How Does the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service Work for You?

The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the Internal Revenue Service.  It protects taxpayers’ rights by ensuring that all taxpayers receive fair treatment. It can also help you to know and understand your rights under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights describes ten basic rights that all taxpayers have when dealing with the IRS.  These are your rights.  Know them.  Use them.

The TAS site at taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov also can help you with common tax issues and situations:  what to do if you made a mistake on your tax return; if you got a notice from the IRS or you’re thinking about hiring a tax preparer.

What can a Taxpayer Advocate do for you?

TAS can help you resolve problems that you can’t resolve with the IRS.  And the service is free.  Always try to resolve your problem with the IRS first, but if you can’t, then contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service.  Timely contact with TAS is paramount to resolution.

  • TAS helps individuals, businesses, and tax-exempt organizations.  If you qualify for TAS help, your advocate will be with you at every turn and do everything possible.
  • You may be eligible for TAS help if your IRS problem is causing financial difficulty or you believe the IRS procedure just isn’t working as it should.
  • TAS has offices in every state,  the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.  Your local advocate’s number is in your local directory and at taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov.  You can also call TAS at 1-877-777-4778.

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is your voice at the IRS.  Don’t hesitate to use it!

Filing Extensions Without Penalties and Interest

Can’t file your tax return by the April 15th deadline?

Taxpayers can request an automatic six-month extension of time to file the tax return.  But, taxpayers beware, there is a catch!  An extension is just an extension on the time to file the return; it is NOT an extension on the time to pay!

Taxpayers are required to estimate the amount of tax that may be due with the tax return and remit payment with the extension to avoid Failure to Pay penalties.  These penalties, plus interest, could accrue from April 15 until the tax is paid, regardless of the extension.  If a balance is still owed when the actual tax return is filed, at least the penalties and interest will have been minimized.

If taxpayers are unable to file their tax return by April 15, there are several ways to request an automatic extension of time to file an individual return.  Enrolled agents and other tax professionals can e-file the Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File US Individual Tax Return (Form 4868) for taxpayers.  Or, the application can be found on the IRS website (www.irs.gov), printed and mailed to the IRS, or e-filed.  Whether taxpayers use a tax professional or submit the application themselves, all or part of the estimate of the income tax due can be paid with a check, credit/debit card, or by using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System.

Information regarding remitting payment may be found on Form 4868. Be sure to record the confirmation number provided upon payment.

If a taxpayer estimates that they will owe taxes and is unable to pay, it is important that they file their returns timely.  Put another way, either file an extension or your completed return by April 15, even if you cannot pay the full balance due.  If you do not, Failure to File penalties will be assessed (at 5% per month times the balance not paid by April 15 up to a maximum of 25%) in addition to Failure to Pay.  You may establish a payment plan to pay the balance due.

If you receive a notice from the IRS at any time during the year, contact your tax preparer immediately.  If you did not hire one to prepare your tax return, you should then contact a licensed tax professional.  Only enrolled agents (EAs), CPAs and attorneys have unlimited rights to represent you before the IRS.  The term enrolled agent reflects that an EA can act as your “agent” before administrative levels of the IRS–meaning he or she can talk to or meet with IRS in your stead.  To find an enrolled agent in your area, visit the searchable “Find an EA” directory at http://www.naea.org.

Five Key Tax Tips about Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax

If you are an employee, you usually will have taxes withheld from your pay. If you don’t have taxes withheld, or you don’t have enough tax withheld, then you may need to make estimated tax payments. If you are self-employed you normally have to pay your taxes this way. Here are five tips about making estimated taxes:
1. When the tax applies. You should pay estimated taxes in 2015 if you expect to owe $1,000 or more when you file your federal tax return next year. Special rules apply to farmers and fishermen.
2. How to figure the tax. Estimate the amount of income you expect to receive for the year. Also make sure that you take into account any tax deductions and credits that you will be eligible to claim. Use Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure and pay your estimated tax.
3. When to make payments. You normally make estimated tax payments four times a year. The dates that apply to most people are April 15, June 15 and Sept. 15 in 2015, and Jan. 15, 2016.
4. When to change tax payments or withholding. Life changes, such as a change in marital status or the birth of a child can affect your taxes. When these changes happen, you may need to revise your estimated tax payments during the year. If you are an employee, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. If so, give your employer a new Form W–4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. You can use the IRS Withholding Calculator tool help you fill out the form.
5. How to pay estimated tax. Pay online using IRS Direct Pay. Direct Pay is a secure service to pay your individual tax bill or to pay your estimated tax directly from your checking or savings account at no cost to you. You have other ways that you can pay online, by phone or by mail. Visit IRS.gov/payments for easy and secure ways to pay your tax. If you pay by mail, use the payment vouchers that come with Form 1040-ES.

