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IR-2013-28: IRS Seeks Volunteers for Taxpayer Advocacy Panel

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service seeks civic-minded volunteers to serve on the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP), which is a federal advisory committee that listens to taxpayers, identifies key issues, and makes recommendations for improving IRS services.

The TAP provides a forum for taxpayers to raise concerns about IRS service and offer suggestions for improvement. The TAP reports annually to the Secretary of the Treasury, the IRS Commissioner and the National Taxpayer Advocate. The Office of the Taxpayer Advocate is an independent organization within the IRS and provides oversight of the TAP.

“In trying to comply with an increasingly complex tax system, taxpayers may find they need different services than the IRS is currently providing,” said Nina E. Olson, National Taxpayer Advocate. “The TAP is vital because it provides the IRS with the taxpayers’ perspective as well as recommendations for improvement. This helps the IRS deliver the best possible service to assist taxpayers in meeting their tax obligations.”

The TAP includes members from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Each member is appointed to represent the interests of taxpayers in their geographic location as well as taxpayers as a whole.

New to the TAP

For the first time, the TAP this year is seeking to include at least one additional member to represent international taxpayers. For these purposes, “international taxpayers” are broadly defined to include U.S. citizens working, living, or doing business abroad or in a U.S. territory. The new international member will not be required to attend any face-to-face meetings and cannot be reimbursed for such expenditures if he or she chooses to attend.

To be a member of the TAP you must be a U.S. citizen, be current with your federal tax obligations, be able to commit 200 to 300 hours during the year, and pass an FBI criminal background check. New TAP members will serve a three-year term starting in December 2013. Applicants chosen as alternate members will be considered to fill any vacancies that open in their areas during the next three years.

The TAP is seeking members in the following locations: California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Puerto Rico and any other U.S. territory or location abroad. The panel needs alternates for the District of Columbia, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Applications for the TAP will be accepted through April 1, 2013. Applications are available online at http://www.improveirs.org. For additional information about the TAP or the application process, please call 1-888-912-1227 (a toll-free call) and select prompt number five. Callers who are outside of the U.S. and U.S. territories should call 954-423-7973 (not a toll-free call). You may also contact the TAP staff at taxpayeradvocacypanel@irs.gov for assistance.

 

IRS Tax Tip 2013-31: Important Facts about Mortgage Debt Forgiveness

If your lender cancelled or forgave your mortgage debt, you generally have to pay tax on that amount. But there are exceptions to this rule for some homeowners who had mortgage debt forgiven in 2012.

Here are 10 key facts from the IRS about mortgage debt forgiveness:

1. Cancelled debt normally results in taxable income. However, you may be able to exclude the cancelled debt from your income if the debt was a mortgage on your main home.

2. To qualify, you must have used the debt to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence. The residence must also secure the mortgage.

3. The maximum qualified debt that you can exclude under this exception is $2 million. The limit is $1 million for a married person who files a separate tax return.

4. You may be able to exclude from income the amount of mortgage debt reduced through mortgage restructuring. You may also be able to exclude mortgage debt cancelled in a foreclosure.

5. You may also qualify for the exclusion on a refinanced mortgage. This applies only if you used proceeds from the refinancing to buy, build or substantially improve your main home. The exclusion is limited to the amount of the old mortgage principal just before the refinancing.

6. Proceeds of refinanced mortgage debt used for other purposes do not qualify for the exclusion. For example, debt used to pay off credit card debt does not qualify.

7. If you qualify, report the excluded debt on Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness. Submit the completed form with your federal income tax return.

8. Other types of cancelled debt do not qualify for this special exclusion. This includes debt cancelled on second homes, rental and business property, credit cards or car loans. In some cases, other tax relief provisions may apply, such as debts discharged in certain bankruptcy proceedings. Form 982 provides more details about these provisions.

9. If your lender reduced or cancelled at least $600 of your mortgage debt, they normally send you a statement in January of the next year. Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, shows the amount of cancelled debt and the fair market value of any foreclosed property.

10. Check your Form 1099-C for the cancelled debt amount shown in Box 2, and the value of your home shown in Box 7. Notify the lender immediately of any incorrect information so they can correct the form.

Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to check if your cancelled debt is taxable. Also, see Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions and Abandonments. IRS forms and publications are available online at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Additional IRS Resources:

Interactive Tax Assistant tool
Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions and Abandonments
Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation
Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness
IRS YouTube Videos:

Mortgage Debt Forgiveness – English | Spanish | ASL

IRS Tax Tip 2013-25: Seven Important Tax Facts about Medical and Dental Expenses

Seven Important Tax Facts about Medical and Dental Expenses

If you paid for medical or dental expenses in 2012, you may be able to get a tax deduction for costs not covered by insurance. The IRS wants you to know these seven facts about claiming the medical and dental expense deduction.

