“Do I have to file a tax return?” is a question heard a lot during this time of year. The answer to this popular question is a lot more complicated than many would think. To understand, one must realize the difference between being required to file a tax return vs. the benefit of filing a tax return even when it’s not required to file. We’ve put together a comprehensive description for your better understating:
When individuals are required to file-
- Generally, individuals are required to file a return if their income exceeds their filing threshold, as shown in the table below. The filing thresholds are the sum of the standard deduction for individual(s) and the personal exemption for the taxpayer and spouse (if any).
- Taxpayers are required to file if they have net self-employment income in excess of $400, since they are required to file self-employment taxes (the equivalent to payroll taxes for an employee) when their net self-employment income exceeds $400.
- Taxpayers are also required to file when they are required to repay a credit or benefit. For example, if a taxpayer acquired health insurance through a government marketplace and received advanced premium tax credit (APTC) they are required to file a return whether or not they are otherwise required to file. A return is required in order to reconcile the APTC with the premium tax credit they entitled based upon their household income for the year. So generally if you receive a 1095-A you are required to file.
- Filing is also required when a taxpayer owes a penalty, even though the taxpayer’s income is below the filing threshold. This can occur, for example, when a taxpayer has an IRA 6% early withdrawal penalty or the 50% penalty for not taking a required IRA distribution.
2016 – Filing Thresholds
Filing Status Age Threshold
Single Under Age 65 $10,350
Age 65 or Older 11,900
Married Filing Jointly Both Spouses Under 65 $20,700
One Spouse 65 or Older 21,950
Both Spouses 65 or Older 23,200
Married Filing Separate Any Age 4,050
Head of Household Under 65 $13,350
65 or Older 14,900
Qualifying Widow(er) Under 65 $16,650
with Dependent Child 65 or Older 17,900
When it is beneficial for individuals to file-
There are a number of benefits available when filing a tax return that can produce refunds even for a taxpayer who is not required to file:
- Withholding refund – A substantial number of taxpayers fail to file their return even when the tax they owe is less than their prepayments, such as payroll withholding, estimates, or a prior over-payment. The only way to recover the excess is to file a return.
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – If you worked and did not make a lot of money, you may qualify for the EITC. The EITC is a refundable tax credit, which means you could qualify for a tax refund. The refund could be as high as several thousand dollars even when you are not required to file.
- Additional Child Tax Credit – This refundable credit may be available to you if you have at least one qualifying child.
- American Opportunity Credit – The maximum for this credit for college tuition paid per student is $2,500, and the first four years of post-secondary education qualify. Up to 40% of the credit is refundable when you have no tax liability, even if you are not required to file.
- Premium Tax Credit – Lower-income families are entitled to a refundable tax credit to supplement the cost of health insurance purchased through a government Marketplace. To the extent the credit is greater than the supplement provided by the Marketplace, it is refundable even if there is no other reason to file.
For more information about filing requirements and your eligibility to receive tax credits, please contact Dagley & Co. for more information. We recommend not procrastinating, no matter what your stance on filing may be!
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Dagley & Co. is here to give you up-to-date tax and tax requirement details and due dates. Please read the following regarding a delay in a tax return due date:
The IRS, in an effort to combat rampant tax filing fraud, has introduced what they hope will be two new fraud-prevention measures for the upcoming filing season. The first will purposely delay until February 15 the issuance of refunds for tax returns where there is an earned income tax credit (EITC) and/or a refundable child tax credit (CTC), giving the IRS more time to match the income reported on these returns to the income reported by employers. These two tax credits have been the favorite target of scammers who have been filing fraudulent returns with stolen IDs and fabricated income before the IRS is able to verify the income and withholding claimed on the returns.
The second preventive measure is to require earlier filing of W-2 and 1099-MISC forms, which will enable the IRS to ferret out returns that report phony income and withholding. This measure will have a significant impact on employers by moving up the filing due date of the government’s copy of 2016 W-2s and 1099-MISCs to January 31, 2017 (the previous due date was February 28, or March 31 if filed electronically). January 31 has been and continues to be the date the forms are required to be provided to the employees (W-2s) or independent contractors (1099-MISCs).
