Tax season is scheduled to begin shortly and, as in past years, there are some possible glitches to be mindful of. Already, the IRS has alerted taxpayers that the start of filing season will be delayed. Late tax legislation, although unlikely, could result in a further delay. Some new requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have been waived for 2014, but others have not. The IRS also is facing the prospect of another government shutdown in January.
In recent years, the IRS has had to delay the start of the filing season to reprogram its return processing systems for changes in the tax laws. The 2014 filing season will also be delayed but not, as of today, because of new tax laws. The IRS operated with minimal staffing during the 16-day government shutdown in October and fell behind in its scheduled maintenance and programming of its return processing systems because employees were furloughed. At this time, the IRS expects the 2014 filing season to be delayed for possibly two weeks.
Before the shutdown, the IRS had anticipated opening the 2014 filing season on January 21, 2014. With a one- to two-week delay, the IRS would start accepting and processing returns no earlier than January 28, 2014 and no later than February 4, 2014. Individuals who file early in anticipation of receiving a refund will likely see their refunds delayed. The IRS is expected to make a final determination on the start date of the 2014 filing season in mid-December. Our office will keep you posted of developments.
Taxpayers are also waiting on some important final forms for the 2014 filing season, including Form 8960, Net Investment Income Tax. The Affordable Care Act created the new 3.8 tax on qualified net investment income, effective January 1, 2013. Additionally, the IRS has indicated that more guidance will be available for married same-sex couples. Since publication of the IRS’s initial guidance, questions have surfaced concerning employee benefits, return filing and other issues affecting married same-sex couples and domestic partners (whom the IRS does not treat as married). Late-year guidance on either the 3.8 percent net investment income tax or same-sex tax issues may require last-minute changes in year-end tax strategies.
Another shutdown possible
The IRS is currently operating under a stop-gap funding measure, which ended the government shutdown in October. Funding under the stop-gap measure is scheduled to lapse after January 15, 2014. A House-Senate budget conference committee is attempting to reconcile competing fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget bills. So far, lawmakers appear to have made little progress.
A mid-January shutdown could further delay the start of the filing season. In a November 18 letter to IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) expressed concern that another government shutdown would result in a huge strain on taxpayers and tax professionals trying to timely file and report their income taxes by April 15. “The IRS keeping more essential positions working during January would help make the already delayed filing season operate as smoothly as possible,” the AICPA told Werfel. The AICPA also recommended that the Taxpayer Advocate Service, which closed during the October shutdown, remain open in the event of another lapse in appropriations.
Although many tax bills have been introduced in Congress, 2013 is likely to end without lawmakers tackling comprehensive tax reform. The House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have both prepared discussion drafts on tax reform, covering a host of tax issues. One possible reason for the lack of movement of tax reform appears to be lukewarm interest, at best, from the House and Senate leaders. This could change in 2014 but it is too early to make any predictions.
One path for tax reform could be the House-Senate budget conference committee. However, as mentioned, the committee has not yet produced any concrete proposals. Several lawmakers have recommended that the committee strike a deal to lower corporate tax rates in exchange for businesses giving up unspecified tax breaks. Many Republicans want to keep scheduled across-the-board spending cuts in place for 2014 and beyond; many Democrats want to replace the spending cuts with new revenue raisers. The conference committee has a mid-December deadline to reach an agreement.
A package of so-called tax extenders-popular but temporary tax incentives-could move before year-end but more likely will be taken up by Congress early next year. Unlike last year, the expiring incentives do not affect 2013 returns filed in 2014. Eligible taxpayers will be able to claim the state and local sales tax deduction, the higher education tuition deduction, the teachers’ classroom expense deduction, home energy tax breaks, and many others on their 2013 returns. If you have any questions about the expiring incentives, please contact our office.
Affordable Care Act
Starting January 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act requires individuals to carry minimum essential health insurance (unless they are exempt) or make a shared responsibility payment. Tax credits and cost-sharing also kick-in next year. At this time, it appears unlikely that the Obama administration will delay the individual mandate. The employer mandate, however, is delayed. Employer reporting (and reporting by some insurers) will not apply until 2015, but is optional for 2014. Generally, employer reporting applies to employers with at least 50 full-time employees on business days during the preceding calendar year.
November was dominated by news of technical troubles for the online Affordable Care Act Marketplaces and the cancellation of some individual insurance policies that did not meet new standards. The White House has made getting the online Marketplaces running at 100 percent a priority and also gave states the option of allowing individuals to re-enroll in coverage that would otherwise be terminated. The fix is temporary and individuals will need to find alternative coverage for 2015 and beyond. Small businesses also may have received cancellation notices and should be exploring alternative coverage.
If you have any questions about year-end tax developments, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.