Are Social Security Benefits Taxable?

From the IRS –

Are Social Security Benefits Taxable?

If taxpayers receive Social Security benefits, they may have to pay federal income tax on part of those benefits. These IRS tips will help taxpayers determine if they need to do so.

  • Form SSA-1099.  If taxpayers received Social Security benefits in 2016, they should receive a Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, showing the amount of their benefits.
  • Only Social Security.  If Social Security was a taxpayer’s only income in 2016, their benefits may not be taxable. They also may not need to file a federal income tax return. If they get income from other sources, they may have to pay taxes on some of their benefits.
  • Tax Formula.  Here’s a quick way to find out if a taxpayer must pay taxes on their Social Security benefits: Add one-half of the Social Security income to all other income, including tax-exempt interest. Then compare that amount to the base amount for their filing status. If the total is more than the base amount, some of their benefits may be taxable.
  • Base Amounts. The three base amounts are:
    • $25,000 – if taxpayers  are single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child or married filing separately and lived apart from their spouse for all of 2016
    • $32,000 – if they are married filing jointly
    • $0 – if they are married filing separately and lived with their spouse at any time during the year

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.

Additional IRS Resources:

IRS YouTube Videos:

Avoid the Rush: Be Prepared to Validate Identity if Calling the IRS

From the IRS –

Avoid the Rush: Be Prepared to Validate Identity if Calling the IRS

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service said mid-February marks the agency’s busiest time of the year for telephone calls. The IRS is reminding taxpayers who have questions about their tax accounts to be prepared to validate their identity when speaking with an IRS assistor. This will help avoid the need for a repeat call.

The IRS recognizes the importance of protecting taxpayers’ identities. That’s why IRS call center assistors take great care to make certain that they only discuss personal information with the taxpayer or someone authorized to speak on the taxpayer’s behalf.

Customer service representatives can answer refund questions beginning 21 days after the return was filed. Taxpayers should use “Where’s My Refund?” to track the status of their refund. Taxpayers who are e-filing their return and need their prior year adjusted gross income should use the Get Transcript tool on IRS.gov. IRS telephone assistors cannot provide prior-year adjusted gross income over the phone for filing purposes.

Where’s My Refund?” will be updated Feb. 18 for the vast majority of early filers who claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. Before Feb. 18, some taxpayers may see a projected date or a message that the IRS is processing their return.

By law, the IRS is required to hold EITC and ACTC refunds until Feb. 15. However, taxpayers may not see those refunds until the week of Feb. 27. Due to differing timeframes with financial institutions, weekends and the Presidents Day holiday, these refunds likely will not start arriving in bank accounts or on debit cards until the week of Feb. 27 — if there are no processing issues with the tax return and the taxpayer chose direct deposit.

The IRS phone assistors do not have additional information on refund dates beyond what taxpayers have access to on “Where’s My Refund?”. Given high call volumes, taxpayers should not call unless directed to do so by the refund tool. In addition, a common myth is that people can get their refund date earlier by ordering a tax transcript. There is no such “secret” option to find a refund date by calling the IRS or ordering a transcript; just check “Where’s My Refund?” once a day.

If Calling About a Personal Tax Account

Before calling about a personal tax account, have the following information handy:

  • Social Security numbers and birth dates for those listed on the tax return
  • An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for those without a Social Security number (SSN)
  • Filing status – Single, Head of Household, Married Filing Joint or Married Filing Separate
  • Prior-year tax return. The IRS may need to verify identity before answering certain questions
  • A copy of the tax return in question
  • Any letters or notices received from the IRS.

If Calling About a Letter 4883C

At this time of year, the IRS begins sending letters to taxpayers inquiring about suspicious tax returns it has identified. It’s important for the IRS and the taxpayer to confirm whether or not the taxpayer actually filed the return in question. Taxpayers have 30 days to call, which allows time to avoid the rush around Presidents’ Day.

To expedite the process when calling, taxpayers MUST have:

  • The IRS letter
  • Copy of prior year tax return (if filed)
  • Current year tax return (if filed)
  • Any supporting documents for each year’s return (such as W-2’s, 1099’s, Schedule C, Schedule F, etc.)

If Calling About Someone Else’s Account

IRS call center assistors will only speak with the taxpayer or their legally designated representative. Before calling, have the following information handy:

If Calling About a Deceased Taxpayer

Be prepared to fax:

To better serve taxpayers around the President’s Day holiday, the peak time of the year for telephone calls to the IRS, the IRS toll-free lines will be open Saturday, Feb. 18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (callers’ local time) and Monday, Feb. 20, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (callers’ local time).

