact the IRS and get all of the information they have on you. That will include your wage and income transcripts, your account transcripts, and any return transcripts they may have. Even though you didn’t file tax returns, the IRS filed one for you, that’s how they came up with what they’re assessing you for. It’s a waste of time trying to negotiate with the IRS if you don’t know what information they’re using. Remember, when the IRS files for you, it’s always the worst possible tax status and you get no deductions.
The next step is to prepare all of your income tax returns. Not just for 2005, 06, and 07—in order to be in compliance (that’s the term the IRS uses for someone who’s in good graces with the IRS) you must have all of your tax returns filed and up to date. You can’t set up a payment agreement to get yourself out of an IRS levy if you haven’t filed all of your returns.
If you’ve been a good doobie and responded to the first IRS notice immediately, they’ll give you 30 days to file and then you can usually get another 30 day extension before you have to deal with any consequences. If you’ve blown off the IRS a couple of times already, they will not be so willing to wait for you. The problem is that you might not know that you’ve blown them off, especially if you’ve moved and they have the wrong address for you. Don’t assume you’ve got 30 or 60 days unless the IRS tells you they’re giving you that much time.
Each tax return must be mailed in a separate envelope. People mess that up all the time. Older returns go to one address, current returns go to another. And the addresses vary depending upon where you live. (Another reason it’s a good idea to get professional help.) Even if you’re sending two or three returns to the same address, you still need to put them in separate envelopes. (Think of a little kid going through a box of cereal looking for the prize. Once the prize is found, he sort of forgets about the cereal. It’s the same with tax returns and envelopes. Once an IRS agent opens the envelope and finds a tax return—everything else is forgotten, that other return does not exist, only the first one he finds is real.)
Once you figure out what your real tax liability is (remember there will be penalties for late fling, late payment, plus interest), then you can negotiate a payment agreement or perhaps an offer-in-compromise if you qualify. It all depends upon how much you owe and what you’re able to pay. A simple payment agreement can be negotiated in about 10-15 minutes, while an offer-in-compromise can take 6 months or even longer.
On the “fun” scale, filing back taxes is right up there with root canals and colonoscopies. Nobody wants to do it, but you reach a certain point and you just have to. And, not unlike a colonoscopy or root canal, you want someone you trust doing the work. If you’re in the “back tax” situation, the sooner you just get it done, the better off you are. On the bright side, you’ll feel better when it’s all over.
Retired public safety officers may be eligible to exclude up to $3,000 from their pension distributions for money that was used to pay the premiums for accident or health insurance or long-term care insurance. Public safety officers include law enforcement officers, firefighters, chaplains, and members of a rescue squad or ambulance crew. In order to qualify for this deduction, the payment for the insurance must be made directly from the pension plan to the insurance provider. Basically you exclude the smaller of the amount of your insurance or the $3,000. If you’re excluding the insurance from your pension income, then you can’t include it as a Schedule A deduction.
So if you’re making this deduction, how do you show it on your tax return? First, I guess I should be using the right words. It’s not really a deduction – you are “making an election to exclude the insurance premiums from your income.” Now you’ve just had a lesson in tax geek semantics. I know you don’t care, but I’m supposed to use the right words. For what it’s worth, a reduction in income is better than a deduction.
Anyway, if you look at your 1099R, which shows your pension distribution, the box 2a which shows what part of your pension is taxable doesn’t show your insurance payment, so the exclusion isn’t automatic. Here’s what I mean – let’s say that you receive a public pension for $25,000 a year. $5,000 of it isn’t taxable so your 1099 shows $25,000 in box one (your gross distribution) and $20,000 in box 2a (the taxable amount). But if you paid $4,000 for your health insurance, you’re allowed to exclude $3,000 of that money from your income. So really your true taxable amount is $17,000.
