joseph castellano

The Internal Revenue Service today announced the winners of its first crowdsourcing competition, called the “Tax Design Challenge,” that encouraged innovative ideas for the taxpayer experience of the future.

Out of 48 submissions, winners from California, Minnesota and Washington, D.C., were among those selected in categories covering overall design, taxpayer usefulness and best financial capability.

The three-week competition invited the public to imagine the taxpayer experience of the future and specifically design an online experience that better organizes and presents a person’s tax information.  The goal was to make it easier for a person to manage their tax responsibilities, and use their own tax data to make informed and effective decisions about their personal finances.

“This was a first-time endeavor for the IRS and one that reflects our strong commitment to engaging the public in efforts to build for the future state of tax administration,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “We saw a strong response from the participants, and the winning designs are creative displays of what a future online taxpayer account could look like.”

The effort was done in coordination with the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) and engaged teams of designers, developers and innovative thinkers across the U.S. to envision options for taxpayer interactions.

“MBA was honored to join with IRS and sponsor this innovative partnership. The winning designs represent critical first steps towards the worthy goal of making taxpayer information easier to safely and swiftly obtain, for instance, when one is applying for a mortgage,” said David H. Stevens, CMB, President and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. “The mortgage banking industry is innovating, and we are looking forward to continuing to work with the IRS and all stakeholders to build on the Tax Design Challenge’s success.”

A review panel considered each submission for all three prize categories listed below and selected winners based on defined criteria. The winners selected are:

Overall Design

$10,000 (1st):  Andrew Miller, “IRS MyService,” San Francisco

$5,000 (2nd): Andrea Angquist, “IRS 365,” San Francisco

Best Taxpayer Usefulness

$2,000 (1st): Andrew Miller, “IRS MyService,” San Francisco

$1,000 (2nd): Andrea Angquist, “IRS 365,” San Francisco

Best Financial Capability

$2,000 (1st): Sam Nguyen and Vidhika Bansal, “taxes,” Washington D.C.

$1,000 (2nd): Dante Vono, “MyTax Online,” Minnesota

The Tax Design Challenge is part of the broader effort to plan for the future state of tax administration.  Participants were challenged to organize and present tax data in new ways that make tax information easier to understand and use.

Monetary prizes were funded exclusively by the Mortgage Bankers Association, and winners were recognized at an event today in Washington.

Since 2010, the federal government has administered more than 660 prize competitions.  The Tax Design Challenge is authorized under the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (Pub. L. 111-358).

For more about this government-wide program, visit www.challenge.gov.

Must-Know Tips about the Home Office Deduction

If you use your home for business, you may be able to deduct expenses for the business use of your home. If you qualify, you can claim the deduction whether you rent or own your home. You may use either the simplified method or the regular method to claim your deduction. Here are six tips that you should know about the home office deduction:

  1. Regular and Exclusive Use.As a general rule, you must use a part of your home regularly and exclusively for business purposes. The part of your home used for business must also be:
  • Your principal place of business, or
  • A place where you meet clients or customers in the normal course of business, or
  • A separate structure not attached to your home. Examples could include a garage or a studio.
  1. Simplified Option.If you use the simplified option, multiply the allowable square footage of your office by a rate of $5. The maximum footage allowed is 300 square feet. This option will save you time because it simplifies how you figure and claim the deduction. It will also make it easier for you to keep records. This option does not change the rules for claiming a home office deduction.
  2. Regular Method.This method includes certain costs that you paid for your home. For example, if you rent your home, part of the rent you paid may qualify. If you own your home, part of the mortgage interest, taxes and utilities you paid may qualify. The amount you can deduct usually depends on the percentage of your home used for business.
  3. Deduction Limit.If your gross income from the business use of your home is less than your expenses, the deduction for some expenses may be limited.
  4. Self-Employed.If you are self-employed and choose the regular method, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, to figure the amount you can deduct. You can claim your deduction using either method on Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business. See the Schedule C instructions for how to report your deduction.
  5. Employees.You must meet additional rules to claim the deduction if you are an employee. For example, your business use must also be for the convenience of your employer. If you qualify, you claim the deduction on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions.

