joseph castellano

Filing a tax return electronically reduces errors because the tax software does the math, flags common errors and prompts taxpayers for missing information.

Using a reputable tax preparer – including certified public accountants, enrolled agents or other knowledgeable tax professionals – can also help avoid errors. Mistakes can result in a processing delay, which can mean it takes more time to get a refund.

Here are some common errors to avoid when preparing a tax return:

  • Missing or inaccurate Social Security numbers. Each SSN on a tax return should appear exactly as printed on the Social Security card.
  • Misspelled names. Likewise, a name listed on a tax return should match the name on that person’s Social Security card.
  • Incorrect filing status. Some taxpayers choose the wrong filing status. The Interactive Tax Assistant on IRS.gov can help taxpayers choose the correct status especially if more than one filing status applies.  Tax software also helps prevent mistakes with filing status.
  • Math mistakes. Math errors are one of the most common mistakes. They range from simple addition and subtraction to more complex calculations. Taxpayers should always double check their math. Better yet, tax prep software does it automatically.
  • Figuring credits or deductions. Taxpayers can make mistakes figuring things like their earned income tax credit, child and dependent care credit, and the standard deduction. Taxpayers should always follow the instructions carefully. For example, a taxpayer who’s 65 or older, or blind, should claim the correct, higher standard deduction if they’re not itemizing. The Interactive Tax Assistant can help determine if a taxpayer is eligible for tax credits or deductions. Attach any required forms and schedules.
  • Incorrect bank account numbers. Taxpayers who are due a refund should choose direct deposit. This is the fastest way for a taxpayer to get their money. However, taxpayers need to make sure they use the correct routing and account numbers on their tax return.
  • Unsigned forms. An unsigned tax return isn’t valid…period. In most cases, both spouses must sign a joint return. Exceptions may apply for members of the armed forces or other taxpayers who have a valid power of attorney Taxpayers can avoid this error by filing their return electronically and digitally signing it before sending it to the IRS.
  • Filing with an expired individual tax identification number. If a taxpayer’s ITIN is expired, they should go ahead and file using the expired number. The IRS will process that return and treat it as a return filed on time. However, the IRS won’t allow any exemptions or credits to a return filed with an expired ITIN. Taxpayers will receive a notice telling the taxpayer to renew their number. Once the taxpayer renews the ITIN, the IRS will process return normally.

It’s a good idea for people to find out if they should file using the standard deduction or itemize their deductions. Deductions reduce the amount of taxable income when filing a federal income tax return. In other words, they can reduce the amount of tax someone owes.

Individuals should understand they have a choice of either taking a standard deduction or itemizing their deductions. Taxpayers can use the method that gives them the lower tax. Due to tax law changes in the last couple years, people who itemized in the past might not want to continue to do so, so it’s important for all taxpayers to look into which deduction to take.

Here are some details about the two methods to help people understand which they should use:

Standard deduction
The standard deduction amount adjusts every year and can vary by filing status. The standard deduction amount depends on the taxpayer’s filing status, whether they are 65 or older or blind, and whether another taxpayer can claim them as a dependent. Taxpayers who are age 65 or older on the last day of the year and don’t itemize deductions are entitled to a higher standard deduction.

Most filers who use Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors, can find their standard deduction on the first page of the form.

Taxpayers who can’t use the standard deduction include:

  • A married individual filing as married filing separately whose spouse itemizes deductions.
  • An individual who files a tax return for a period of less than 12 months. This could be due to a change in their annual accounting period.
  • An individual who was a nonresident alien or a dual-status alien during the year. However, nonresident aliens who are married to a U.S. citizen or resident alien can take the standard deduction in certain situations.

Itemized deductions
Taxpayers may need to itemize deductions because they can’t use the standard deduction. They may also itemize deductions when this amount is greater than their standard deduction.

Taxpayers who itemize file Schedule A, Form 1040, Itemized Deductions or Form 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors.

A taxpayer may benefit by itemizing deductions for things that include:

  • State and local income or sales taxes
  • Real estate and personal property taxes
  • Mortgage interest
  • Mortgage insurance premiums
  • Personal casualty and theft losses from a federally declared disaster
  • Donations to a qualified charity
  • Unreimbursed medical and dental expenses that exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income

Individual itemized deductions may be limited. Form 1040, Schedule A Instructionscan help determine what limitations may apply.

More information:
Publication 501, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information
How Much Is My Standard Deduction?
Topic No. 551 Standard Deduction

The tax filing season is upon us, and many people will be looking for someone to help them file a tax return. These taxpayers should choose their tax return preparer wisely.

This is because it’s ultimately the taxpayer who is responsible for all the information on their income tax return. It’s important for people to remember that this is true no matter who prepares the return. Here are some tips for folks to remember when selecting a preparer. Taxpayers should:

Check the Preparer’s Qualifications. People can use the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications. This tool helps taxpayers find a tax return preparer with specific qualifications. The directory is a searchable and sortable listing of preparers.

Check the Preparer’s History. Taxpayers can ask the local Better Business Bureau about the preparer. They should check for disciplinary actions and the license status for credentialed preparers. There are some additional organizations about specific types of preparers:
•Enrolled Agents: Go to the verify enrolled agent status page on IRS.gov.
•Certified Public Accountants: Check with the State Board of Accountancy.
•Attorneys: Check with the State Bar Association.

Ask about Service Fees. People should avoid preparers who base fees on a percentage of the refund or who boast bigger refunds than their competition.

Ask to e-file. The quickest way for taxpayers to get their refund is to electronically filetheir federal tax return and choose direct deposit.

Make Sure the Preparer is Available. Taxpayers may want to contact their preparer after this year’s April 15 due date. People should avoid “fly-by-night” preparers.

Provide Records and Receipts. Good preparers will ask to see a taxpayer’s records and receipts. They’ll ask questions to figure things like the total income, tax deductions and credits.

Never Sign a Blank Return. Taxpayers should not use a tax preparer who asks them to sign a blank tax form.

Review Before Signing. Before signing a tax return, the taxpayer should review it. They should ask questions if something is not clear. Taxpayers should feel comfortable with the accuracy of their return before they sign it. Once they sign the return, taxpayers are accepting responsibility for the information on it.

Review details about any refund. Taxpayers should make sure that their refund goes directly to them – not to the preparer’s bank account. The taxpayer should review the routing and bank account number on the completed return.

Ensure the Preparer Signs and Includes their PTIN. All paid tax preparers must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number. By law, paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN.

Report Abusive Tax Preparers to the IRS. Most tax return preparers are honest and provide great service to their clients. However, some preparers are dishonest. People can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer.

More information:
Need someone to prepare your tax return?

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WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued guidance for taxpayers with certain deductible expenses to reflect changes resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

Revenue Procedure 2019-46, posted today on IRS.gov, updates the rules for using the optional standard mileage rates in computing the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving expense purposes.

The guidance also provides rules to substantiate the amount of an employee’s ordinary and necessary travel expenses reimbursed by an employer using the optional standard mileage rates. Taxpayers are not required to use a method described in this revenue procedure and may instead substantiate actual allowable expenses provided they maintain adequate records.

The TCJA suspended the miscellaneous itemized deduction for most employees with unreimbursed business expenses, including the costs of operating an automobile for business purposes. However, self-employed individuals and certain employees, such as Armed Forces reservists, qualifying state or local government officials, educators and performing artists, may continue to deduct unreimbursed business expenses during the suspension.

The TCJA also suspended the deduction for moving expenses. However, this suspension does not apply to a member of the Armed Forces on active duty who moves pursuant to a military order and incident to a permanent change of station.

The earned income tax credit benefits working people with low-to-moderate income. Last year, the average credit was $2,445. EITC not only reduces the amount of tax someone owes, but may also give them a refund, even if they don’t owe any tax at all.

Here are a few things people should know about this credit:

  • Taxpayers may move in and out of eligibility for the credit throughout the year. This may happen after major life events. Because of this, it’s a good idea for people to find out if they qualify.
  • To qualify, people must meet certain requirements and file a federal tax return. They must file even if they don’t owe any tax or aren’t otherwise required to file.
  • Taxpayers qualify based on their income, the number of children they have, and the filing status they use on their tax return. For a child to qualify, they must live with the taxpayer for more than six months of the year.

Here’s a quick look at the income limits for the different filing statuses. Those who work and earn less than these amounts may qualify.

Married filing jointly:

  • Zero children: $21,370
  • One child: $46,884
  • Two children: $52,493
  • Three or more children: $55,952

Head of household and single:

  • Zero children: $15,570
  • One child: $41,094
  • Two children: $46,703
  • Three or more children: $50,162

The maximum credit amounts are based on the number of children a taxpayer has. They are the same for all filing statuses:

  • Zero children: $529
  • One child: $3,526
  • Two children: $5,828
  • Three or more children: $6,557

Taxpayers who file using the status married filing separately cannot claim EITC.

Employers who provide paid family and medical leave to their employees might qualify for a credit that can reduce the taxes they owe. It’s called the employer credit for family and medical leave.

Here are some facts about the credit to help employers find out if they might be able to claim it.

To be eligible, an employer must:

  • Have a written policy that meets several requirements.
  • Provide:
    • At least two weeks of paid family and medical leave to full-time employees.
    • A prorated amount of paid leave for part-time employees.
    • Pay for leave that’s at least 50 percent of the wages normally paid to employees.

Applicable dates:

It’s available for wages paid in taxable years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2020.

The amount of the credit:

The credit is generally equal to 12.5 to 25 percent of paid family and medical leave for qualifying employees. The percentage is based on how much employers pay each employee for family and medical leave.

Qualifying leave:

The leave can be for any or all the reasons specified in the Family and Medical Leave Act:

  • Birth of an employee’s child.
  • Care for the child.
  • Placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care.
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition.
  • A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of their job.
  • Any qualifying emergency due to an employee’s spouse, child, or parent being on covered active duty in the Armed Forces. This includes the taxpayer being notified of an impending order to covered active duty.
  • To care for a service member who is the employee’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin.

Claiming the credit:

To claim the credit, employers will file two forms with their tax return. These are Form 8994, Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave, and Form 3800, General Business Credit.

Year-round tax planning is important for everyone. Just because a taxpayer already filed their tax return doesn’t mean they don’t need to think about taxes for the rest of the year. In fact, what they do now may affect any tax they might owe next year. It could also affect the refund they expect.

Since federal taxes operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, taxpayers need to pay most of their tax during the year as they earn the income. Taxpayers should make sure they’re having the correct amount of tax withheld from their paychecks. It’s a good idea for taxpayers to do a Paycheck Checkup for these reasons:

  • Having too little withheld could lead to a smaller than expected refund.
  • Having too little withheld could even lead to an unexpected tax bill.
  • Employees who have too much tax withheld will see less money in each paycheck. Having more money in each paycheck may be more helpful than getting a large refund when they file.

Taxpayers can use the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator to check their withholding. All taxpayers should use this tool to do a Paycheck Checkup ASAP if they haven’t already done so in 2019. Some taxpayers should do another Paycheck Checkup even if they already did one this year. This includes anyone whose personal or financial information changes due to a life event. Some life events that can affect withholding are:

  • Marriage
  • Having a baby
  • Getting a new job
  • Getting a raise at work

Taxpayers who want to change how much tax is withheld from their paycheck simply need to submit an updated Form W-4 to their employer.

The IRS has several digital tools taxpayers can use to stay updated on important tax information that may help with tax planning. In addition to visiting the IRS.govwebsite, they can download the IRS2Go app, watch IRS YouTube videos, and follow the IRS on Twitter and Instagram.

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Summer is a season when people have fun, yet get things done. From buying a new house to cleaning their old one, taxpayers who itemize their deductions may be doing things this summer that will affect the tax returns they file next year.

The higher standard deduction means fewer taxpayers are itemizing their deductions. However, taxpayers who still plan to itemize next year should keep these tips in mind:

  • Deducting state and local income, sales and property taxes. The deduction that taxpayers can claim for state and local income, sales and property taxes is limited. This deduction is limited to a combined, total deduction of $10,000. It is $5,000 if married filing separately. Any state and local taxes paid above this amount can’t be deducted.
  • Refinancing a home. The deduction for mortgage interest is also limited. It’s limited to interest paid on a loan secured by the taxpayer’s main home or second home. For homeowners who choose to refinance, they must use the loan to buy, build, or substantially improve their main home or second home, and the mortgage interest they may deduct is subject to the limits described in the next bullet under “buying a home.”
  • Buying a home. People who buy a new home this year can only deduct mortgage interest they pay on a total of $750,000 in qualifying debt for a first and second home. It’s $375,000 if married filing separately. For existing mortgages, if the loan originated on or before Dec. 15, 2017, taxpayers continue to deduct interest on a total of $1 million in qualifying debt secured by first and second homes.
  • Donating items and deducting money. Many taxpayers do a good summer clean-out during the warm months. They often find unused items in good condition they can donate to a qualified charity. These donations may qualify for a tax deduction. Taxpayers must itemize deductions to deduct charitable contributions and must have proof of all donations. Taxpayers can use the Interactive Tax Assistant to help determine whether they can deduct their charitable contributions.
  • Deducting mileage for charity. Driving a personal vehicle while donating services on a trip sponsored by a qualified charity could qualify for a tax break. Itemizers can deduct 14 cents per mile for charitable mileage driven in 2019.
  • Reporting gambling winnings and claiming gambling losses.Taxpayers who itemize can deduct gambling losses up to the amount of gambling winnings. They can use the Interactive Tax Assistant to find out more about reporting gambling winnings and  losses next year.

More information:
Publication 5307, Tax Reform: Basics for Individuals and Families.

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A taxpayer’s adjusted gross income is one factor that determines how much tax they owe. Taxpayers who plan today can  lower their AGI.

This tip is one in a series about tax planning. These tips focus on steps taxpayers can take now to help them down the road.

Here are a couple things taxpayers can do now to lower their AGI:

Know how adjusted gross income affects taxes

  • A taxpayer’s AGI and tax rate are important factors in figuring their taxes. AGI is their income from all sources minus any adjustments or deductions to their income. Generally, the higher the AGI, the higher their tax rate, and the more tax they pay.
  • Tax planning can include making changes during the year that  can lower a taxpayer’s AGI. The taxpayer could:
    • Contribute to a Health Savings Account
    • Claim educator expenses if they’re a qualifying educator
    • Pay student loan interest

A full list is on Schedule 1 of Form 1040.

Save for retirement

  • Retirement savings can also lower AGI.
    • Contributing money to a retirement plan at work like a 401(k) plan can reduce a taxpayer’s AGI.
    • Investing in a traditional IRA plan is another way to save for retirement and lower AGI.
    • Self-employed SEP, SIMPLE, and qualified plans are also retirement options that can lower AGI.

The IRS has several digital tools taxpayers can use to stay updated on important tax information that may help with tax planning. In addition to visiting IRS.gov, they can download the IRS2Go mobile app, watch IRS YouTube videos, and follow the IRS on Twitter and Instagram.

Share this tip on social media — #IRSTaxTip: Lowering AGI this year can help taxpayers when they file next year. https://go.usa.gov/xyA4T

With scam artists hard at work all year, taxpayers should be on the lookout for a surge of evolving phishing emails and telephone scams.

Taxpayers should watch for new versions of two tax-related scams. One involves Social Security numbers related to tax issues. The other threatens taxpayers with a tax bill from a fictional government agency. Here are some details about these scams to help taxpayers recognize them:

The SSN scheme

  • The latest twist includes scammers claiming to be able to suspend or cancel the victim’s Social Security number. This scam is similar to and often associated with the IRS impersonation scam.
  • It is yet another attempt by con artists to frighten taxpayers into returning robocall voicemails.
  • Scammers may mention overdue taxes in addition to threatening to cancel the taxpayer’s SSN.

Fake tax agency

  • This scheme involves a letter threatening an IRS lien or levy.
  • The scammer mails the letter to the taxpayer.
  • The lien or levy is based on bogus overdue taxes owed to a non-existent agency.
  • The fake agency is called the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement.” There is no such agency.
  • The lien notification scam also likely references the IRS to confuse potential victims into thinking the letter is from a legitimate agency.

Both these schemes show classic signs of being scams. The IRS and its Security Summit partners – the state tax agencies and the tax industry – remind everyone to stay alert to scams that use the IRS or reference taxes. Being alert is especially important in late spring and early summer as tax bills and refunds arrive.

Share this tip on social media — #IRSTaxTip: Taxpayers should be on the lookout for new versions of these two scams. https://go.usa.gov/xyYHB

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