Who needs an “Employer Identification Number”?

imagesBAJRGL3GThere are a few qualifications that determine if you need Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS:

  • If you operate your business as a corporation or partnership.
  • If you file reports for employment taxes, excise tax, or alcohol, tobacco and firearms.
  • If you have one or more employees.
  • If you have a self-employed retirement plan.
  • If you operate as any of several other organizations.

Obtaining an EIN is very quick and simple. Go to http://www.irs.gov. Once there, use the search box and type in “EIN” online. You will be taken to the page that allows you to answer questions online and you will get your EIN upon validation of your answers. You will be able to download and print your confirmation notice.

If you need assistance, please contact our office. We are here to help you.

#TaxTipTuesday- Did you know you may be able to deduct miles driven for purposes other than business?

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Deduct all of the mileage you’re entitled to — but not more

Rather than keeping track of the actual cost of operating a vehicle, employees and self-employed taxpayers can use a standard mileage rate to compute their deduction related to using a vehicle for business. But you might also be able to deduct miles driven for other purposes, including medical, moving and charitable purposes.

 

 

What are the deduction rates?

The rates vary depending on the purpose and the year:

Business: 54 cents (2016), 53.5 cents (2017)

Medical: 19 cents (2016), 17 cents (2017)

Moving: 19 cents (2016), 17 cents (2017)

Charitable: 14 cents (2016 and 2017)

The business standard mileage rate is considerably higher than the medical, moving and charitable rates because the business rate contains a depreciation component. No depreciation is allowed for the medical, moving or charitable use of a vehicle.

In addition to deductions based on the standard mileage rate, you may deduct related parking fees and tolls.

 

 

What other limits apply?

The rules surrounding the various mileage deductions are complex. Some are subject to floors and some require you to meet specific tests in order to qualify.

For example, miles driven for health-care-related purposes are deductible as part of the medical expense deduction. But medical expenses generally are deductible only to the extent they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. (For 2016, the deduction threshold is 7.5% for qualifying seniors.)

And while miles driven related to moving can be deductible, the move must be work-related. In addition, among other requirements, the distance from your old residence to the new job must be at least 50 miles more than the distance from your old residence to your old job.

 

 

Other considerations

There are also substantiation requirements, which include tracking miles driven. And, in some cases, you might be better off deducting actual expenses rather than using the mileage rates.

So contact us to help ensure you deduct all the mileage you’re entitled to on your 2016 tax return — but not more. You don’t want to risk back taxes and penalties later.

And if you drove potentially eligible miles in 2016 but can’t deduct them because you didn’t track them, start tracking your miles now so you can potentially take advantage of the deduction when you file your 2017 return next year.

2016 proof of health insurance: the Form 1095

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Under the current Affordable Care Act (ACA), all Americans must have health insurance. If you receive your health insurance through the ACA marketplace or from your employer, you will receive a Form 1095. This form is used as documentation that you have adequate insurance and is used for other ACA reporting and potential tax benefits.

What’s happening now

Prior to filing your tax return you should receive your Form 1095 and review it for accuracy. If you receive your health insurance through a state or federal marketplace you will receive Form 1095-A. Otherwise your version of the form will be either Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C. Unfortunately, some providers of the “B and C” versions of Form 1095 are still having trouble issuing the forms on time. Because of this, the IRS has issued a notice backing off on this “receive the form before you file” requirement. While you will still need to prove you have adaquate health insurance, the suppliers of the Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C were given until as late as March 2 to get the form out to you.

What to do

  • If you have health insurance through a state or federal marketplace, you will receive a Form 1095-A. You should have already received this form, and you must have it prior to filing your tax return.
  • If you receive health insurance through your employer, or another program that generates Form 1095-B or 1095-C, for 2016 only, you can still file a tax return without receiving the form. Just make sure you can prove health insurance coverage for you, your spouse, and your dependents for the year.
  • Place Form 1095 in your tax files. Even though some Forms 1095-B and Forms 1095-C will be received later, you must still retain the form in your files.
  • If you file your tax return and then discover an error in your reporting based on a Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C received after February 1, there is penalty relief from the IRS if you need to amend your tax return.

Remember, this applies to the 2016 tax year only. For the 2017 tax year, unless changed, you will be required to use a Form 1095 as proof of health insurance prior to filing your tax return.

