AMERICAN TAXPAYER RELIEF ACT-SUMMARY FOR KATHERMAN KITTS CLIENTS READING PLEASURE

Yesterday, the President signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which was passed on New Year’s Day. Here is brief summary of selected portions of it, for your review. We can help answer any questions that you may have.

Individual Tax Rates
The Act preserves and permanently extends the Bush-era income tax cuts except for single individuals with taxable income above $400,000; married couples filing joint returns with taxable income above $450,000; and heads of household with taxable income above $425,000. Income above these thresholds will be taxed at a 39.6 percent rate, effective January 1, 2013. The $400,000/$450,000/$425,000 thresholds will be adjusted for inflation after 2013.
The new law, however, does not extend the payroll tax holiday. Effective January 1, 2013, the employee-share of Social Security tax withholding increased from 4.2% to 6.2% (its rate before the payroll tax holiday).

Capital Gains and Dividend Tax Rate
Effective January 1, 2013, the maximum tax rate on qualified capital gains and dividends rises from 15 to 20 percent for taxpayers whose taxable incomes exceed the thresholds set for the 39.6 percent rate (the $400,000/$450,000/$425,000 thresholds discussed above). The maximum tax rate for all other taxpayers remains at 15 percent; and moreover, a zero-percent rate will continue to apply to qualified capital gains and dividends to the extent income falls below the top of the 15- percent tax bracket. Note – The 2010 Affordable Care Act imposes a 3.8% Medicare tax on interest, dividends, capital gains, and other passive income, starting in 2013, and it applies at taxable income over $200,000 for single filers and over $250,000 for joint filers.

Estate and Gift Tax
Federal transfer taxes (estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes) seem to have been in a constant state of flux in recent years. The Act provides some certainty. Effective January 1, 2013, the maximum estate, gift and GST tax rate is generally 40 percent, which reflects an increase from 35 percent for 2012. The lifetime exclusion amount for estate and gift taxes is unchanged for 2013 and subsequent years at $5 million (adjusted for inflation). The GST exemption amount for 2013 and beyond is also $5 million (adjusted for inflation). The new law also makes permanent portability and some enhancements made in previous tax laws.

Other Act Elements Affecting Individuals
• AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) – Higher exemptions are made permanent, and indexed for inflation
• IRA distributions to charitable organizations, (for those over age 70) – restored through 2013
• Exclusion for cancellation of debt on principal residence – extended through 2013
• Reduction of itemized deductions for incomes over certain levels, (which was not in place since 2010) – will apply starting in 2013

Business Tax Provisions
Code Sec. 179 business equipment expensing. In recent years, Congress has repeatedly increased dollar and investment limits under Code Sec. 179 to encourage spending by businesses. For tax years beginning in 2010 and 2011, the Code Sec. 179 dollar and investment limits were $500,000 and $2 million, respectively. [This means that you can expense up to $500,000 of equipment or software purchased, so long as you don’t spend more than $2 million in total. Expenditures over the $2 million level reduces the allowable expense amount dollar-for-dollar.] The Act restores the dollar and investment limits for 2012 and 2013 to their 2011 amounts ($500,000 and $2 million) and adjusts those amounts for inflation. However, this increase is temporary. The Code Sec. 179 dollar and investment limits are scheduled, unless changed by Congress, to decrease to $25,000 and $200,000, respectively, after 2013. The new law also provides that off-the-shelf computer software qualifies as eligible property for Code Sec. 179 expensing. The software must be placed in service in a tax year beginning before 2014. Additionally, the Act allows taxpayers to treat up to $250,000 of qualified leasehold and retail improvement property as well as qualified restaurant property, as eligible for Code Sec. 179 expensing.

Bonus depreciation. Bonus depreciation of business equipment is one of the most important tax benefits available to businesses, large or small. In recent years, bonus depreciation has reached 100 percent, which gave taxpayers the opportunity to write off 100 percent of qualifying asset purchases immediately. For 2012, bonus depreciation remained available but was reduced to 50 percent. The Act extends 50 percent bonus depreciation through 2013. The Act also provides that a taxpayer otherwise eligible for additional first-year depreciation may elect to claim additional research or minimum tax credits in lieu of claiming depreciation for qualified property.

While not quite as attractive as 100 percent bonus depreciation, 50 percent bonus depreciation is valuable. For example, a $100,000 piece of equipment with a five-year MACRS life would qualify for a $55,000 write-off: $50,000 in bonus depreciation plus 20 percent of the remaining $50,000 in basis as “regular” depreciation, with the half-year convention applied in the first and last year.

Bonus depreciation also relates to the passenger vehicle depreciation dollar limits under Code Sec. 280F. This provision imposes dollar limitations on the depreciation deduction for the year in which a taxpayer places a passenger automobile/truck in service within a business and for each succeeding year. Because of the new law, the first-year depreciation cap for passenger automobile/truck placed in service in 2013 is increased by $8,000.

Bonus depreciation, unlike Code Sec. 179 expensing, is not capped at a dollar threshold. However, only new property qualifies for bonus depreciation. Code Sec. 179 expensing, in contrast, can be claimed for both new and used property and qualifying property may be expensed at 100 percent.

Research Tax Credit. The research tax credit was restored for 2012 and extended through 2013.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

This is Pretty Cool – The IRS Will Help With Your FAFSA Application

Automated IRS System Helps College-Bound Students with Financial Aid Application Process

College-bound students and their parents sometimes face last minute requests to complete or provide additional information for financial aid applications.

The Internal Revenue wants to help by minimizing time spent on the completion of the Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). By using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, applicants can automatically transfer required tax data from their federal tax returns directly to their FAFSA form.

This IRS tool is a free, easy and secure way to access and transfer tax return information onto the FAFSA form. Using the tool saves time, improves accuracy and may reduce the likelihood of the school’s financial aid office requesting that you verify the information.

Here are some tips on using the IRS DRT:

Eligibility Criteria To use the IRS DRT to complete their 2012 -2013 FAFSA form, taxpayers must:
o have filed a federal 2011 tax return,
o possess a valid Social Security Number,
o have a Federal Student Aid PIN (individuals who don’t have a PIN will be given the option to apply for one through the FAFSA application process), and
o have not changed marital status since Dec. 31, 2011.

Exceptions If any of the following conditions apply to the student or parents, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool cannot be used for the 2012 FAFSA application:
o an amended tax return was filed for 2011,
o no federal tax return was filed for 2011,
o the federal tax filing status on the 2011 return is married filing separately or
o a Puerto Rican or other foreign tax return has been filed.

Applicants who cannot use the IRS DRT to meet college requests for verification, may need to obtain an official transcript from the IRS. Transcripts are not available until the IRS has processed the related tax return. To order tax return or tax account transcripts, visit IRS.gov and select “Order a Transcript” or call the toll-free Transcript line at 1-800-908-9946.

In addition, the IRS offers money-saving information for college students and their parents about tax credits and deductions for qualifying tuition, materials and fees.

Links:

Student’s Page – College Bound
Order a Transcript
IRS Tax Benefits for Education: Information Center
IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education

IRS Releases Specifications for Registered Tax Return Preparer Test – Doesn’t it just give you the chills?

Katherman Kitts & Co. LLP

Choose A Tax Preparer That Has a Clue

By Stacie Kitts, CPA

Here it is, what all un-registered (non CPA’s, attorneys, or enrolled agent) tax preparers have been waiting for.  The specs for the competency test  that will award those who pass the title of  “Registered Tax Return Preparer.”

Wowwee doesn’t it just give you the chills….

No – well maybe that’s because CPA’s and attorneys can sign tax returns even if they don’t have a single clue what they are doing.  They get to do this without passing a test (other than the initial licensing exam which he/she could have taken a hundred years ago – so not even relevant today) or taking a single hour of tax related continuing professional education.  You know, training that would keep you up to speed on the actual tax laws that apply to tax return preparation.

