Ten Tax-Time IRS Tips to Consider

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 28, 2017) –The tax filing deadline is Tuesday, April 18, this year. This is because April 15 falls on a weekend and the following Monday is a holiday in the District of Columbia. Even with an extra three days, the IRS urges taxpayers to avoid waiting until the last minute to file their taxes.

For those who have yet to file, the IRS has 10 quick ideas to help:

1. Gather Records. Good recordkeeping is important. It helps to ensure that nothing gets overlooked. Records such as receipts and cancelled checks also provide expense documentation.

2. Use IRS Online Tools. The IRS has many useful online tools. The Interactive Tax Assistant tool provides answers to many tax questions. It gives the same answers that an IRS representative would give over the phone.

3. File Electronically. Most taxpayers file electronically these days. It offers ease and convenience. The tax software guides people through the entire process. There are no forms to fill out. Electronic filing is also a more accurate way to file.

4. Use IRS Free File. Free File is available only on IRS.gov. Taxpayers earning $64,000 or less last year can use free name-brand tax software to file a federal tax return. Free File Fillable Forms, an electronic version of IRS paper forms, is available for those who earned more than $64,000. People can use Free File to get an automatic six-month extension to file. An extension to file a tax return, however, is not an extension to pay any taxes owed. April 18 is still the deadline for any taxes owed.

Taxpayers can now use their cell phone or tablet to prepare and e-file a federal tax return through IRS Free File. Access Free File two ways: Use the IRS app, IRS2Go, which has a link to the Free File Software Lookup Tool, or use the device’s browser to go to www.IRS.gov/freefile and select the “Free File Software Lookup Tool” or “Start Free File Now” to find the software product desired. The IRS2Go app is available for Android and iOS devices.

5. Report All Income. Taxpayers must report all of their income from Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statements, and Forms 1099. Other income may be reportable as well, even if the taxpayer does not receive a statement.

6. Choose Direct Deposit. The fastest and safest way to a refund is to file electronically and choose Direct Deposit. The IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days.

7. Visit IRS.gov. IRS.gov is an excellent resource. Taxpayers can click on the “Filing” icon for links to filing tips, answers to frequently asked questions and IRS forms and publications. The IRS Services Guide outlines the many ways to get help on IRS.gov.

8. Explore Filing Options. Taxpayers have many options to file. Self-prepare or use a tax preparer. Millions are eligible for free help from a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly site. The IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers provides information on tax professionals including their qualifications and credentials. IRS tools are available 24/7.

9. Check out IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, is a complete tax resource. This 300-page guide is available as an eBook as well.

10. Avoid Errors. Taxpayers should take extra time to review their return to file accurately the first time. Mistakes slow down refunds. IRS e-file is the most accurate way to file as using it eliminates many common errors. Paper return filers should check all names, Social Security numbers and sign the tax return.

Taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

 

Free Tax Help Available for the Military

ANNAPOLIS (March 23, 2017) — The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program provides free tax help to military members and their families. On or off base, VITA is easy to find — even overseas. Keep these five tips in mind about free tax help for the military:

1. Armed Forces Tax Council. The Armed Forces Tax Council directs the military tax programs offered worldwide.

2. Certified Staff. Military VITA-certified employees staff these sites. They receive training on military tax issues, like tax benefits for service in a combat zone. They can help with special extensions of time to file tax returns and to pay taxes or with special rules that apply to the Earned Income Tax Credit.

3. What to Bring. Take the following records to a military VITA site:

• Valid photo identification.
• Social Security numbers for the taxpayer, their spouse and dependents; or individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs) or adoption taxpayer identification numbers (ATINs) for those who don’t have Social Security numbers.
• Birth dates for the taxpayer, their spouse and dependents.
• Wage and earning forms, such as Forms W-2, W-2G, and 1099-R.
• Interest and dividend statements (Forms 1099).
• A copy of last year’s federal and state tax returns, if available
• Routing and account numbers for direct deposit of a tax refund.
• Total amount paid for day care and the day care provider’s identifying number. This is usually an Employer Identification Number or Social Security number.
• Other relevant information about income and expenses.

