Check Withholding to Avoid a Tax Surprise
Whether or not you owed taxes or received a refund last year you check your tax withholding due to the massive changes brought about by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Owing tax at the end of the year could result in penalties being assessed. On the other end, if you had a large refund you lost out on having the money in your pocket throughout the year. Changing jobs, getting married or divorced, buying a home or having children can all result in changes in your tax calculations.
The IRS withholding calculator on IRS.gov can help compute the proper tax withholding. The worksheets in Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax can also be used to do the calculation. If the result suggests an adjustment is necessary, you can submit a new W-4, Withholding Allowance Certificate, to your employer.
5 Tips For Early Preparation
Earlier is better when it comes to working on your taxes. The IRS encourages everyone to get a head start on tax preparation. Not only do you avoid the last-minute rush, early filers also get a faster refund.
There are five easy ways to get a good jump on your taxes long before the April 15 deadline rolls around:
- Gather your records in advance. Make sure you have all the records you need, including W-2s and 1099s. Don’t forget to save a copy for your files.
- Get the right forms. They’re available around the clock on IRS.gov in the Forms and Publications section.
- Take your time. Don’t forget to leave room for a coffee break when filling out your tax return. Rushing can mean making a mistake — and that can be expensive!
- Double-check your math and Social Security number. These are among the most common errors on tax returns. Taking care on these reduces your chances of hearing from the IRS.
- Get the fastest refund. When you file early, you get your refund faster. Using e-filing with direct deposit gets you a refund in half the time as paper filing.
Oops! You’ve discovered an error after your tax return has been filed. What should you do? You may need to amend your return.
The IRS usually corrects math errors or requests missing forms (such as W-2s) or schedules. In these instances, do not amend your return. However, do file an amended return if any of the following were reported incorrectly:
- Your filing status
- Your total income
- Your deductions or credits
Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to correct a previously filed paper or electronically-filed Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ return. Be sure to enter the year of the return you are amending at the top of Form 1040X. If you are amending more than one tax return, use a separate 1040X for each year and mail each in a separate envelope to the IRS processing center for your state. The 1040X instructions list the addresses for the centers.
Form 1040X has three columns. Column A is used to show original or adjusted figures from the original return. Column C is used to show the corrected figures. The difference between the figures in Columns A and C is shown in Column B. You should explain the items you are changing and the reason for each change on the back of the form.
If the changes involve another schedule or form, attach it to the 1040X. For example, if you are filing a 1040X because you have a qualifying child and now want to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, you must complete and attach a Schedule EIC to the amended return.
If you are filing to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original refund before filing Form 1040X. You may cash that check while waiting for any additional refund. If you owe additional tax for the prior year, Form 1040X must be filed and the tax paid by April 15 of this year, to avoid any penalty and interest.
You generally must file Form 1040X to claim a refund within three years from the date you filed your original return, or within two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. Please contact us for more!
Filing an Extension
If you can’t meet the April 15 deadline to file your tax return, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file from the IRS. The extension will give you extra time to get the paperwork into the IRS, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due. You will owe interest on any amounts not paid by the April deadline, plus a late payment penalty if you have paid less than 90 percent of your total tax by that date.
You must make an accurate estimate of any tax due when you request an extension. You may also send a payment for the expected balance due, but this is not required to obtain the extension.
To get the automatic extension, file Form 4868, Application for Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, with the IRS by the April 15 deadline, or make an extension-related electronic payment. You can file your extension request by computer or mail the paper Form 4868 to the IRS.
The system will give you a confirmation number to verify that the extension request has been accepted. Put this confirmation number on your copy of Form 4868 and keep it for your records. Do not send the form to the IRS. As this is the area of our expertise, please contact us for more detailed information on how to file an extension properly!
Ten Ways to Avoid Problems at Tax Time
Looking for ways to avoid the last-minute rush for doing your taxes? The IRS offers these tips:
- Don’t Procrastinate. Resist the temptation to put off your taxes until the last minute. Your haste to meet the filing deadline may cause you to overlook potential sources of tax savings and will likely increase your risk of making an error.
- Organize Your Tax Records. Tax preparation time can be significantly reduced if you develop a system for organizing your records and receipts. Start with the income, deduction or tax credit items that were on last year’s return.
