Archive for the ‘IRS’ Category

Bozo Tax Tip #5: Procrastinate!

Monday, April 8th, 2019

Today is April 8th. The tax deadline is just seven days away.

What happens if you wake up and it’s April 15, 2015, and you can’t file your tax? File an extension. Download Form 4868, make an estimate of what you owe, pay that, and mail the voucher and check to the address noted for your state. Use certified mail, return receipt, of course. And don’t forget your state income tax. Some states have automatic extensions (California does), some don’t (Pennsylvania is one of those), while others have deadlines that don’t match the federal tax deadline (Hawaii state taxes are due on April 20th, for example). Automatic extensions are of time to file, not pay, so download and mail off a payment to your state, too. If you mail your extension, make sure you mail it certified mail, return receipt requested. (You can do that from most Automated Postal Centers, too.)

By the way, I strongly suggest you electronically file the extension. The IRS will happily take your extension electronically; many (but not all) states will, too.

But what do you do if you wait until April 16th? Well, get your paperwork together so you can file as quickly as possible and avoid even more penalties. Penalties escalate, so unless you want 25% penalties, get everything ready and see your tax professional next week. He’ll have time for you, and you can leisurely complete your return and only pay one week of interest, one month of the Failure to Pay penalty (0.5% of the tax due), and one month of the Failure to File Penalty (5% of the tax due).

There is a silver lining in all of this. If you are owed a refund and haven’t filed, you will likely receive interest from the IRS. Yes, interest works both ways: The IRS must pay interest on late-filed returns owed refunds. Just one note about that: the interest is taxable.

Bozo Tax Tip #10: Email Your Social Security Number

Monday, April 1st, 2019

It’s time for our annual rundown of Bozo Tax Tips, strategies that you really, really, really shouldn’t try. But somewhere, somehow, someone will try these. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

This is a repeat for the sixth year in a row, but it’s one that bears repeating. Unfortunately, the problem of identity theft has burgeoned, and the IRS’s response has been pitiful. (To be fair, it has improved somewhat over the last two years, but that didn’t take much.)

I have some clients who are incredibly smart. They make me look stupid (and I’m not). Yet a few of these otherwise intelligent individuals persist in Bozo behavior: They consistently send me their tax documents by email.

Seriously, use common sense! Would you post your social security number on a billboard? That’s what you’re doing when you email your social security number.

We use a web portal for secure loading and unloading of documents and secure communications to our clients. As I tell my clients, email is fast but it’s not secure. It’s fine to email your tax professional things that are not confidential. That said, social security numbers and most income information is quite confidential. Don’t send those through email unless you want to be an identity theft victim or want others to know how much money you make!

If I send an email to my mother, it might go in a straight line to her. It also might go via Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga. At any one of these stops it could be intercepted and looked at by someone else. Would you post your social security number on a billboard in your community? If you wouldn’t, and I assume none of you would, why would you ever email anything with your social security number?

A friend told me, “Well, I’m not emailing my social, I’m just attaching my W-2 to the email.” An attachment is just as likely to be read as an email. Just say no to emailing your social security number.

If you’re not Internet savvy, hand the documents to your tax professional or use the postal service, FedEx, or UPS to deliver the documents, or fax the documents. (If you fax, make sure your tax professional has a secure fax machine.) If you like using the Internet to submit your tax documents, make sure your tax professional offers you a secure means to do so. It might be called a web portal, a file transfer service, or perhaps something else. The name isn’t as important as the concept.

Unfortunately, the IRS’s ability to handle identity theft is, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate, poor. So don’t add to the problem—communicate in a secure fashion to your tax professional.

March 15th Tax Deadlines

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

Tomorrow, March 15th, is the first big tax deadline day. There are three tax deadlines on Friday:

First, partnership and S-Corporation returns are due. If your return isn’t completed, file an extension (Form 7004). If you file by mail, use certified mail, return receipt requested. You always want proof of your extension.

