IRS Launches New Online Tool to Assist Taxpayers with Basic Account Information

From the IRS –

IRS Launches New Online Tool to Assist Taxpayers with Basic Account Information

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service announced today the launch of an online application that will assist taxpayers with straightforward balance inquiries in a safe, easy and convenient way.

This new and secure tool, available on IRS.gov allows taxpayers to view their IRS account balance, which will include the amount they owe for tax, penalties and interest. Taxpayers may also continue to take advantage of the various online payment options available by accessing any of the payment features including: direct pay, pay by card and Online Payment Agreement. As part of the IRS vision for the future taxpayer experience, the IRS anticipates that other capabilities will continue to be added to this platform as they are developed and tested.

“This new tool is part of the IRS’s commitment to improve and expand taxpayer services by providing additional online taxpayer options,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The new ‘balance due’ feature, paired with the existing online payment options, will increase the availability of self-service interactions with the IRS. This will give taxpayers another way to take care of their tax obligations in a fast and secure manner.”

Before accessing the tool, taxpayers must authenticate their identities through the rigorous Secure Access process. This is a two-step authentication process, which means returning users must have their credentials (username and password) plus a security code sent as a text to their mobile phones.

Taxpayers who have registered using Secure Access for Get Transcript Online or Get an IP PIN may use their same username and password. To register for the first time, taxpayers must have an email address, a text-enabled mobile phone in the user’s name and specific financial information, such as a credit card number or specific loan numbers. Taxpayers may review the Secure Access process prior to starting registration.

As part of the security process to authenticate taxpayers, the IRS will send verification, activation or security codes via email and text. The IRS warns taxpayers that it will not initiate contact via text or email asking for log-in information or personal data. The IRS texts and emails will only contain one-time codes.

In addition to this new functionality, the IRS continues to provide several self-service tools and helpful resources available on IRS.gov for individuals, businesses and tax professionals.

IRS, Partners Move to Strengthen Anti-Fraud Effort with Form W-2 Verification Code

From the IRS –

IRS, Partners Move to Strengthen Anti-Fraud Effort with Form W-2 Verification Code

When you get your Form W-2 in early 2017, you may notice a new entry – a 16-digit verification code. This is part of an effort conducted by the Internal Revenue Service to protect taxpayers and strengthen anti-fraud efforts.

The expanded use of the W-2 Verification Code is a way to validate the wage and tax withholding information on the tax form. For taxpayers, taking a moment to add this code when filling out their taxes helps the IRS authenticate the information. This in turn helps protect against identity theft and unnecessary refund delays.

For 2017, the IRS and its partners in the payroll service provider industry will place the code on 50 million Forms W-2. This is up from two million forms in 2016.

The IRS, state tax agencies and the nation’s tax industry – partners in combating identity theft – ask for your help in their efforts. Working in partnership with you, we can make a difference.

That’s why we launched a public awareness campaign that we call Taxes. Security. Together. We’ve also launched a series of security awareness tips that can help protect you from cybercriminals.

One area where we need your help is with the W-2 Verification Code. If your W-2 contains the code, please enter it when prompted if using software to prepare your return. Or, please make sure your tax preparer enters it.

If the code is not included, your tax return will still be accepted. However, initial results indicate the verification code shows promise in reducing tax fraud. It helps IRS processing systems authenticate the real taxpayer. Identity thieves sometimes file false Forms W-2 to support their fraudulent tax returns.

This initiative will affect only those Forms W-2 prepared by payroll service providers. The verification code’s location on the form will vary. Enter the code on electronically filed returns only. Most software providers will prompt you to enter the code.

2017 Standard Mileage Rates for Business, Medical and Moving

From the IRS –

2017 Standard Mileage Rates for Business, Medical and Moving21

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued the 2017 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2017, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

  • 53.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, down from 54 cents for 2016
  • 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down from 19 cents for 2016
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

The business mileage rate decreased half a cent per mile and the medical and moving expense rates each dropped 2 cents per mile from 2016. The charitable rate is set by statute and remains unchanged.   The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs.

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

A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for more than four vehicles used simultaneously.

These and other requirements are described in Rev. Proc. 2010-51. Notice 2016-79, posted today on IRS.gov, contains the standard mileage rates, the amount a taxpayer must use in calculating reductions to basis for depreciation taken under the business standard mileage rate, and the maximum standard automobile cost that a taxpayer may use in computing the allowance under a fixed and variable rate plan.

Tax Preparedness Series: Tax Records – What to Keep

From the IRS –

Tax Preparedness Series: Tax Records – What to Keep

WASHINGTON – As tax filing season approaches, the Internal Revenue Service has information for taxpayers who wonder how long to keep tax returns and other documents.