The 30-day automatic extension to file W-2s is no longer automatic. The IRS anticipates that it will grant the non-automatic extension of time to file only in limited cases where the filer or transmitter’s explanation demonstrates that an extension of time to file is needed as a result of extraordinary circumstances.
With regard to the government’s copy of 1099-MISC forms, the earlier filing due date only applies to those 1099-MISC forms reporting non-employee compensation.
If you have questions related to W-2 or 1099-MISC requirements, please give Dagley & Co. a call at (202) 417-6640.
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An account of everything an individual owned or had interest in on the date of their death is included in the tax on the transfer of their property. This is called the estate tax. This includes cash and securities, real estate, insurance, trusts, annuities, business interests, and other assets. The tax is based on the fair market value of these assets (less certain exclusions), generally as of the day the decedent died.
An inflation-adjusted lifetime exclusion prevents smaller estates from being taxed. This exclusion is $5,450,000 for 2016, but it is adjusted (reduced) by the value of untaxed gifts that the decedent gave in excess of the annual gift exemption (currently $14,000) over his or her lifetime. Thus, if the value of all the decedent’s property is less than the adjusted exclusion amount, there would be no estate tax and, generally, no need to file an estate tax return. However, filing an estate tax return when it otherwise wouldn’t be needed may be beneficial to the surviving spouse when the decedent was married.
When a decedent is survived by a spouse and the decedent’s estate is worth less than the adjusted lifetime exclusion, the estate of the decedent may elect to pass any of the decedent’s unused lifetime exclusion to the surviving spouse. Considering that estate tax rates currently range from 18 to 40 percent, this can be very beneficial if the estate of the surviving spouse could exceed the adjusted lifetime exclusion when he or she subsequently passes.
Example – A husband with an estate valued at $2 million died in 2014, having made prior taxable gifts of $1 million. Even though there was no estate tax return filing requirement, the decedent’s spouse filed one to claim the election to pass the decedent’s unused lifetime exclusion to his spouse. The husband’s unused exclusion amount was $2.34 million, which is the 2014 estate tax exemption of $5.34 million minus the $1 million in prior taxable gifts and the $2 million value of his estate. His spouse can then add his unused exclusion to her own. Assuming that the spouse has made no taxable gifts, if she passes in 2016, her estate’s exclusion amount for 2016 would be $7.79 million (her $5.45 million basic exclusion amount plus $2.34 million of her spouse’s unused exclusion amount).
For the surviving spouse (or his or her estate) to claim the deceased spouse’s unused exclusion amount, the estate of the first spouse to die must make an election, referred to as the portability election, by filing a timely estate tax return. The estate tax return must include a computation of the unused exclusion amount. This is true even if the value of the estate is not enough to require an estate tax return to be filed.
This presents a quandary for the executor (or other representative of the estate, often the surviving spouse), who must decide whether it is worth the cost of having an estate tax return prepared and filed when there is no requirement to do so outside of making the portability election (as estate tax returns are quite complicated and expensive).
When making this decision, an executor needs to carefully consider the likelihood of the surviving spouse’s estate exceeding the adjusted lifetime exclusion amount. Another factor to consider is that Congress has changed both the lifetime exclusion amount and the estate tax rates in the past; as this topic seems to be a constant subject of discussion in Washington, there are no guarantees that the exemption will remain at its current level. If the executor is not the surviving spouse, he or she will ideally consult with the widow(er) on the decision, but this is not required. This could pose a problem if there is animosity between the executor and the surviving spouse. To avoid this situation, if someone other than the spouse is the executor of the estate for the first spouse to die, it is a good idea to include language in the couple’s wills or trusts that will require the executor to make the portability election.
If you have questions related to this election, the lifetime exclusion, the annual gift tax exemption, or estate planning in general, please give Dagley & Co. a call.
