Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for September, 2011

Tax Return Transcript

Taxpayers can request a copy of their federal income tax return and all attachments from the IRS.  In lieu of a copy of your return (and to save the fee that the IRS charges for a copy of your tax return), you can request a tax transcript from the IRS at no charge. A tax transcript is a computer print-out of your return information.

Tax return copy

A copy of your tax return is exactly that: a copy of the return you filed with the IRS. According to the IRS, copies of individual tax returns are generally available for returns filed in the current year and the past six years. The IRS charges a fee of $57 to send taxpayers a copy of their return.

Requests for copies of tax returns should be filed on Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return.  The IRS has advised on its website that taxpayers should allow 60 days to receive a copy of their tax return.

Tax return transcript 

A tax return transcript shows most line items from your return as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules. However, a tax transcript does not show any changes the taxpayer or the IRS made after the return was filed. According to the IRS, a tax return transcript is generally available for the current and past three years.

Taxpayers can request transcripts online at the IRS web site, telephoning the IRS, or filing Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcripts. Businesses that need business-related information should file Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return. Taxpayers can request that the IRS send the transcript to their tax representative.  The IRS reported on its website that transcript requests made online or by telephone generally will be processed within five to 10 days; transcript requests made by filing a paper form take longer to process.

Tax account transcript

The IRS also can provide a tax account transcript.   This document shows basic data from the individual’s return and includes any adjustments the taxpayer or the IRS made after the return was filed.  A tax account transcript is generally available for the current and past three years, according to the IRS and is provided at no-cost.

If you have any questions about the types of tax records available from the IRS, please contact our office 908-725-4414.

Adoption Tax Credit

Adoptive parents may be eligible for federal tax incentives. The Tax Code includes an adoption tax credit to help defray the costs of an adoption.  Recent changes to the adoption tax credit make it very valuable.

Temporary increase

In 2010, Congress temporarily increased the dollar limitation for the adoption tax credit (and the income exclusion for employer-provided adoption expenses) by $1,000 (from $12,170 to $13,170 for 2010 and indexed for inflation for tax years beginning after December 31, 2010). Congress also made the adoption tax credit refundable for 2010 and 2011. These enhancements, however, are scheduled to expire after December 31, 2011 unless Congress extends them.

Your income is another factor to take into account. You may not receive the full amount of the adoption tax credit for 2010 if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $182,520 or more. The adoption tax credit is completely phased out if your MAGI is $222,520 or more. These amounts may be adjusted for inflation by the IRS in 2011.  Additionally, to prevent double benefits, the adoption tax credit is coordinated with the exclusion for employer-provided adoption assistance

Qualified expenses

A number of adoption-related expenses may qualify for the tax credit. These expenses include, but are not limited to, reasonable and necessary adoption fees, travel expenses, fees paid to attorneys, and court costs.  The IRS has identified on its website some expenses that are excluded, such as expenses related to the adoption of the child of a taxpayer’s spouse, the costs of a surrogate parenting arrangement, and expenses that violate state or federal law.  Additionally, expenses related to a foreign adoption qualify only if the taxpayer actually adopts the child.  That rule is different if a domestic adoption is unsuccessful.

Eligible child

An eligible child for purposes of the adoption tax credit is an individual who has not attained the age of 18 at the time of the adoption, or is physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself or herself. A child has special-needs if the child otherwise meets the definition of eligible child, the child is a U.S. citizen or resident, a state determines that the child cannot or should not be returned to his or her parent’s home, and  a state determines that the child probably will not be adopted unless assistance is provided.

Form 8839

Taxpayers file Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses, to claim the adoption tax credit.  At this time, Form 8839 cannot be filed electronically; it must be filed on paper because the IRS requires you to attach supporting documentation.

The IRS requires different documents if the adoption is foreign or domestic, final or not final, and if the adoption is of a child with special needs. The IRS has issued special safe harbor rules for certain foreign adoptions. The home country of the child may be included in the safe harbors which streamline some of the documentation requirements.

The IRS recommends that taxpayers keep the following records: Receipts for qualified adoption expenses, final decree, certificate or order of adoption, home study by an authorized placement agency, child placement agreements or court orders, and determination of special needs status by a State or the District of Columbia.

Processing Form 8839 can take some time. One of the most common mistakes taxpayers make is failing to attach supporting documents.   After the IRS conducts an initial review of Form 8839, it notifies taxpayers explaining any additional steps they need to take, such as providing certain documentation to establish whether they are eligible for the credit.

If you have any questions about the adoption tax credit, please contact our office at 908-725-4414.