So what do you think the odds are that  many of these licensed “professionals” would have a difficult time passing the new competency test?

Ya, scary jacked up regulation that leaves out a large number of people who are trusted to prepare your tax return.

Fixing the mistakes of these so called professionals is a large part of my practice.  I guess I should be grateful instead of loosing my mind over the absurdity of it all.

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today released the specifications for the competency test individuals must pass to become a Registered Tax Return Preparer.

The test is part of an ongoing effort by the IRS to enhance oversight of the tax preparation industry. Preparers who pass this test, a background check and tax compliance check as well as complete 15 hours of continuing education annually will have a new designation: Registered Tax Return Preparer.

The specifications identify the major topics that will be covered by the test, which will be available starting this fall. Although individuals who already have a provisional preparer tax identification number (PTIN) from the IRS do not have to pass the exam until Dec. 31, 2013, they may take the exam at any time once it is available.

The test will have approximately 120 questions in a combination of multiple choice and true or false format. Questions will be weighted and individuals will receive a pass or fail score, with diagnostic feedback provided to those who fail.

Test vendor Prometric Inc. worked with the IRS and the tax preparer community to develop the test. The time limit for the test is expected to be between two and three hours. The test must be taken at one of the roughly 260 Prometric facilities nationwide.

To assist in test preparation, the following is a list of recommended study materials. This list is not all-encompassing, but a highlight of what the test candidates will need to know.

Some reference materials will be available to individuals when they are taking the test. Prometric will provide individuals with Publication 17, Form 1040 and Form 1040 instructions as reference materials.

The fee for the test has not been finalized but is expected to be between $100 and $125, which is separate from the PTIN user fee. Currently there is no limit on the number of times preparers can take the test, but they must pay the fee each time. Individuals must pass the test only once.

Only certain individuals who prepare the Form 1040 series are required to take the test. Attorneys, Certified Public Accountants and Enrolled Agents (EAs) are exempt from testing and continuing education because of their more stringent professional testing and education requirements. Also exempt are supervised employees of attorneys, CPAs, attorneys or EAs who prepare but do not sign and are not required to sign the Form 1040 series returns they prepare and individuals who prepare federal returns other than the Form 1040 series.

Approximately 730,000 return preparers have registered and received PTINs in 2011. Approximately 62 percent do not have professional credentials. The IRS does not yet know how many preparers will fall into other exempt categories, but those individuals will be required to identify themselves when they renew an existing PTIN or obtain a new PTIN beginning in October 2011.

The IRS will notify those preparers who have a testing requirement and provide more details. Once the test is available, preparers who have on-line accounts can use their accounts to schedule a test time and select a Prometric site.

At the time the current version of Publication 17 went to press, there were certain tax benefits that had not been finalized and several tax benefits were subsequently extended. See Legislative Changes Affecting the 2010 Publication 17 on IRS.gov for the details needed for study purposes.

Recovering Bubblehead- Unfortunately, There is No 12 Step Program

Ally McBeal the unrecovered Bubblehead

By Stacie Kitts, CPA

I like to think of myself as a recovering recovered bubblehead.  You might know the type, she was portrayed by Calista Flockhart in the late 90’s as Ally McBeal.  The character was described as “annoying and demeaning to women (specially professional women) because of her perceived flightiness, lack of  [knowledge], short skirts“, and….. well you get the point.

As ridiculous as it sounds, there was a time – a long time ago in a galaxy far far away – when I thought I had found the right combo.   Often sporting an outfit that only Ally McBeal (an imaginary made up TV person, so like no real person should have tried to pull this off) would wear, I was, sadly, the “sexy” CPA.

Ludicrous, I know!

This style choice did not endear me to my female colleagues. And had you met me in those days, you might not have noticed that I had a brain at all.  This, of course, is not the impression you want to make when your brain is what you are selling.

