Spring Cleaning: Tax Records You Can Throw Away
Spring is a great time to clean out that growing mountain of tax and financial papers that clutters your home and office. Here's what you need to keep and what you can throw out without fearing the wrath of the IRS.
Let's start with your "safety zone," the IRS statute of limitations. This limits the number of years during which the IRS can audit your tax returns. Once that period has expired, the IRS is legally prohibited from even asking you questions about those returns.
The concept behind it is that after a period of years, records are lost or misplaced and memory isn't as accurate as we would hope. There's a need for finality. Once the statute of limitations has expired, the IRS can't go after you for additional taxes, but you can't go after the IRS for additional refunds, either.
The Three-Year Rule
For assessment of additional taxes, the statute of limitation runs generally three years from the date you file your return. If you're looking for an additional refund, the limitations period is generally the later of three years from the date you filed the original return or two years from the date you paid the tax. There are some exceptions:
If you don't report all your income and the unreported amount is more than 25% of the gross income actually shown on your return, the limitation period is six years.
If you've claimed a loss from a worthless security, the limitation period is extended to seven years.
If you file a "fraudulent" return, or don't file at all, the limitations period doesn't apply. In fact, the IRS can get you at any time.
- If you're deciding what records you need or want to keep, you have to ask what your chances are of an audit. A tax audit is an IRS verification of items of income and deductions on your return. So you should keep records to support those items until the statute of limitations runs out.
Assuming that you've filed on time and paid what you should, you only have to keep your tax records for three years, but some records have to be kept longer than that.
Remember, the three-year rule relates to the information on your tax return. But, some of that information may relate to transactions more than three years old.
Here's a checklist of the documents you should hold on to:
Capital gains and losses. Your gain is reduced by your basis - your cost (including all commissions) plus, with mutual funds, any reinvested dividends and capital gains. But you may have bought that stock five years ago and you've been reinvesting those dividends and capital gains over the last decade. And don't forget those stock splits.
You don't ever want to throw these records away until after you sell the securities. And then if you're audited, you'll have to prove those numbers. Therefore, you'll need to keep those records for at least three years after you file the return reporting their sales.
Expenses on your home. Cost records for your house and any improvements should be kept until the home is sold. It's just good practice, even though most homeowners won't face any tax problems. That's because profit of less than $250,000 on your home ($500,000 on a joint return) isn't subject to taxes under tax legislation enacted in 1997.
If the profit is more than $250,000/$500,000, or if you don't qualify for the full gain exclusion, then you're going to need those records for another three years after that return is filed. Most homeowners probably won't face that issue thanks to the 1997 tax law, but of course, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Business records. Business records can become a nightmare. Non-residential real estate is now depreciated over 39 years. You could be audited on the depreciation up to three years after you file the return for the 39th year. That's a long time to hold on to receipts, but you may need to validate those numbers.
Employment, bank, and brokerage statements. Keep all your W-2s, 1099s, brokerage, and bank statements to prove income until three years after you file. And don't even think about dumping checks, receipts, mileage logs, tax diaries, and other documentation that substantiate your expenses.
Tax returns. Keep copies of your tax returns as well. You can't rely on the IRS to actually have a copy of your old returns. As a general rule, you should keep tax records for 6 years.
The bottom line is that you've got to keep those records until they can no longer affect your tax return, plus the three-year statute of limitations.
Social Security records. You will need to keep some records for Social Security purposes, so check with the Social Security Administration each year to confirm that your payments have been appropriately credited. If they're wrong, you'll need your W-2 or copies of your Schedule C (if self-employed) to prove the right amount. Don't dispose of those records until after you've validated those contributions.
You can confirm your payments and estimate your future benefits by filing Form SSA-7004 with the Social Security Administration. You can download the form, or apply online.
Contact us by phone or email if you have any questions about what records you need to keep this spring.
Lost Your Job This Year? There Could Be Tax Consequences
Given the current economic conditions, you may be faced with tax questions surrounding a job loss and unemployment issues.