Additional IRS Resources:
Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax
Estimated Tax – frequently asked Q & As
Tax Topic 306 – Penalty for Underpayment of Estimated Tax

Substantiating Your Business Expenses Is Critical to Keeping Them

By Gary A. Hensley, MBA, EA

By and large, the rules are straightforward:  the burden of substantiating the “income” of a taxpayer falls on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the burden of substantiating expenses (or deductions) falls totally on the taxpayer.

The position of the IRS and their field revenue agents has been and will be inadequate or no expense documentation/substantiation equals no deduction.  The next recourse for the taxpayer is to go to IRS Appeals and argue that the revenue generated couldn’t have taken place without incurring “some” associated expenses (the Cohan Rule).  The results at the Appeals level varies widely in each case and, generally, the best case scenario is an allowance of “some” of the deductions claimed.  The expense of going to Appeals can more than offset whatever expenses are allowed by the appeals officer (especially if you retain professional representation).

Recent Court Decisions

Under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 274(d), for certain expenses, taxpayers are required to be able to provide specific detailed information to substantiate the expenses.

As demonstrated In the recent case of Garza, T.C. Memo. 2014-121, the result boiled down to an all-or-nothing proposition.  Without proper substantiation, no deduction is allowed for a Sec. 274(d) expense, even if the court believes that a legitimate expenditure was made.

Sec. 274(d) identifies four classes of expenses for which specific substantiation is required:

  • Sec. 274(d)(1) for travel expenses (including meals and lodging while away from home);
  • Sec. 274(d)(2) for any item with respect to an activity that is of a type generally considered to constitute entertainment, amusement, or recreation, or with respect to a facility used in connection with such an activity;
  • Sec. 274(d)(3) for business gifts (which are limited to $25); and
  • Sec. 274(d)(4) for expenses with respect to any listed property (as defined in Sec. 280F(d)(4)).

In Garza, the court said that “while we believe that petitioner had business travel expenses in relation to his employment, the Court must heed the strict substantiation requirements of section 274(d).”  To support its ruling, the court cited DeLima, T.C. Memo. 2012-291, in which the Tax Court indicated that it had no doubt that the taxpayer used a vehicle for business purposes, but it was bound to deny the vehicle expense deduction because she failed to follow the requirements of Sec. 274(d) and the regulations.

Substantiation Required

Sec. 274(d)(4) requires the taxpayer to substantiate “by adequate records or by sufficient evidence corroborating the taxpayer’s own statement”:

  • The amount of the expense or other item;
  • The time and place of the travel, entertainment, amusement, recreation, or use of the facility or property, or the date and description of the gift;
  • The business purpose of the expense or other item; and
  • The business relationship to the taxpayer of persons entertained, using the facility or property, or receiving the gift.

In light of the above requirements, the message from the above paragraph is that “a taxpayer’s own statement” by itself is not sufficient in the IRS’s consideration of whether to allow a deduction.  As Garza and other cases show, the IRS and the courts look for contemporaneous records with the details listed above and, without it, they may disallow the deduction.

Taxpayers and their tax advisers need to understand what type of substantiation is required to take a deduction (with a solid foundation) on a tax return.

 

 

 

Warning! Form 1099-MISC and Payments to LLCs

By Gary A. Hensley, MBA, EA

Most of you are aware that you need to issue a Form 1099-MISC to independent contractors you paid $600 or more for services (not goods) during 2014 no later than February 2, 2015 (also you send a copy to the IRS by March 2, 2015).  The payments reported cover only those payments made in the course of your trade or business.

Many entrepreneurs believe (incorrectly) that if a vendor has LLC or L.L.C. after their company name (meaning limited liability company) that no Form 1099-MISC is required to be sent.  Compounding this belief?  The member(s) of many LLCs will tell those that they have rendered services to that it isn’t necessary or required to send them a Form 1099-MISC.  The requirement to file Form 1099-MISC is the government’s attempt to reduce the multi-billion underground (untaxed) economy.  Thus, if you are required to file a Form 1099-MISC and do not, a penalty will be assessed for each form not filed.  The penalty for not filing or filing late depends on the extent of tardiness.

A LLC can fall into three different categories:  (1) a single-member LLC which is a sole proprietorship (filing Schedule C as part of the individual’s personal Form 1040); (2) two or more members organized as a partnership LLC (filing Form 1065); and (3) one or more members filing as a corporate LLC (either a “C” corporation or a “S” corporation, filing Form 1120 or Form 1120-S, respectively).  Categories (1) and (2) should always be sent a Form 1099-MISC if they provided $600 or more in services to you in 2014.  With very few exceptions, you are not required to send Form 1099-MISC to category (3) organizations.  Most LLCs choose to be taxed as sole proprietors (commonly referred to as a “disregarded entity” in tax-speak) and partnerships.  When in doubt, send a Form 1099-MISC to all vendors you paid $600 or more for services in 2014.  There is no down side in doing so.