Flash forward ……. now we are visiting my solo “stay home” tax practice period.  This quarter decade represented my relaxed period, where comfort was my style of choice.  My old warn out sweats and stylish jammie sets worn around the home office probably earned me the label of “comfy” accountant.   Also, NOT the serious accountant image you want to project, particularly when you are trying to convince a person who has amassed a considerable amount of wealth that you are the advisor who is going to help them keep it.

Interestingly, of these two periods, the comfy accountant was/is the hardest to overcome – a few enlightening moments, and some mentored wisdom eradicated the “sexy” CPA fairly quickly.  But taking the comfy out of accounting was like a slow excruciating death.

Even so, it’s done.  These days I work in an office building and I look forward to casual Fridays where I can throw on some jeans with my conservative cardigan.  I might even spice it up with some colorful shoes or fun jewelry.  But for the most part, first impressions are my main concern and my style choices scream I’m confident, educated, serious and professional.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Blouse

Your fashion choices actually play a large part in selling you and my own fashion history is testament to this.

Being a recovered fashion bubble head probably explains why I recently had a slight meltdown when my assistant commented on how cute my suit was but added, “Your top makes you look like a big orange pumpkin.”

Let me explain.

That morning I had arrived at work wearing a conservative black suit over a cute orange top with cute orange shoes carrying my cute salmon colored purse.  Just the right  >pop<  of color.  I felt completely prepared for my big pitch to a large potential client.  I was clear on the tax issues and confident in my ability to sell it.  But that was before I realized that my clothing choice looked like a Halloween inspired disaster.

I hurried to the bathroom where I stood in front of the full-length mirror and thought, Oh-My-God, she’s right.  Why did I pick orange and black?  I look ridiculous.

Now my confidence is waning.  I can’t get the pumpkin image out of my head.  How was I going to sell ME and MY skills when I looked like “that” lady.  You know, the one that can’t possibly own a mirror because if she did she wouldn’t be wearing that!!!!!!

My head starts to fill with possible solutions:  go home and change – nope not enough time, swap blouses with a co-worker, nope not an option, run to the mall – yes there might be enough time for that there’s one right across the street.  I gathered all the paraphernalia I needed for the meeting, business cards, portfolio, flyer about the company etc. and head out.

I found parking rather quickly and felt the relief flooding through my system.  I ran toward the door and pull on the handle. Locked!!!  It’s locked.  I look at the hours – “OPEN 10am”

10AM?

10AM, what? …..Shut down by my lack of knowledge about mall hours.

I pulled out my cell phone and click a button so I could see the time.  9:30 – No time to wait until it opens, find an appropriate blouse and still get to the meeting on time.

I’m screwed, I’m screwed, I’m screwed.

Despondent, I slowly slink back to my car and try to convince myself that,  it’s no big deal, you can still sell it, it’s not that bad, forget it.  Ya right,  I was a wreck.  So as I headed toward certain rejection,  I resolved myself  to make my pitch just the same.

But miracle of miracles, not only did I arrive early to the meeting, but by some grace of god, the meeting was across the street from a mall.  A mall that was open!

It wasn’t too late, I might pull it off.  I am elated, rather giddy in fact.  I top the escalator and see just the perfect thing.  How wonderful.  I try it on and it looks great.  Stepping out of the dressing room, I spot a manned sales register.

Hello, I’m in a hurry can you ring this up for me really fast?

I am sorry dear, but we just opened and it will take some time to get the registers up.

HUH, really, what?  There’s noo time?  NooooTime!

At this point, I’m thinking run, run with the cute blouse, go ahead make a dash for it…..it’s your only hope….It was amazing the amount of thoughts that flowed through my mind in those few seconds.  Could I get away with it, I would come back later and pay, maybe she would hold onto my wedding ring for collateral.

And then…..

She must have read the desperation in my expression because she says, “Wait, I think the register over here is up.  Let’s see.”  And glorious day, it was.

