Watch out for aggressive phone scams again this tax season

The Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) is warning taxpayers about one particular category of tax scams that has proven to be very widespread, very aggressive, and very relentless. Callers claim to be IRS employees, and they tell their intended victims that they owe taxes that must be paid immediately using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The fake IRS agents threaten those who refuse to pay with arrest, deportation, or loss of a business or driver’s license. The scammers have been operating in every state in the country.

Here are some practices used by the scammers that taxpayers should watch out for:

* Use of automated robocall machine.

* Caller gives fake IRS badge numbers.

* Caller knows last four digits of victim’s social security number.

* Caller ID is changed to appear as if the IRS is the caller.

* A fake IRS e-mail is sent supporting the scammer’s claims.

* Follow-up calls are made claiming to be from the police department or motor vehicle licensing office, with caller ID again supporting the claim.

If you receive one of these fake calls, complete the “IRS Impersonation Scam Form” on TIGTA’s website, or call TIGTA at 800-366-4484.

David Bradsher, CPA

Some questions and answers about reverse mortgages

A reverse mortgage is a loan against your property. But, instead of you making payments to the lender as you do on a regular mortgage, the lender is paying you. The repayment of this mortgage takes place after you no longer live in your home. Here are some answers to common questions about reverse mortgages.

1. How can a reverse mortgage benefit me?

The proceeds from this type of loan can be used for any purpose you want. You can use it to pay monthly bills, travel, improve your home or anything else you care to. And since it is a loan, it is not subject to income tax.

2. Do I qualify for a reverse mortgage?

To qualify, you must be 62 years of age or older. You must own your home and use it as your primary residence. If you owe money on a current mortgage, back taxes, or insurance, you must clear these off the property by closing time of your new mortgage.

3. What is the process for getting a reverse mortgage?

First, you will meet with a free reverse mortgage consultant.

Second, you will be counseled by a HUD-approved counselor to make sure you understand how this loan works.

Third, submit your application to the lender.

Fourth, have your home appraised.

Fifth, once all the documents are in order, the lender will issue final approval.

Sixth, funds will be available to you after all documents are signed and the closing is complete.

4. How much money will I receive?

The amount of your loan proceeds will depend on you and your spouse’s ages and the value of the equity in your home.

5. How much cash do I need to come up with?

The only expense you need to pay for is the property appraisal. All other fees can be paid for out of the loan proceeds. You should never pay anyone a fee to apply for a reverse mortgage, not beforehand and not at closing.

6. What payments do I need to make during the life of this loan?

You are not required to make loan payments. However, as per your agreement, you must keep the real estate taxes and home insurance current. You must also pay for home repairs.

7. How is this loan different from a regular mortgage?

On this loan, there are no monthly principal and interest payments. There are no credit scores or income requirements to secure this loan. And at the end of the loan, you are not liable for any loan amount over the value of the home.

8. How long does it take before my funds will be available?

There is no fixed time table. In part, it will depend on the appraisal, the title report, and on other paperwork considerations. A typical loan should be done in less than two months.

9. When do I need to pay this loan back?

As long as you meet the contract terms, nothing is due until you no longer live in the home. The home can then be sold and any money in excess of what the lender has coming is refunded to you or your estate. If the sales proceeds do not pay the lender in full, you are not required to pay the difference.

10. How do I know if a reverse mortgage is a good idea?

Reverse mortgages are not for everyone. Your counselor will inform you of all the pluses and minuses. You should have enough information at that time to make a knowledgeable decision. You should compare all aspects of the reverse mortgage against a conventional home equity loan.

David Bradsher, CPA

Have you changed your mind about a Roth conversion?

It turns out you can go back after all – at least when it comes to last year’s decision to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth. The question is, do you want to?

You might, if your circumstances have changed. For example, say the value of the assets in your new Roth account is currently less than when you made the conversion. Changing your mind could save tax dollars.

Recharacterizing your Roth conversion lets you go back in time, as if the conversion never happened. You’ll have to act soon, though, because the window for undoing a 2012 Roth conversion closes October 15, 2013.

Before that date, you have the opportunity to undo all or part of last year’s conversion. After October 15, you can change your mind once more and put the money back in a Roth. That might be a good choice when you’re recharacterizing because of a reduction in the value of the account. Just remember you’ll have to wait at least 30 days to convert again.

Give us a call for information on Roth recharacterization rules. We’ll help you figure out if going back is a good idea.

David Bradsher, CPA

Taxes and your child’s summer job

With the school year over, your teenager might be taking a summer job. If so, you both may have questions about taxes. Here are some of the common concerns.

If your child chooses a typical wage-paying job, he or she will soon be confronted with the task of calculating withholding allowances on Form W-4. Claiming zero allowances and thereby withholding the maximum amount is the safest option, but it might also unnecessarily tie up hard-earned cash until this year’s tax return is filed. However, claiming too many allowances, especially if the child holds multiple part-time jobs, might cause underwithholding. For help figuring the right number, try the withholding calculator at www.irs.gov. (Look under “Filing Information for Individuals.”)

If your child decides to mow lawns or perform other tasks and be his own boss, there are a few more tax issues to consider. Such activity will likely generate taxable income, on which federal and state income taxes might be due. If net earnings are $400 or more, self-employment taxes will also be owed. These taxes can often be paid at the time that the child files a 2013 tax return, but if the income is substantial enough, estimated tax deposits might be necessary.

Being self-employed also means keeping detailed records of income and business expenses. Encourage your teen to purchase a simple low-cost ledger book to help organize the records. And when tracking income, remind the child that tips received are not just tokens of gratitude – they are considered taxable income by the IRS.

Summer jobs can provide tax breaks for some parents. Business owners can hire their own children and deduct the wages paid to them, effectively shifting income from the parent’s higher income bracket to the child’s lower bracket. What’s more, if operating as a sole proprietor, you do not have to pay FICA taxes if your teen is under age 18 nor pay federal unemployment taxes if the child is under age 21. Just remember, the wages you pay your child must be appropriate for the services actually rendered.

Looking for a little icing on the summer employment cake? When your child receives earned income, he or she can also qualify for a Roth IRA. The lower of $5,500 or the child’s annual earned income can be contributed to a Roth by the teen, parent, or someone else.

Summer employment can be your teen’s first exposure to the real world. Help them make it a tax-smart experience. If you have questions about taxes and summer jobs, give us a call.

 

David Bradsher, CPA

Expiring Tax Provisions

I thought you might find this quick listing of selected expired/expiring tax provisions useful. As you know, Congress could pass legislation at any time extending or revising any or all of these provisions.

* SOCIAL SECURITY TAXES. Employee’s share will increase
to 6.2% after 2012, up from 4.2%.

* INCOME TAX RATES. 2012 rates of 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%,
33%, and 35% will change to 15%, 28%, 31%, 36% and
39.6% for 2013.

* CAPITAL GAINS. Maximum long-term rate will increase
from 15% to 20% after 2012.

* DIVIDENDS. Top 15% rate will be eliminated; dividends
will be taxed as ordinary income with a top rate of
39.6%.

* CHILD TAX CREDIT. Current $1,000 credit per qualifying
child will be reduced to $500 after 2012.

* AMT. Exemption amounts for 2012 are $33,750 for
singles, $45,000 for couples, down from 2011 “patched”
amounts of $48,450 for singles and $74,450 for couples.

* ESTATE TAX. Top 2013 rate will increase to 55% (up
from 35%); exclusion amount will be reduced to
$1,000,000 (down from 2012 amount of $5,120,000).

* DEDUCTIONS & EXEMPTIONS. After 2012, higher-income
taxpayers will again lose a portion of itemized
deductions and personal exemptions.

* DEPRECIATION. Section 179 expensing limit will be
reduced to $25,000, with a total qualifying property
limit of $200,000, down from 2012 levels of $139,000
and $560,000 respectively. 50% bonus depreciation
will expire.

* EDUCATION. Education savings account contribution
limit will be $500, down from 2012 limit of $2,000.
Expanded American Opportunity Credit will expire and
be replaced by prior Hope Credit.

* TAX EXTENDERS. Tax breaks that expired after 2011:
Teachers’ classroom expense deduction, state and local
sales tax deduction, tax-free charitable IRA
distributions for those70 ? and older, higher
education tuition deduction, business R&D credit,
15-year depreciation for leasehold improvements and
restaurant property.

The uncertainty in the tax rules makes the approaching tax filing season more challenging than usual.

David Bradsher, CPA

Rethink your capital gains strategy this year

The typical investment advice at year-end is to sell losing stocks to offset gains you have taken for the year. This year that strategy may just be the wrong way to go. Here’s why.

The maximum rate on long-term capital gains is scheduled to rise from the current 15% to 20% next year. Also scheduled for 2013 is an increase in the top rate on dividend income from the current 15% to 39.6%.

If you expect these scheduled rates to occur in 2013, it may make sense to harvest gains before year-end. Remember, wash sale rules do not apply to gains, so you can repurchase a similar investment immediately. This tactic may allow you to “reset” your basis for a future sale while benefiting from current low rates.

What about investment losses? Despite the uncertainty over a possible increase in tax rates, it’s a good bet that some rules — such as those covering capital losses — will not change. When pruning stocks from your portfolio, keep in mind that capital losses are more valuable when tax rates are higher. You may want to postpone taking losses until 2013 if you think rates will be higher next year.

In your investment review, don’t overlook the new 3.8% Medicare surtax that will apply to certain unearned income, including interest, dividends, capital gains, and passive rental income. If this surtax goes into effect as scheduled, an individual with adjusted gross income of $200,000 or more ($250,000 for couples filing jointly) could pay an effective federal income tax rate of 43.4% on some income.

Individual situations will vary, so consider all the relevant factors in making your year-end decisions. For assistance in your analysis, contact our office.

David Bradsher, CPA

The alternative minimum tax: Will it affect you?

In your tax planning, don’t overlook how your tax-saving strategies might be affected by the alternative minimum tax.