If you are doing this by hand, you’d just write it on the 1040 like this: On line 16a you’d write $25,000 for the total amount of the pension, and on line 16b you’d write $17,000 for the taxable portion. You’d write PSO next to it so that the IRS would know why the number on line 16B didn’t match the number in box 2a of your 1099.
It’s really important that the numbers on your tax return match the numbers in the boxes on your 1099. When they don’t, you get little letters from your friends at the IRS. Writing PSO on your tax return basically tells them that you’re not just arbitrarily changing their tax figures for them.
So how do you do this if you’re using a computerized tax program? That’s a little trickier because you can’t just go and change the numbers without somehow notating it. If you just type in $17,000 in box 2a instead of the $20,000 number, I guarantee you you’ll be hearing from the IRS. And we don’t want that do we?
If you’re using the 1040.com program, it’s really easy. When you’re in the 1099 input screen, you’ll see at the top there’s a little phrase in blue letters: “Special Tax Treatments.” You’re going to want to click on that button. It will take you to a new page with other items that also require special tax treatment. The “public safety officer” insurance is at the very bottom. All you have to do it type in how much you paid into the little box and the program will handle the rest.
Other tax programs should have something similar. If you can’t find a “special tax treatments” page, call the phone number listed with your program and they should be able to tell you how to get there. And if they can’t, come back here and use my 1040.com site (sorry for the shameless plug but a girl’s gotta eat.)
Special thanks go out to Mr. A—– in California for the idea for this post.
If you’ve done your taxes and there’s an amount in box 45 for Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), then you should read this because it might help. If the box is blank, you don’t have to bother with this post.
Also, this post is going to be a little more geeky and technical. If you’d like a basic introduction to AMT then you might want to check out my AMT for Dummies post first: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2011/03/the-alternative-minimum-tax-for-dummies/
Now for the geeky part:
AMT is a pretty sneaky little tax. A lot of the issues with AMT revolve around what goes on your Schedule A-Itemized Deductions form. If you do your own taxes you can go in and play with the numbers to see what I mean. Let’s say that your real estate taxes were $4000. If you go into your tax software and change that number to $2000 or $6000, your final tax bill will probably stay the same. The AMT will rise and fall to adjust to the regular tax change. (Make sure you put your real estate tax number back to where it belongs.)
You can’t lie about what you put on your tax return, but sometimes you can choose which deductions you want to take. You may take a deduction for the state income tax that you pay on your wages, or you can take a deduction for the state sales tax that you pay. In most cases, the state sales tax is a smaller deduction, but if you’re using a computer program the computer will always choose the bigger deduction for you. The AMT can make your bigger deduction worthless, so in this case you want to take the smaller one. Why? First, if you claim sales tax instead of income tax as a deduction, you won’t have to pay income tax on your state tax refund next year. Second, in some states, like here in Missouri, although you can’t claim a deduction for your income taxes paid, you can claim a deduction for your sales tax that you paid.
So, the bottom line is you’re not changing what your total federal tax is. You are preventing taxable income on next year’s return and potentially reducing state income tax. For some people, this will do nothing at all because it depends upon your state.
The other category that has room for movement is your miscellaneous deductions; they wind up on line 27 of your Schedule A. For the most part, this includes your Form 2106 Employee Business Expenses. If you’re in the AMT category, you’ve already been dinged pretty hard by the 2% rule, because to claim a deduction here your expenses have to be more than 2% of your adjusted gross income. The AMT is like a double shot – first you lose part of the deduction due to the 2% AGI rule, and then the AMT takes the rest of the deduction away. A lot of people with AMT don’t even bother claiming their employee business expenses because of it. But don’t forget your state income tax return. Here in Missouri, your Schedule A deductions still carry through to the state tax return so you really should include your deductions even if they don’t help your federal return.