Sporting my new blouse with renewed confidence and relieved that I wasn’t a fugitive from justice, I arrived in time, made my pitch and yes, landed the client.

Hurray, disaster averted- thanks to the right first impression and my cute new blouse!

For My Student Followers – an Explanation of IRS Guidance Sent Out Into The Cosmos

Are you looking for some information that will explain all the available IRS guidance sent out into the cosmos?

The following is a list of explanations/definitions should you be interested, need some reading material, or want something to put you to sleep at night.

 

For anyone not familiar with the inner workings of tax administration, the array of IRS guidance may seem, well, a little puzzling at first glance. To take a little of the mystery away, here’s a brief look at seven of the most common forms of guidance.

In its role in administering the tax laws enacted by the Congress, the IRS must take the specifics of these laws and translate them into detailed regulations, rules and procedures. The Office of Chief Counsel fills this crucial role by producing several different kinds of documents and publications that provide guidance to taxpayers, firms and charitable groups.

Regulation

A regulation is issued by the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department to provide guidance for new legislation or to address issues that arise with respect to existing Internal Revenue Code sections. Regulations interpret and give directions on complying with the law. Regulations are published in the Federal Register. Generally, regulations are first published in proposed form in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). After public input is fully considered through written comments and even a public hearing, a final regulation or a temporary regulation is published as a Treasury Decision (TD), again, in the Federal Register.

Revenue Ruling

A revenue ruling is an official interpretation by the IRS of the Internal Revenue Code, related statutes, tax treaties and regulations. It is the conclusion of the IRS on how the law is applied to a specific set of facts. Revenue rulings are published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin for the information of and guidance to taxpayers, IRS personnel and tax professionals. For example, a revenue ruling may hold that taxpayers can deduct certain automobile expenses.

Revenue Procedure

A revenue procedure is an official statement of a procedure that affects the rights or duties of taxpayers or other members of the public under the Internal Revenue Code, related statutes, tax treaties and regulations and that should be a matter of public knowledge. It is also published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin. While a revenue ruling generally states an IRS position, a revenue procedure provides return filing or other instructions concerning an IRS position. For example, a revenue procedure might specify how those entitled to deduct certain automobile expenses should compute them by applying a certain mileage rate in lieu of calculating actual operating expenses.

Private Letter Ruling

A private letter ruling, or PLR, is a written statement issued to a taxpayer that interprets and applies tax laws to the taxpayer’s specific set of facts. A PLR is issued to establish with certainty the federal tax consequences of a particular transaction before the transaction is consummated or before the taxpayer’s return is filed. A PLR is issued in response to a written request submitted by a taxpayer and is binding on the IRS if the taxpayer fully and accurately described the proposed transaction in the request and carries out the transaction as described. A PLR may not be relied on as precedent by other taxpayers or IRS personnel. PLRs are generally made public after all information has been removed that could identify the taxpayer to whom it was issued.

Technical Advice Memorandum

A technical advice memorandum, or TAM, is guidance furnished by the Office of Chief Counsel upon the request of an IRS director or an area director, appeals, in response to technical or procedural questions that develop during a proceeding. A request for a TAM generally stems from an examination of a taxpayer’s return, a consideration of a taxpayer’s claim for a refund or credit, or any other matter involving a specific taxpayer under the jurisdiction of the territory manager or the area director, appeals. Technical Advice Memoranda are issued only on closed transactions and provide the interpretation of proper application of tax laws, tax treaties, regulations, revenue rulings or other precedents. The advice rendered represents a final determination of the position of the IRS, but only with respect to the specific issue in the specific case in which the advice is issued. Technical Advice Memoranda are generally made public after all information has been removed that could identify the taxpayer whose circumstances triggered a specific memorandum.

Notice

A notice is a public pronouncement that may contain guidance that involves substantive interpretations of the Internal Revenue Code or other provisions of the law. For example, notices can be used to relate what regulations will say in situations where the regulations may not be published in the immediate future.