Second, Form 3520-A is due. This is one of the two forms for foreign trusts. Again, if your return isn’t completed there’s a simple solution: file Form 7004. You will almost certainly have to mail the extension for a Form 3520-A; you can find where to mail it in the instructions to Form 7004.

Finally, the Form 1042 series (Form 1042, Form 1042-S) are due. These are the information return series regarding payments to non-Americans. You can file Form 1042-S via the FIRE system (if you’re registered); Form 1042 generally has to be mailed to the IRS.

The deadline is a postmark deadline. If you mail your form via certified mail today or tomorrow and it takes a month to get to the IRS, it’s still considered timely (as long as it’s postmarked on or before March 15th). That’s why you want to use certified mail: You get proof (which is a good thing in dealing with the IRS).

When 35 Equals 365

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Yet another entry in the “Math Is Hard” file, again from our friends at the Internal Revenue Service. From the Washington Post comes the news that it will take the IRS between 12 and 18 months to catch-up on the backlog from the 35-day shutdown. The Post was quoting information from two House staffers who heard this from the National Taxpayer Advocate.

On January 16th, the IRS had a backlog of 2.5 million unanswered pieces of mail. That’s up to 5 million now. Two of those unanswered pieces of mail are from me on behalf of clients (both disputing CP2000 notices). They had to be mailed to the IRS because the IRS turned off their fax machines during the shutdown. I told my clients that they’ll get a response…eventually. My hope is that the IRS has turned off the automatic issuance of Notices of Deficiency. Once you have one of those, the only way to stop the process is to file a Tax Court petition. (I think that has happened, as neither client has received a follow-up notice or a Notice of Deficiency.)

So let’s see what we have. Millions of pieces of unanswered mail. New tax forms that most IRS employees haven’t been trained on. Computers that are, in some cases, older than I am. Add in new tax law and you have the recipe for…well, let’s not call it a masterpiece. Perhaps goulash or a stew, or one of those horrific casseroles that I remember from the dorms at Cal. Suffice to say this is going to be a trying Tax Season.

Oh, I shouldn’t forget: If Congress and President Trump don’t come to an agreement in about two weeks (and President Trump put the odds at less than 50-50) the whole shutdown may repeat.

When 85% Equals 90%

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

One of my favorite expressions from poker that translates into tax is, “Math is hard.” But how can 85% equal 90%? No, the two aren’t equivalent. However, this year they are equal in one aspect of taxes.

The IRS announced today that they will waive the Estimated Tax Penalty for taxpayers who have prepaid 85% of their tax rather than the usual 90%:

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service announced today that it is waiving the estimated tax penalty for many taxpayers whose 2018 federal income tax withholding and estimated tax payments fell short of their total tax liability for the year.

The IRS is generally waiving the penalty for any taxpayer who paid at least 85 percent of their total tax liability during the year through federal income tax withholding, quarterly estimated tax payments or a combination of the two. The usual percentage threshold is 90 percent to avoid a penalty.

The waiver computation announced today will be integrated into commercially-available tax software and reflected in the forthcoming revision of Form 2210 and instructions.

This relief is designed to help taxpayers who were unable to properly adjust their withholding and estimated tax payments to reflect an array of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the far-reaching tax reform law enacted in December 2017.

It is unlikely that many (any) states will conform to today’s notice from the IRS.

It’s Time to Generate Those 2018 1099s

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

It’s time for businesses to send out their annual information returns. These are the Form 1099s that are sent to to vendors when required. Let’s look first at who does not have to receive 1099s:

  • Corporations (except attorneys)
  • Entities you purchased tangible goods from
  • Entities you purchased less than $600 from (except royalties; the limit there is $10)
  • Where you would normally have to send a 1099 but you made payment by a credit or debit card

Otherwise, you need to send a Form 1099-MISC to the vendor. The best way to check whether or not you need to send a 1099 to a vendor is to know this before you pay a vendor’s invoice. I tell my clients that they should have each vendor complete a Form W-9 before they pay the vendor. You can then enter the vendor’s taxpayer identification number into your accounting software (along with whether or not the vendor is exempt from 1099 reporting) on an ongoing basis.

