For one reason or another, you may find yourself in a situation where you've lost track of a retirement account like a 401(k) or pension.
There are several ways this can happen:
Luckily, there are several handy but little-known ways to retrieve retirement account information:
Once you've located a lost retirement account, you can roll it over into an IRA if it's yours, or you can take several approaches if it is an inherited asset. Reach out if you'd like to discuss your options regarding tax-advantaged retirement accounts.
Getting audited by the IRS is no fun. Some taxpayers are selected for random audits every year, but the chances of that happening to you are very small. You are much more likely to fall under the IRS's gaze if you make one of several common mistakes. That means your best chance of avoiding an audit is by doing things to prepare right before you file your return this year. Here are some suggestions:
Don't leave anything out. Missing or incomplete information on your return will trigger an audit letter automatically, since the IRS gets copies of the same tax forms (such as W-2s and 1099s) that you do.
Double-check your numbers. Bad math will get you audited. People often make calculation errors when they do their returns, especially if they do them without assistance. In 2016, the IRS sent out more than 1.6 million examination letters correcting math errors. The most frequent errors occurred in people's calculation of their amount of tax due, as well as the number of exemptions and deductions they claimed.
Don't stand out. The IRS takes a closer look at business expenses, charitable donations and high-value itemized deductions. IRS computers reference statistical data on which amounts of these items are typical for various professions and income levels. If what you are claiming is significantly different from what is typical, it may be flagged for review.
Have your documentation in order. Be meticulous about your recordkeeping. Items that will support the tax breaks you take include: cancelled checks, receipts, credit card and investment statements, logs for mileage and business meals and proof of charitable donations. With proper documentation, a correspondence letter from the IRS inquiring about a particular deduction can be quickly resolved before it turns into a full-blown audit.
Remember, the average person has a less than one percent chance of being audited. If you prepare now, you can narrow your audit chances even further and rest easy after you've filed.
As the tax filing season approaches, it's time to start thinking about who will prepare your state and federal tax returns.
In 2017, more than 132 million individual and family tax returns were e-filed, the most accurate, safest, and easiest way to file. More than 16 million were prepared on a computer and printed or prepared by hand, then mailed.
The IRS stresses that no matter who prepares a federal tax return, by signing the return, the taxpayer becomes legally responsible for the accuracy of all information included.
Many taxpayers pay for tax return preparation. By law, all paid tax preparers must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN. Paid preparers must sign the return and include their PTIN. The IRS offers tips to help taxpayers choose a tax return preparer wisely. The Choosing a Tax Professional page has information about tax preparer credentials and qualifications. The IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications can help identify many preparers by type of credential or qualification.
Taxpayers who use paid preparers should still keep copies of their most recent tax returns for their own records. If using a software product for the first time, you may need your adjusted gross income amount from your prior-year return to verify your identity.
Always avoid fly-by-night preparers who may not be available after the due date or who base their fees on a percentage of the refund.
The Internal Revenue Service announced yesterday that it will begin accepting tax returns on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. Nearly 155 million individual tax returns are expected to be filed in 2018. The nation’s tax deadline will be April 17 this year – so taxpayers will have two additional days to file beyond April 15.
Many software companies and tax professionals will be accepting tax returns before Jan. 29 and then will submit the returns when IRS systems open. Although the IRS will begin accepting both electronic and paper tax returns Jan. 29, paper returns will begin processing later in mid-February as system updates continue. The IRS strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically for faster refunds.
The IRS set the Jan. 29 opening date to ensure the security and readiness of key tax processing systems in advance of the opening and to assess the potential impact of tax legislation on 2017 tax returns.
Congress has passed tax reform that will take effect in 2018, ushering in some of the most significant tax changes in three decades. Here are some of the most important items in the new bill that impact individual taxpayers.
Individual Rule Changes
Because major tax reform like this is so rare, it's worth scheduling a tax planning consultation to ensure you get the most tax savings possible during 2018. Click here to contact Ellsworth & Associates and set up an appointment.
If you have not already done so, now is the time to review your tax situation and make an estimated quarterly tax payment using Form 1040-ES. The fourth-quarter due date is now here.
Normal due date: Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Remember, you are required to withhold at least 90 percent of your current tax obligation or 100 percent of last year’s federal tax obligation.* A quick look at last year’s tax return and a projection of this year’s obligation can help determine if a payment is necessary. Here are some other things to consider:
*If your income is over $150,000 ($75,000 if married filing separate), you must pay 110% of last year’s tax obligation to be safe from an underpayment penalty.
Inheriting a retirement account like a 401(k) or an IRA is more complicated tax-wise than if you’d been left a house or a set of golf clubs. Here are some tips on how to use a “stretch out” to avoid being hit with a big tax bill.
Stretching It Out
A stretch out is a plan to start taking small distributions from an inherited retirement account over a period of time. It allows a person who inherits a retirement account to avoid paying income tax on the entire amount right away. Taxpayers also benefit by keeping the account as a tax-advantaged investment vehicle that can grow over time.
Example: Dee Lee Beloved, 30 years old, inherits a $1 million IRA from her deceased uncle. If she were to take the whole amount in a lump sum, she would move into a higher tax bracket and pay 39.6 percent tax on most of her inheritance. Instead, she opts to stretch-out the IRA distributions over the next several decades, based on IRS life expectancy tables for her age. She thus receives smaller, more tax-efficient regular payments each year. She invests the balance of the account in mutual funds and hopes its value will grow over time.
Choose from Two Options
The IRS requires you to take full disbursement of an inherited retirement account within five years, unless you create a formal stretch-out plan to take small regular payments over an extended period. This gives you two stretch-out options:
Extra Option for Spouses
When spouses inherit retirement accounts, they are allowed to treat it as if it were theirs originally. That means they can continue making tax-advantaged contributions and can start withdrawing funds after reaching retirement age.
But younger spouses may want to consider converting accounts to stretch outs anyway. That’s because you can start taking distributions immediately, instead of waiting until age 59 ½ to withdraw funds penalty-free.
Stretch outs can be complicated, and some inherited accounts have special rules limiting the use of stretch outs. The best bet is to get professional assistance to help you create an optimal tax strategy when you receive an inheritance.
If you own a small business, be vigilant against a growing wave of identity theft against employers. Small business identity theft is a big business for identity thieves. Just like individuals, businesses may have their identities stolen and their sensitive information used to open credit card accounts or used to file fraudulent tax refunds for fake refunds.
In the past year, the IRS has noted a sharp increase in the number of fraudulent Forms 1120, 1120S, and 1041 as well as Schedule K-1. The fraudulent filings apply to partnerships as well as estate and trust forms.
Identity thieves are displaying a sophisticated knowledge of the tax code and industry filing practices as they attempt to obtain valuable data to help file fraudulent returns.
Identity thieves have long made use of stolen Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) to create fake Forms W-2 that they would file with fraudulent individual tax returns. Fraudsters also used EINs to open new lines of credit or obtain credit cards. Now, they are using company names and EINs to file fraudulent returns.
As with fraudulent individual returns, there are certain signs that may indicate identity theft.
Business, partnerships, and estate and trust filers should be alert to potential identity theft and contact the IRS if they experience any of these issues:
Passwords are often the key to protecting access to private information and data stored on computers or sent over email. Because most taxpayers file their returns electronically and access account information online, it is essential for taxpayers to not only use strong passwords for all tax-related accounts, but to do everything they can to protect those passwords.
7 Tips for Creating Strong Passwords
Here are seven tips you should consider when creating and protecting passwords:
A tax reform bill known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed by Congress recently and was signed into law by President Trump on December 22. Most of the new laws are relevant to the 2018 and 2019 tax years, but there are a couple items that you need to know about right away for your 2017 taxes.
1. The medical expense deduction threshold was retroactively lowered to 7.5 percent.
The tax reform bill retroactively lowers the threshold to deduct medical expenses in 2017 to 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. The previous threshold was 10 percent. This new 7.5 percent threshold remains in place for 2017 and 2018, but reverts back to 10 percent in the following years.
What this means. If you were not planning on using the medical expense deduction this year because you fell short of the 10 percent threshold, you may want to reconsider your situation before year end. If there are any qualified medical expenses you can make (drug purchases, medical equipment, etc.) before Dec. 31 to push you over the new, lower threshold, consider doing so. But you must act now.
2. The healthcare individual mandate penalty stays in place until 2019.
The individual mandate (also known as the shared responsibility penalty) in the Affordable Care Act is effectively repealed by the tax reform legislation, but not right away. The penalty is set to zero in 2019, but remains in place for 2017 and 2018.
What this means. You still need to retain your Form 1095s this year and next in order to provide evidence of your healthcare coverage. Without proof of coverage, you may have to pay the higher of $695 or 2.5 percent of income. Unless there are further changes coming, 2018 may be the last year you'll need to worry about the individual mandate penalty.
More Changes to Consider for 2018 Tax Planning
We're experiencing one of most significant tax law changes in more than 30 years. There will be a lot of things to consider for 2018 tax planning. Here are some of the most significant: