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Way Busy Here, But This IRS News is to Good to Pass Up – Unemployed? Can’t Pay Your Tax?

Tax

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today announced a major expansion of its “Fresh Start” initiative to help struggling taxpayers by taking steps to provide new penalty relief to the unemployed and making Installment Agreements available to more people.

Under the new Fresh Start provisions, part of a broader effort started at the IRS in 2008, certain taxpayers who have been unemployed for 30 days or longer will be able to avoid failure-to-pay penalties. In addition, the IRS is doubling the dollar threshold for taxpayers eligible for Installment Agreements to help more people qualify for the program.

“We have an obligation to work with taxpayers who are struggling to make ends meet,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. ”This new approach makes sense for taxpayers and for the nation’s tax system, and it’s part of a wider effort we have underway to help struggling taxpayers.”

Penalty Relief

The IRS announced plans for new penalty relief for the unemployed on failure-to-pay penalties, which are one of the biggest factors a financially distressed taxpayer faces on a tax bill.

To assist those most in need, a six-month grace period on failure-to-pay penalties will be made available to certain wage earners and self-employed individuals. 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 Oct. 15, 2012.

The penalty relief will be available to two categories of taxpayers:

  • 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.

This penalty relief is subject to income limits. A taxpayer’s income must not exceed $200,000 if he or she files as married filing jointly or not exceed $100,000 if he or she files as single or head of household. This penalty relief is also restricted to taxpayers whose calendar year 2011 balance due does not exceed $50,000.

Taxpayers meeting the eligibility criteria will need to complete a new Form 1127A to seek the 2011 penalty relief. The new form is available on IRS.gov.

The failure-to-pay penalty is generally half of 1 percent per month with an upper limit of 25 percent. Under this new relief, taxpayers can avoid that penalty until Oct. 15, 2012, which is six months beyond this year’s filing deadline. However, the IRS is still legally required to charge interest on unpaid back taxes and does not have the authority to waive this charge, which is currently 3 percent on an annual basis.

Even with the new penalty relief becoming available, the IRS strongly encourages taxpayers to file their returns on time by April 17 or file for an extension. Failure-to-file penalties applied to unpaid taxes remain in effect and are generally 5 percent per month, also with a 25 percent cap.

Installment Agreements

The Fresh Start provisions also mean that more taxpayers will have the ability to use streamlined installment agreements to catch up on back taxes.

The IRS announced today that, effective immediately, the threshold for using an installment agreement without having to supply the IRS with a financial statement has been raised from $25,000 to $50,000. This is a significant reduction in taxpayer burden.

Taxpayers who owe up to $50,000 in back taxes will now be able to enter into a streamlined agreement with the IRS that stretches the payment out over a series of months or years. The maximum term for streamlined installment agreements has also been raised to 72 months from the current 60-month maximum.

Taxpayers seeking installment agreements exceeding $50,000 will still need to supply the IRS with a Collection Information Statement (Form 433-A or Form 433-F). Taxpayers may also pay down their balance due to $50,000 or less to take advantage of this payment option.

An installment agreement is an option for those who cannot pay their entire tax bills by the due date. Penalties are reduced, although interest continues to accrue on the outstanding balance. In order to qualify for the new expanded streamlined installment agreement, a taxpayer must agree to monthly direct debit payments.

Taxpayers can set up an installment agreement with the IRS by going to the On-line Payment Agreement (OPA) page on IRS.gov and following the instructions.
These changes supplement a number of efforts to help struggling taxpayers, including the “Fresh Start” program announced last year. The initiative includes a variety of changes to help individuals and businesses pay back taxes more easily and with less burden, including the issuance of fewer tax liens.

“Our goal is to help people meet their obligations and get back on their feet financially,” Shulman said.

Input from the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Council and the IRS National Taxpayer Advocate’s office contributed to the formulation of Fresh Start.

Offers in Compromise

Under the first round of Fresh Start, the IRS expanded a new streamlined Offer in Compromise (OIC) program to cover a larger group of struggling taxpayers. An offer-in-compromise is an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the taxpayer’s tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed.

The IRS recognizes that many taxpayers are still struggling to pay their bills so the agency has been working to put in place more common-sense changes to the OIC program to more closely reflect real-world situations.

For example, the IRS has more flexibility with financial analysis for determining reasonable collection potential for distressed taxpayers.

Generally, an offer will not be accepted if the IRS believes that the liability can be paid in full as a lump sum or through a payment agreement. The IRS looks at the taxpayer’s income and assets to make a determination regarding the taxpayer’s ability to pay.

Details on IRS Collection and Other Information

A series of eight short videos are available to familiarize taxpayers and practitioners with the IRS collection process. The series “Owe Taxes? Understanding IRS Collection Efforts”, is available on the IRS website, www.irs.gov.