A suggestion for AMT payers with employee business expenses: If you’re in a sales position, or any job that has high employee business expenses, and you’re in a position to negotiate a salary increase. You might want to toss in having your business expenses reimbursed. Let’s say for example that you make an annual salary plus commissions of $200,000 a year and you average $10,000 a year in employee business expenses. You put those expenses on form 2106 and after the AGI limitation you only get a $6,000 deduction for it. (200,000 x 2% = 4,000. $10,000 – 4,000 = 6,000) But once you add AMT in there, your $6,000 is worth nothing.
So, by having your employer reimburse your business expenses on an “accountable plan” (that means you submit expense reports for your mileage and meals and stuff) then that money comes to you tax free. It’s a win/win for you and your boss: $10,000 tax free income to you and a $10,000 business expense write off for your employer.
Think about it, what would you rather have; a $10,000 pay raise that you have to pay state and federal income tax on or a $10,000 tax free reimbursement on money that you already spend anyway? I thought so.
AMT is a hard tax to manage. These little tips barely make a dent, but there’s not much there to work with. Hopefully it’s been some help to you.
Claiming parents is difficult, but it can be done if you pass the “Qualifying Relative” tests. But first, here are the two biggies that tend to get in the way:
- You cannot claim a married person who files a joint return with his or her spouse. So if your parents file a joint tax return in the United States, then you won’t be able to claim them. (I’m guessing they don’t, but I wanted to make sure that I told you about that.)
- To claim someone as a dependent, the person must be a US citizen, US resident alien, US national or resident of Canada or Mexico. Where my clients have had trouble before is when their parents visit the US, but their visas are only for 6 months, no longer. Then they don’t qualify as US residents. I just wanted to make sure you knew about the 6 month rule because that’s the issue most likely to cause Indian families trouble with claiming their parents. After that, the rules are the same for anyone else in America who wants to claim their parents on their US income tax return. You need to pass the qualifying relative test.
The Qualifying Relative Test has 4 parts:
- They cannot be considered a qualifying child of anyone else. No problem! As your parents, I’m guessing they’re both over the age of 24. Easy pass.
- Member of household or relationship test. As your parents, they do not have to live with you. Also, since they are your parents, they automatically pass the relationship test. Easy pass.
- Gross income test. This one is harder. They cannot have more than than $3,650 in gross income for the year. If they are retired, they might qualify, but if they are receiving a taxable pension, that could kick them out of being a dependent. In the US, for example, my mother in law receives Social Security income which isn’t taxable and it doesn’t count as gross income. Her other income is less than $3,650 so she would pass the gross income test for me to claim her as a dependent. Remember, once your parents become US residents, they will be taxed on their “world wide income.”
- Support Test. In order to claim your parents as dependents, you must provide more than 1/2 of their support. Let’s say that your parents each earn $3,000 a year in some type of pension. For you to be able to claim them as dependents, you would have to pay more than $3,000 for support for each of them. For example, if they live with you, then you would consider part of your rent or mortgage to be towards their support. Also food, clothing, medical expenses, etc. If they don’t live with you, who is paying for their rent, food, clothing, etc.? Using my mother-in-law as an example again: although I pay some of her bills, I definitely don’t pay over 1/2 of her support. She pays for her food and rent with her Social Security money so I don’t come close to the 50% of her support.
If you do find that you qualify to claim your parents, then you would complete the W7 forms for them, so that they have an ITIN number, and submit them with your next tax return. I find that the best way to handle the W7 form is to take your tax return in to the nearest IRS office with your supporting documents (like passports) and submit them there. Although it might be inconvenient making the trip, it will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
To qualify for Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC, you and your spouse (if you’re married and filing a joint return) must meet all of the following rules:
- You must have a valid Social Security Number. [If you are foreign born and have an ITIN number, you cannot get an earned income credit, but if you become a citizen and obtain a social security number, you may go back up to three years and amend your old returns using your social security number to qualify for EIC.]
- You must have earned income from employment, self-employment or another source. [Alimony counts as earned income, child support does not. Social security, pension payments, and veteran’s benefits do not count as earned income.]