Six Tax Tips for the Self-Employed

From the IRS –

Six Tax Tips for the Self-Employed

Self-employed taxpayers normally earn income by carrying on a trade or business. Here are six important tips from the IRS for the self-employed:

  • Estimated Tax. Self-employed taxpayers generally need to make quarterly estimated tax payments. IRS Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, has details on making those payments.
  • Schedule C or C-EZ. Self-employed taxpayers must file a Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, or Schedule C-EZ, Net Profit from Business, with their Form 1040. For expenses less than $5,000, use Schedule C-EZ. Each form’s instructions provide the rules for which form to use.
  • SE Tax. For those making a profit, self-employment and income tax may need to be paid. Self-employment tax includes Social Security and Medicare taxes. Use Schedule SE, Self-Employment Tax, to figure the tax.
  • Allowable Deductions. Taxpayers can deduct expenses paid to run a business that are both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in the industry. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and proper for a trade or business.
  • When to Deduct. In most cases, taxpayers can deduct expenses in the year paid or incurred. Some costs must be ‘capitalized,’ however. This means deducting the cost over a number of years.

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.

Additional IRS Resources:

IRS YouTube Videos:

Early Withdrawals from Retirement Plans

From the IRS –

Early Withdrawals from Retirement Plans

Many people find it necessary to take out money early from their IRA or retirement plan. Doing so, however, can trigger an additional tax on top of income tax taxpayers may have to pay. Here are a few key points to know about taking an early distribution:

  1. Early Withdrawals. An early withdrawal normally is taking cash out of a retirement plan before the taxpayer is 59½ years old.
  2. Additional Tax. If a taxpayer took an early withdrawal from a plan last year, they must report it to the IRS. They may have to pay income tax on the amount taken out. If it was an early withdrawal, they may have to pay an additional 10 percent tax.
  3. Nontaxable Withdrawals. The additional 10 percent tax does not apply to nontaxable withdrawals. These include withdrawals of contributions that taxpayers paid tax on before they put them into the plan. A rollover is a form of nontaxable withdrawal. A rollover occurs when people take cash or other assets from one plan and put the money in another plan. They normally have 60 days to complete a rollover to make it tax-free.
  4. Check Exceptions. There are many exceptions to the additional 10 percent tax. Some of the rules for retirement plans are different from the rules for IRAs.
  5. File Form 5329. If someone took an early withdrawal last year, they may have to file Form 5329, Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts, with their federal tax return. Form 5329 has more details.

Virginia Review of Tax Return Letters

The Virginia Department of Taxation is reminding taxpayers that they may receive a Review of Tax Return letters (AUIN073A RAP Additional Review) to verify information claimed on personal income tax returns as an extra protection against identity theft and refund fraud.

Receiving the letter does not mean that the return contains errors, is missing data, or that the taxpayer is a victim of identity theft; but rather, that the return was stopped for review.

Taxpayers are encouraged to check the address and fax number on the letter to make sure the letter is not a scam. The correct address and fax numbers should be: Virginia Department of Taxation, RAP Unit 1, P.O. Box 27003, Richmond, VA 23261-7003, and 804-344-8565. Taxpayers can also check that “AUIN073A RAP Additional Review” is in the left, bottom corner of the letter.

Taxpayers who did not file the return the department received, should contact the department at https://www.individual.tax.virginia.gov/RefundReview/didnotfile.jsf.

Dangerous W-2 Phishing Scam Evolving; Targeting Schools, Restaurants, Hospitals, Tribal Groups and Others

From the IRS –

Dangerous W-2 Phishing Scam Evolving; Targeting Schools, Restaurants, Hospitals, Tribal Groups and Others

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and the tax industry issued an urgent alert today to all employers that the Form W-2 email phishing scam has evolved beyond the corporate world and is spreading to other sectors, including school districts, tribal organizations and nonprofits.

In a related development, the W-2 scammers are coupling their efforts to steal employee W-2 information with an older scheme on wire transfers that is victimizing some organizations twice.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time. It can result in the large-scale theft of sensitive data that criminals can use to commit various crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns. We need everyone’s help to turn the tide against this scheme,’’ said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

When employers report W-2 thefts immediately to the IRS, the agency can take steps to help protect employees from tax-related identity theft. The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry, working together as the Security Summit, have enacted numerous safeguards in 2016 and 2017 to identify fraudulent returns filed through scams like this. As the Summit partners make progress, cybercriminals need more data to mimic real tax returns.