The IRS website has a variety of other online resources available to help taxpayers meet their payment obligations:

IRS YouTube Video: Fresh Start: English

IRS Podcast: Fresh Start: English

IRS Patrol – IRS Announces New Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program; Past Payroll Tax Relief Provided to Employers Who Reclassify Their Workers as Employees

Original caption: Farm, farm workers, Mt. Will...

Worker or Contractor that is the question

If you or your clients think there might be an issue with the classification of  employees – that is, are your workers independent contractors or not, now is the time to look into correction.

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service  launched a new program that will enable many employers to resolve past worker classification issues and achieve certainty under the tax law at a low cost by voluntarily reclassifying their workers.

This new program will allow employers the opportunity to get into compliance by making a minimal payment covering past payroll tax obligations rather than waiting for an IRS audit.

This is part of a larger “Fresh Start” initiative at the IRS to help taxpayers and businesses address their tax responsibilities.

“This settlement program provides certainty and relief to employers in an important area,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “This is part of a wider effort to help taxpayers and businesses to help give them a fresh start with their tax obligations.”

The new Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) is designed to increase tax compliance and reduce burden for employers by providing greater certainty for employers, workers and the government. Under the program, eligible employers can obtain substantial relief from federal payroll taxes they may have owed for the past, if they prospectively treat workers as employees. The VCSP is available to many businesses, tax-exempt organizations and government entities that currently erroneously treat their workers or a class or group of workers as nonemployees or independent contractors, and now want to correctly treat these workers as employees.

To be eligible, an applicant must:

  • • Consistently have treated the workers in the past as nonemployees,
  • • Have filed all required Forms 1099 for the workers for the previous three years
  • • Not currently be under audit by the IRS, the Department of Labor or a state agency concerning the classification of these workers

Interested employers can apply for the program by filing Form 8952, Application for Voluntary Classification Settlement Program, at least 60 days before they want to begin treating the workers as employees.

Employers accepted into the program will pay an amount effectively equaling just over one percent of the wages paid to the reclassified workers for the past year. No interest or penalties will be due, and the employers will not be audited on payroll taxes related to these workers for prior years. Participating employers will, for the first three years under the program, be subject to a special six-year statute of limitations, rather than the usual three years that generally applies to payroll taxes.

Full details, including FAQs, are available on the Employment Tax pages of IRS.gov, and in Announcement 2011-64, posted [September 21, 2011].

Some Good News for Innocent Spouses

By Stacie Kitts, CPA

What is innocent spouse relief?

Basically, if your spouse cheated on your jointly filed tax return – and you didn’t know about it – you can apply for relief from the taxes, penalties and interest that resulted from the misreporting.

The prior rules applied a two year limit from the time the IRS first took collection actions for the innocent spouse to file for relief.  The two year limit is now removed.

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service  announced that it will extend help to more innocent spouses by eliminating the two-year time limit that now applies to certain relief requests.

“In recent months, it became clear to me that we need to make significant changes involving innocent spouse relief,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “This change is a dramatic step to improve our process to make it fairer for an important group of taxpayers. We know these are difficult situations for people to face, and today’s change will help innocent spouses victimized in the past, present and the future.”

The IRS launched a thorough review of the equitable relief provisions of the innocent spouse program earlier this year. Policy and program changes with respect to that review will become fully operational in the fall and additional guidance will be forthcoming. However, with respect to expanding the availability of equitable relief:

  • The IRS will no longer apply the two-year limit to new equitable relief requests or requests currently being considered by the agency.
  • A taxpayer whose equitable relief request was previously denied solely due to the two-year limit may reapply using IRS Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief, if the collection statute of limitations for the tax years involved has not expired. Taxpayers with cases currently in suspense will be automatically afforded the new rule and should not reapply.
  • The IRS will not apply the two-year limit in any pending litigation involving equitable relief, and where litigation is final, the agency will suspend collection action under certain circumstances.

The change to the two-year limit is effective immediately, and details are in Notice 2011-70, posted today on IRS.gov.

Existing regulations, adopted in 2002, require that innocent spouse requests seeking equitable relief be filed within two years after the IRS first takes collection action against the requesting spouse. The time limit, adopted after a public hearing and public comment, was designed to encourage prompt resolution while evidence remained available. The IRS plans to issue regulations formally removing this time limit.

By law, the two-year election period for seeking innocent spouse relief under the other provisions of section 6015 of the Internal Revenue Code, continues to apply. The normal refund statute of limitations also continues to apply to tax years covered by any innocent spouse request.

Available only to someone who files a joint return, innocent spouse relief is designed to help a taxpayer who did not know and did not have reason to know that his or her spouse understated or underpaid an income tax liability. Publication 971, Innocent Spouse Relief, has more information about the program.