Remember that besides the 1099 sent to the vendor, a copy goes to the IRS. If you file by paper, you likely do not have to file with your state tax agency (that’s definitely the case in California). However, if you file 1099s electronically with the IRS you most likely will also need to file them electronically with your state tax agency (again, that’s definitely the case in California). It’s a case where paper filing might be easier than electronic filing.

If you wish to file paper 1099s, you must order the forms from the IRS. The forms cannot be downloaded off the Internet. Make sure you also order Form 1096 from the IRS. This is a cover page used when submitting information returns (such as 1099s) to the IRS.

Note also that sole proprietors fall under the same rules for sending out 1099s. Let’s say you’re a professional gambler, and you have a poker coach that you paid $650 to last year. You must send him or her a Form 1099-MISC. Poker players who “swap” shares or have backers also fall under the 1099 filing requirement.

Remember, the deadline for submitting 1099-MISCs for “Nonemployee Compensation” (e.g. independent contractors) to the IRS is now at the end of January: Those 1099s must be filed by Thursday, January 31st.

Here are the deadlines for 2018 information returns:

  • Thursday, January 31st: Deadline for mailing most 1099s to recipients (postmark deadline);
  • Thursday, January 31st: Deadline for submitting 1099-MISCs for Nonemployee Compensation to IRS;
  • Thursday, February 28th: Deadline for filing other paper 1099s with the IRS (postmark deadline);
  • Friday, March 15th: Deadline for mailing and filing Form 1042-S; and
  • Monday, April 1st: Deadline for filing other 1099s electronically with the IRS.

Remember, if you are going to mail 1099s to the IRS send them certified mail, return receipt requested so that you have proof of the filing.

Also note that most 1099s must be mailed to recipients. Mail means the postal service, not email. The main exception to this is if the recipient has agreed in writing to receiving the 1099 electronically. I consider this the IRS’s means of trying to keep the Post Office in business.

Fourth Quarter Estimated Tax Payments Due Today

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Today is January 15th. That means your fourth quarter estimated tax payments are due today. It’s a postmark deadline, so if you pay by mail, download Form 1040-ES, print voucher #4, enclose your check payable to “United States Treasury” (write your social security number and “2018 Form 1040-ES” on the check) and mail it using certified mail, return receipt requested, to the address for your state. And don’t forget your state estimated tax payments (if applicable). You can also use EFTPS and IRS Direct Pay to make your payments to the IRS electronically; most states offer webpay systems, too.

IRS to Open Tax Season on Monday, January 28th

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

The IRS announced yesterday that the 2019 Tax Season will begin on Monday, January 28th:

Despite the government shutdown, the Internal Revenue Service today confirmed that it will process tax returns beginning January 28, 2019 and provide refunds to taxpayers as scheduled.

“We are committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive their refunds notwithstanding the government shutdown. I appreciate the hard work of the employees and their commitment to the taxpayers during this period,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.

Congress directed the payment of all tax refunds through a permanent, indefinite appropriation (31 U.S.C. 1324), and the IRS has consistently been of the view that it has authority to pay refunds despite a lapse in annual appropriations. Although in 2011 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directed the IRS not to pay refunds during a lapse, OMB has reviewed the relevant law at Treasury’s request and concluded that IRS may pay tax refunds during a lapse.

The IRS will be recalling a significant portion of its workforce, currently furloughed as part of the government shutdown, to work. Additional details for the IRS filing season will be included in an updated FY2019 Lapsed Appropriations Contingency Plan to be released publicly in the coming days.

January 28th will be the first date that 2018 tax year business and individual tax returns can be filed with the IRS.

Tax Refunds May Be Issued During Government Shutdown

Monday, January 7th, 2019

Vice President Pence announced today that the IRS would issue tax refunds during the government shutdown. The Wall Street Journal reported this earlier today, but it’s unclear what the legal justification would be. Speculation (by the Journal) is that the power to issue refunds is based on the permanent appropriations for the refunds themselves.

