Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Posts tagged ‘Fresh Start Initiative’

FAQ…Has IRS Fresh Start penalty relief expired?

Yes, penalty relief under the IRS Fresh Start initiative was a one-time offer, which required individuals to file Form 1127-A, Application for Extension of Time for Payment of Income Tax for 2011 Due to Undue Hardship, by April 17, 2012.

Penalties

The Tax Code imposes penalties on individuals who fail to file a return when one is required to be filed and on individuals who fail to pay any tax by the due date.  Often, taxpayers find that penalties can be more onerous than the taxes actually owed.

The penalty for filing a return late is generally five percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a return is late. The IRS has explained that this penalty will not exceed 25 percent of your unpaid taxes. Individuals who fail to pay their taxes by the due date, generally are liable for a failure-to-pay penalty of one-half of one percent of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month after the due date that the taxes are not paid. The IRS has cautioned that the penalty can be as much as 25 percent of the unpaid taxes.

If both the failure-to-file penalty and the failure-to-pay penalty apply in any month, the failure-to-file penalty is reduced by the failure-to-pay penalty. However, if you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.

Generally, the period of delinquency runs from the day after the due date of the return until the return is actually received by the IRS. In determining the number of months for which the penalty is imposed, the due date of the return determines when months begin and end. Individual returns for 2011 were due April 17, 2012.

Fresh Start relief

In early 2012, the IRS announced special penalty relief for individuals who found themselves unable to pay their taxes by the April 17 due date.  This relief was part of the IRS’ “Fresh Start” initiative.

Penalty relief was available to two groups:

  • Wage earners who had been unemployed at least 30 consecutive days during 2011 or in 2012 up to the April 17, 2012 deadline for filing a federal tax return this year.

 

  • Self-employed individuals who experienced a 25 percent or greater reduction in business income in 2011 due to the economy.

The taxpayer also had to have adjusted gross income of less than $100,000 (or $200,000 for a married couple filing a joint return). Additionally, the amount owed to the IRS had to be less than $50,000.

Under the Fresh Start initiative, interest runs on the 2011 taxes until the tax is paid.  However, no failure-to-pay penalties will be incurred if tax, interest and any other penalties are paid in full by October 15, 2012.

Deadline passed

The IRS required taxpayers to file Form 1127-A to request penalty relief by April 17, 2012.  At this time, it appears that the IRS is not bending this rule. However, the IRS could adjust its approach.  If the IRS announces any changes, our office will keep you posted.

IRS expands Fresh Start initiative

Building on earlier steps to help taxpayers buffeted by the economic slowdown, the IRS recently enhanced its “Fresh Start” initiative. The IRS has announced penalty relief for unemployed individuals who cannot pay their taxes on time and has increased the threshold amount for streamlined installment agreements.

Fresh Start

Many of the actions that economically-distressed taxpayers would like the IRS to take it cannot by law. The IRS cannot stop interest from accruing on unpaid taxes. The IRS also cannot move the filing deadline.

However, the IRS recognized that it can take some actions to help taxpayers who want to pay their taxes but cannot because of job loss or under-employment. In 2011, the IRS launched its Fresh Start initiative. The IRS made some taxpayer-friendly changes to its lien processes and also enhanced its streamlined installment agreement program for small businesses.

Installment agreements

An installment agreement allows taxpayers to pay taxes in smaller amounts over a period of time. Generally, individuals who owe less than $25,000 may qualify for a streamlined installment agreement. “Streamlined” means that taxpayers do not have to file extra information with the IRS, such as Collection Information Statement (Form 433-A or Form 433-F). The streamlined process is intended to be as simple as possible.

Effective immediately, the IRS has increased the threshold for entering into a streamlined installment agreement to $50,000. The maximum term for streamlined installment agreements has also been raised to 72 months from the current 60 month maximum. Taxpayers generally must pay an installment agreement fee and the IRS charges interest.

Before entering into an installment agreement, taxpayers should explore other options. It may be less expensive to pay your taxes on time with a credit card or a loan. Our office can help you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of an installment agreement.

Unemployed taxpayers

Taxes must be paid when due. This year, the deadline for filing individual returns is April 17, 2012. Taxpayers may request an automatic six-month extension but an extension does not provide additional time to pay.

Individuals who do not file by the deadline may be subject to a failure-to-file penalty. The IRS also may impose a failure-to-pay penalty if a taxpayer does not pay by the due date. The rules for the penalties are inter-related and are also complex.

Both the failure-to-file penalty and the failure-to-pay penalty may apply in any month. In these cases, the five percent failure-to-file penalty is reduced by the failure-to-pay penalty. However, if you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax.

Now, the IRS is granting a six-month grace period on failure-to-pay penalties to certain wage earners and self-employed individuals. The IRS explained that the request for an extension of time to pay will result in relief from the failure to pay penalty for tax year 2011 only if the tax, interest and any other penalties are fully paid by October 15, 2012.

Penalty relief is not available to all individuals. The IRS is limiting penalty relief to:

–Wage earners who have been unemployed at least 30 consecutive days during 2011 or in 2012 up to the April 17 deadline for filing a federal tax return this year.

–Self-employed individuals who experienced a 25 percent or greater reduction in business income in 2011 due to the economy.

