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The Tax Aspects of Disasters like Hurricane Harvey

07/09/17 2:35 pm | Comments (0) | Posted By:

Between Hurricane Harvey, the fast-approaching Hurricane Irma and the various wildfires ravaging the west, unfortunately natural disasters have been all too common this summer.

The last thing on anyone’s mind living in those areas is taxes, but nonetheless, there are various tax aspects of a disaster that people should be aware of. Fortunately, this is one area that the IRS makes rapid decisions to help those in need. Below is a sampling of the latest relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey from the IRS. Those impacted by disasters should check the IRS’s page frequently as other disasters may get similar relief from the IRS in the near future.

  •  The IRS has provided special relief to encourage leave-based donation programs. Under these programs, employees may forgo their vacation, sick or personal leave in exchange for cash payments the employer makes, before Jan. 1, 2019, to charitable organizations providing relief for the victims of this disaster. The donated leave will not be included in the income or wages of the employees. Employers will be permitted to deduct the cash payments as business expenses.
  •  401(k)s and similar employer-sponsored retirement plans can make loans and hardship distributions to victims of Hurricane Harvey and members of their families who live or work in disaster area localities affected by Hurricane Harvey and designated for individual assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). For a complete list of eligible counties, visit The FEMA Disaster website page. To qualify for this relief, hardship withdrawals must be made by Jan. 31, 2018. In addition, the six-month ban on 401(k) and 403(b) contributions that normally affects employees who take hardship distributions will not apply.
  •  Hurricane Harvey victims in parts of Texas and any area designated by FEMA as qualifying for individual assistance (currently 18 counties are eligible) have until Jan. 31, 2018, to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments. This includes an additional filing extension for taxpayers with valid extensions that run out on Oct. 16, and businesses with extensions that run out on Sept. 15. This also includes the Sept. 15, 2017 and Jan. 16, 2018 deadlines for making quarterly estimated tax payments. In addition, the IRS will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area.

Finally, for those who want to help and support those victims of any natural disaster, be cautious of who you make donations to. In order for donations to be tax deductible, they must be made to recognized charitable organizations under the IRS. For instance, Go Fund Me donations are typically not deductible as they go to a person and not a charitable organization. If you are donating online, make sure you are on the legitimate website for the charity. Unfortunately, it is all too common for charity scams to pop up during disasters with fake websites that are very similar to legitimate ones. You should ensure that the organization clearly has their Employee Identification Number (EIN) posted and you can use that and their name to check their exempt status on the IRS website. If you are donating a significant sum, that little bit of homework on your part is well worth it.

 

Elvis should have hired a CPA before he left the building

13/07/17 11:13 am | Comments (0) | Posted By:

Recently I had the delight to visit Graceland, Elvis Presley’s former home and now an excellent place to reflect on Elvis’ life and get taken back in time to the 1970s. There I viewed many of Elvis’ cars including his pink Cadillac, a couple Rolls Royce’s and Mercedes, Lincolns and his Ferrari. His home was just how he left it back in 1977 with his dozen TVs scattered throughout the home, shag carpeting and roof, the colorful kitchen, his dad’s old office, and many other furnishings that were a flashback to the 70s.

As a CPA and tax guy, I was also fascinated with the financial documents that were displayed detailing many of Elvis’ large purchases and even his dad’s tax return after he was born showing he paid 1% tax on his income . Elvis must have trusted his dad immensely as there were dozens of checks signed by Elvis’ father Vernon as Vernon took care of all of his son’s finances. This is surprising given that Vernon spent a year in jail during Elvis’s childhood for check forgery and only had an eighth grade education.

Elvis would have benefited immensely if he would have utilized a CPA to assist his dad in tax planning and financial management. Even though Elvis was the largest U.S. taxpayer in 1973 and the highest paid entertainer for many years, he died with an estate worth “only” $10.2 million dollars. Apparently Elvis didn’t like to utilize pertinent tax deductions and had a horrible deal with his manager Colonel Tom Parker, who received over 50% of Elvis’ earnings . Parker even convinced Vernon to pay him 50% of the income from the Elvis’ estate after he died! With this mismanagement, Elvis’ estate lost $9 million in value over two years, and was only worth $1 million in 1979.

Many lessons can be learned with Elvis, but one financially is the importance of trusts for estate planning in which attorneys can be invaluable and utilizing competent and qualified CPAs to assist with tax, estate and financial planning.