Meanwhile, other IRS services are closed. I cannot fax Powers of Attorney forms to the IRS; those fax numbers are down. I have an outstanding IRS audit where we’re waiting for information from the IRS auditor; he’s not working right now so the audit is on hold. I need to setup a payment plan for another client; I have no one to call at the IRS right now.

And we still have no idea when we will be able to file 2018 tax returns. Prior-year business returns can be filed beginning tomorrow; however, current-year (2018) returns cannot be filed at this point.

As to when the partial government shutdown will end, your guess is as good as mine.

It’s Time to Start Your 2019 Mileage Log

Friday, January 4th, 2019

I’m going to start the new year with a couple reposts of essential information. Yes, you do need to keep a mileage log:

Wednesday was the first business day of the new year for many. You may have resolved to keep good records this year (at least, we hope you have). Start with keeping an accurate, contemporaneous written mileage log (or use a smart phone app–with periodic sending of the information to yourself to prove that the log is contemporaneous).

Why, you ask? Because if you want to deduct all of your business mileage, you must do this! IRS regulations and Tax Court rulings require this. Written is defined as ink, so that means you need a paper log or must be able to prove your smart phone log is contemporaneous.

The first step is to go out to your car, and note the starting mileage for the new year. So go out to your car, and jot down that number (mine was 80,008). That should be the first entry in your mileage log. I use a small memo book for my mileage log; it conveniently fits in the center console of my car. It’s also a good idea to take a picture of the odometer;

Here’s the other things you should do:

On the cover of your log, write “2019 Mileage Log for [Your Name].”

Each time you drive for business, note the date, the starting and ending mileage, where you went, and the business purpose. Let’s say you drive to meet a new client, and meet him at his business. The entry might look like:

1/4 90315-90350 Office-Acme Products (1234 Main St, Las Vegas)-Office,
Discuss requirements for preparing tax return, year-end journal entries

It takes just a few seconds to do this after each trip, and with the standard mileage rate being $0.58/mile, the 35 miles in this hypothetical trip would be worth a deduction of $20. That deduction does add up.

Some gotchas and questions:
1. Why not use a smartphone app? Actually, you can but the current regulations require you to also keep a written mileage log. You can transfer your computer app nightly to paper, and that way you can have the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, current regulations do not guarantee that a phone app will be accepted by the IRS in an audit.

That said, if you backup (or transfer) your phone app on a regular basis, and can then print out those backups, that should work. The regular backups should have identical historical information; the information can then be printed and will function as a written mileage log. I do need to point out that the Tax Court has not specifically looked at mileage logs maintained on a phone. A written mileage log (pen and paper) will be accepted; a phone app with backups should be accepted.

2. I have a second car that I use just for my business. I don’t need a mileage log. Wrong. First, IRS regulations require documentation for your business miles; an auditor will not accept that 100% of the mileage is for business–you must prove it. Second, there will always be non-business miles. When you drive your car in for service, that’s not business miles; when you fill it up with gasoline, that’s not necessarily business miles. I’ve represented taxpayers in examinations without a written mileage log; trust me, it goes far, far easier when you have one.

3. Why do I need to record the starting miles for the year?
There are two reasons. First, the IRS requires you to note the total miles driven for the year. The easiest way is to note the mileage at the beginning of the year. Second, if you want to deduct your mileage using actual expenses (rather than the standard mileage deduction), the calculation involves taking a ratio of business miles to actual miles.

4. Can I use actual expenses? Yes. You would need to record all of your expenses for your car: gas, oil, maintenance, repairs, insurance, registration, lease fees (or interest and depreciation), etc., and the deduction is figured by taking the sum of your expenses and multiplying by the percentage use of your car for business (business mileage to total mileage driven). Note that once you start using actual expenses for your car, you generally must continue with actual expenses for the life of the car.

So start that mileage log today. And yes, your trip to the office supply store to buy a small memo pad is business miles that can be deducted.