Penalty relief is also subject to income limits. Your income must not exceed $200,000 if your filing status is married filing jointly or not exceed $100,000 if your filing status is single or head of household.

Additionally, the IRS has imposed a cap on the balance due. Penalty relief is restricted to taxpayers whose calendar year 2011 balance due does not exceed $50,000.

If you have any questions about the IRS Fresh Start initiative, please contact our office.

Looking back: Top 10 federal tax developments of 2011

Looking back over 2011, the IRS, Congress and the courts made many tax decisions impacting taxpayers of all types. Some tax developments were taxpayer-friendly; others imposed new requirements on taxpayers.  Here is a brief rundown of the top 10 federal tax developments of 2011.

1. Bush-era tax cuts unresolved

Reduced individual income tax rates, marriage penalty relief, an enhanced child tax credit, and much more are part of a package of tax breaks known as the “Bush-era tax cuts.”  All of these incentives were renewed in 2010 and are scheduled to expire after 2012. President Obama wants to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for higher income individuals, which the White House broadly defines as single persons with incomes over $200,000 and families with incomes over $250,000.  In the summer of 2011, the White House and the GOP reportedly came close to an agreement but nothing materialized.  The fate of the Bush-era tax cuts will likely be one of the major issues in the 2012 presidential election.

2. Foreign account reporting oversight increases

Since passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010, the Treasury Department and the IRS have ratcheted-up their oversight of foreign accounts.  In December 2011, the IRS issued final Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Assets, which taxpayers will file to report foreign accounts (if they meet certain requirements). The IRS also issued guidance in 2011 for foreign financial institutions about their reporting obligations under FATCA.  In related news, the Treasury Department issued final rules on Form TD-F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) in February 2011. Lastly, the IRS launched a new campaign in 2011 to encourage taxpayers to voluntarily disclose unreported offshore accounts.  The 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) rewarded taxpayers who came forward voluntarily with a reduced penalty framework (although not as generous as a similar program in 2009).

3. Payroll tax cut extended two months

President Obama signed the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 in December 2011. The new law extends the employee-side payroll tax cut through the end of February 2012. The two-month extension is intended to give Congress additional time to negotiate a longer-term extension of the payroll tax cut to cover all of calendar year 2012.

4. Cell phones removed from listed property category

The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 removed cell phones from the definition of “listed property.”  That category generally requires additional recordkeeping by taxpayers.  In September 2011, the IRS issued guidance on the treatment of employer- provided cell phones as an excludible fringe benefit. When an employer provides an employee with a cell phone primarily for noncompensatory business reasons, the business and personal use of the cell phone is generally nontaxable to the employee and the IRS will not require recordkeeping of business use to receive this tax-free treatment.

5. IRS launches Voluntary Classification Settlement Program

In September 2011, the IRS launched a new program to enable employers to voluntarily reclassify their workers for federal employment tax purposes and take advantage of a reduced penalty framework.  The Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) is open to employers currently treating their workers as independent contractors and who want to prospectively treat the workers as employees. The employer must not be under audit and satisfy other requirements.  The IRS has not announced an end-date to the VCSP.

6. IRS makes mid-year 2011 adjustment to business standard mileage rate

For the third time in six years, the IRS announced a mid-year adjustment to the business standard mileage rate because of rising gasoline prices.  The business standard mileage rate increased from 51 cents-per-mile to 55.5 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. The medical/moving standard mileage rate increased from 19 cents-per-mile to 23.5 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. Congress did not make a mid-year adjustment to the charitable standard mileage rate, which remained at 14 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. For 2012, the business standard mileage rate is 55.5 cents-per-mile and the medical/moving standard mileage rate is 23 cents-per-mile. The statutorily-determined charitable standard mileage rate remains at 14 cents-per-mile for 2012.

7. FUTA surtax expires

In 1976, Congress enacted the 0.2 percent FUTA surtax to help repay federal revenues paid in unemployment benefits. The Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009 extended the surtax through 2010 and the first six months of 2011.The 0.2-percent FUTA surtax expired after June 30, 2011.  In December 2011, the IRS released Form 940, Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return, and accompanying schedules, for 2011. Form 940 for 2011 reflects the mid-year expiration of the FUTA surtax.

8. IRS continues Fresh Start Initiative

During 2011, the IRS continued its Fresh Start Initiative, which the agency explains is its response to the economic slowdown. The Fresh Start Initiative allows lien withdrawals for taxpayers entering into direct debit installment agreements (and for taxpayers who convert from a regular installment agreement to a direct debit agreement).  The IRS also announced it would make streamlined installment agreements available to more small businesses.  Qualified small businesses with $25,000 or less in unpaid taxes can participate in the streamlined installment agreement program.

9. Basis overstatement regs

The Supreme Court agreed in September 2011 to resolve a split among the federal courts of appeal over IRS regulations that impose a six-year limitations period on assessments due to overstated basis.  The IRS asked the Supreme Court to decide, among other questions, whether an understatement of gross income attributable to an overstatement of basis in sold property is an omission from income that can trigger the six-year assessment period.

10. Congress bans tax strategy patents

In September 2011, President Obama signed the America Invents Act.  The new law is a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s patent laws. The new law treats any strategy for reducing, avoiding or deferring tax liability as prior art under patent law and therefore not patentable.

If you have any questions about these or any tax developments in 2011, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414

Early planning can make 2012 filing season easier

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.

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.