Five Tips on Whether to File a 2016 Tax Return

From the IRS –

Five Tips on Whether to File a 2016 Tax Return

Most people file a tax return because they have to. Even if a taxpayer doesn’t have to file, there are times they should. They may be eligible for a tax refund and not know it.

Here are five tips on whether to file a tax return:

  1. General Filing Rules.  In most cases, income, filing status and age determine if a taxpayer must file a tax return. Other rules may apply if the taxpayer is self-employed or a dependent of another person. For example, if a taxpayer is single and under age 65, they must file if their income was at least $10,350. There are other instances when a taxpayer must file. Go to IRS.gov/filing  for more information.
  2. Tax Withheld or Paid.  Did the taxpayer’s employer withhold federal income tax from their pay? Did the taxpayer make estimated tax payments? Did they overpay last year and have it applied to this year’s tax? If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, they could be due a refund. They have to file a tax return to get it.
  3. Earned Income Tax Credit.  A taxpayer who worked and earned less than $53,505 last year could receive the EITC as a tax refund. They must qualify and may do so with or without a qualifying child. They may be eligible for up to $6,269. Taxpayers need to file a tax return to claim the EITC.
  4. Additional Child Tax Credit.  Did the taxpayer have at least one child that qualifies for the Child Tax Credit? If they do not qualify for the full credit amount, they may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. Beginning in January 2017, by law, the IRS must hold refunds for any tax return claiming either the EITC or the Additional Child Tax Credit until Feb. 15. This means the entire refund, not just the part related to either credit.
  5. American Opportunity Tax Credit.  To claim the AOTC, the taxpayer, their spouse or their dependent must have been a student enrolled at least half time for one academic period to qualify. The credit is available for four years of post-secondary education. It can be worth up to $2,500 per eligible student. Even if the taxpayer doesn’t owe any taxes, they may still qualify. Complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file it with the tax return. Learn more by visiting the Education Credits web page.

All taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity.

Note to clients: We recommend you keep your tax returns a minimum of four years, and even better is seven. The IRS may audit a return for any reason for up to three years after it is filed. If they believe you substantially underreported your income, they have six years to audit. There is no limit if the suspect criminal tax fraud.

Create Strong Passwords

From the IRS –

Create Strong Passwords

Passwords are often the key to the identification and authentication process for access to your computer, email and encrypted information, both received and transmitted. For this reason, it is critical to your business and the security of your client data that you have strong passwords and that you protect those passwords.

Here are some things you should consider in creating and protecting passwords:

  • Longer passwords are safe and more difficult to guess. A strong password should be a minimum of eight characters. It should include a combination of letters, numbers and symbols or special characters. Your password should include at least one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one number and one symbol or character.
  • Personal information should not be included in your passwords.  Names of siblings, children, pets, etc., are generally available on social media, which makes it easier for cybercriminals to figure out your password.
  • Avoid using the same password for all of your information systems, accounts or devices. If someone does guess one password, they will not have access to all your systems, devices or data.
  • Substitute numbers and symbols for letters in words or phrases to make it more difficult to guess a password.
  • Do not share your password and be careful of attempts to trick you into revealing your password.

For additional information, see the Department of Homeland Security’s “Creating a Password Tip Card.”

How the IRS Taxpayer Bill of Rights Works

From the IRS –

How the IRS Taxpayer Bill of Rights Works

Taxpayers have fundamental rights under the law. The “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” presents these rights in 10 categories. This helps taxpayers when they interact with the IRS.

Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer, highlights a list of taxpayer rights and the agency’s obligations to protect them. Here is a wrap-up of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights:

1. The Right to Be Informed.

Taxpayers have the right to know what is required to comply with the tax laws. They are entitled to clear explanations of the laws and IRS procedures in all tax forms, instructions, publications, notices and correspondence. They have the right to know about IRS decisions affecting their accounts and clear explanations of the outcomes.

2. The Right to Quality Service.

Taxpayers have the right to receive prompt, courteous and professional assistance in their dealings with the IRS and the freedom to speak to a supervisor about inadequate service. Communications from the IRS should be clear and easy to understand.

3. The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax.

Taxpayers have the right to pay only the amount of tax legally due, including interest and penalties. They should also expect the IRS to apply all tax payments properly.