- You cannot use the married, filing separate status to file your return. [If you are separated and have been living apart for the last six months of the year, you may be able to use the head of household filing status and still qualify for EIC. Do not claim head of household status if you are still living with your spouse. That’s a form of EIC fraud and can get you into big trouble.]
- You must either be a U.S. citizen or resident alien all year or a nonresident alien married to a U.S. citizen or resident alien and choose to file a joint return and be treated as a resident alien. [If you are in the US military and stationed out of the country on active duty, you still count as being in the United States for EIC purposes.]
- You cannot be the qualifying child of another person. [Let’s say you are a young mother still in school and living with your parents. If your parents can claim you as a dependent on their tax return, then you cannot claim an earned income credit for your child. You will be able to allow your parents to claim your baby as a dependent on their tax return though.]
- You cannot file a Form 2555 or 2555-EZ (related to foreign earned income). [Basically, if you’re using this tax form, you’re living and working outside the country so you wouldn’t qualify to claim EIC anyway.]
- Your Adjusted Gross Income and earned income must meet the limits shown for 2011:
Earned Income and adjusted gross income (AGI) must each be less than:
- $43,998 ($49,078 married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children
- $40,964 ($46,044 married filing jointly) with two qualifying children
- $36,052 ($41,132 married filing jointly) with one qualifying child
- $13,660 ($18,740 married filing jointly) with no qualifying children
- Your investment income must meet or be less than $3,150 for 2011. [Investment income is basically bank interest, capital gains or dividends from stocks. You might have a partnership interest or own a corporation and receive investment income there. These types of income can prevent you from claiming an Earned Income credit.]
Those are the basic rules that everyone must meet to qualify for an Earned Income Credit. If you have children or are self-employed, you have more hoops to jump through.
Other posts that might interest you are Tax Tips for Single Moms: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2011/01/tax-tips-for-single-moms/
And also My Ex Claimed My Kid: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2011/01/my-ex-claimed-my-kid-now-what-do-i-do/
You hear about it every election year, some woman is running for office and she gets outed for not paying her “nanny tax.” (I’m sure that there are men guilty of this crime as well, but it seems that women candidates are the ones who get caught.) If you have household employees, such as a nanny, private nurse, cleaning person, health aide or private gardener, you may be subject to paying their payroll taxes.
How do I know I have an employee? Good question – that’s how people get in trouble. Here’s an example: I hire Ernie the lawn guy. He uses his own equipment. He usually comes on Thursdays, but last week he thought my grass wasn’t long enough so he didn’t cut it. Ernie basically has control over what he does. Ernie has his own lawn care company – he’s self employed. On the other hand, I hired Dawn to help take care of my mom. Dawn only worked a few hours a week, but Dawn was supposed to come at a certain time, leave at a certain time, we purchased any supplies she needed, and she basically did what she was instructed to do. Dawn was really a household employee.
If you hire someone to care for your children in your home – that’s pretty much a household employee because you’re going to have some very specific rules about how your children are cared for. On the other hand, if you take your children to someone else’s home for child care, even though you may have very specific rules about how your child is cared for, it’s still not a household employee because your child is being cared for outside of the home. Is this getting any easier? I know it’s kind of fuzzy but that’s pretty much how it goes.
If you have a household employee, you need to have them do employee paperwork: They need to fill out an I-9 form. Here’s the link to that: http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-9.pdf. The page that needs to be filled out is on page 4. For most people, you’re going to want to check their driver’s license and social security card to make sure they are allowed to work in the US. Page 5 gives you lists of other acceptable documents should you need them.
The other document that you’re going to want your employee to complete is a W4 if you’ll be withholding income tax. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4.pdf Most household employers do not withhold state or federal income tax but some do. You will be withholding social security and medicare taxes from every paycheck though.