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The question many taxpayers ask during this time of the year is, “Must I file a tax return?” or “Should I file a tax return? These questions are far more complicated than people believe. To fully understand, we need to consider that there are times when individuals are REQUIRED to file a tax return, and then there are times when it is to individuals’ BENEFIT to file a return even if they are not required to file.
When individuals are required to file:
Generally, individuals are required to file a return if their income exceeds their filing threshold, as shown in the table below. The filing thresholds are the sum of the standard deduction for individual(s) and the personal exemption for the taxpayer and spouse (if any).
Taxpayers are required to file if they have net self-employment income in excess of $400, since they are required to pay self-employment taxes (the equivalent to payroll taxes for an employee) when their net self-employment income exceeds $400.
Taxpayers must also file when they are required to repay a credit or benefit. For example, taxpayers who underestimated their income when signing up for health insurance on a government health insurance marketplace and received a higher advance premium tax credit than they were entitled to are required to repay part of it.
Filing is also required when a taxpayer owes a penalty, even though the taxpayer’s income is below the filing threshold. This can occur, for example, when a taxpayer has an IRA 10% early withdrawal penalty or the 50% penalty for not taking a required IRA distribution.
2015 – Filing Thresholds
Filing Status Age Threshold
Single Under Age 65 $10,300
Age 65 or Older 11,850
Married Filing Jointly Both Spouses Under 65 $20,600
One Spouse 65 or Older 21,850
Both Spouses 65 or Older 23,100
Married Filing Separate Any Age 4,000
Head of Household Under 65 $13,250
65 or Older $14,800
Qualifying Widow(er) Under 65 $16,600
with Dependent Child 65 or Older $17,850
Consequences of Not Filing – If you have been procrastinating about filing your 2015 tax return or have other prior year returns that have not been filed, you should consider the consequences if you are REQUIRED file. The April 18 due date for the 2015 returns is just around the corner.
Failing to file a return or filing late can be costly. If taxes are owed, a delay in filing may result in penalty and interest charges that could substantially increase your tax bill. The late filing and payment penalties are a combined 5% per month (25% maximum) of the balance due.
April 18, 2016 is also the last day to file a 2012 return and be able to claim any refund you are entitled to.
Even if you expect to have a tax liability and cannot pay all the tax due, you should file your tax return by the due date to minimize penalties.
When it is beneficial for individuals to file – There are a number of benefits available when filing a tax return that can produce refunds even for a taxpayer who is not required to file:
Withholding refund – A substantial number of taxpayers fail to file their returns even when the tax they owe is less than their prepayments, such as payroll withholding, estimates, or a prior overpayment. The only way to recover the excess is to file a return.
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – If you worked and did not make a lot of money, you may qualify for the EITC. The EITC is a refundable tax credit, which means you could qualify for a tax refund. The refund could be as high as several thousand dollars even when you are not required to file.
Additional Child Tax Credit – This refundable credit may be available to you if you have at least one qualifying child.
American Opportunity Credit – The maximum credit per student is $2,500, and the first four years of postsecondary education qualify. Up to 40% of that credit is refundable when you have no tax liability and are not required to file.
Premium Tax Credit – Lower-income families are entitled to a refundable tax credit to supplement the cost of health insurance purchased through a government health insurance marketplace. To the extent the credit is greater than the supplement provided by the marketplace, it is refundable even if there is no other reason to file.
DON’T PROCRASTINATE! There is a three-year statute of limitations on refunds, and after it runs out, any refund due is forfeited. The statute is three years from the due date of the tax return. So the refund period expires for 2015 returns, which are due in April of 2016, on April 15, 2019.
For more information about filing requirements and your eligibility to receive tax credits, please contact Dagley & Co.
In a crunch? The year-end period is probably a very busy time if you are like many small business owners. You can’t close your books and determine your business’s profit until after the close of the year, and if this has been a good year, you may want to establish a retirement plan and make a contribution for 2015.