4. The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard.

Taxpayers have the right to object to formal IRS actions or proposed actions and provide justification with additional documentation. They should expect that the IRS will consider their timely objections and documentation promptly and fairly. If the IRS does not agree with their position, they should expect a response.

5. The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum.

Taxpayers are entitled to a fair and impartial administrative appeal of most IRS decisions, including certain penalties. Taxpayers have the right to receive a written response regarding a decision from the Office of Appeals. Taxpayers generally have the right to take their cases to court.

6. The Right to Finality.

Taxpayers have the right to know the maximum amount of time they have to challenge an IRS position and the maximum amount of time the IRS has to audit a particular tax year or collect a tax debt. Taxpayers have the right to know when the IRS concludes an audit.

7. The Right to Privacy.

Taxpayers have the right to expect that any IRS inquiry, examination or enforcement action will comply with the law and be no more intrusive than necessary. They should expect such proceedings to respect all due process rights, including search and seizure protections. The IRS will provide, where applicable, a collection due process hearing.

8. The Right to Confidentiality.

Taxpayers have the right to expect that their tax information will remain confidential. The IRS will not disclose information unless authorized by the taxpayer or by law. Taxpayers should expect the IRS to take appropriate action against employees, return preparers and others who wrongfully use or disclose their return information.

9. The Right to Retain Representation.

Taxpayers have the right to retain an authorized representative of their choice to represent them in their dealings with the IRS. Taxpayers have the right to seek assistance from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic if they cannot afford representation.

10. The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System.

Taxpayers have the right to expect fairness from the tax system. This includes considering all facts and circumstances that might affect their underlying liabilities, ability to pay or ability to provide information timely. Taxpayers have the right to receive assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service if they are experiencing financial difficulty or if the IRS has not resolved their tax issues properly and timely through its normal channels.

The IRS will include Publication 1 when sending a notice to taxpayers on a range of issues, such as an audit or collection matter. IRS offices display the rights for taxpayers and employees to see.

Publication 1 is available in  English, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

All taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

Security Summit Alert: New Two-Stage E-mail Scheme Targets Tax Professionals

Note to clients – If you email us your tax organizer you may get a call from us to confirm you sent it. If you like, you can call us and give us a heads up that you are emailing your information to us, so we will know it’s really from you (see article below). Even better, use our secure client portal. If you have not already starting use this free service we provide, send us an email and we will get your account set up.

From the IRS –

Security Summit Alert: New Two-Stage E-mail Scheme Targets Tax Professionals

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and tax industry leaders today warned tax professionals to be alert to an email scam from cybercriminals posing as clients soliciting their services.

A new variation of this phishing scheme is targeting accounting and tax preparation firms nationwide. The scheme’s objective is to collect sensitive information that will allow fraudsters to prepare fraudulent tax returns.

These latest phishing emails come in typically two stages. The first email is the solicitation, which asks tax professionals questions such as “I need a preparer to file my taxes.” If the tax professional responds, the cybercriminal sends a second email. This second email typically has either an embedded web address or contains a PDF attachment that has an embedded web address.

In some cases, the phishing emails may appear to come from a legitimate sender or organization (perhaps even a friend or colleague) because they also have been victimized. Fraudsters have taken over their accounts to send phishing emails.

The tax professional may think they are downloading a potential client’s tax information or accessing a site with the potential client’s tax information. In reality, the cybercriminals are collecting the preparer’s email address and password and possibly other information.

The IRS urges tax professionals and tax preparation firms to consider creating internal policies or obtain security experts’ recommendations on how to address unsolicited emails seeking their services.

One tip: Never respond to or click on a link in an unsolicited email or PDF attachment from an unknown sender. As the IRS, states and the tax industry make progress in the fight against identity theft, cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated in their efforts to steal additional client information. Criminals need more data in their effort to impersonate clients and file fraudulent returns to claim refunds, and schemes like this can help in this effort.

 

The Health Care Law & Your Taxes: Not Too Early to Determine if You Qualify for Exemption

From the IRS –

The Health Care Law & Your Taxes: Not Too Early to Determine if You Qualify for Exemption

With the 2017 tax filing season approaching, it’s not too early to think about how the health care law affects your taxes. The Affordable Care Act requires you and each member of your family to do at least one of the following:

  • Have qualifying health coverage called minimum essential coverage
  • Qualify for a health coverage exemption
  • Make a shared responsibility payment with your federal income tax return for the months that you did not have coverage or an exemption

If you meet certain criteria for the tax year, you may be exempt from the requirement to have minimum essential coverage. You will not have to make a shared responsibility payment for any month that you are exempt. Instead, you’ll file Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions, with your federal income tax return. For any month that you do not qualify for a coverage exemption, you will need to have minimum essential coverage or make a shared responsibility payment.   You may be exempt if you meet one of the following:

  • The lowest-cost coverage available to you is considered unaffordable
  • You have a gap in coverage that is less than 3 consecutive months
  • You qualify for an exemption for one of several other reasons, including having a hardship that prevents you from obtaining coverage, or belonging to a group specifically exempt from the coverage requirement

The Federally-facilitated Marketplace is no longer granting exemptions for members of a health care sharing ministry, members of Indian Tribes, and incarceration. Eligible individuals can still claim these exemptions on a tax return. For a full list of exemptions and how to claim them, see our Individual Shared Responsibility Provision – Exemptions: Claiming or Reporting page on IRS.gov/aca.

Find out if you’re eligible for a coverage exemption or must make a payment by using our interactive tool, Am I eligible for a coverage exemption or required to make an Individual Shared Responsibility Payment?.

Federal tax returns that do not reflect at least one of these options – reporting health care coverage, claiming a coverage exemption or reporting a shared responsibility payment –  will be rejected if the return is filed electronically. If filed on paper,tax  returns that do not reflect at least one of these options will take longer to process and any refunds will be delayed.You should respond promptly to IRS correspondence about your health care coverage.

IRS, States, Industry Urge Taxpayers to Learn Signs of Identity Theft

From the IRS –

IRS, States, Industry Urge Taxpayers to Learn Signs of Identity Theft

No matter how careful you are, identity thieves may be able to steal your personal information. If this happens, thieves try to turn that data quickly into cash by filing fraudulent tax returns.

The IRS, state tax agencies and the nation’s tax industry ask for your help in their effort to combat identity theft and fraudulent returns. Working in partnership with you, we can make a difference.

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

Here are a few signs that you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft:

  1. Your attempt to file your tax return electronically is rejected. You get a message saying a return with a duplicate Social Security number has been filed. First, check to make sure you did not transpose any numbers. Also, make sure one of your dependents, for example, your college-age child, did not file a tax return and claim themselves. If your information is accurate, and you still can’t successfully e-file because of a duplicate SSN, you may be a victim of identity theft. You should complete Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Attach it to the top of a paper tax return and mail to the IRS.
  2. You receive a letter from the IRS asking you to verify whether you sent a tax return bearing your name and SSN. The IRS holds suspicious tax returns and sends taxpayers letters to verify them. If you did not file the tax return, follow the instructions in the IRS letter immediately.
  3. You receive income information at tax time from an employer unknown to you. Employment-related identity theft involves the use of your SSN by someone, generally an undocumented worker, for employment purposes only.
  4. You receive a tax refund that you did not request. You may receive a paper refund check by mail that the thief intended to have sent elsewhere. If you receive a tax refund you did not request, return it to the IRS. Write “VOID” in the endorsement section, and include a note on why you are returning it. If it is a direct deposit refund that you did not request, contact your bank and ask them to return it to the IRS. Search IRS.gov for “Returning an Erroneous Refund” for more information.
  5. You receive a tax transcript by mail that you did not request. Identity thieves sometimes try to test the validity of the personal data they have chosen or they attempt to use your data to steal even more information. If you receive a tax transcript in the mail and you did not request it, be alert to the possibility of identity theft.
  6. You receive a reloadable, pre-paid debit card in the mail that you did not request. Identity thieves sometimes use your name and address to create an account for a reloadable prepaid debit card that they use for various schemes, including tax-related identity theft.

More information about tax-related identity theft can be found at Identity Protection: Prevention, Detection and Victim Assistance as well as the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft – all on IRS.gov.

The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry joined together as the Security Summit to enact a series of initiatives to help protect you from tax-related identity theft.

To learn additional steps you can take to protect your personal and financial data, visit Taxes. Security. Together. Also read Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers.