Taxpayers Should do an End-of-Year Withholding Check-up

As the end of the year approaches, the IRS encourages taxpayers to consider a tax withholding checkup. When taxpayers take a close look to make sure the right amount of tax is withheld now, they can avoid an unexpected tax bill next year.

Here are five examples of taxpayers who would benefit from a withholding check-up:

  • Taxpayers who received large tax refunds in past years
    When a taxpayer has too much tax withheld from their paycheck, they pay too much tax during the year. They can change their withholding to have money upfront rather than waiting for a bigger refund.
  • Taxpayers who owed taxes in years past
    Taxpayers with too little tax withheld might owe money. Under-withholding can lead to both a tax bill and an additional penalty.
  • People with a second job
    This includes people who work in the sharing or ‘gig’ economy. Taxpayers who work more than one job should check the total amount of taxes they have withheld and make adjustments as necessary. This will ensure their withholding covers the total amount of the taxes they owe, based on their combined income from all their jobs.
  • Taxpayers who make estimated tax payments
    Some taxpayers make quarterly estimated tax payments throughout the year. This includes self-employed individuals, partners, and S corporation shareholders.  If these taxpayers also work for an employer, they can often forgo making these quarterly payments by instead having more tax taken out of their pay.
  • People with a new job
    Taxpayers who start a new job should check their withholding to make sure they are having enough taxes withheld. Their total withholding should cover the income tax owed from their new and old jobs combined.

To make sure their employer withholds the right amount of tax, employees can adjust their Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. In many cases, this is all they need to do. The employer uses the form to figure the amount of federal income tax to be withheld from pay. This takes time, so taxpayers should make adjustments as soon as possible so the changes can take affect during the final pay periods of 2017.

How to Know if the Knock on Your Door is Actually Someone from the IRS

 

Every Halloween, children knock on doors pretending they are everything from superheroes to movie stars. Scammers, on the other hand, don’t leave their impersonations to one day. They can happen any time of the year.

People can avoid taking the bait and falling victim to a scam by knowing how and when the IRS does contact a taxpayer in person. This can help someone determine whether an individual is truly an IRS employee.

Here are eight things to know about in-person contacts from the IRS.

  • The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service.
  • There are special circumstances when the IRS will come to a home or business. This includes:
    • When a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill
    • When the IRS needs to secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment
    • To tour a business as part of an audit
    • As part of a criminal investigation
  • Revenue officers are IRS employees who work cases that involve an amount owed by a taxpayer or a delinquent tax return. Generally, home or business visits are unannounced.
  • IRS revenue officers carry two forms of official identification.  Both forms of ID have serial numbers. Taxpayers can ask to see both IDs.
  • The IRS can assign certain cases to private debt collectors. The IRS does this only after giving written notice to the taxpayer and any appointed representative. Private collection agencies will never visit a taxpayer at their home or business.
  • The IRS will not ask that a taxpayer makes a payment to anyone other than the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
  • IRS employees conducting audits may call taxpayers to set up appointments, but not without having first notified them by mail. Therefore, by the time the IRS visits a taxpayer at home, the taxpayer would be well aware of the audit.
  • IRS criminal investigators may visit a taxpayer’s home or business unannounced while conducting an investigation. However, these are federal law enforcement agents and they will not demand any sort of payment.

Taxpayers who believe they were visited by someone impersonating the IRS can visit IRS.gov for information about how to report it.

Moving Expenses May Be Deductible

Taxpayers may be able to deduct certain expenses of moving to a new home because they started or changed job locations. Use Form 3903, Moving Expenses, to claim the moving expense deduction when filing a federal tax return.

Home means the taxpayer’s main home. It does not include a seasonal home or other homes owned or kept up by the taxpayer or family members. Eligible taxpayers can deduct the reasonable expenses of moving household goods and personal effects and of traveling from the former home to the new home.

Reasonable expenses may include the cost of lodging while traveling to the new home. The unreimbursed cost of packing, shipping, storing and insuring household goods in transit may also be deductible.

Who Can Deduct Moving Expenses?

  1. The move must closely relate to the start of work. Generally, taxpayers can consider moving expenses within one year of the date they start work at a new job location.
  2. The distance test. A new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from the employee’s former home than the previous job location. For example, if the old job was three miles from the old home, the new job must be at least 53 miles from the old home. A first job must be at least 50 miles from the employee’s former home.
  3. The time test. After the move, the employee must work full-time at the new job for at least 39 weeks in the first year. Those self-employed must work full-time at least 78 weeks during the first two years at the new job site.

Different rules may apply for members of the Armed Forces or a retiree or survivor moving to the United States.

Here are a few more moving expense tips from the IRS:

  • Reimbursed expenses. If an employer reimburses the employee for the cost of a move, that payment may need to be included as income. The employee would report any taxable amount on their tax return in the year of the payment.
  • Nondeductible expenses. Any part of the purchase price of a new home, the cost of selling a home, the cost of entering into or breaking a lease, meals while in transit, car tags and driver’s license costs are some of the items not deductible.
  • Recordkeeping. It is important that taxpayers maintain an accurate record of expenses paid to move. Save items such as receipts, bills, canceled checks, credit card statements, and mileage logs. Also, taxpayers should save statements of reimbursement from their employer.
  • Address Change. After any move, update the address with the IRS and the U.S. Post Office. To notify the IRS file Form 8822, Change of Address.

Eight Tips to Protect Taxpayers from Identity Theft

Identity theft happens when someone steals personal information for financial gain. Tax-related identity theft happens when someone uses another person’s stolen Social Security number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN) to file a tax return to obtain a fraudulent refund.

Many people first find out they are victims of identity theft when they submit their tax returns. That’s because the IRS lets them know someone else already used their SSN to file.

The IRS continues to work hard to stop identity theft with a strategy of prevention, detection and victim assistance. So far, the agency has stopped millions of dollars from getting into the hands of thieves.

Check out these eight tips on how to protect against identity theft:

  1. Taxes. Security. Together. The IRS, the states and the tax industry need everyone’s help. The IRS launched The Taxes. Security. Together. awareness campaign in 2015 to inform people about ways to protect their personal, tax and financial data. Learn more at www.IRS.gov/TaxesSecurityTogether.
  2. Protect Personal and Financial Records. Taxpayers should not carry their Social Security card in their wallet or purse. They should only provide their Social Security number if it’s necessary. Protect personal information at home and protect personal computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software. Routinely change passwords for online accounts.
  3. Don’t Fall for Scams. Criminals often try to impersonate banks, credit card companies and even the IRS hoping to steal personal data. Learn to recognize and avoid those fake communications. Also, the IRS will not call a taxpayer threatening a lawsuit, arrest or to demand immediate payment. Beware of threatening phone calls from someone claiming to be from the IRS.
  4. Report Tax-Related ID Theft. Here’s what taxpayers should do if they cannot e-file their return because someone already filed using their SSN:
  • File a tax return by paper and pay any taxes owed.
  • File an IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. Include it with the paper tax return and/or attach a police report describing the theft if available.
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant.
  • Contact Social Security Administration at www.ssa.gov and type in “identity theft” in the search box.
  • Contact financial institutions to report the alleged identity theft.
  • Contact one of the three credit bureaus so they can place a fraud alert or credit freeze on the affected account.
  • Check with the applicable state tax agency to see if there are additional steps to take at the state level.
  1. IRS Letters. If the IRS identifies a suspicious tax return with a taxpayer’s stolen SSN, that taxpayer may receive a letter asking them verify their identity by calling a special number or visiting an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.
  2. IP PIN. If a taxpayer is a confirmed ID theft victim, the IRS may issue them an IP PIN. The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that the taxpayer uses to e-file their tax return. Each year, they will receive an IRS letter with a new IP PIN.
  3. Report Suspicious Activity. If taxpayers suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, they can visit IRS.gov and follow the chart on How to Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity.
  4. Service Options. Information about tax-related identity theft is available online. The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and information for victims to obtain assistance.