4. Joint Returns. If married filing a joint return, generally both persons need to sign. If both can’t be present to sign the return, they should bring a valid power of attorney form unless eligible for an exception. Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information, has more details.

5. Use IRS Free File. Taxpayers with income of $64,000 or less qualify for Free File software. Those with income more than $64,000 can use Free File Fillable Forms. Using the IRS2Go app, a taxpayer can now use their cell phone or tablet to prepare and e-file their federal tax return through IRS Free File.

Taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

IRS Reminds Taxpayers of April 1 Deadline to Take Required Retirement Plan Distributions

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 17, 2017) — The Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers who turned age 70½ during 2016 that, in most cases, they must start receiving required minimum distributions (RMDs) from Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and workplace retirement plans by Saturday, April 1, 2017.

The April 1 deadline applies to owners of traditional (including SEP and SIMPLE) IRAs but not Roth IRAs. It also typically applies to participants in various workplace retirement plans, including 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans.

The April 1 deadline only applies to the required distribution for the first year. For all subsequent years, the RMD must be made by Dec. 31. A taxpayer who turned 70½ in 2016 (born after June 30, 1945 and before July 1, 1946) and receives the first required distribution (for 2016) on April 1, 2017, for example, must still receive the second RMD by Dec. 31, 2017.

Affected taxpayers who turned 70½ during 2016 must figure the RMD for the first year using the life expectancy as of their birthday in 2016 and their account balance on Dec. 31, 2015. The trustee reports the year-end account value to the IRA owner on Form 5498 in Box 5. Worksheets and life expectancy tables for making this computation can be found in the appendices to Publication 590-B.

Most taxpayers use Table III (Uniform Lifetime) to figure their RMD. For a taxpayer who reached age 70½ in 2016 and turned 71 before the end of the year, for example, the first required distribution would be based on a distribution period of 26.5 years. A separate table, Table II, applies to a taxpayer married to a spouse who is more than 10 years younger and is the taxpayer’s only beneficiary. Both tables can be found in the appendices to Publication 590-B.

Though the April 1 deadline is mandatory for all owners of traditional IRAs and most participants in workplace retirement plans, some people with workplace plans can wait longer to receive their RMD. Employees who are still working usually can, if their plan allows, wait until April 1 of the year after they retire to start receiving these distributions. See Tax on Excess Accumulation in Publication 575. Employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations with 403(b) plan accruals before 1987 should check with their employer, plan administrator or provider to see how to treat these accruals.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to begin planning now for any distributions required during 2017. An IRA trustee must either report the amount of the RMD to the IRA owner or offer to calculate it for the owner. Often, the trustee shows the RMD amount in Box 12b on Form 5498. For a 2017 RMD, this amount would be on the 2016 Form 5498 that is normally issued in January 2017.

IRA owners can use a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) paid directly from an IRA to an eligible charity to meet part or all of their RMD obligation. Available only to IRA owners age 70½ or older, the maximum annual exclusion for QCDs is $100,000. For details, see the QCD discussion in Publication 590-B.

A 50 percent tax normally applies to any required amounts not received by the April 1 deadline. Report this tax on Form 5329 Part IX. For details, see the instructions for Part IX of this form.

More information on RMDs, including answers to frequently asked questions, can be found on IRS.gov.

IRS: March 1 Tax Deadline Nears for Farmers and Watermen; IRS Direct Pay Offers an Easy Way to Pay

ANNAPOLIS (February 27, 2017) ― The Internal Revenue Service is reminding farmers and watermen about Wednesday’s deadline to take advantage of special rules that can allow them to forgo making quarterly estimated tax payments.

Taxpayers with income from farming or fishing have until Wednesday, March 1, to file their 2016 Form 1040 and pay the tax due to avoid making estimated tax payments. This rule generally applies if farming or fishing income was at least two-thirds of the total gross income in either the current or the preceding tax year.

Since 2014, IRS Direct Pay has offered individual taxpayers an easy way to quickly pay the tax amount due or make quarterly estimated tax payments directly from checking or savings accounts without any fees or pre-registration.

IRS Direct Pay is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can be scheduled up to 30 days in advance. Last year, IRS Direct Pay received more than nine million tax payments from individual taxpayers totaling more than $31.6 billion.