How to prevent identity theft from affecting you

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The IRS has made great strides in protecting taxpayers from identity thieves, but you must still be diligent to protect your information.

Identity thieves can steal a taxpayer’s personal information and use it to file a tax return claiming a refund under the taxpayer’s name. Then when the taxpayer actually files a return, the IRS won’t accept it and notifies the taxpayer that a return under his or her name and ID number has already been filed.

The IRS recommends that taxpayers should do the following in order to avoid becoming an identity theft victim:

  • Guard your personal information. Identity thieves can get your information by stealing your wallet or purse, going through your trash, or posing as someone who needs your information for a legitimate reason.
  • Watch out for IRS impersonators. Don’t fall for phone calls, faxes, e-mails, or other contacts made by people claiming to be from the IRS. Do not respond to the message, open any attachments in an e-mail or click on any links.
  • The IRS recommends that you enter “phishing” in the search box at the top of its website (www.irs.gov) to get more information on avoiding tax scams. E-mail suspected scams to phishing@irs.gov.
  • Protect information on your computer. Protect your tax information with a password, and once you’re finished with your tax data, take it off your hard drive.

#TaxTipTuesday-Do you need to file a 2016 gift tax return by April 18?

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Last year you may have made significant gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs as part of your estate planning strategy. Or perhaps you just wanted to provide loved ones with some helpful financial support. Regardless of the reason for making a gift, it’s important to know under what circumstances you’re required to file a gift tax return.
Some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax. And sometimes it’s desirable to file a return even if it isn’t required.

 
When filing is required
Generally, you’ll need to file a gift tax return for 2016 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:
• That exceeded the $14,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse),
• That exceeded the $148,000 annual exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse,
• That you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $28,000 annual exclusions,
• To a Section 529 college savings plan for your child, grandchild or other loved one and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($70,000) into 2016,
• Of future interests — such as remainder interests in a trust — regardless of the amount, or
• Of jointly held or community property.

 
When filing isn’t required
No return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of annual exclusion gifts, present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse, qualifying educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, and political or charitable contributions.
If you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.

 
Meeting the deadline
The gift tax return deadline is the same as the income tax filing deadline. For 2016 returns, it’s April 18, 2017 (or October 16 if you file for an extension). If you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is also April 18, regardless of whether you file for an extension.
Have questions about gift tax and the filing requirements? Contact us to learn more.

You may be asked for more information if you claim certain credits

thjntenazsDon’t be surprised if you’re required to answer additional questions this year if you claim the Child Tax Credit (CTC), Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), or American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). For the CTC and ACTC credits, you may be asked how long your children lived with you over the past year, or whether they lived with an ex-spouse, relatives or other guardian.

If you are eligible for the AOTC, which is a credit to defray as much as $2,500 in higher education costs for you or your children, you will need to provide Form 1098-T from the college or university. You will also need receipts for related expenses.

You may also be asked to double-check your forms for incorrect Social Security numbers and dates of birth for the dependents on your return, as these are two common sources of error.

These common errors have helped to make the EIC and the other credits a major source of what the IRS calls “improper payments.” The agency estimates that of the $66 billion in EIC funds paid in 2015, nearly a quarter were collected by filers who didn’t qualify to receive them. As a result, the IRS is requiring tax preparers to ask more questions. Starting this year, tax preparers who don’t document their compliance with these new requirements could face fines of up to $510 per return.

If you get more questions than usual or are asked for additional documents, be aware that it’s just a new requirement.

Why you should consider using HRAs to help employees with medical costs

puzzle-1020409__340A health reimbursement arrangement, or HRA, is a benefit plan you can offer to your employees to reimburse them for medical expenses that are not covered by an insurance plan. HRAs offer tax benefits, including the deductibility of contributions you make to your employees’ accounts. Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect, if you employed 50 or fewer workers, your ability to provide HRAs to your employees may have been limited. However, a law passed in December 2016 created a new type of HRA that you can offer if you do not provide group health insurance.

The 21st Century Cures Act allows “stand-alone” HRAs if the accounts meet funding and other requirements. These new HRAs allow you to help your employees pay for medical costs, such as the reimbursement of premiums for policies purchased on the healthcare exchange. In addition, the Act extends relief from the $100 per day penalty for prior arrangements that did not meet Affordable Care Act rules.