So now that you’ve determined that you’ve got a household employee and you’re withholding social security and medicare taxes, how do you pay them? Household employee withholding is a little easier than if you own a business and have to pay withholding taxes. You’re actually going to pay the taxes with your own personal 1040 return on a form called Schedule H. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040sh.pdf
Before you panic about having to do withholding and stuff, make sure that you’ve paid enough to be required to do withholding. If you pay any one employee wages of $1700 or more, then do the Schedule H. If you withheld federal income tax, that will be included on the Schedule H as well. Also, if you pay total cash wages of $1000 or more in any calendar quarter, then you’ll also have to do a schedule H. For example: you hired two workers around Christmas and paid them each $600 – then you’ve got to do the Schedule H, even though you haven’t paid either of them over the $1700 limit. There are some exceptions for people under 18, hiring your kids, or hiring your parents. If you think you have an exception to paying the nanny tax, or want more information, you can read more about it in IRS publication 926. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p926.pdf
You will need to supply your household employee with a W2, and the appropriate copies will need to be sent to the Social Security Administration. You can get free forms from the IRS. You have a deadline of January 31st for getting the W2 to your employee and February 29th for the Social Security Administration. You must use the real form – it’s red. You can’t download it off the internet. Here are W2 filing instructions from the Social Security Administration: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/employer/index.htm
Now here’s the big commercial plug—doing all these forms can be a real pain in the behind for a normal person. For a tax geek like me, it’s kind of fun. (I guess that means I’m not normal?) But at Roberg Tax Solutions we can get all of your household employee tax paperwork taken care of and done right, so you don’t have to worry about it.
I know, this is supposed to be the tax column: taxes, taxes, taxes. Sorry, not today. I’m taking the day off. I spent yesterday watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television, eating far too much turkey and stuffing, and visiting with the relatives. On Friday I’ll probably spend too much money at the mall. Mind you, I hate shopping on Black Friday, but certainly one of said relatives will talk me into going. That is, of course, unless one or more of the younger said relatives talks me into the Muppet Movie—they talked me into The Smurfs last summer and I guess I have sufficiently recovered from that by now.
Don’t worry about me going all happy and smiley on you. I’ll be back to my old “death, divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosures, and IRS problems” next week. Geez, I gotta lighten up.
Anyway, I hope you had a great holiday too.
This is one of those things nobody wants to deal with. I don’t remember ever learning about it in tax school (I take update and continuing education classes every year). I don’t remember hearing a thing about it when I took the “Military Taxpayer” class which specifically targeted all sorts of military tax issues. I actually learned about it doing research on something else and landed on the wrong page of a document. It seemed like this information should be shared. If you need to be reading this, I am sorry about your loss.
Tax liability can be forgiven if a member of the US Armed Forces dies while in active service in a combat zone. This also includes death from wounds, disease, or other injury received in a combat zone or incurred in a terrorist or military action.
In addition, any unpaid tax liability at the date of death may be forgiven. When a liability is forgiven, it means that the debt doesn’t have to be paid.
If you’re filing a tax return (or amended return) you will have to identify that you will be claiming tax forgiveness by writing across the top of the tax return:
“Iraqi Freedom-KIA” or “Enduring Freedom-KIA”
If the soldier was killed in a terrorist action, write “KITA”. You will use the same phrase that you wrote across the top of page 1 on the line of your tax return for the total tax. On a 1040 that’s line 61.
You will need to attach the following documents to your return:
- Form 1310, Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer, here’s a link for that form: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1310.pdf
- A certification from the Department of Defense or Department of State (form DD 1300 for military and department of Defense employees)
- You will also need to include a sheet that shows how you computed the tax liability to be forgiven. If you have a joint return, only the soldier’s debt is forgiven, not the spouse’s.
Military tax forgiveness returns need to be mailed to a special address. This is not something that can be e-filed.
Internal Revenue Service
333 W. Pershing, Stop 6503, P5
Kansas City, MO 64108
You can get more detailed information on this issue by reading IRS Publication 3: Armed Forces’ Tax Guide. Here’s a link to the book: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p3.pdf The information you need starts on page 20.