When a taxpayer uses the tool they receive instant confirmation after they submit their payment. Direct Pay cannot be used to pay the federal highway use tax, payroll taxes or other business taxes.

Taxpayers who wish to pay their federal business taxes electronically should enroll in the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), or visit IRS.gov/payments to check out other payment options.

Farmers and fishers choosing not to file by March 1 should have made an estimated tax payment by Jan. 17 to avoid a penalty.
For more information, visit IRS.gov.

IRS: Don’t Fall for Scam Calls and Emails

ANNAPOLIS, MD (February 7, 2017) — Scams continue to use the IRS as a lure. These tax scams take many different forms. The most common scams are phone calls and emails from thieves who pretend to be from the IRS. Scammers use the IRS name, logo or a fake website to try and steal money from taxpayers. Identity theft can also happen with these scams.

Taxpayers need to be wary of phone calls or automated messages from someone who claims to be from the IRS. Often these criminals will say the taxpayer owes money. They also demand payment right away. Other times scammers will lie to a taxpayer and say they are due a refund. The thieves ask for bank account information over the phone. The IRS warns taxpayers not to fall for these scams.

Below are several tips that will help filers avoid becoming a scam victim.
IRS employees will NOT:

• Call demanding immediate payment. The IRS will not call a taxpayer if they owe tax without first sending a bill in the mail.
• Demand payment without allowing the taxpayer to question or appeal the amount owed.
• Require the taxpayer pay their taxes a certain way. For example, demand taxpayers use a prepaid debit card.
• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
• Threaten to contact local police or similar agencies to arrest the taxpayer for non-payment of taxes.
• Threaten legal action such as a lawsuit.

If a taxpayer doesn’t owe or think they owe any tax, they should:

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

In most cases, an IRS phishing scam is an unsolicited, bogus email that claims to come from the IRS. Criminals 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.

For those taxpayers who 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.
• Do not open any attachments or click on any links. They may have malicious code that will infect your computer.

More information on how to report phishing or phone scams is available on IRS.gov.

 

Phishing Schemes Lead IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for 2017; Remain Tax-Time Threat

ANNAPOLIS (February 2, 2017) — The Internal Revenue Service warns taxpayers to watch for fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. These “phishing” schemes continue to be on the annual IRS list of “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for the 2017 filing season.

The IRS saw a big spike in phishing and malware incidents during the 2016 tax season. New and evolving phishing schemes already have been seen this month as scam artists work to confuse taxpayers during filing season. The IRS has seen email schemes in recent weeks targeting tax professionals, payroll professionals, human resources personnel, schools as well as average taxpayers.

In these email schemes, criminals pose as a person or organization the taxpayer trusts or recognizes. They may hack an email account and send mass emails under another person’s name. They may pose as a bank, credit card company, tax software provider or government agency. Criminals go to great lengths to create websites that appear legitimate but contain phony log-in pages. These criminals hope victims will take the bait and provide money, passwords, Social Security numbers and other information that can lead to identity theft.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said taxpayers should avoid opening surprise emails or clicking on web links claiming to be from the IRS and shouldn’t be fooled by unexpected emails about big refunds, tax bills or requesting personal information. Scam emails and websites also can infect a taxpayer’s computer with malware without the user knowing it. The malware can give the criminal access to the device, enabling them to access all sensitive files or track keyboard strokes, exposing login information.

Compiled annually, the “Dirty Dozen” lists a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter anytime but many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or find people to help with their taxes.

For those perpetrating these schemes, the scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shut down scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

It is important to keep in mind the IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS has information online that can help protect taxpayers from email scams.

For more information, visit IRS.gov.

IRS Reminder: Employers Must File Forms W-2 by Jan. 31 This Year

ANNAPOLIS (January 31, 2017)  ― The Internal Revenue Service reminds employers that today is the due date for filing Forms W-2, the Wage and Tax Statement for their employees for calendar year 2016. Also, those who hire contract workers and have to file Form 1099-MISC now must file by Jan. 31.

The new deadline applies whether an employer e-files or files a paper Form W-2. Employers who pay an employee $600 or more for the year must file a Form W-2 for each employee with the Social Security Administration. The new deadline is part of legislation signed into law at the end of 2015 to combat identity-theft related refund fraud.

The Social Security Administration encourages all employers to e-file their Forms W-2 by using its Business Services Online.  Employers who file paper Forms W-2 should file them with the Social Security Administration, Data Operations Center, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18769-0001.

E-filing can save time and effort and helps ensure accuracy. Employers must e-file if they file 250 or more Forms W-2 or W-2c. Employers who are required to e-file but fail to do so may incur a penalty. E-filing can save time and effort and helps ensure accuracy.

The IRS projects that employers will file more than 250 million Forms W-2 this year; the vast majority will be e-filed.

The new rule does not affect the filing deadline for other types of Form 1099 or Forms 1097, 1098, 3921, 3922, or W-2G, which are filed on paper by Feb. 28, 2018, or by April 2, 2018 if filed electronically.

For more information, visit IRS.gov.

Security Awareness for Taxpayers: The Tax Community Needs Your Help

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (January 10, 2017) – The Maryland Comptroller’s Office and the federal Internal Revenue Service are doing everything they can to protect Marylanders from identity theft. But officials at both agencies urge Marylanders to take steps necessary to protect their personal and financial data.

Cybercriminals continue to steal enormous amounts of personal data from outside the tax system and to use that data to file fraudulent tax returns or commit other crimes while impersonating the victims.
Comptroller Peter Franchot urges Marylanders to take these steps to protect themselves and their data:

Keep Computers Secure
• Use security software and make sure it updates automatically; essential tools include using a firewall, virus/malware protection and file encryption for sensitive data.
• Treat personal information like cash, don’t leave it lying around.
• Taxpayers should check out companies to find out who they are really dealing with.
• Give personal information only over encrypted websites – look for “https” addresses.
• Use strong passwords and protect them.
• Back up their files.

Avoid Phishing and Malware
• Avoid phishing emails, texts or calls that appear to be from the IRS, tax companies and other well-known business; instead, go directly to their websites.
• Marylanders should not open attachments in emails unless they know who sent it and what it is.
• Download and install software only from known, trusted websites.
• Use a pop-up blocker.
• Families should talk about safe computing practices.

Protect Personal Information

Citizens should not routinely carry their Social Security card or any documents with their SSN. They should not overshare personal information on social media. Information about past addresses, a new car, a new home and one’s children help identity thieves pose as someone they’re not. Maryland citizens should keep old tax returns and tax records under lock and key or encrypted, if electronic. They should shred tax documents before trashing.

The IRS urges citizens to watch out for IRS impersonators. Officials there say “the IRS will not call you with threats of jail or lawsuits. The IRS will not send you an unsolicited email suggesting you have a refund or that you need to update your account. The IRS will not request any sensitive information online. These are all scams, and they persistent and change frequently. Don’t fall for them. Forward IRS-related scam emails to phishing@irs.gov. Report IRS-impersonation telephone calls at www.tigta.gov.”

Additional steps:
• Citizens should check their credit report at least annually and check their bank and credit card statements often;
• Citizens should review their Social Security Administration records annually. They can sign up for My Social Security at www.ssa.gov.
• If someone is an identity theft victim whose tax account is affected, they should review http://www.irs.gov/identitytheft for details.

For more information, visit IRS.gov.

 

Tax Preparedness Series: What to Do Before the Tax Year Ends on Dec. 31

ANNAPOLIS (December 28, 2016) – As tax filing season approaches, the Internal Revenue Service is reminding taxpayers there are things they should do now to get ready for filing season.

For most taxpayers, Dec. 31 is the last day to take actions that will impact their 2016 tax returns. For example, charitable contributions are deductible in the year made. Donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2016 count for the 2016 tax year, even if the bill isn’t paid until 2017. Checks to a charity count for 2016 as long as they are mailed by the last day of the year.

Taxpayers who are over age 70½ are generally required to receive payments from their individual retirement accounts and workplace retirement plans by the end of 2016, though a special rule allows those who reached 70½ in 2016 to wait until April 1, 2017 to receive them. Most workplace retirement account contributions should be made by the end of the year, but taxpayers can make 2016 IRA contributions until April 18, 2017. For 2016, the limit for a 401(k) is $18,000. For traditional and Roth IRAs, the limit is $6,500 if age 50 or older and up to $15,500 for a Simple IRA for age 50 or older.

Taxpayers who have moved should tell the U.S. Postal Service, their employers and the IRS. To notify the IRS, mail IRS Form 8822, Change of Address, to the address listed on the form’s instructions. For taxpayers who purchase health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, they should also notify the Marketplace when they move out of the area covered by their current Marketplace plan.

For name changes due to marriage or divorce, notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) so the new name will match IRS and SSA records. Also notify the SSA if a dependent’s name changed. A mismatch between the name shown on your tax return and the SSA records can cause problems in the processing of your return and may even delay your refund.

Effective Jan. 1, 2017, any Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) not used at least once on a tax return in the past three years will no longer be valid for use on a return. In addition, an ITIN with middle digits 78 or 79 will also expire on Jan. 1. Those with expiring ITINs who need to file a return in 2017 must renew their ITIN. Affected ITIN holders can avoid delays by starting the renewal process now.

Taxpayers should allow seven weeks from Jan. 1, 2017, or the mailing date of the Form W-7, whichever is later, for the IRS to notify them of their ITIN application status – nine to 11 weeks if taxpayers wait to submit Form W-7 during the peak filing season, or send it from overseas. Those who fail to renew before filing a return could face a delayed refund and may be ineligible for some important tax credits. For more information, including answers to frequently-asked questions, visit the ITIN information page on IRS.gov.

Keeping copies of tax returns is important as the IRS makes changes to protect taxpayers and authenticate their identity. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income amount from a prior tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign their tax return at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

For more information, visit IRS.gov.

Tax Preparedness Series: Tax Records – What to Keep

ANNAPOLIS (December 14, 2016) – As tax filing season approaches, the Internal Revenue Service has information for taxpayers who wonder how long to keep tax returns and other documents.

Generally, the IRS recommends keeping copies of tax returns and supporting documents at least three years. Some documents should be kept up to seven years in case a taxpayer needs to file an amended return or if questions arise. Keep records relating to real estate up to seven years after disposing of the property.

Health care information statements should be kept with other tax records. Taxpayers do not need to send these forms to IRS as proof of health coverage. The records taxpayers should keep include records of any employer-provided coverage, premiums paid, advance payments of the premium tax credit received and type of coverage. Taxpayers should keep these – as they do other tax records – generally for three years after they file their tax returns.

Whether stored on paper or kept electronically, the IRS urges taxpayers to keep tax records safe and secure, especially any documents bearing Social Security numbers. The IRS also suggests scanning paper tax and financial records into a format that can be encrypted and stored securely on a flash drive, CD or DVD with photos or videos of valuables.

Now is a good time to set up a system to keep tax records safe and easy to find when filing next year, applying for a home loan or financial aid. Tax records must support the income, deductions and credits claimed on returns. Taxpayers need to keep these records if the IRS asks questions about a tax return or to file an amended return.

It is even more important for taxpayers to have a copy of last year’s tax return as the IRS makes changes to authenticate and protect taxpayer identity. Beginning in 2017, some taxpayers who e-file will need to enter either the prior-year Adjusted Gross Income or the prior-year self-select PIN and date of birth. If filing jointly, both taxpayers’ identities must be authenticated with this information. The AGI is clearly labeled on the tax return. Learn more at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

Taxpayers who need tax information can request a free transcript for the past three tax years. The ‘Get Transcript’ tool on IRS.gov is the fastest way to get a transcript.

If taxpayers are still keeping old tax returns and receipts stuffed in a shoebox in the back of the closet, they might want to rethink that approach. Keep tax, financial and health records safe and secure whether stored on paper or kept electronically. When records are no longer needed for tax purposes, ensure the data is properly destroyed to prevent the information from being used by identity thieves.

If disposing of an old computer, tablet, mobile phone or back-up hard drive, keep in mind it includes files and personal data. Removing this information may require special disk utility software. More information is available on IRS.gov at How long should I keep records?.