Please contact us for more information about this new employee benefit option. This discussion could be crucial given the uncertainty of future ACA rules.

#TaxTipTuesday-What you need to know about the tax treatment of ISOs

Incentive stock options allow you to buy company stock in the future at a fixed price equal to or greater than the stock’s fair market value on the grant date. If the stock appreciates, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re then trading for. However, complex tax rules apply to this type of compensation.

 

Current tax treatment

ISOs must comply with many rules but receive tax-favored treatment:

  • You owe no tax when ISOs are granted.
  • You owe no regular income tax when you exercise ISOs, but there could be alternative minimum tax (AMT) consequences.
  • If you sell the stock after holding the shares at least one year from the exercise date and two years from the grant date, you pay tax on the sale at your long-term capital gains rate. You also may owe the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).
  • If you sell the stock before long-term capital gains treatment applies, a “disqualifying disposition” occurs and any gain is taxed as compensation at ordinary-income rates.

So if you were granted ISOs in 2016, there likely isn’t any impact on your 2016 income tax return. But if in 2016 you exercised ISOs or you sold stock you’d acquired via exercising ISOs, then it could affect your 2016 tax liability. And it’s important to properly report the exercise or sale on your return to avoid potential interest and penalties for underpayment of tax.

Future exercises and stock sales

If you receive ISOs in 2017 or already hold ISOs that you haven’t yet exercised, plan carefully when to exercise them. Waiting to exercise ISOs until just before the expiration date (when the stock value may be the highest, assuming the stock is appreciating) may make sense. But exercising ISOs earlier can be advantageous in some situations.

Once you’ve exercised ISOs, the question is whether to immediately sell the shares received or to hold on to them long enough to garner long-term capital gains treatment. The latter strategy often is beneficial from a tax perspective, but there’s also market risk to consider. For example, it may be better to sell the stock in a disqualifying disposition and pay the higher ordinary-income rate if it would avoid AMT on potentially disappearing appreciation.

The timing of the sale of stock acquired via an exercise could also positively or negatively affect your liability for higher ordinary-income tax rates, the top long-term capital gains rate and the NIIT.

Planning ahead

Keep in mind that the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and lawmakers in Washington are starting to take steps to repeal or replace the ACA. So the NIIT may not be a factor in the future. In addition, tax law changes are expected later this year that might include elimination of the AMT and could reduce ordinary and long-term capital gains rates for some taxpayers. When changes might go into effect and exactly what they’ll be is still uncertain.

If you’ve received ISOs, contact us. We can help you ensure you’re reporting everything properly on your 2016 return and evaluate the risks and crunch the numbers to determine the best strategy for you going forward.

The real definition of “dependent” may surprise you

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Many people think of a “dependent” as a minor child who lives with you. This is true, but it’s important to remember dependents can include parents, other relatives and nonrelatives, and even children who don’t live with you.

Exemptions and your taxable income. Each dependent deduction is worth $4,050 on your 2016 and 2017 federal income tax returns. This exemption reduces your taxable income by this amount. You’ll lose part of the benefit when your adjusted gross income reaches a certain level. For 2016, the phase-out begins at $311,300 when you’re married filing jointly and $259,400 when you’re single.

Definition of a dependent. A dependent is a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. While there are specific rules, generally, a dependent is someone who lives with you and who meets several tests, including a support test. For qualifying children, the support test means the child cannot have provided more than half of his or her own support for the year. For qualifying relatives, the support test means you generally must provide more than half of that person’s total support during the year. There are many exceptions. For example, parents don’t have to live with you if they otherwise qualify, but certain other relatives do. If you’re divorced and a noncustodial parent, your child doesn’t necessarily have to live with you for the dependent deduction to apply.

Who can’t be claimed? Your spouse is never your dependent. In addition, you generally may not claim a married person as a dependent if that person files a joint return with a spouse. Also, a dependent must be a U.S. citizen, resident alien, national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico for part of the year.

For a seemingly simple deduction, claiming an exemption for a dependent can be quite complex. You’ll want to get it right, because being able to claim someone as a dependent can lead to other tax benefits, including the child tax credit, education credits, and the dependent care credit.

Contact our office to learn who qualifies as your dependent. We’ll help you make the most of your federal income tax exemptions.