Here’s how the scam works: Cybercriminals use various spoofing techniques to disguise an email to make it appear as if it is from an organization executive. The email is sent to an employee in the payroll or human resources departments, requesting a list of all employees and their Forms W-2.  This scam is sometimes referred to as business email compromise (BEC) or business email spoofing (BES).

The Security Summit partners urge all employers to be vigilant. The W-2 scam, which first appeared last year, is circulating earlier in the tax season and to a broader cross-section of organizations, including school districts, tribal casinos, chain restaurants, temporary staffing agencies, healthcare and shipping and freight. Those businesses that received the scam email last year also are reportedly receiving it again this year.

Security Summit partners warned of this scam’s reappearance last week but have seen an upswing in reports in recent days.

New Twist to W-2 Scam: Companies Also Being Asked to Wire Money

In the latest twist, the cybercriminal follows up with an “executive” email to the payroll or comptroller and asks that a wire transfer also be made to a certain account. Although not tax related, the wire transfer scam is being coupled with the W-2 scam email, and some companies have lost both employees’ W-2s and thousands of dollars due to wire transfers.

The IRS, states and tax industry urge all employers to share information with their payroll, finance and human resources employees about this W-2 and wire transfer scam. Employers should consider creating an internal policy, if one is lacking, on the distribution of employee W-2 information and conducting wire transfers.

Steps Employers Can Take If They See the W-2 Scam

Organizations receiving a W-2 scam email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov and place “W2 Scam” in the subject line. Organizations that receive the scams or fall victim to them should file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3,) operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Employees whose Forms W-2 have been stolen should review the recommended actions by the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov or the IRS at www.irs.gov/identitytheft. Employees should file a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if the employee’s own tax return gets rejected because of a duplicate Social Security number or if instructed to do so by the IRS.

The W-2 scam is just one of several new variations that have appeared in the past year that focus on the large-scale thefts of sensitive tax information from tax preparers, businesses and payroll companies. Individual taxpayers also can be targets of phishing scams, but cybercriminals seem to have evolved their tactics to focus on mass data thefts.

Be Safe Online

In addition to avoiding email scams during the tax season, taxpayers and tax preparers should be leery of using search engines to find technical help with taxes or tax software. Selecting the wrong “tech support” link could lead to a loss of data or an infected computer. Also, software “tech support” will not call users randomly. This is a scam.

Tax professionals also should beware of ongoing scams related to IRS e-Services. Thieves are trying to use IRS efforts to make e-Services more secure to send emails asking e-Services users to update their accounts. Their objective is to steal e-Services users’ credentials to access these important services.

Alert about Form W-2 Scam Targeting Payroll, Human Resource Departments

From the IRS –

Alert about Form W-2 Scam Targeting Payroll, Human Resource Departments

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and the tax industry today renewed their warning about an email scam that uses a corporate officer’s name to request employee Forms W-2 from company payroll or human resources departments.

This week, the IRS already has received new notifications that the email scam is making its way across the nation for a second time. The IRS urges company payroll officials to double check any executive-level or unusual requests for lists of Forms W-2 or Social Security number.

The W-2 scam first appeared last year. Cybercriminals tricked payroll and human resource officials into disclosing employee names, SSNs and income information. The thieves then attempted to file fraudulent tax returns for tax refunds.

This phishing variation is known as a “spoofing” e-mail. It will contain, for example, the actual name of the company chief executive officer. In this variation, the “CEO” sends an email to a company payroll office or human resource employee and requests a list of employees and information including SSNs.

The following are some of the details that may be contained in the emails:

  • Kindly send me the individual 2016 W-2 (PDF) and earnings summary of all W-2 of our company staff for a quick review.
  • Can you send me the updated list of employees with full details (Name, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Home Address, Salary).
  • I want you to send me the list of W-2 copy of employees wage and tax statement for 2016, I need them in PDF file type, you can send it as an attachment. Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me asap.

Working together in the Security Summit, the IRS, states and tax industry have made progress in their fight against tax-related identity theft, cybercriminals are using more sophisticated tactics to try to steal even more data that will allow them to impersonate taxpayers.

The Security Summit supports a national taxpayer awareness campaign called “Taxes. Security. Together.” and a national tax professional awareness effort called “Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself.” These campaigns offer simple tips that can help make data more secure.