Generally, the IRS recommends keeping copies of tax returns and supporting documents at least three years. Some documents should be kept up to seven years in case a taxpayer needs to file an amended return or if questions arise. Keep records relating to real estate up to seven years after disposing of the property.

Health care information statements should be kept with other tax records. Taxpayers do not need to send these forms to IRS as proof of health coverage. The records taxpayers should keep include records of any employer-provided coverage, premiums paid, advance payments of the premium tax credit received and type of coverage. Taxpayers should keep these – as they do other tax records – generally for three years after they file their tax returns.

Whether stored on paper or kept electronically, the IRS urges taxpayers to keep tax records safe and secure, especially any documents bearing Social Security numbers. The IRS also suggests scanning paper tax and financial records into a format that can be encrypted and stored securely on a flash drive, CD or DVD with photos or videos of valuables.

Now is a good time to set up a system to keep tax records safe and easy to find when filing next year, applying for a home loan or financial aid. Tax records must support the income, deductions and credits claimed on returns. Taxpayers need to keep these records if the IRS asks questions about a tax return or to file an amended return.

It is even more important for taxpayers to have a copy of last year’s tax return as the IRS makes changes to authenticate and protect taxpayer identity. Beginning in 2017, some taxpayers who e-file will need to enter either the prior-year Adjusted Gross Income or the prior-year self-select PIN and date of birth. If filing jointly, both taxpayers’ identities must be authenticated with this information. The AGI is clearly labeled on the tax return. Learn more at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

Taxpayers who need tax information can request a free transcript for the past three tax years. The ‘Get Transcript’ tool on IRS.gov is the fastest way to get a transcript.

If taxpayers are still keeping old tax returns and receipts stuffed in a shoebox in the back of the closet, they might want to rethink that approach. Keep tax, financial and health records safe and secure whether stored on paper or kept electronically. When records are no longer needed for tax purposes, ensure the data is properly destroyed to prevent the information from being used by identity thieves.

If disposing of an old computer, tablet, mobile phone or back-up hard drive, keep in mind it includes files and personal data. Removing this information may require special disk utility software. More information is available on IRS.gov at How long should I keep records?.

Tax Preparedness Series: Donations May Cut Tax Bills

From the IRS –

Tax Preparedness Series: Donations May Cut Tax Bills

WASHINGTON – As tax filing season approaches, the Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers who give money or goods to a charity by Dec. 31, 2016, that they may be able to claim a deduction on their 2016 federal income tax return and reduce their taxes.

Only donations to eligible organizations are tax-deductible. IRSSelect Check on IRS.gov is a searchable online tool that lists most eligible charitable organizations. Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations even if they are not listed in this database.

Claiming Charitable Donations

Only taxpayers who itemize using Form 1040 Schedule A can claim deductions for charitable contributions. Charitable deductions are not available to individuals who choose the standard deduction or file Form 1040A or 1040EZ.

Monetary Donations

A bank record or a written statement from the charity is needed to prove the amount of any donation of money. Bank records include canceled checks, and bank, credit union and credit card statements. Donations of money include by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. For payroll deductions, the taxpayer should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document furnished by the employer showing the total amount withheld for charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.

Donating Property

For donations of clothing and other household items the deduction amount is normally limited to the item’s fair market value. Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens. Clothing and household items must be in good or better condition to be tax-deductible. A clothing or household item for which a taxpayer claims a deduction of over $500 does not have to meet this standard if the taxpayer includes a qualified appraisal of the item with the return.

Donors must get a written acknowledgement from the charity for all gifts worth $250 or more. It must include, among other things, a description of the items contributed. Special rules apply to cars, boats and other types of property donations.

Benefit in Return

Donors who get something in return for their donation may have to reduce their deduction. Examples of benefits include merchandise, meals, tickets to an event or other goods and services.

Older IRA Owners Have a Different Way to Give

IRA owners, age 70½ or older, can transfer up to $100,000 per year to an eligible charity tax-free. Funds must be transferred directly by the IRA trustee to the eligible charity. For details, see Publication 590-B.

Good Records

The type of records a taxpayer needs to keep depends on the amount and type of the donation. An additional reporting form is required for many property donations and an appraisal is often required for larger donations of property. Visit IRS.gov and check out these useful resources:

 Charities and Non Profits

Publication 526, Charitable Contributions

Can I Deduct My Charitable Contributions?

Tax Preparedness Series: Tax Help for Self-Employed and Sharing Economy

From the IRS –

Tax Preparedness Series: Tax Help for Self-Employed and Sharing Economy

WASHINGTON – As tax filing season approaches, the Internal Revenue Service wants taxpayers who are self-employed or involved in the sharing economy to know about free resources that are available to help them with their taxes.

Sole proprietors and independent contractors can get helpful information from the IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center. This resource includes online tools such as the Tax Calendar for Businesses and Self-Employed, which has key tax dates and necessary actions for each month of the year.

For those who provide services to consumers, such as rides in personal vehicles for a fee or the use of property, such as apartments or homes for rent, the IRS created the Sharing Economy Resource Center. It has tips such as:

  • Income is generally taxable, even if the recipient does not receive a Form 1099, W-2 or some other income statement, but some or all business expenses may be deductible.
  • There are some simplified options available for deducting many business expenses.
  • People involved in the sharing economy often need to make estimated tax payments during the year to cover their tax obligation.
  • Alternatively, people involved in the sharing economy who are employees at another job can often avoid needing to make estimated tax payments by having more tax withheld from their paychecks. The Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov can also be a helpful resource.

The IRS also holds Small Business Events, workshops and seminars, at many locations throughout the country. Topics include paying self-employment and income tax on any net  profit, how to make estimated tax payments on income that is not subject to withholding, which expenses can be deducted as business expenses, and much more. The IRS Video Portal also has videos and webinars on many tax topics that may be helpful.

Visit the Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center on IRS.gov and remember, IRS tax forms are available any time on IRS.gov/forms.

Tax Preparedness Series: Special Tax Breaks for U. S. Armed Forces

From the IRS –

Tax Preparedness Series: Special Tax Breaks for U. S. Armed Forces

WASHINGTON – As tax filing season approaches, the Internal Revenue Service wants members of the military and their families to know about the special tax benefits available to them.

IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces Tax Guide, is a free booklet packed with valuable information and tips designed to help service members and their families take advantage of all tax benefits allowed by law. Here are some of those tax benefits.

  • Combat pay is partially or fully tax-free. Service members serving in support of a combat zone may also qualify for this exclusion.
  • Reservists whose reserve-related duties take them more than 100 miles from home can deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses, even if they don’t itemize their deductions.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit may be worth up to $6,269 for low-and moderate-income service members. A special computation method is available for those who receive nontaxable combat pay. Choosing to include it in taxable income may boost the EITC, meaning owing less tax or getting a larger refund.
  • An IRA or 401(k)-type plan might mean saving for retirement and cutting taxes too. Service members who contribute to a plan, such as the Thrift Savings Plan, may also be able to claim the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit.
  • An automatic extension to file a federal income tax return is available to U.S. service members stationed abroad. Also, those serving in a combat zone typically have until 180 days after they leave the combat zone to file and to pay any tax due. For more information see Miscellaneous Provisions — Combat Zone Service.
  • Both spouses normally must sign a joint income tax return, but if one spouse is absent due to certain military duty or conditions, the other spouse may be able to sign for him or her. A power of attorney is required in other instances. A military installation’s legal office may be able to help.
  • Those leaving the military and looking for work may be able to deduct some job search expenses, such as the costs of travel, preparing a resume and job placement agency fees. Moving expenses may also qualify for a tax deduction.

The IRS has a special page on IRS.gov with Tax Information for Members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

 

IRS Warns Taxpayers of Numerous Tax Scams Nationwide

From the IRS –

IRS Warns Taxpayers of Numerous Tax Scams Nationwide;  Provides Summary of Most Recent Schemes

WASHINGTON — As tax season approaches, the Internal Revenue Service, the states and the tax industry reminded taxpayers to be on the lookout for an array of evolving tax scams related to identity theft and refund fraud.

Every tax season, there is an increase in schemes that target innocent taxpayers by email, by phone and on-line. The IRS and Security Summit partners remind taxpayers and tax professionals to be on the lookout for these deceptive schemes.

“Whether it’s during the holidays or the approach of tax season, scam artists look for ways to use tax agencies and the tax industry to trick and confuse people,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “There are warning signs to these scams people should watch out for, and simple steps to avoid being duped into giving these criminals money, sensitive financial information or access to computers.”

This marks the fourth reminder to taxpayers during the “National Tax Security Awareness Week.” This week, the IRS, the states and the tax community are sending out a series of reminders to taxpayers and tax professionals as part of the ongoing Security Summit effort.

Some of the most prevalent IRS impersonation scams include:

Requesting fake tax payments: The IRS has seen automated calls where scammers leave urgent callback requests telling taxpayers to call back to settle their “tax bill.” These fake calls generally claim to be the last warning before legal action is taken. Taxpayers may also receive live calls from IRS impersonators. They may demand payments on prepaid debit cards, iTunes and other gift cards or wire transfer. The IRS reminds taxpayers that any request to settle a tax bill using any of these payment methods is a clear indication of a scam. (IR-2016-99)

Targeting students and parents and demanding payment for a fake “Federal Student Tax”: Telephone scammers are targeting students and parents demanding payments for fictitious taxes, such as the “Federal Student Tax.” If the person does not comply, the scammer becomes aggressive and threatens to report the student to the police to be arrested. (IR-2016-107)

Sending a fraudulent IRS bill for tax year 2015 related to the Affordable Care Act: The IRS has received numerous reports around the country of scammers sending a fraudulent version of CP2000 notices for tax year 2015. Generally, the scam involves an email or letter that includes the fake CP2000. The fraudulent notice includes a payment request that taxpayers mail a check made out to “I.R.S.” to the “Austin Processing Center” at a Post Office Box address. (IR-2016-123)

Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals:  Payroll and human resources professionals should be aware of phishing email schemes that pretend to be from company executives and request personal information on employees. The email contains the actual name of the company chief executive officer. In this scam, the “CEO” sends an email to a company payroll office employee and requests a list of employees and financial and personal information including Social Security numbers (SSN). (IR-2016-34)

Imitating software providers to trick tax professionals: Tax professionals may receive emails pretending to be from tax software companies. The email scheme requests the recipient download and install an important software update via a link included in the e-mail. Upon completion, tax professionals believe they have downloaded a software update when in fact they have loaded a program designed to track the tax professional’s key strokes, which is a common tactic used by cyber thieves to steal login information, passwords and other sensitive data. (IR-2016-103)

“Verifying” tax return information over the phone: Scam artists call saying they have your tax return, and they just need to verify a few details to process your return. The scam tries to get you to give up personal information such as a SSN or personal financial information, including bank numbers or credit cards. (IR-2016-40)

Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry: The emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. The phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. E-mails or text messages can seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information. (IR-2016-28)

If you receive an unexpected call, unsolicited email, letter or text message from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here are some of the tell-tale signs to help protect yourself.

The IRS Will Never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer or initiate contact by e-mail or text message. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  •  Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If you get a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Search the web for telephone numbers scammers leave in your voicemail asking you to call back. Some of the phone numbers may be published online and linked to criminal activity.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

14 interview questions that reveal the candidate’s true character

Interview questions need not be tricky. But they do need to reveal the character of what might be the next person on your payroll. Below is a list of questions you should consider asking your next job candidates, and what their answers might reveal.

  1. When were you excited about your work? This reveals what motivates your candidate. You want a person whose passions align with the job description.
  2. What major mistakes from your past do you not regret? From great failures come big lessons, so look for employees who recognize the importance of messing up.
  3. What’s your favorite movie? Remember, chemistry matters. It’s good to know what candidates enjoy doing. If not movies, perhaps they can tell you about books they have read or music they enjoy.
  4. What’s a misconception people have about you? You want employees who understand how they come across to other people.
  5. How happy are you in your current job? Look for people who are very happy at their jobs, or if not, who don’t talk negatively about their work environments or current employers. It’s all about attitude, which, you may have heard, is a choice.
  6. If you weren’t interviewing for this role, is there another role here you’d be interested in? You want to know if candidates are just trying to get their foot in the door, or if they really are passionate about this role.
  7. If I were to ask your current boss what your greatest strengths are, what would he or she say? This is another way to ask about strengths without candidates feeling as if they are bragging.
  8. If I were to ask your current boss what you do that drives him or her crazy, what would your boss say? This is another way to get at weaknesses or idiosyncrasies.
  9. Do you have any fears about this position or work environment? If the candidate has none, he or she might be too cocky or unclear on what you are asking.
  10. Describe the boss who would get the very best from you. This allows you to hear a little bit about the work environment they enjoy.
  11. Tell me about a time you had to be especially bold or honest in a work situation, despite the potential risk. Maybe the candidate will be in your face all the time, or perhaps he or she will never speak up. You will want to know either way.
  12. Let’s assume you take this job, and one year from now you go home after work feeling like this was the best decision of your life. What happened during that year to make you think that? This helps you get to some of the candidate’s unstated expectations or dreams.
  13. Describe a time you were asked to do something you didn’t know how to do. Is this a person who needs step-by-step instructions for every task or someone who is self-motivated to find the answer?
  14. Tell me about a time a boss asked you to do something you didn’t agree with, and how you responded. This will help you gauge the candidate’s interpersonal skills and ability to navigate conflict.

— Adapted from Fairness is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace, Tim Stevens, Nelson Books.