The IRS & Private Debt Collectors

09/06/17 11:39 am | Comments (0) | Posted By:

In September of 2016, the IRS announced that it would start using private debt collectors to recover certain overdue federal tax debts in the spring of 2017. To implement this new program, the IRS contracted with four private collection agencies: CBE Group, Conserve, Performant, and Pioneer. In carrying out their collection efforts, these four companies are required to respect taxpayer rights and obey the consumer protection regulations established in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

How does this new program work?

Considering the continual mail and phone scams that keep emerging, the IRS Commissioner warned taxpayers to be alert for new scams related to this program. When a taxpayer’s account is transferred to a private debt collection agency, the IRS will give the taxpayer written notice of the transfer. In addition, the private collection agency will then send a second, separate letter to the taxpayer verifying this transfer. The private collection agency will not ask for payments to be made on a prepaid debit card or for checks to be made out to the collection agency. All checks should be made payable to the U.S. Treasury. The IRS emphasized that even with private debt collection, taxpayers should not be receiving phone calls from the IRS insisting on immediate payment. The IRS always mails multiple collection notices before making phone calls.

There are several types of accounts that the IRS will not transfer to private collection agencies. Some of these accounts include taxpayers who are deceased, in designated combat zones, victims of identity theft, or in presidentially declared disaster areas and requesting relief from collection. If a taxpayer does not want to work with a private collection agency appointed to his or her account, he or she must notify the private collection agency in writing. Also, the IRS urges taxpayers who are unsure if they have unpaid taxes due from a previous year to check their account balances on www.irs.gov/balancedue.

For more information on private debt collection visit the Private Debt Collection page on the IRS website.

 

“TurboTax Made Me Do It” is not a valid excuse

26/05/17 8:42 am | Comments (0) | Posted By:

On May 11, 2017, the Tax Court issued a Memorandum Decision (TC Memo 2017-79) that addressed, among other things, the Taxpayer arguing that the software “lured” him into claiming too many deductions on his tax return.

There were a number of issues on this return that caught the eye of the IRS: alimony paid deduction, interest deduction, and deduction for other expenses. When examined by the IRS, the Taxpayer did not have much in the way of paperwork to support his positon for the deductions reported.

In addition to disallowing the majority of the deductions taken, the Taxpayer was assessed an accuracy related penalty for substantial understatement of income tax. For this penalty, the burden shifts to the Taxpayer to show that his mistakes were reasonable and in good faith. “He admitted during trial that he deducted items he shouldn’t have, and that he overstated certain losses. He tried to blame TurboTax for his mistakes, but tax preparation software is only as good as the information one inputs into it,” the Court concluded.

Tax preparation software must be used correctly to be useful for purposes of showing reasonable cause and good faith as a defense to accuracy related penalties. The majority of court cases have rejected this defense.

It is the taxpayer’s responsibility to review the output as well as the input when using tax software. Remember the old adage: Garbage In Garbage Out.

When preparing your return, ensure you are reviewing the return before filing it. I just received a phone call this week from someone that was asking if his tax software was properly calculating the tax on rental property he had sold. A first for him. I commend him for wanting to understand what he was filing.

Remember: You can’t blame the software!

 

You May Not Have to Ask to Get an Extension

11/05/17 2:20 pm | Comments (0) | Posted By:

Right before this year’s tax deadline, the IRS put out a release reminding people that some of us may not have to ask for an extension. While this advice is coming a bit late from me for the current tax year, it is definitely something to keep in mind. As the IRS notes “Taxpayers in Presidentially-declared disaster areas, members of the military serving in a combat zone and Americans living and working abroad get extra time to both file their returns and pay any taxes due.”

If you are a taxpayer in a disaster area you will often have extended time to file and pay. These extensions of time also apply to other tax-related items like contributing to an IRA. The IRS states that generally any area given a disaster declaration by FEMA is provided this relief, which is extended to relief workers, businesses and anyone who has their tax records located in the disaster area.

If you are a member of the military or eligible support personnel serving in a combat zone you will have at least 180 days after you leave the combat zone to file your tax returns and pay your taxes. As with the disaster relief, this extension also pertains to other tax-related items like contributing to your IRA. The IRS suggest checking Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, for further details.

For U.S. citizens and resident aliens who are living and working outside the United States and Puerto Rico, you have until June 15, 2017 (for the current tax year) to file your return and pay any taxes due. This also applies for military members on duty outside the U.S. who do not qualify for the combat zone extension. The IRS does note two items with this category of extended filing: 1) Attach a statement with your return explaining which situation applies for you; and 2) interest still applies to payments received after the standard filing deadline (generally April 15). See Publication 54 for more information.

For everyone else, just remember to ask for more time by filing Form 4868.

 

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