- Visit the IRS Online. Millions of taxpayers visited the IRS Web site last year, downloading nearly 600 million forms, publications and a variety of topic-oriented tax information. Anyone with Internet access can find tax law information and answers to frequently asked tax questions.
- Take Advantage of Free Assistance. The IRS offers about 150 tax topics through its website at www.irs.gov/taxtopics. It also offers federal tax forms and publications at 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676). Some libraries, post offices, and banks carry the most widely requested forms and instructions. Libraries may also have reference sets of IRS publications. The IRS also staffs a tax Help Line for Individuals at 1-800-829-1040. Help for small businesses, corporations, partnerships and trusts which need information or assistance preparing business returns is available at 1-800-829-4933. Both lines are staffed on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. your local time (Alaska & Hawaii follow Pacific Time). Hearing-impaired individuals with access to TTY/TDD equipment may call 1-800-829-4059 to ask questions or to order forms and publications.
- Use IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers and Volunteer Programs. Free tax help is available at IRS offices nationwide. Also, check your newspaper or local IRS office to find locations for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly sites. To obtain the location, dates, and hours of the VITA or TCE volunteer site closest to you, call the IRS toll-free Tax Help Line for Individuals at 1-800-829-1040 or on the IRS website.
- Have your accountant Double-Check Your Math and Data Entries. Review your return for possible math errors and make sure you have provided the names and correct (and legibly written) Social Security or other identification numbers for yourself, your spouse and your dependents.
- Have Your Refund Deposited Directly to Your Bank Account. Another way to speed up your refund and reduce the chance of theft is to have the amount deposited directly to your bank account. Check the tax instructions for details on entering the routing and account numbers on your tax return. Make sure the numbers you enter are correct. Wrong numbers can cause your refund to be misdirected or delayed.
- Don’t Panic if You Can’t Pay. If you can’t immediately pay the taxes you owe, consider some stress-reducing alternatives. You can apply for an IRS installment agreement, suggesting your own monthly payment amount and due date, and getting a reduced late payment penalty rate. You also have various options for charging your balance on a credit card, either as part of an electronic return or directly through a processing agent, either by phone or online. Electronic filers with a balance due can file early and authorize the government’s financial agent to take the money directly from their checking or savings account on the April 15 due date, with no fee. Note that if you file your tax return or a request for a filing extension on time, even if you can’t pay, you avoid potential late filing penalties.
- Have Your Accountant Request an Extension of Time to File — But Pay on Time. If the clock runs out, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file, to October 15. An extension of time to file does not give you an extension of time to pay, however. You can e-file a Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File, that is included in most tax preparation software, or send a paper Form 4868 to the IRS to request the extension. You will need the adjusted gross income and total tax amounts from last year’s return if you request the extension by electronic filing. You may also get an extension by charging your expected balance on a credit card at Official Payments Corporation or Link2Gov Corporation. There is no IRS fee for credit card payments, but the processors charge a convenience fee.
- Contact Us!
Selling Your Home
If you sold your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of gain ($500,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly) from your federal tax return. This exclusion is allowed each time that you sell your main home, but generally no more frequently than once every two years.
To be eligible for this exclusion, your home must have been owned by you and used as your main home for a period of at least two out of the five years prior to its sale. You also must not have excluded gain on another home sold during the two years before the current sale.
If you and your spouse file a joint return for the year of the sale, you can exclude the gain if either of you qualify for the exclusion. But both of you would have to meet the use test to claim the $500,000 maximum amount.
To exclude gain, a taxpayer must both own and use the home as a principal residence for two of the five years before the sale. The two years may consist of 24 full months or 730 days. Short absences, such as for a summer vacation, count as periods of use. Longer breaks, such as a one-year sabbatical, do not.
If you do not meet the ownership and use tests, you may be allowed to exclude a reduced maximum amount of the gain realized on the sale of your home if you sold your home due to health, a change in place of employment, or certain unforeseen circumstances. Unforeseen circumstances include, for example, divorce or legal separation, natural or man-made disaster resulting in a casualty to your home, or an involuntary conversion of your home. Send us a message for more!
If you gave any one person gifts valued at more than $15,000, it is necessary to report the total gift to the Internal Revenue Service. You may even have to pay tax on the gift.
The person who received your gift does not have to report the gift to the IRS or pay either gift or income tax on its value.