1. You must itemize. You can only claim medical and dental expenses for costs not covered by insurance if you itemize deductions on your tax return. You cannot claim medical and dental expenses if you take the standard deduction.

2. Deduction is limited. You can deduct medical and dental expenses that are more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.

3. Expenses paid in 2012. You can include medical and dental costs that you paid in 2012, even if you received the services in a previous year. Keep good records to show the amount that you paid.

4. Qualifying expenses. You may include most medical or dental costs that you paid for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Some exceptions and special rules apply. Visit IRS.gov for more details.

5. Costs to include. You can normally claim the costs of diagnosing, treating, easing or preventing disease. The costs of prescription drugs and insulin qualify. The cost of medical, dental and some long-term care insurance also qualify.

6. Travel is included. You may be able to claim the cost of travel to obtain medical care. That includes the cost of public transportation or an ambulance as well as tolls and parking fees. If you use your car for medical travel, you can deduct the actual costs, including gas and oil. Instead of deducting the actual costs, you can deduct the standard mileage rate for medical travel, which is 23 cents per mile for 2012.

7. No double benefit. Funds from Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Arrangements used to pay for medical or dental costs are usually tax-free. Therefore, you cannot deduct expenses paid with funds from those plans.

You’ll find more information in IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses. Also see Publication 969, Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans. They are available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Additional IRS Resources:

Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses
Publication 969, Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans

IR-2013-22: Parents and Students: Check Out College Tax Benefits for 2012 and Years Ahead

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today reminded parents and students that now is a good time to see if they qualify for either of two college education tax credits or any of several other education-related tax benefits.

In general, the American opportunity tax credit, lifetime learning credit and tuition and fees deduction are available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. Eligible students include the primary taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse or a dependent of the taxpayer.

Though a taxpayer often qualifies for more than one of these benefits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in a particular year. The benefits are available to all taxpayers – both those who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and those who claim a standard deduction. The credits are claimed on Form 8863 and the tuition and fees deduction is claimed on Form 8917.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act, enacted Jan. 2, 2013, extended the American opportunity tax credit for another five years until the end of 2017. The new law also retroactively extended the tuition and fees deduction, which had expired at the end of 2011, through 2013. The lifetime learning credit did not need to be extended because it was already a permanent part of the tax code.

For those eligible, including most undergraduate students, the American opportunity tax credit will yield the greatest tax savings.  Alternatively, the lifetime learning credit should be considered by part-time students and those attending graduate school. For others, especially those who don’t qualify for either credit, the tuition and fees deduction may be the right choice.

All three benefits are available for students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. None of them can be claimed by a nonresident alien or married person filing a separate return. In most cases, dependents cannot claim these education benefits.

Normally, a student will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by the end of January of the following year. This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other information. However, amounts shown on this form may differ from amounts taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax benefits. Taxpayers should see the instructions to Forms 8863 and 8917 and Publication 970 for details on properly figuring allowable tax benefits.

Many of those eligible for the American opportunity tax credit qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Here are some key features of the credit:

  • The credit targets the first four years of post-secondary education, and a student must be enrolled at least half time. This means that expenses paid for a student who, as of the beginning of the tax year, has already completed the first four years of college do not qualify. Any student with a felony drug conviction also does not qualify.
  • Tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other required course materials generally qualify. Other expenses, such as room and board, do not.
  • The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000. That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.
  • The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
  • Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit is refundable. This means that even people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible student. Other education-related credits and deductions do not provide a benefit to people who owe no tax.

The lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and undergraduate students. Unlike the American opportunity tax credit, the limit on the lifetime learning credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Though the half-time student requirement does not apply, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills. Other features of the credit include:

  • Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance qualify as do other fees required for the course. Additional expenses do not.
  • The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.
  • Income limits are lower than under the American opportunity tax credit. For 2012, the full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $52,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $104,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $124,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $62,000 or more.

Like the lifetime learning credit, the tuition and fees deduction is available for all levels of post-secondary education, and the cost of one or more courses can qualify. The annual deduction limit is $4,000 for joint filers whose MAGI is $130,000 or less and other taxpayers whose MAGI is $65,000 or less. The deduction limit drops to $2,000 for couples whose MAGI exceeds $130,000 but is no more than $160,000, and other taxpayers whose MAGI exceeds $65,000 but is no more than $80,000.

Eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these provisions during the year by having less tax taken out of their paychecks. They can do this by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer.

There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many taxpayers. They include:

  • Scholarship and fellowship grants—generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.
  • Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.
  • Savings bonds used to pay for college—though income limits apply, interest is usually tax-free if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.
  • Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or save for a child’s college education.

Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the earned income tax credit.