Back to school look at education tax benefits

The start of the school year is a good time to consider the variety of tax benefits available for education. Congress has been generous in providing education benefits in the form of credits, deductions and exclusions from income. The following list describes the most often used of these benefits.

Exclusion From Income

Scholarships. A student enrolled in an educational program may receive a scholarship or fellowship to pay for all or part of the student‘s tuition and fees. These amounts are not included in the student‘s (or the parent’s) income. Need-based education grants, such as a Pell Grant, and tuition reductions are also excluded from income. However, amounts paid for work on campus may be taxable as compensation for services. Payments to cover room and board as opposed to tuition are also subject to tax.

Loan cancellation. Most students take out loans to pay for education expenses. Normally, if a debt is cancelled, the debtor has taxable income. However, if a student loan is canceled or reduced, the cancelled amount is not included in income.

Employer assistance. If you receive educational assistance benefits from your employer under an educational assistance program, you can exclude up to $5,250 of those benefits each year. Courses do not have to be related to your job. If they are related, further tax benefits may be available.

Education plans. Generally, amounts paid to establish an education plan, account or savings bond are not deductible. However, income on the account can grow tax-free (unlike a bank account, for example), and distributions of income from the account are not taxable if they are used for tuition and other qualified education expenses. These general rules apply to a Coverdell Education Savings Account (an education IRA), a qualified tuition program (QTP or “529 plan”), and certain U.S. savings bonds. In the last category or Series EE bonds issued after 1989 and Series I bonds.  A qualified tuition program is established by a state and may provide payments for prepaid tuition or an account with tax-free earnings.

Tax Credits

LLC and AOTC. A lifetime learning credit (LLC) of up to $2,000 is available education expenses for a dependent for whom you claim an exemption. More recently, parents can claim an American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) of up to $2,500 for college expenses paid for each eligible student. The current, enhanced level of the AOTC is scheduled to expire at the end of 2012, but the Obama administration has asked Congress to make it permanent.

Dependent care. Parents can take a credit for dependent care expenses paid so that they can work. Expenses for care do not include amounts paid for education. Expenses for a child in nursery school, pre-school, or similar programs for children below the level of kindergarten are expenses for care. Expenses to attend kindergarten or a higher grade are not expenses for care. However, expenses for before- or after-school care of a child in kindergarten or a higher grade may be expenses for care, so that a credit can be claimed.

Deductions

Some deductions can be taken directly against gross income, in determining adjusted gross income. These are adjustments to income or “above-the-line“ deductions. Other deductions can only be taken as an itemized deduction. An above-the-line deduction is more valuable.

Above-the-line. Tuition expenses of up to $4,000 can be deducted directly against income. Tuition that also qualifies for one of the education tax credits, however, can be used only once, either for a credit or this above-the-line deduction. Ordinarily, interest paid is a nondeductible personal expense (other than home mortgage interests). However, interest paid on a student loan interest is deductible and can also be taken as an adjustment to income.

Itemized. Not all education-related expenses are deductible. However, a taxpayer may be able to claim a deduction for the expenses paid for your work-related education. The deduction will be the amount by which qualifying work-related education expenses exceed two percent of adjusted gross income. These expenses are added to other itemized deductions, to determine whether the taxpayer will itemize or claim the standard deduction.

Gift tax

Generally, a person making a gift must pay gift tax if the gift exceeds a specified amount ($13,000 currently). However, tuition paid directly to an educational institution to cover tuition for someone else’s benefit (e.g. a grandchild) is not taxable gift irrespective of amount. Prepaid tuition plans can qualify for this benefit.

A variety of educational benefits are available. In some cases, a deduction or a credit (but not both) may be available for the same payment. Thus, it is important to determine the exact requirements for each benefit and the amount of the benefit. Our office can help you determine how to maximize these benefits.

Investment-related issues from fluctuating markets

With the stock market fluctuating up and down (but especially down), some investors may decide to cash out investments that they initially planned to hold.  They may have taxable gains or losses they did not expect to realize.  Other investors may look to diversifying their portfolios further, moving a more significant portion into Treasury bills, CDs and other “cash-like” instruments, or even into gold and other precious metals. Here are reminders about some of the tax issues involved in these decisions.

Capital Assets and Dividends

Capital assets. Most items of property are capital assets, unless they are inventory or are used in a trade or business. Stock and securities are capital assets. Gains and losses from a capital asset are short-term if the property is held for one year or less, with gains taxed at ordinary income rates and deductible losses (short- or long-term) limited to $3,000 annually. Long-term gains (from property held more than one year) are generally taxed at a 15 percent rate.