For more on this Topic, see the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft.

Avoid scams. The IRS does not initiate contact using social media or text message. The first contact normally comes in the mail. Those wondering if they owe money to the IRS can view their tax account information on IRS.gov to find out.

Tips to Keep in Mind on Income Taxes and Selling a Home

Homeowners may qualify to exclude from their income all or part of any gain from the sale of their main home.

Below are tips to keep in mind when selling a home:

Ownership and Use. To claim the exclusion, the homeowner must meet the ownership and use tests. This means that during the five-year period ending on the date of the sale, the homeowner must have:

  • Owned the home for at least two years
  • Lived in the home as their main home for at least two years    Gain.  If there is a gain from the sale of their main home, the homeowner may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from income or $500,000 on a joint return in most cases. Homeowners who can exclude all of the gain do not need to report the sale on their tax return

Loss.  A main home that sells for lower than purchased is not deductible.

Reporting a Sale.  Reporting the sale of a home on a tax return is required if all or part of the gain is not excludable. A sale must also be reported on a tax return if the taxpayer chooses not to claim the exclusion or receives a Form 1099-S, Proceeds from Real Estate Transactions.

Possible Exceptions.  There are exceptions to the rules above for persons with a disability, certain members of the military, intelligence community and Peace Corps workers, among others. More information is available in Publication 523, Selling Your Home.

Worksheets.  Worksheets are included in Publication 523, Selling Your Home, to help you figure the:

  • Adjusted basis of the home sold
  • Gain (or loss) on the sale
  • Gain that can be excluded

Items to Keep In Mind:

  • Taxpayers who own more than one home can only exclude the gain on the sale of their main home. Taxes must paid on the gain from selling any other home.
  • Taxpayers who used the first-time homebuyer credit to purchase their home have special rules that apply to the sale. For more on those rules, see Publication 523. Use the First Time Homebuyer Credit Account Look-up to get account information such as the total amount of your credit or your repayment amount.
  • Work-related moving expenses might be deductible, see Publication 521, Moving Expenses.
  • Taxpayers moving after the sale of their home should update their address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service by filing Form 8822, Change of Address.
  • Taxpayers who purchased health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace should notify the Marketplace when moving out of the area covered by the current Marketplace plan.

Avoid scams. The IRS does not initiate contact using social media or text message. The first contact normally comes in the mail. Those wondering if they owe money to the IRS can view their tax account information on IRS.gov to find out.

Need More Time to Pay Taxes?

All taxpayers should file on time, even if they can’t pay what they owe. This saves them from potentially paying a failure to file penalty. Taxes are due by the original due date of the return.

Here are four tips for those who can’t pay their taxes in full by the April 18 due date:

  1. File on time and pay as much as possible. Pay online, by phone, with your mobile device using the IRS2Go app, or by check or money order. Visit IRS.gov for electronic payment options.
  2. Get a loan or use a credit card to pay the tax. The interest and fees charged by a bank or credit card company may be less than IRS interest and penalties. For credit card options, see IRS.gov.
  3. Use the Online Payment Agreement tool.  Don’t wait for the IRS to send a bill before seeking a payment plan. The best way is to use the Online Payment Agreement tool on IRS.gov. Taxpayers can also file Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, with their tax return. Set up a direct debit agreement. With this type of payment plan, there is no need to send a check each month.
  4. Don’t ignore a tax bill.  If so, the IRS may take collection action. Contact the IRS right away by calling the phone number on your bill to talk about options. The IRS will work with taxpayers suffering financial hardship.

Remember to file on time. Pay as much as possible by April 18, 2017, and pay the rest as soon as possible to reduce the interest and penalties. Find out more about the IRS collection process on IRS.gov.

Get Credit for Retirement Savings Contributions 

Taxpayers who contribute to a retirement plan, like a 401(k) or an IRA, may be able to claim the Saver’s Credit. This credit can help a person save for retirement and reduce taxes at the same time.