You make a gift when you give property, including money, or the use of or income from property, without expecting to receive something of equal value in return. If you sell something at less than its value or make an interest-free or reduced-interest loan, you may be making a gift.
There are some exceptions to the tax rules on gifts. The following gifts do not count against the annual limit:
- Tuition or medical expenses that you pay directly to an educational or medical institution for someone’s benefit
- Gifts to your spouse
- Gifts to a political organization for its use
- Gifts to charities
If you are married, both you and your spouse can give separate gifts of up to the annual limit to the same person without making a taxable gift. Please contact us for more!
Marriage or Divorce
Newlyweds and the recently divorced should make sure that names on their tax returns match those registered with the Social Security Administration (SSA). A mismatch between a name on the tax return and a Social Security number (SSN) could cause your tax return to be rejected by the IRS.
For newlyweds, the tax scenario can begin when the bride says “I do” and takes her husband’s surname, but doesn’t tell the SSA about the name change. If the couple files a joint tax return with her new name, the IRS computers will not be able to match the new name with the SSN.
Similarly, after a divorce, a woman who had taken her husband’s name and had made that change known to the SSA should contact the SSA if she reassumes a previous name.
It’s easy to inform the SSA of a name change by filing Form SS-5 at a local SSA office. It usually takes two weeks to have the change verified. The form is available on the agency’s Web site, www.ssa.gov, by calling toll free 1-800-772-1213 and at local offices. The SSA Web site provides the addresses of local offices. Alternatively, please contact us as we can be of even greater assistance with your spousal situation.
Refund, Where's My Refund?
Are you expecting a tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service this year? If you file a complete and accurate paper tax return, your refund should be issued in about six to eight weeks from the date IRS receives your return. If you file your return electronically, your refund should be issued in about half the time it would take if you filed a paper return — even faster when you choose direct deposit.
You can have a refund check mailed to you, buy up to $5,000 in U.S. Series I Savings Bonds with your refund, or you may be able to have your refund electronically deposited directly into your bank account (either in one account, or in multiple accounts). Direct deposit into a bank account is more secure because there is no check to get lost. And it takes the U.S. Treasury less time than issuing a paper check. If you prepare a paper return, fill in the direct deposit information in the “Refund” section of the tax form, making sure that the routing and account numbers are accurate. Incorrect numbers can cause your refund to be misdirected or delayed. Direct deposit is also available if you electronically file your return.
A few words of caution — some financial institutions do not allow a joint refund to be deposited into an individual account. Check with your bank or other financial institution to make sure your direct deposit will be accepted.
You may not receive your refund as quickly as you expected. A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example, a name and Social Security number listed on the tax return may not match the IRS records. You may have failed to sign the return or to include a necessary attachment, such as Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Or you may have made math errors that require extra time for the IRS to correct.
To check the status of an expected refund, use “Check your Federal Refund” an interactive tool available on our Links page. Simple online instructions guide you through a process that checks the status of your refund after you provide identifying information from your tax return. Once the information is processed, results could be one of several responses.
Refinancing Your Homes
Taxpayers who refinanced their homes may be eligible to deduct some costs associated with their loans.
Generally, for taxpayers who itemize, the “points” paid to obtain a home mortgage may be deductible as mortgage interest. Points paid to obtain an original home mortgage can be, depending on circumstances, fully deductible in the year paid. However, points paid solely to refinance a home mortgage usually must be deducted over the life of the loan.
For a refinanced mortgage, the interest deduction for points is determined by dividing the points paid by the number of payments to be made over the life of the loan. This information is usually available from lenders. Taxpayers may deduct points only for those payments made in the tax year. For example, a homeowner who paid $2,000 in points and who would make 360 payments on a 30-year mortgage could deduct $5.56 per monthly payment, or a total of $66.72 if he or she made 12 payments in one year.
However, if part of the refinanced mortgage money was used to finance improvements to the home and if the taxpayer meets certain other requirements, the points associated with the home improvements may be fully deductible in the year the points were paid. Also, if a homeowner is refinancing a mortgage for a second time, the balance of points paid for the first refinanced mortgage may be fully deductible at pay off.
Other closing costs — such as appraisal fees and other non-interest fees — generally are not deductible. Additionally, the amount of Adjusted Gross Income can affect the amount of deductions that can be taken. Please contact us if you’ve recently refinanced, and we can be a big help!