Stock and securities. For stock and securities traded on an established market, the holding period begins the day after the trade (purchase) date and ends on the trade (sale) date. The settlement date, which is a few days later, is not relevant to the holding period determination.

Precious metals. The maximum capital gains rate on collectibles is 28 percent, rather than 15 percent. Collectibles include gems, coins, and precious metals, such as gold, silver or platinum bullion. If the taxpayer’s regular tax rate is lower than the maximum capital gain rate, the regular tax rate applies. Collectibles gain includes gain from the sale of an interest in a partnership, S corp or trust from unrealized collectibles’ appreciation, but does not include investments in a non-passthrough entity like holding shares in a mining company operating as a C corporation. Since gold is considered investment property in whatever form held, however, capital loss from a sale of gold (if a loss can be imagined) would be deductible.

Dividends. If a dividend is declared before the stock is sold but paid after the sale, the payee or owner of record when the dividend was declared is taxable on the dividend. Dividends are qualified (and taxed at the lower 15 percent rate) if the stock is held for at least 61 days during the 121-day period that begins 60 days before the “ex-dividend” date (the first date on which the buyer is not entitled to the next dividend payment). Again, the holding period includes the day the stock is disposed of but does not include the purchase date.

Wash sale rules. Taxpayers cannot deduct losses from a wash sale. A wash sale is a sale of stock or securities preceded or followed by a purchase of identical stock or securities within 30 days of the sale. A purchase includes a purchase by the taxpayer’s IRA. Thus, taxpayers cannot cash in a loss while, in effect, retaining the investment. The holding period for a wash sale begins when the old stock or securities were acquired. The loss that is disallowed is added to the basis of the stock or securities purchased.

Interest Income

Treasury securities. T-bills are sold at a discount for terms up to one year. The difference between the discounted price and the face value received at maturity is interest. Most U.S. Treasury bonds or notes pay interest every six months. The interest is taxable when paid. Certain issues of U.S. Treasury bonds can be exchanged tax-free for other Treasury bonds.

Corporate bonds. If a taxpayer sells a corporate bond between payment dates, part of the price represents accrued interest and must be reported as interest.

Certificates of deposit.  For short-term CDs (one year or less), interest may be payable in one payment at maturity. Interest is generally taxable when paid or when not subject to a substantial penalty. If interest can only be withdrawn by paying a penalty, the interest may not be taxable as it accrues. A taxpayer that decides to cash out the CD must report the full amount of interest paid, but the penalty is separately deductible and can be deducted in full even if it exceeds the interest.

Savings bonds. A cash-basis taxpayer does not report the interest (or the increase in redemption price) until the proceeds are received, the bond is disposed of, or the bond matures. However, a cash-basis taxpayer can elect to report the increase in redemption price each year as current income.

Switching investments.  An exchange of mutual funds within the same family is still taxable — a sale of one fund and a purchase of another. However, investments held in a tax-free account, such as a 401(k) plans or an IRA, can be switched tax-free, unless the owner takes a distribution.

Please contact our office if you have any questions about the tax ramifications of current investment strategies aimed toward responding to changing market trends.

Tax measures await Congressional action

Congress has returned to work after its August recess under a tight deadline to reduce the federal budget deficit and also, possibly, extend some expiring tax incentives.  Between now and the end of the year, Congress could enact significant tax reform in a deficit reduction package; or it may take a piecemeal approach. All this Congressional activity contributes to uncertainty in tax planning.

Joint committee’s task

On August 2, 2011, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25).  Along with cutting approximately $1 trillion in federal spending and raising the federal debt ceiling, the Budget Control Act creates a special a bipartisan joint select committee of Congress to propose more deficit reduction measures.   The Budget Control Act charges the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction with reducing the federal government budget deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over fiscal years 2012 to 2021. If the joint committee cannot agree on deficit reduction measures, or if Congress rejects the committee’s proposals, the Budget Control Act provides for automatic cuts over the coming decade.

The12-member joint committee is composed of an equal number of members from both parties: six Democrats and six Republicans.  The joint committee must make its proposals, in legislative language, not later than November 23, 2011 (if a majority of the committee agrees on the proposals). Congress must vote on the proposals not later than December 23, 2011.

Flood of proposals expected

The joint committee is expected to be flooded with proposals to reduce the federal deficit.  President Obama has urged the joint committee to take a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction. The president has called for reducing the federal deficit through a combination of spending cuts and revenue raisers. Some of the tax provisions mentioned by President Obama for repeal or reform include tax incentives for oil and gas producers and the last-in, first-out (LIFO) method of accounting. President Obama also wants Congress to extend the two percent payroll tax cut, which is scheduled to expire after 2011.