Here are some key facts about the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit:

Nonrefundable Credit. The maximum contribution is $2,000 per person. Those filing a joint return can also contribute $2,000 for the spouse. However, the credit cannot be more than the amount of tax that a taxpayer would otherwise pay in taxes. This credit will not change the amount of refundable tax credits.

  • Income Limits. Taxpayers may be able to claim the credit depending on their filing status and the amount of their annual income. They may be eligible for the credit on their 2016 tax return if they are:
    • Married filing jointly with income up to $61,500
    • Head of household with income up to $46,125
    • Married filing separately or a single taxpayer with income up to $30,750
  • Other Rules. Other rules that apply to the credit include:
    • Taxpayers must be at least 18 years of age.
    • They can’t have been a full-time student in 2016.
    • No other person can claim them as a dependent on their tax return.
  • Contribution Date. A taxpayer must have contributed to a 401(k) plan or similar workplace plan by the end of the year to claim this credit. However, the taxpayer may contribute to an IRA by the due date of their tax return and still have it count for 2016. The due date for most people is April 18, 2017.
  • Interactive Tax Assistant Tool. The ITA tool is a tax law resource that asks taxpayers a series of questions and provides a response based on the answers. Taxpayers can use Do I Qualify for the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit? to determine if they qualify to claim the Saver’s Credit.
  • Form 8880. File Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions, to claim the credit.

Don’t Fall for Scam Calls and Emails Posing as IRS

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.

Early Withdrawals from Retirement Plans

 
Many people find it necessary to take out money early from their IRA or retirement plan. Doing so, however, can trigger an additional tax on top of income tax taxpayers may have to pay. Here are a few key points to know about taking an early distribution:
 
1. Early Withdrawals. An early withdrawal normally is taking cash out of a retirement plan before the taxpayer is 59½ years old.
2. Additional Tax. If a taxpayer took an early withdrawal from a plan last year, they must report it to the IRS. They may have to pay income tax on the amount taken out. If it was an early withdrawal, they may have to pay an additional 10 percent tax.
 
3. Nontaxable Withdrawals. The additional 10 percent tax does not apply to nontaxable withdrawals. These include withdrawals of contributions that taxpayers paid tax on before they put them into the plan. A rollover is a form of nontaxable withdrawal. A rollover occurs when people take cash or other assets from one plan and put the money in another plan. They normally have 60 days to complete a rollover to make it tax-free.
 
4. Check Exceptions. There are many exceptions to the additional 10 percent tax. Some of the rules for retirement plans are different from the rules for IRAs.
 
5. If someone took an early withdrawal last year, they may have to file Form 5329, Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts, with their federal tax return. Form 5329 has more details.

Choosing the Correct Filing Status

When taxpayers file their tax return, it’s important they use the right filing status because it can affect the amount of tax they owe for the year. It may even determine if they must file a tax return at all. Taxpayers should keep in mind that their marital status on Dec. 31 is their status for the whole year.
 
Sometimes more than one filing status may apply to taxpayers. When that happens, taxpayers should choose the one that allows them to pay the least amount of tax.
 
Here’s a list of the five filing statuses:
 
1. Single. Normally this status is for taxpayers who aren’t married, or who are divorced or legally separated under state law.
 
2. Married Filing Jointly. If taxpayers are married, they can file a joint tax return. If a spouse died in 2016, the widowed spouse can often file a joint return for that year.
 
3. Married Filing Separately. A married couple can choose to file two separate tax returns. This may benefit them if it results in less tax owed than if they file a joint tax return. Taxpayers may want to prepare their taxes both ways before they choose. They can also use this status if each wants to be responsible only for their own tax.
 
4. Head of Household. In most cases, this status applies to a taxpayer who is not married, but there are some special rules. For example, the taxpayer must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for themselves and a qualifying person. Don’t choose this status by mistake. Be sure to check all the rules.
 
5. Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. This status may apply to a taxpayer if their spouse died during 2014 or 2015 and they have a dependent child. Other conditions also apply.
 
All 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.