Here are some answers:
Q: What if I received unemployment compensation in 2010?
A: Unemployment compensation you received under the unemployment compensation laws of the United States or of a state must be included in your income. It is taxable income. If you received unemployment compensation, you should receive Form 1099-G showing the amount you were paid and any federal income tax you elected to have withheld.
Q: What if I lost my job?
A: The loss of a job may create new tax issues. Severance pay and unemployment compensation are taxable. Payments for any accumulated vacation or sick time also are taxable. You should ensure that enough taxes are withheld from these payments or make estimated tax payments to avoid a big bill at tax time. Public assistance and food stamps are not taxable.
Q: What if I searched for a job?
A: You may be able to deduct certain expenses you incurred while looking for a new job, even if you did not get a new job. Expenses include travel, resume preparation, and outplacement agency fees. Moving costs for a new job at least 50 miles away from your home may also be deductible.
Q: What if my employer went out of business or in to bankruptcy?
A: Your employer must provide you with a 2010 W-2 Form showing your wages and withholdings by January 31, 2011. You should keep up-to-date records or pay stubs until you receive your Form W-2. If your employer or its representatives fail to provide you with a Form W-2, contact the IRS. They can help by providing you with a substitute Form W-2. If your employer liquidated your 401(k) plan, you have 60 days to roll it over to another qualified retirement plan or IRA.
If you have experienced a job loss and have questions, please call us. You need to be prepared for the tax consequences.
Cash Management Tips for Small Businesses
Cash is the lifeblood of any small business. Here are some tips to help your business maintain a sufficient cash flow to meet its financial goals and run efficiently:
Toughen up your credit policies. Review the payment terms you offer to customers and tighten them up if slow payment is a problem area for your business. For instance, how long are customers given to pay? What action will be taken if a payment is missed? Be sure your credit terms are communicated effectively to customers before transactions are entered into.
||Tip: Consider requiring advance payments - at least in part - for new customers.
||Tip: For many businesses, a routine credit check should be performed before a sales or service transaction is entered into with a new customer.
Come up with a budget - and stick to it. Surprisingly, many small businesses do not engage in the budgeting process. A budget can be extremely effective in helping you keep track of whether cost- and revenue-related goals are being met. Depending on the size and complexity of the business, the budget process might be informal or formal, lengthy or simple. Projected revenues and expenses should be broken down by months.
||Tip: If you don't already do so, budget for next year's revenues and expenses near the end of each year. Review budgeted to actual results monthly.
Tighten up billing. If collecting bills has become a problem for your business, you might want to consider increasing the intervals at which customers are billed--e.g., from three months to one month, or from one month to two weeks.
||Tip: Review your accounts receivable weekly or even daily to make sure slow payers are not allowed to slide.
If you have questions regarding your company's cash flow and credit/collection policies, give us a call. We can help.
Last-Minute Tax Advice
It's April already. Are your taxes done? If not, here are some stress-relieving ideas:
Don't Procrastinate Anymore - Resist the temptation to put off your taxes until the very last minute. Our office needs time to prepare your return, and we may need to request certain documents from you, which will take additional time.
Don't Panic If You Can't Pay - If you can't immediately pay the taxes you owe, consider some alternatives. You can apply for an IRS installment agreement, suggesting your own monthly payment amount and due date, and getting a reduced late-payment penalty rate. You also have various options for charging your balance on a credit card. There is no IRS fee for credit card payments, but the processing companies charge a convenience fee. Electronic filers with a balance due can file early and authorize the government's financial agent to take the money directly from their checking or savings account on the April due date, with no fee.
- Request an Extension of Time to File - But Pay on Time - If the clock runs out, you can get an automatic six-month extension, bringing the filing date to October 17, 2011. The extension itself does not give you more time to pay any taxes due. You will owe interest on any amount not paid by the April deadline, plus a late-payment penalty if you have not paid at least 90 percent of your total tax by that date. Call us for a variety of easy ways to apply for an extension.
Remember: Get your documents to us as soon as you can, and we'll help you take care of whatever comes up.
Six Facts about the Alternative Minimum Tax
The Alternative Minimum Tax attempts to ensure that anyone who benefits from certain tax advantages pays at least a minimum amount of tax. The AMT provides an alternative set of rules for calculating your income tax. In general, these rules should determine the minimum amount of tax that someone with your income should be required to pay. If your regular tax falls below this minimum, you have to make up the difference by paying alternative minimum tax.
Here are six facts the Internal Revenue Service wants you to know about the AMT and changes for tax year 2010.
Tax laws provide tax benefits for certain kinds of income and allow special deductions and credits for certain expenses. These benefits can drastically reduce some taxpayers� tax obligations. Congress created the AMT in 1969, targeting higher income taxpayers who could claim so many deductions they owed little or no income tax.
Because the AMT is not indexed for inflation, a growing number of middle-income taxpayers are discovering they are subject to the AMT.
You may have to pay the AMT if your taxable income for regular tax purposes plus any adjustments and preference items that apply to you are more than the AMT exemption amount.
The AMT exemption amounts are set by law for each filing status.
For tax year 2010, Congress raised the AMT exemption amounts to the following levels:
$72,450 for a married couple filing a joint return and qualifying widows and widowers;
$47,450 for singles and heads of household;
$36,225 for a married person filing separately.
The minimum AMT exemption amount for a child whose unearned income is taxed at the parents' tax rate has increased to $6,700 for 2010.
If you want further information on the AMT and your tax situation, please let us know.
Are You Eligible for a Tax Credit?
A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of taxes owed. Some credits are refundable - taxes could be reduced to the point that you would receive a refund rather than owing any taxes.
Here are the credits we will consider when preparing your taxes:
The Earned Income Tax Credit is a refundable credit for low-income working individuals and families. Income and family size determine the amount of the credit. For more information, see IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit.
The Child and Dependent Care Credit is for expenses paid for the care of children under age 13, or for a disabled spouse or dependent, to enable the taxpayer to work or look for work. For more information, see IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
The Child Tax Credit is for people who have a qualifying child. The maximum amount of the credit is $1,000 for each qualifying child. This credit can be claimed in addition to the credit for child and dependent care expenses. For more information on the Child Tax Credit, see IRS Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.
Adoption Credit: Adoptive parents may qualify for an enhanced tax credit of up to $13,170 in 2010 ($13,360 in 2011) for qualifying expenses paid to adopt an eligible child. The credit may be allowed for the adoption of a child with special needs even if you do not have any qualifying expenses. The adoption tax credit does have income phase-out limits, starting at $182,520 in 2010 (and $185,210 in 2011). For more information, call us or see the instructions for Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses.
Note: The adoption credit is enhanced for years 2010-2012. It is scheduled to revert back in 2013 to its pre-2001 dollar limit of $5,000, or $6,000 if a special needs child is adopted.
- Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled: This credit is available to individuals who are either age 65 or older or are under age 65 and retired on permanent and total disability, and who are U.S. citizens or residents. There are income limitations. For more information, call us or see IRS Publication 524, Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled.
Rest assured, we will make sure you receive all the tax credits for which you are eligible.
Tax Incentives for Higher Education
The tax code provides a variety of tax incentives for families who are saving for, or already paying, higher education costs or are repaying student loans.
You may be able to claim a credit for the qualified tuition and related expenses of the students in your family who are enrolled in eligible educational institutions. The types of credits available are the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
Different rules apply to each credit. If you claim an American Opportunity Credit for a particular student, none of that student's expenses for that year may be applied toward the Lifetime Learning Credit.
You may be able to claim a tuition deduction of up to $4,000 of qualified education expenses paid during the year for yourself, your spouse, or your dependent. You cannot claim this deduction if your filing status is married filing separately or if another person can claim an exemption for you as a dependent on his or her tax return. The qualified expenses must be for higher education.
You may be able to deduct interest you pay on a qualified student loan. And, if your student loan is canceled, you may not have to include any amount in income. The deduction is claimed as an adjustment to income so you do not need to itemize your deductions on Schedule A Form 1040.
Estimated Tax Payments - Q&A
Question: How do I know if I have to file quarterly individual estimated tax payments?
Answer: If you owed additional tax for the prior tax year, you may have to make estimated tax payments for the current tax year.
If you are filing as a sole proprietor, partner, S corporation shareholder, and/or a self-employed individual, you generally have to make estimated tax payments if you expect to owe tax of $1,000 or more when you file your return.
If you are filing as a corporation you generally have to make estimated tax payments for your corporation if you expect it to owe tax of $500 or more when you file its return.
If you had a tax liability for the prior year, you may have to pay estimated tax for the current year; however, if you receive salaries and wages, you can avoid having to pay estimated tax by asking your employer to withhold more tax from your earnings.
There are special rules for farmers, fishermen, certain household employers, and certain higher taxpayers.
Contact us if you are unsure whether you need to make an estimated tax payment. The first estimated payment for 2012 is due April 17, 2012.
Financial Tips for April 2011
Review Your Retirement Plans
How much have you accumulated so far? How much do you need to retire comfortably at the desired date? Professional advice may be helpful in determining how much you should be saving and what the best investment vehicles are.
Inventory Your Non-Financial Assets
Perform an inventory of your non-financial assets (e.g., home, furniture, cars, personal belongings). Compare this inventory to your property insurance coverage. Is your insurance adequate for your assets? You may need a rider to your policy for certain items such as jewelry. If some assets are no longer in use, consider selling them or donating them to charity. You may be entitled to a deduction based upon the fair market value of the assets.
Review Budget vs Actuals
Compare March income and expenditures with your budget. Make adjustments as appropriate to your April expenditures. Make sure you have invested your planned savings amount for March.
Schedule Estimated Tax Payments
Add the estimated tax payments for the year to your calendar so you don't overlook them later. You might want to attach the payment vouchers to your calendar with a paperclip.
Review Retirement Contributions
Review planned contributions for IRAs, SIMPLE Plans, SEPs, and Keoghs for the preceding tax year. Professional advice should be sought to help you determine the maximum amounts deductible, and whether postponing return filing for the preceding year will help determine the amount and timing of the contribution.
Tax Due Dates for April 2011
Employees - who work for tips. If you received $20 or more in tips during March, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.
Individuals - File an income tax return for 2010 (Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, or you can get an extension by phone if you pay part or all of your estimate of income tax due with a credit card. Then file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ by October 17.
Household Employers - If you paid cash wages of $1,700 or more in 2010 to a household employee, file Schedule H (Form 1040) with your income tax return and report any employment taxes. Report any federal unemployment (FUTA) tax on Schedule H if you paid total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter of 2008 or 2009 to household employees. Also report any income tax you withheld for your household employees.
Individuals - If you are not paying your 2011 income tax through withholding (or will not pay in enough tax during the year that way), pay the first installment of your 2011 estimated tax. Use Form 1040-ES.
Partnerships - File a 2010 calendar year return (Form 1065). Provide each partner with a copy of Schedule K-1 (Form 1065), Partner's Share of Income, Credits, Deductions, etc., or a substitute Schedule K-1. If you want an automatic 5-month extension of time to file the return and provide Schedule K-1 or a substitute Schedule K-1, file Form 7004. Then file Form 1065 by September 15.
Electing Large Partnerships - File a 2010 calendar year return (Form 1065-B). If you want an automatic 6-month extension of time to file the return, file Form 7004. Then file Form 1065-B by October 17. March 15 was the due date for furnishing the Schedules K-1 to the partners.
Corporations - Deposit the first installment of estimated income tax for 2011. A worksheet, Form 1120-W, is available to help you estimate your tax for the year.
Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.
Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.
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