There are a number of retirement plan options available, including Keogh plans and 401(k)s. However, a simplified employee pension plan (SEP) may be your best option. Unlike with a Keogh plan, you don’t have to scramble to get a SEP established before year-end.
The reason a SEP is “simplified” is that its retirement contributions are deposited into an IRA account under the control of the SEP participant, thus eliminating most of the employer’s administrative duties. That is why these plans are sometimes referred to as SEP-IRAs.
SEPs function much like Keogh plans, and they allow tax-deductible contributions for both employees and self-employed individuals. For an employee, the maximum contribution for 2015 is the lesser of 25% of that employee’s compensation or $53,000. These contributions are excluded from the employees’ wages and are not subject to withholding for income tax or FICA. A self-employed person can contribute 25% of his or her compensation after deducting the employer’s contribution, which boils down to the smallest of 20% of the business’ net profit or $53,000. Each year, the employer can specify a compensation amount between zero and 25% (not exceeding the maximums for the year).
SEPs are a great option for startups and other small businesses that have unpredictable income and that may be leery of the long-term contribution matches required with other types of retirement plans. SEPs are also a great option for self-employed individuals with no employees, as the contributions are based upon net profits, allowing the business owner to select the maximum percentage while knowing that the required contribution will be small in low-income years.
Except for when employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements, an employer that elects to make a SEP contribution for the year must contribute to an employee’s retirement account if the employee is at least 21 years of age, has worked for the employer in at least three of the prior five calendar years, and has compensation for the year of at least $600.
Another advantage of SEP plans is that contributions are allowed after the account owner has reached the age of 70½—the age limit for traditional, non-SEP IRA contributions. This is true even though individuals must begin the required minimum distributions (RMDs) from the SEP once age 70½ is reached.
As with all traditional IRAs and qualified plans, distributions from a SEP are taxable and subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty if withdrawn before age 59½.
To set up a SEP plan, you can adopt the IRS model plan by using Form 5305-SEP. This form is completed and retained for your records (not filed with the IRS). You can also open one with a financial institution. It may be prudent to adopt whatever plan is offered by the financial institution you’ll be dealing with to ensure that all plan requirements are met. If using a financial institution’s plan, be sure to discuss the plan’s fees.
A SEP may be the best option for your business’s retirement fund. Please call Dagley & Co. for more information on how a SEP plan might work for your particular business structure or to determine whether other options should be considered.
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Household goods and used clothing are some of the most common tax-deductible charitable contributions that are encountered. Establishing the dollar value is the major complication of this type of contribution. According to the tax code, this is the fair market value (FMV), which is defined as the value that a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the item. FMV is not always easily determined and varies significantly based upon the condition of the item donated. For example, compare the condition of an article of clothing you purchased and only wore once to that of one that has been worn many times. The almost-new one certainly will be worth more, but if the hardly worn item had been purchased a few years ago and become grossly out of style, the more extensively used piece of clothing could actually be worth more. In either case, the clothing article is still a used item, so its value cannot be anywhere near as high as the original cost. Determining this value is not an exact science. The IRS recognizes this issue and in some cases requires the value to be established by a qualified appraiser.
Remember that when establishing FMV, any value you claim can be challenged in an audit and that the burden of proof is with you (the taxpayer), not with the IRS. For substantial non-cash donations, it might be appropriate for you to visit your charity’s local thrift shop or even a consignment store to get an idea of the FMV of used items.
The next big issue is documenting your contribution. Many taxpayers believe that the doorknob hanger left by the charity’s pickup driver is sufficient proof of a donation. Unfortunately, that is not the case, as a recent United States Tax Court case (Kunkel T.C. Memo 2015-71) pointed out. In that case, the court denied the taxpayer’s charitable contributions, which were based solely upon doorknob hangers left by the drivers who picked up the donated items for the charities. The court stated that “these doorknob hangers are undated; they are not specific to petitioners; they do not describe the property contributed; and they contain none of the other required information.”
The IRS requires documentation for noncash contributions based on the total value of the donation. First, they require deductions of less than $250 – A taxpayer claiming a noncash contribution with a value under $250 must keep a receipt from the charitable organization that shows: the name of the charitable organization, the date and location of the charitable contribution, and a reasonably detailed description of the property. Please note that the taxpayer is not required to have a receipt if it is impractical to get one (for example, if the property was left at a charity’s unattended drop site).
Second, the IRS requires documentation for deductions of at least $250 but not more than $500 – If a taxpayer claims a deduction of at least $250 but not more than $500 for a noncash charitable contribution, he or she must keep an acknowledgment of the contribution from the qualified organization. If the deduction includes more than one contribution of $250 or more, the taxpayer must have either a separate acknowledgment for each donation or a single acknowledgment that shows the total contribution. The acknowledgment(s) must be written and must include: the name of the charitable organization, the date and location of the charitable contribution, a reasonably detailed description of any property contributed (but not necessarily its value), and whether or not the qualified organization gave the taxpayer any goods or services as a result of the contribution (other than certain token items and membership benefits). If the charitable organization provided goods and/or services to the taxpayer, the acknowledgement must include a description and a good-faith estimate of the value of those goods or services. If the only benefit received was an intangible religious benefit (such as admission to a religious ceremony) that generally is not sold in a commercial transaction outside the donative context, the acknowledgment must say so, and in this case, the acknowledgment does not need to describe or estimate the value of the benefit.
Third, the IRS requires documentation if deductions are over $500 but not over $5,000 – If a taxpayer claims a deduction over $500 but not over $5,000 for a noncash charitable contribution, he or she must attach a completed Form 8283 to the income tax return and must provide the same acknowledgement and written records that are required for contributions of at least $250 but not more than $500 (as described above). In addition, the records must also include: how the property was obtained. (for example, purchase, gift, bequest, inheritance, or exchange), the approximate date the property was obtained or—if created, produced, or manufactured by the taxpayer—the approximate date when the property was substantially completed, and the cost or other basis, and any adjustments to this basis, for property held for less than 12 months and (if available) the cost or other basis for property held for 12 months or more (this requirement, however, does not apply to publicly traded securities). If the taxpayer has a reasonable case for not being able to provide information on either the date the property was obtained or the cost basis of the property, he or she can attach a statement of explanation to the return.
Last, the IRS requires documentation if deductions are over $5,000 – These donations require time-sensitive appraisals by a “qualified appraiser” in addition to other documentation. When contemplating such a donation, please call this office for further guidance about the documentation and forms that will be needed.
Caution: The value of similar items of property that are donated in the same year must be combined when determining what level of documentation is needed. Similar items of property are items of the same generic category or type, such as coin collections, paintings, books, clothing, jewelry, privately traded stock, land, and buildings. For example, say you donated $5,300 of used furniture to 3 different charitable organizations during the year (a bedroom set valued at $800, a dining set worth $1,000, and living room furniture worth $3,500). Because the value of the donations of similar property (furniture) exceeds $5,000, you would need to obtain an appraisal of the furniture to satisfy the substantiation requirements—even if you donated the furniture to different organizations and at different times during the year. The IRS has strict rules as to who is considered a qualified appraiser.
To help you document some of these noncash contributions, you can download a fillable Noncash Charitable Contribution statement (http://images.client-sites.com/NonCash_Contribution2010.pdf). The statement includes an area for the charity’s agent to verify the contribution and a check box denoting whether the qualified organization provided any goods or services as a result of the contribution. Although not specifically blessed by the IRS, this statement includes everything needed for noncash contributions of up to $500—provided, of course, that you and the charitable organization’s representative accurately complete the form.
Do not include items of de minimis value, such as undergarments and socks, in the deductible amount of your contribution, as they specifically are not allowed.
Please call Dagley & Co. with any questions about documenting or valuing your non-cash contributions.
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