One of the most contentious proposals the joint committee may address is the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts. The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act (2010 Tax Relief Act) extended the Bush-era tax cuts through the end of 2012. President Obama wants to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for lower and middle income taxpayers but not for higher income taxpayers (which the White House defines as individuals with incomes over $200,000 and families with incomes over $250,000).  It is unclear at this time if the joint committee will take up the Bush-era tax cuts.

The joint committee may look to some recent tax reform proposals for guidance. In 2010, the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform developed a six-part plan to reduce the federal deficit. The commission recommended reducing or eliminating many tax incentives for individuals in exchange for lower individual income tax rates. The commission also endorsed lowering the corporate tax rate to 26 percent. In July 2011, a bipartisan group of senators, known as the “gang of six,” introduced a plan for deficit reduction. The senators’ plan would, among other provisions, replace the current individual income tax rate schedule with three new tax brackets along with abolishing the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

Expiring tax provisions

A number of popular but temporary tax incentives (known as “tax extenders) are scheduled to expire after 2011. In past years, Congress has routinely extended many of them. This year may be different. The joint committee could include the tax extenders in its work, extending some but allowing others to expire. Alternatively, the joint committee could decide not to touch the tax extenders. In that case, some or all of them could be extended in separate legislation.

Some of the extenders scheduled to expire after 2011 are (not an exhaustive list):

  • Research tax credit
  • 15-year recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, restaurant property and retail improvements
  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit
  • Employer wage credit for activity military reservists
  • Indian employment credit and accelerated depreciation for business property on Indian reservations
  • Special expensing rules for film and production costs
  • Basis adjustment to stock of an S corporation making charitable contributions
  • Enhanced deduction for charitable contributions of food inventory, corporate charitable contributions of book inventory and corporate charitable contributions of computers
  • Expensing of environmental remediation costs
  • Grants for investment in certain energy property in lieu of tax credits
  • Income tax credit for alcohol fuels
  • Refined coal production facilities credit
  • Tax treatment of payments to controlling exempt organizations
  • Subpart F exceptions for active financing income

Additionally, one hundred percent bonus depreciation is scheduled to expire after 2011 (except for property with a longer production period).  Enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing ($500,000 maximum amount/$2 million investment ceiling) also is scheduled to expire after 2011.

At this time, September 2011, it is not too early to contemplate how tax reform could impact your planning. Please contact our office and we can schedule a time to review your tax strategy.

Offshore disclosure initiatives show IRS progress on international tax evasion

The IRS’s 2011 Voluntary Disclosure Initiative has made more in-roads to combating international tax evasion, securing 12,000 disclosures this year. The IRS has received 30,000 voluntary disclosures since it launched its first disclosure program in 2009 and collected a total of $2.7 billion.

Disclosure initiatives

The IRS initiative targets U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed income or assets offshore by offering them a chance to avoid potential criminal charges or to pay reduced penalties in exchange for their disclosures. This effectively gives taxpayers, who might have been in violation of federal tax law, a chance to meet their tax obligations.

The IRS touted the greatest success in two areas:

  • Criminal tax prosecutions. Taxpayers hiding assets offshore have received jail sentences of months or years, and substantial monetary fines.
  • Financial institutions. UBS AG, Switzerland’s largest bank, agreed to pay $780 million in fines, penalties, interest and restitution as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. government.

Additional evidence of progress in the campaign against international tax evasion includes international tax agreements, increased cooperation with other governments, and stepped-up IRS and Justice Department criminal investigations of international tax evasion. These efforts have targeted bankers, promoters, and other facilitators of tax evasion, as well as taxpayers themselves.

IR-2011-94

New IRS lien processes favor taxpayers

On August 31, 2011 an IRS webinar on the Fresh Start Initiative discussed revised lien processes intended to help individual taxpayers remain in compliance despite economic hardships. The new processes increase the threshold at which the IRS will file a lien against a delinquent taxpayer’s funds from $5,000 to $10,000.

The Fresh Start Initiative, announced in February 2011, is just one of several programs the IRS has developed during the economic slowdown. Along with revised lien processes for individuals, the IRS also increased the threshold amount for small businesses in a streamlined installment agreement and expanded the streamlined offer-in-compromise program, which allows certain taxpayers to settle their tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed.

Withdrawal

One key element of the Fresh Start Initiative is the new ability of taxpayers to request that the IRS withdraw a lien once the lien has been released. A withdrawal basically expunges from the record the taxpayer’s Notice of Federal Tax Lien, whose presence otherwise can adversely affect a taxpayer’s credit rating.