The general comparison table in Publication 970 can be a useful guide to taxpayers in determining eligibility for these benefits. Details can also be found in the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center on IRS.gov.

 

IRS TAX TIP 2013-13: Determining Your Correct Filing Status

It’s important to use the correct filing status when filing your income tax return. It can impact the tax benefits you receive, the amount of your standard deduction and the amount of taxes you pay. It may even impact whether you must file a federal income tax return.

Are you single, married or the head of your household? There are five filing statuses on a federal tax return. The most common are “Single,” “Married Filing Jointly” and “Head of Household.” The Head of Household status may be the one most often claimed in error.

The IRS offers these seven facts to help you choose the best filing status for you.

1. Marital Status. Your marital status on the last day of the year is your marital status for the entire year.

2. If You Have a Choice. If more than one filing status fits you, choose the one that allows you to pay the lowest taxes.

3. Single Filing Status. Single filing status generally applies if you are not married, divorced or legally separated according to state law.

4. Married Filing Jointly. A married couple may file a return together using the Married Filing Jointly status. If your spouse died during 2012, you usually may still file a joint return for that year.

5. Married Filing Separately. If a married couple decides to file their returns separately, each person’s filing status would generally be Married Filing Separately.

6. Head of Household. The Head of Household status generally applies if you are not married and have paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home for yourself and a qualifying person.

7. Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. This status may apply if your spouse died during 2010 or 2011, you have a dependent child and you meet certain other conditions.

IRS e-file is the easiest way to file and will help you determine the correct filing status. If you file a paper return, the Interactive Tax Assistant at IRS.gov is a tool that will help you choose your filing status.

IRS Tax Tip 2013-11: Eight Tax Benefits for Parents

Your children may help you qualify for valuable tax benefits, such as certain credits and deductions. If you are a parent, here are eight benefits you shouldn’t miss when filing taxes this year.

1. Dependents. In most cases, you can claim a child as a dependent even if your child was born anytime in 2012. For more information, see IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information.

2. Child Tax Credit. You may be able to claim the Child Tax Credit for each of your children that were under age 17 at the end of 2012. If you do not benefit from the full amount of the credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. For more information, see the instructions for Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, and Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.

3. Child and Dependent Care Credit. You may be able to claim this credit if you paid someone to care for your child or children under age 13, so that you could work or look for work. See IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.

4. Earned Income Tax Credit. If you worked but earned less than $50,270 last year, you may qualify for EITC. If you have qualifying children, you may get up to $5,891 dollars extra back when you file a return and claim it. Use the EITC Assistant to find out if you qualify. See Publication 596, Earned Income Tax Credit.

5. Adoption Credit. You may be able to take a tax credit for certain expenses you incurred to adopt a child. For details about this credit, see the instructions for IRS Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses.

6. Higher education credits. If you paid higher education costs for yourself or another student who is an immediate family member, you may qualify for either the American Opportunity Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. Both credits may reduce the amount of tax you owe. If the American Opportunity Credit is more than the tax you owe, you could be eligible for a refund of up to $1,000. See IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.

7. Student loan interest. You may be able to deduct interest you paid on a qualified student loan, even if you do not itemize your deductions. For more information, see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.

8. Self-employed health insurance deduction – If you were self-employed and paid for health insurance, you may be able to deduct premiums you paid to cover your child. It applies to children under age 27 at the end of the year, even if not your dependent. See IRS.gov/aca for information on the Affordable Care Act.

IRS Tax Tip 2013-10 Missing Your W-2? Here’s What to Do

It’s a good idea to have all your tax documents together before preparing your 2012 tax return. You will need your W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, which employers should send by the end of January. Give it two weeks to arrive by mail.

If you have not received your W-2, follow these three steps:

1. Contact your employer first. Ask your employer – or former employer – to send your W-2 if it has not already been sent. Make sure your employer has your correct address.

2. Contact the IRS. After February 14, you may call the IRS at 800-829-1040 if you have not yet received your W-2. Be prepared to provide your name, address, Social Security number and phone number. You should also have the following information when you call:

• Your employer’s name, address and phone number;

• Your employment dates; and

• An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld in 2012, based upon your final pay stub or leave-and-earnings statement, if available.

3. File your return on time. You should still file your tax return on or before April 15, 2013, even if you have not yet received your W-2. File Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, in place of the W-2. Use the form to estimate your income and withholding taxes as accurately as possible. The IRS may delay processing your return while it verifies your information.

If you need more time to file you can get a six-month extension of time. File Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File US Individual Income Tax Return. If you are requesting an extension, you must file this form on or before April 15, 2013.

If you receive the missing W-2 after filing your tax return and the information on the W-2 is different from what you reported using Form 4852, then you must correct your tax return. File Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return to amend your tax return.

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