WooHoo Mileage Rate Increases to 55.5 Cents for Last 6 Months of Year

1910 Model T Ford

Katherman Kitts & Co. LLP Mileage Rates Update

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today announced an increase in the optional standard mileage rates for the final six months of 2011. Taxpayers may use the optional standard rates to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business and other purposes.

The rate will increase to 55.5 cents a mile for all business miles driven from July 1, 2011, through Dec. 31, 2011. This is an increase of 4.5 cents from the 51 cent rate in effect for the first six months of 2011, as set forth in Revenue Procedure 2010-51.
In recognition of recent gasoline price increases, the IRS made this special adjustment for the final months of 2011. The IRS normally updates the mileage rates once a year in the fall for the next calendar year.

“This year’s increased gas prices are having a major impact on individual Americans. The IRS is adjusting the standard mileage rates to better reflect the recent increase in gas prices,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We are taking this step so the reimbursement rate will be fair to taxpayers.”

While gasoline is a significant factor in the mileage figure, other items enter into the calculation of mileage rates, such as depreciation and insurance and other fixed and variable costs.

The optional business standard mileage rate is used to compute the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business use in lieu of tracking actual costs. This rate is also used as a benchmark by the federal government and many businesses to reimburse their employees for mileage.

The new six-month rate for computing deductible medical or moving expenses will also increase by 4.5 cents to 23.5 cents a mile, up from 19 cents for the first six months of 2011. The rate for providing services for charitable organizations is set by statute, not the IRS, and remains at 14 cents a mile.

The new rates are contained in Announcement 2011-40 on the optional standard mileage rates.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.

Mileage Rate Changes

Purpose Rates 1/1 through 6/30/11    Rates 7/1 through 12/31/11 
Business 51 55.5
  Medical/Moving 19 23.5
Charitable 14 14

The IRS on Your IPhone – Really-Really? When Did They Find The Time?

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

By Stacie Clifford Kitts, CPA

I’ll say it.  The IRS on your IPhone – Really – Really?  Everybody’s got an app so I shouldn’t be surprised about the IRS’s latest announcement of their new app IRS2Go.

But really, Schedule A filers must wait until Feb 14 to file their returns because the IRS’s computer programmers wont have the software ready until then.

But no worries, they have their priorities straight – they found the time and resources to create an IPhone app which is released 20 days before many taxpayers can file their returns.  Really?????

Can I have Doug Shulman’s job?  Pleeeeeeeeez

Video: IRS2Go: English

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today unveiled IRS2Go, its first smartphone application that lets taxpayers check on their status of their tax refund and obtain helpful tax information.

“This new smart phone app reflects our commitment to modernizing the agency and engaging taxpayers where they want when they want it,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “As technology evolves and younger taxpayers get their information in new ways, we will keep innovating to make it easy for all taxpayers to access helpful information.”

The IRS2Go phone app gives people a convenient way of checking on their federal refund. It also gives people a quick way of obtaining easy-to-understand tax tips.

Apple users can download the free IRS2Go application by visiting the Apple App Store. Android users can visit the Android Marketplace to download the free IRS2Go app.

“This phone app is a first step for us,” Shulman said. “We will look for additional ways to expand and refine our use of smartphones and other new technologies to help meet the needs of taxpayers.”

The mobile app, among a handful in the federal government, offers a number of safe and secure ways to help taxpayers. Features of the first release of the IRS2Go app include:

Get Your Refund Status

Taxpayers can check the status of their federal refund through the new phone app with a few basic pieces of information. First, taxpayers enter a Social Security number, which is masked and encrypted for security purposes. Next, taxpayers pick the filing status they used on their tax return. Finally, taxpayers enter the amount of the refund they expect from their 2010 tax return.

For people who e-file, the refund function of the phone app will work within about 72 hours after taxpayers receive an e-mail acknowledgement saying the IRS received their tax return.

For people filing paper tax returns, longer processing times mean they will need to wait three to four weeks before they can check their refund status.

About 70 percent of the 142 million individual tax returns were filed electronically last year.

Get Tax Updates

Phone app users enter their e-mail address to automatically get daily tax tips. Tax Tips are simple, straightforward tips and reminders to help with tax planning and preparation. Tax Tips are issued daily during the tax filing season and periodically during the rest of the year. The plain English updates cover topics such as free tax help, child tax credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit, education credits and other topics.

Follow the IRS

Taxpayers can sign up to follow the IRS Twitter news feed, @IRSnews. IRSnews provides the latest federal tax news and information for taxpayers. The IRSnews tweets provide easy-to-use information, including tax law changes and important IRS programs.

IRS2Go is the latest IRS effort to provide information to taxpayers beyond traditional channels. The IRS also uses tools such as YouTube and Twitter to share the latest information on tax changes, initiatives, products and services through social media channels. For more information on IRS2Go and other new media products, visit www.IRS.gov.

Related Item: IRS Goes Mobile With IRS2Go

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