One exception that will be relevant to writers, literary agents and publishers:  Any amount you pay in royalties of $10 or more, in the course of your trade or business, requires you to send a Form 1099-MISC.  [Please refer to my article on properly reporting royalties.]

The following steps will help you nail down your compliance in this area:

  1.  Review all your payments for services to each vendor during 2014 and determine who received $600 or more in payments from you.
  2. Review your vendor records to determine if you have the complete name and address for those identified in step 1 above and also that you either have the vendor’s Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN).  If you are lacking any of these critical items, you will need to mail a Form W-9 to the vendor requesting this information.  Keep a copy of the W-9 in your vendor file documenting your attempt to get the needed information along with the date you mailed it.  A USPS Certificate of Mailing is an inexpensive way to show proof of mailing.  In the future, obtain the W-9 information at the time you retain the vendor.  If the vendor refuses to furnish the information or sign the form—buyer beware!
  3. Next, you will use the official IRS Form 1099-MISC for each vendor.  The form is in triplicate with the top copy (shaded in red) going to the IRS and the other two copies going to the vendor and your vendor file.
  4. Finally, you will summarize your Form 1099-MISC information on IRS Form 1096 which you can mail to the IRS or file electronically along with the red copy(ies) of Form 1099-MISC.

You may wish to engage a local accountant or payroll processing specialist to help you with steps 3 and 4.

For additional IRS information on this topic, you may refer to IRS Form 1099 at the IRS website—www.irs.gov.

I hope this article will clarify your reporting requirements and further audit-proof your returns.

 

2015 Optional Standard Mileage Rates

The Internal Revenue Service issued the 2015 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, 2015, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

  • 57.5 cents per mile for business miles driven  (up from 56 cents in 2014)
  • 23 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes (down a half cent from 2014)
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations (no change from 2014)

Mid-Year Tax Planning – 2014

Tax Season 2014 has come and gone and now it’s time to think about tax planning for tax year 2014. Items which could impact your 2014 taxes include certain life events and expired tax provisions.

Certain Life Events

Have you recently had a birth, adoption or death in your family? Have you gotten married, divorced, retired, or changed jobs this year? If so, you and your tax professional need to discuss the potential impact on your 2014 taxes. For example:

1) For Qualifying Children under the age of 17, a tax credit up to $1,000 per qualifying child may be allowed (which may be refundable.)
2) If you have retired (or are planning on retiring), you need to analyze how your change in income resulting from receiving IRA or pension distributions, and/or Social Security benefits will impact your tax liability.
3) A divorce or marriage could impact your tax situation in multiple ways (for example, alimony paid or received, deductions for mortgage interest and real estate taxes on your home, QDROs (qualified domestic relations orders) and potential changes in the standard deduction and personal exemptions allowed.)

Expiring Tax Provisions
Given the current political climate, it is not known if or when an agreement on extending the Expiring Tax Provisions (“extenders”) may be reached. These extenders have made tax planning a challenge for both taxpayers and tax professionals. Therefore, if any of these provisions impact you, it is important that you contact your tax professional or personally monitor legislative activity so that you are aware of the possible tax consequences:

1) Sales Tax Deduction: Prior to 01/01/2014, taxpayers may have been eligible to deduct state and local general sales taxes instead of state and local income taxes as an itemized deduction on Schedule A. This included the sales tax paid on the purchase of a vehicle. This deduction is no longer available to individuals.
2)Mortgage Insurance Premiums: Prior to 01/01/2014, taxpayers may have been eligible to deduct the amounts paid for qualified mortgage insurance premiums along with their mortgage interest (subject to adjusted gross income limitations). Effective 01/01/2014, no deduction is allowed for these premiums paid or accrued after this date.
3)Tax-free Distributions from Individual Retirement Plans for Charitable Purposes: Prior to 01/01/2014, taxpayers over 70 ½ may have been eligible to exclude from their gross income distributions up to $100,000 from their IRA to a qualified charitable organization. This permitted taxpayers to satisfy their Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) and not include the amount in their income. As this reduced their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), which favorably impacted the taxable amount of Social Security benefits received, this was a large tax advantage for taxpayers. This special distribution provision is not available for distributions after 2013.
4) Qualified Principal Residence Debt Exclusion: Prior to 01/01/2014, the discharge of principal residence debt (qualified mortgage on a taxpayer’s main home incurred to buy, build or substantially improve his or her main home) was generally excluded from gross income. As many taxpayers are still experiencing financial difficulties resulting in foreclosures, short sales or debt forgiveness on their primary residence, the tax ramifications for 2014 will have major tax consequences.

Other Steps to Consider Before the End of the Year

You should thoroughly review your situation before year-end to determine the best tax strategies for 2014 and the impact on 2015 as well. Accelerating income/deferring deductions into 2014 or deferring income/accelerating deductions to 2015 are just a couple of approaches that could benefit you.

If you have any foreign assets, be aware that there are reporting and filing requirements for those assets. Noncompliance carries stiff penalties.