Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

The new year brings a new tax filing season. Mid-April may seem like a long time away in January but it is important to start preparing now for filing your 2011 federal income tax return.  The IRS expects to receive and process more than 140 million returns during the 2012 filing season.  Early planning can help avoid any delays in the filing and processing of your return.

Records

Initially, you will need to gather your records for 2011. A helpful jumping-off point is to review your 2010 return. Your personal situation may be unchanged from when you filed your 2010 return or it may have changed significantly.  Either way, your 2010 return is a good vantage point for assembling the materials you will need to prepare your 2011 return.

If you need a copy of your previous year(s) return information, you have several options. You can order a copy of your prior-year return. Alternatively, you may order a tax return transcript or a tax account 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 return transcript does not reflect any changes you or the IRS made after the return was filed. A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed.

If you changed your name as a result of marriage or divorce since you filed your 2010 return, you must advise the IRS. Your name as it appears on your return needs to match the name registered with the Social Security Administration. A mismatch will likely delay the processing of your return.

Forms W-2

Many taxpayers cannot begin preparing their 2011 income tax returns until they have their Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Employers have until January 31, 2012 to send you a 2011 Form W-2 earnings statement.  If you do not receive your W-2 by the deadline, contact your employer. If you do not receive your W-2 by mid-February, contact the IRS.  You still must file your return or request an extension to file even if you do not receive your Form W-2. In certain cases, you may be able to file Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement.

Filing deadline

April 15, 2012 is a Sunday. Returns would normally be due the next day, April 16, 2012. However, April 16 is a holiday in the District of Columbia (Emancipation Day). As a result, the due date for 2011 returns is April 17, 2012.  If the mid-April tax deadline clock runs out, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file through October 17. However, this extension of time to file does not give you more time to pay any taxes due.  To obtain an extension, you need to file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Casualty losses

Many taxpayers experienced family, business and personal losses from hurricanes, tropical storms, wild fires, floods, and other natural disasters in 2011.  For federal tax purposes, a casualty loss can result from the damage, destruction or loss of your property from any sudden, unexpected, or unusual event such as a hurricane, tornado, fire, or other disaster.

Casualty losses are generally deductible in the year the casualty occurred. However, if you have a casualty loss from a federally-declared disaster, you can choose to treat the loss as having occurred in the year immediately preceding the tax year in which the disaster happened. This means you can deduct a 2011 loss on your 2011 return or amended return for that preceding tax year (2010).   If you have any questions about a casualty loss, please contact our office.

Retirement savings

Just because the calendar moved from 2011 to 2012 doesn’t necessarily mean you missed out on contributing to a retirement savings plan. You can contribute up to $5,000 to a traditional IRA for 2011 and you can make the contribution as late as April 17, 2012. However, if you or your spouse is covered by an employer retirement plan, this will affect how much, if any, of your contribution is tax deductible.  Individuals age 50 and older may qualify for a catch-up contribution of $1,000 on top of the $5,000 maximum.  Different rules apply to other types of retirement savings plans.  Our office can review these rules in detail with you.

IRS Fresh Start Initiative

In 2011, the IRS announced a new program, called the Fresh Start Initiative, to help distressed taxpayers. The IRS adjusted its lien policies, increased the dollar threshold when liens are generally issued, made it easier for taxpayers to obtain lien withdrawals, and extended the streamlined offer-in-compromise program.  Previously, the IRS had given its employees greater authority to suspend collection actions in certain hardship cases where taxpayers are unable to pay. This includes instances where a taxpayer has recently lost a job, is relying solely on Social Security, or is paying significant medical bills.

If you are experiencing hardship, the most important thing you can do is to remain in compliance with your tax obligations. If you owe back taxes, now is the time to pay them, if possible, or enter into an installment agreement, if you qualify, with the IRS. The IRS wants to see you making a good faith effort to pay your taxes.

Tax law changes

Along with assembling records and reviewing activities in 2011, it’s a good idea to review some of the tax law changes in 2011 that may affect your return.  Our office can review your 2010 return and see which areas may have been affected by tax law changes for your 2011 return.  In some cases, popular tax incentives that were available in 2010 were extended into 2011. You don’t want to miss out on any available tax breaks.

If you have any questions about preparing for the 2012 filing season, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

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