Announcement

An announcement is a public pronouncement that has only immediate or short-term value. For example, announcements can be used to summarize the law or regulations without making any substantive interpretation; to state what regulations will say when they are certain to be published in the immediate future; or to notify taxpayers of the existence of an approaching deadline.

Stacie’s More Tax Tips Makes a Top Something or Other List

By Stacie Clifford Kitts, CPA

Seems like I am always reading someones top something… tax/accounting/business  list and it always makes me wonder – just how does someone get on this list anyway?????

Like for example take  Accounting Today/Tomorrow/WebCPA.  This group publishes a top 100 most influential people in the accounting industry list.  Every year I read it over and wonder –  how do they decide who is “most influential” anyway?  I mean really, is this a scientific thing?  Are there compliance criteria – like a PPC guide “How to Determine the Most Influential People in Accounting” – we are talking about accountants here – I assume there’s a checklist?

I do hope its more scientific than just a bunch of journalists sitting around a conference table, sipping coffee and munching on donuts while someone writes names on a white board.   Just picture it, a bunch of bored staff writers some twisting slightly in their chairs, some lounging about, others lazily calling out names.  Then someone says, “hey cross off Sally Johnson, she was rude to me at blah blah conference. she doesn’t make it this year.” Yowser,I hope it doesn’t work like that!!!

Recently, I’ve been contacted by a “.com site” or two.  These sites were letting me know that I could be listed on a top something list….so –be sure to mention it at Stacie’s More Tax Tips- wont you?

While I get how this whole quid pro quo thingy works, I have declined 100% of the “link to us, we’ll link to you” offers.  I’ve even turned down click for payment offers because I didn’t think the link topics where appropriate for my my site.

But you know what, I’ve decided that gosh darn my blog is interesting.. And yes siree, I deserve to be on a top anything list.. And, it has absolutely nothing to do with quid pro quo.  Nope, they of course see the genius that is my blog and feel compelled to share. So thanks to bschool.com for naming Stacie’s More Tax Tips in the 50 best Blogs to Get You Through Tax Season.

Oh by the way, the picture is of me and the grandbaby enjoying Christmas day with the family!

Happy Valentines! A Gift of Tax Filing For Your Sweetheart

By Stacie Clifford Kitts, CPA

Feb. 14 is the magic filing date.

Well, I guess the IRS finally figured it out and reprogrammed their computer system to accommodate the new tax changes..  If  you file Schedule A that is you itemize, or you will take the hirer education tuition and fees deduction on Form 8917, or even the educator expenses deduction, you will be able to file your tax return (hopefully) starting on Valentines Day.  How romantic, a gift of tax filing for your sweetheart.

Read on for more info:

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service plans a Feb. 14 start date for processing tax returns delayed by last month’s tax law changes. The IRS reminded taxpayers affected by the delay they can begin preparing their tax returns immediately because many software providers are ready now to accept these returns.

Beginning Feb. 14, the IRS will start processing both paper and e-filed returns claiming itemized deductions on Schedule A, the higher education tuition and fees deduction on Form 8917 and the educator expenses deduction. Based on filings last year, about nine million tax returns claimed any of these deductions on returns received by the IRS before Feb. 14.

People using e-file for these delayed forms can get a head start because many major software providers have announced they will accept these impacted returns immediately. The software providers will hold onto the returns and then electronically submit them after the IRS systems open on Feb. 14 for the delayed forms.

Taxpayers using commercial software can check with their providers for specific instructions. Those who use a paid tax preparer should check with their preparer, who also may be holding returns until the updates are complete.

Most other returns, including those claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), education tax credits, child tax credit and other popular tax breaks, can be filed as normal, immediately.

The IRS needed the extra time to update its systems to accommodate the tax law changes without disrupting other operations tied to the filing season. The delay followed the Dec. 17 enactment of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, which extended a number of expiring provisions including the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition and fees deduction and educator expenses deduction.

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