For more on this topic, see Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home. You can view, download and print IRS tax forms and publications on IRS.gov/forms anytime.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

If you gave money or goods to a charity in 2015, you may be able to claim a deduction on your federal tax return. Here are six important facts you should know about charitable donations.

1. Qualified Charities. You must donate to a qualified charity. Gifts to individuals, political organizations or candidates are not deductible. An exception to this rule is contributions under the Slain Officer Family Support Act of 2015. To check the status of a charity, use the IRS Select Check tool.

2. Itemize Deductions. To deduct your contributions, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions. File Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, with your federal tax return.

3. Benefit in Return. If you get something in return for your donation, you may have to reduce your deduction. You can only deduct the amount of your gift that is more than the value of what you got in return. Examples of benefits include merchandise, meals, tickets to an event or other goods and services.

4. Type of Donation. If you give property instead of cash, your deduction amount is normally limited to the item’s fair market value. Fair market value is generally the price you would get if you sold the property on the open market. If you donate used clothing and household items, they generally must be in good condition, or better, to be deductible. Special rules apply to cars, boats and other types of property donations.

5. Form to File and Records to Keep. You must file Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, for all noncash gifts totaling more than $500 for the year. If you need to prepare a Form 8283, you can prepare and e-file your tax return for free using IRS Free File. The type of records you must keep depends on the amount and type of your donation. To learn more about what records to keep see Publication 526.

6. Donations of $250 or More. If you donated cash or goods of $250 or more, you must have a written statement from the charity. It must show the amount of the donation and a description of any property given. It must also say whether you received any goods or services in exchange for the gift.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

Claiming a Tax Deduction for Medical and Dental Expenses

Your medical expenses may save you money at tax time, but a few key rules apply. Here are some tax tips to help you determine if you can deduct medical and dental expenses on your tax return:

  • You can only claim your medical expenses that you paid for in 2015 if you itemize deductions on your federal tax return.
  • Include all qualified medical costs that you paid for during the year, however, you only realize a tax benefit when your total amount is more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  • Temporary Threshold for Age 65.  If you or your spouse is age 65 or older, then it’s 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. This exception applies through Dec. 31, 2016.
  • Qualifying Expenses.  You can include most medical and dental costs that you paid for yourself, your spouse and your dependents including:
    • The costs of diagnosing, treating, easing or preventing disease.
    • The costs you pay for prescription drugs and insulin.
    • The costs you pay for insurance premiums for policies that cover medical care qualify.
    • Some long-term care insurance costs.

Exceptions and special rules apply. Costs reimbursed by insurance or other sources normally do not qualify for a deduction. For more examples of costs you can and can’t deduct, see IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses. You can get it on IRS.gov/forms anytime.

  • Travel Costs Count.  You may be able to deduct travel costs you pay for medical care. This includes costs such as public transportation, ambulance service, tolls and parking fees. If you use your car, you can deduct either the actual costs or the standard mileage rate for medical travel. The rate is 23 cents per mile for 2015.
  • No Double Benefit. You can’t claim a tax deduction for medical expenses paid with funds from your Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Arrangements. Amounts paid with funds from those plans are usually tax-free.
  • Use the Tool.  Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you can deduct your medical expenses. It can answer many of your questions on a wide range of tax topics including the health care law.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

Most people can claim an exemption on their tax return. It can lower your taxable income. In most cases, that reduces the amount of tax you owe for the year. Here are the top 10 tax facts about exemptions to help you file your tax return.

1. E-file Your Tax Return. Easy does it! Use IRS E-file to file a complete and accurate tax return. The software will help you determine the number of exemptions that you can claim. E-file options include free Volunteer Assistance, IRS Free File, commercial software and professional assistance.

2. Exemptions Cut Income. There are two types of exemptions. The first type is a personal exemption. The second type is an exemption for a dependent. You can usually deduct $4,000 for each exemption you claim on your 2015 tax return.

3. Personal Exemptions. You can usually claim an exemption for yourself. If you’re married and file a joint return, you can claim one for your spouse, too. If you file a separate return, you can claim an exemption for your spouse only if your spouse:

  • Had no gross income,
  • Is not filing a tax return, and
  • Was not the dependent of another taxpayer.

4. Exemptions for Dependents. You can usually claim an exemption for each of your dependents. A dependent is either your child or a relative who meets a set of tests. You can’t claim your spouse as a dependent. You must list the Social Security number of each dependent you claim on your tax return. For more on these rules, see IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information. Get Publication 501 on IRS.gov. Just click on the Forms & Pubs tab on the home page.

5. Report Health Care Coverage. The health care law requires you to report certain health insurance information for you and your family. The individual shared responsibility provision requires you and each member of your family to either:

Have qualifying health insurance, called minimum essential coverage, or
Have an exemption from this coverage requirement, or
Make a shared responsibility payment when you file your 2015 tax return.
Visit IRS.gov/ACA for more on these rules.

6. Some People Don’t Qualify. You normally may not claim married persons as dependents if they file a joint return with their spouse. There are some exceptions to this rule.

7. Dependents May Have to File. A person who you can claim as your dependent may have to file their own tax return. This depends on certain factors, like total income, whether they are married and if they owe certain taxes.

8. No Exemption on Dependent’s Return. If you can claim a person as a dependent, that person can’t claim a personal exemption on his or her own tax return. This is true even if you don’t actually claim that person on your tax return. This rule applies because you can claim that person as your dependent.

9. Exemption Phase-Out. The $4,000 per exemption is subject to income limits. This rule may reduce or eliminate the amount you can claim based on the amount of your income. See Publication 501 for details.

10. Try the IRS Online Tool. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if a person qualifies as your dependent.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

Read more tax tips at IRS.gov.

 

If someone helps you do your taxes, you’re not alone. The IRS asks you to choose your tax return preparer wisely – for good reason. You are responsible for the information on your income tax return. That’s true no matter who prepares your return. Here are ten tips to keep in mind when choosing a tax preparer:

1. Check the Preparer’s Qualifications. Use the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications on IRS.gov. This tool can help you find a tax return preparer with the qualifications that you prefer. The Directory is a searchable and sortable listing of certain preparers registered with the IRS. It includes the name, city, state and zip code of:

  • Attorneys.
  • CPAs.
  • Enrolled Agents.
  • Enrolled Retirement Plan Agents.
  • Enrolled Actuaries.
  • Annual Filing Season Program participants.

Attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents can represent any client before the IRS in any situation. However, new rules apply to the rights of non-credentialed tax preparers to represent their clients before the IRS. Non-credentialed preparers without an Annual Filing Season Program – Record of Completion – may only prepare tax returns. The new rules do not allow them to represent clients before the IRS on any returns prepared and filed after December 31, 2015. Annual Filing Season Program participants can represent clients in limited situations. For more, visit IRS.gov and see the Understanding Tax Return Preparer Credentials and Qualifications page.

2. Check the Preparer’s History. Ask the Better Business Bureau about the preparer. Check for disciplinary actions and the license status for credentialed preparers. For CPAs, check with the State Board of Accountancy. For attorneys, check with the State Bar Association. For Enrolled Agents, go to IRS.gov and search for “verify enrolled agent status” or check the Directory.

3. Ask about Service Fees. Avoid preparers who base fees on a percentage of their client’s refund. Also avoid those who boast bigger refunds than their competition. Make sure that your refund goes directly to you – not into your preparer’s bank account.

4. Ask to E-file Your Return. Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file. Paid preparers who do taxes for more than 10 clients generally must file electronically. The IRS has safely processed more than 1.5 billion e-filed tax returns.

5. Make Sure the Preparer is Available. You may want to contact your preparer after this year’s April 18 due date. Avoid fly-by-night preparers.

6. Provide Records and Receipts. Good preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They’ll ask questions to figure your total income, tax deductions, credits, etc. Do not use a preparer who will e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.

7. Never Sign a Blank Return. Don’t use a tax preparer that asks you to sign a blank tax form.

8. Review Your Return Before Signing. Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions if something is not clear. Make sure you’re comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.

9. Ensure the Preparer Signs and Includes Their PTIN. All paid tax preparers must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN. By law, paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN. Be sure you get a copy of your return.

10. 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. Report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or changed the return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. You can get these forms on IRS.gov at any time.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

 

For more information on federal taxes please visit IRS.gov.

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