 * What is the alternative minimum tax?

Enacted back in 1969, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) was designed to make sure that high-income taxpayers pay a minimum amount of taxes, even if they have sufficient deductions and credits to reduce their federal income tax liability to zero.

The AMT is like a flat tax. You get a lower tax rate in exchange for losing most deductions.

To calculate the AMT, start with regular taxable income, which includes all your familiar deductions and exemptions. Then make certain adjustments and add back certain “preferences” to arrive at your AMT income. Preferences include personal exemptions, state and local taxes, certain interest on home-equity loans, and miscellaneous itemized deductions.

After adding back the preferences, you’re entitled to an exemption amount, though the exemption phases out at higher income levels. The exemption for 2012 is $33,750 for singles and $45,000 for married couples filing a joint return.

You then calculate your AMT by applying a tax rate of 26% to the first $175,000 of AMT taxable income, and 28% to any additional amounts. Finally, you compare your AMT to your regular tax and pay whichever is greater.

* Who is affected by the AMT?

Congress created the AMT to ensure that wealthier taxpayers, who often have the kinds of income and deductions that qualify for preferential tax treatment, would pay at least a minimum amount of tax. Congress also wrote exemptions into the law, so that middle-income taxpayers wouldn’t be subject to the AMT.

Unfortunately, these exemptions were not indexed for inflation. As incomes have continued to rise, more and more people have found that they need to calculate their tax bill twice — once under regular tax rules, and again under the AMT.

Though Congress has expressed a desire to eliminate the AMT, it is still in effect. Every year thousands of middle-income taxpayers find themselves subject to the alternative minimum tax.

 * Will the AMT affect you?

Do you need to concern yourself with the AMT? You do if you have a lot of dependents or if you claim substantial itemized deductions. You may also be subject to the AMT if you realized hefty capital gains during the year or exercised incentive stock options. Claiming certain tax credits might trigger the AMT as well. And if you are an owner of rental real estate or a capital intensive business, you need to be aware that the amount of depreciation allowed under the AMT is limited.

Don’t forget the AMT in your tax planning. You may be one of those middle-income taxpayers who is now subject to this tax. For details or planning assistance, contact our office.

David Bradsher, CPA

Changes scheduled for flexible spending accounts

Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are popular with employees because they permit the use of pretax dollars for payment of medical expenses and dependent care costs.

If you use an FSA, be aware that changes are scheduled beginning next year. As part of the health care reform law passed in 2010, there will be a dollar limit on the amount that can be set aside for medical expenses. Effective for plan years starting in 2013, the maximum set-aside for medical expenses will be $2,500.

The limit on what can be set aside for dependent care costs will not change; it remains at $5,000.

Keep an eye on any upcoming legislation that could change these rules again.

David Bradsher, CPA

How does the recient Supreme Court ruling on health care law affect me?

On June 28, the Supreme Court ruled that the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010” was constitutional, including the provision in the law requiring individuals to have health insurance coverage starting in 2014.

Several provisions in the health care law had already gone into effect, and many new tax provisions are scheduled to take effect in 2013. These are the provisions you should factor into your tax planning for the rest of this year. A quick review of these tax provisions:

* Annual contributions to health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) will be limited to $2,500.

* The 7.5% income threshold for deducting unreimbursed medical expenses increases to 10% for those under age 65. Those 65 and older may continue to take an itemized deduction for medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of adjusted gross income through the year 2016.

* The payroll Medicare tax will increase from 1.45% of wages to 2.35% on amounts above $200,000 earned by individuals and above $250,000 earned by married couples filing joint returns.

* A new 3.8% Medicare tax will be imposed on unearned income for single taxpayers with income over $200,000 and married couples with income over $250,000.

Contact our office for tax planning guidance following this landmark Supreme Court decision.

David Bradsher, CPA

If you have foreign investments, you may have a new filing obligation

If you own foreign investments, you may have an additional federal tax filing requirement this year.

Form 8938, “Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets,” is due April 17, 2012, and is filed as part of your individual tax return. You’ll use Form 8938 to disclose interests in certain foreign financial accounts when your ownership exceeds the reporting requirements.

What are the reporting requirements? They vary depending on where you live and your filing status. For example, say you’re married and live in the United States, and you’ll file a joint tax return for 2011. You’ll include Form 8938 with your tax return when the total value of your reportable assets on the last day of 2011 is more than $100,000, or if the value exceeds $150,000 at any time during the year.

Tip: In some cases, you may also need to file Form 8938 for tax year 2010.

Reportable assets include investment accounts you own that are held in foreign financial institutions, interests in foreign entities, and stocks or securities issued by foreign individuals or companies.

You’ve probably noticed the reporting requirements are similar to the “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts” (FBAR), a separate return you may already be filing. Be aware the new Form 8938 does not replace the FBAR, which you’ll still need to complete by June 30.

Penalties for failure to file Form 8938 start at $10,000. We urge you to contact us so we can help you evaluate your filing requirements for foreign investments.

David Bradsher, CPA