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Taxpayers Should Be Wary of Unsolicited Calls from the IRS

Taxpayers who get an unexpected or unsolicited phone call from the IRS should be wary – it’s probably a scam. Phone calls continue to be one of the most common ways that thieves try to get taxpayers to provide personal information. These scammers then use that information to gain access to the victim’s bank or other account.

When a taxpayer answers the phone, it might be a recording or an actual person claiming to be from the IRS. Sometimes the scammer tells the taxpayer they owe money and must pay right away. They might also say the person has a refund waiting, and then they ask for bank account information over the phone.

Taxpayers should not take the bait and fall for this trick. Here are several tips that will help taxpayers avoid becoming a scam victim.

The real IRS will not:

  • Call to demand immediate payment
  • Call someone if they owe taxes without first sending a bill in the mail
  • Demand tax payment and not allow the taxpayer to question or appeal the amount owed
  • Require that someone pay their taxes a certain way, such as with a prepaid debit card
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other agencies to arrest a taxpayer who doesn’t pay
  • Threaten a lawsuit

Taxpayers who don’t owe taxes or who have no reason to think they do should follow these steps:

  • Use the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page to report the incident.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission with the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov.
  • Taxpayers who think they might actually owe taxes should follow these steps:
  • Ask for a call back number and an employee badge number.
  • Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100, Allen Park 313.388.7180,

Grayling 989.348.4055,  Livonia 734-462-6161,

Royal Oak 248.399.7331, or St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

 

Tips for Individuals Who Need to Reconstruct Records After a Disaster

Taxpayers who are victims of a disaster might need to reconstruct records to prove their loss. Doing this may be essential for tax purposes, getting federal assistance, or insurance reimbursement.

Here are 12 things taxpayers can do to help reconstruct their records after a disaster:

  • Taxpayers can get free tax return transcripts by using the Get Transcript tool on IRS.gov, or use their smartphone with the IRS2Go mobile phone app. They can also call 800-908-9946 to order them by phone.
  • To establish the extent of the damage, taxpayers should take photographs or videos as soon after the disaster as possible.
  • Taxpayers can contact the title company, escrow company, or bank that handled the purchase of their home to get copies of appropriate documents.
  • Home owners should review their insurance policy as the policy usually lists the value of a building to establish a base figure for replacement.
  • Taxpayers who made improvements to their home should contact the contractors who did the work to see if records are available. If possible, the home owner should get statements from the contractors to verify the work and cost. They can also get written accounts from friends and relatives who saw the house before and after any improvements.
  • For inherited property, taxpayers can check court records for probate values. If a trust or estate existed, the taxpayer can contact the attorney who handled the trust.
  • When no other records are available, taxpayers can check the county assessor’s office for old records that might address the value of the property.
  • There are several resources that can help someone determine the current fair-market value of most cars on the road. These resources are all available online and at most libraries:
    • Kelley’s Blue Book
    • National Automobile Dealers Association
    • Edmunds
  • Taxpayers can look on their mobile phone for pictures that show the damaged property before the disaster.
  • Taxpayers can support the valuation of property with photographs, videos, canceled checks, receipts, or other evidence.
  • If they bought items using a credit card or debit card, they should contact their credit card company or bank for past statements.

If a taxpayer doesn’t have photographs or videos of their property, a simple method to help them remember what items they lost is to sketch pictures of each room that was impacted.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100, Allen Park 313.388.7180,

Grayling 989.348.4055,  Livonia 734-462-6161,

Royal Oak 248.399.7331, or St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

 

 

Tips to Keep in Mind on Income Taxes and Selling a Home

Homeowners may qualify to exclude from their income all or part of any gain from the sale of their main home.

Below are tips to keep in mind when selling a home:

Ownership and Use. To claim the exclusion, the homeowner must meet the ownership and use tests. This means that during the five-year period ending on the date of the sale, the homeowner must have:

  • Owned the home for at least two years
  • Lived in the home as their main home for at least two years    Gain.  If there is a gain from the sale of their main home, the homeowner may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from income or $500,000 on a joint return in most cases. Homeowners who can exclude all of the gain do not need to report the sale on their tax return

Loss.  A main home that sells for lower than purchased is not deductible.

Reporting a Sale.  Reporting the sale of a home on a tax return is required if all or part of the gain is not excludable. A sale must also be reported on a tax return if the taxpayer chooses not to claim the exclusion or receives a Form 1099-S, Proceeds from Real Estate Transactions.

Possible Exceptions.  There are exceptions to the rules above for persons with a disability, certain members of the military, intelligence community and Peace Corps workers, among others. More information is available in Publication 523, Selling Your Home.

Worksheets.  Worksheets are included in Publication 523, Selling Your Home, to help you figure the:

  • Adjusted basis of the home sold
  • Gain (or loss) on the sale
  • Gain that can be excluded

Items to Keep In Mind:

  • Taxpayers who own more than one home can only exclude the gain on the sale of their main home. Taxes must paid on the gain from selling any other home.
  • Taxpayers who used the first-time homebuyer credit to purchase their home have special rules that apply to the sale. For more on those rules, see Publication 523. Use the First Time Homebuyer Credit Account Look-up to get account information such as the total amount of your credit or your repayment amount.
  • Work-related moving expenses might be deductible, see Publication 521, Moving Expenses.
  • Taxpayers moving after the sale of their home should update their address with the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service by filing Form 8822, Change of Address.
  • Taxpayers who purchased health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace should notify the Marketplace when moving out of the area covered by the current Marketplace plan.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100, Allen Park 313.388.7180,

Grayling 989.348.4055,  Livonia 734-462-6161,

Royal Oak 248.399.7331, or St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Divorce or Separation May Affect Taxes

Taxpayers who are divorcing or recently divorced need to consider the impact divorce or separation may have on their taxes. Alimony payments paid under a divorce or separation instrument are deductible by the payer, and the recipient must include it in income. Name or address changes and individual retirement account deductions are other items to consider.

IRS.gov has resources that can help along with these key tax tips:

  • Child Support Payments are not Alimony.  Child support payments are neither deductible nor taxable income for either parent.
  • Deduct Alimony Paid. Taxpayers can deduct alimony paid under a divorce or separation decree, whether or not they itemize deductions on their return. Taxpayers must file Form 1040; enter the amount of alimony paid and their former spouse’s Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • Report Alimony Received. Taxpayers should report alimony received as income on Form 1040 in the year received. Alimony is not subject to tax withholding so it may be necessary to increase the tax paid during the year to avoid a penalty. To do this, it is possible to make estimated tax payments or increase the amount of tax withheld from wages.
  • IRA Considerations. A final decree of divorce or separate maintenance agreement by the end of the tax year means taxpayers can’t deduct contributions made to a former spouse’s traditional IRA. They can only deduct contributions made to their own traditional IRA. For more information about IRAs, see Publications 590-A and 590-B.
  • Report Name Changes.  Notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of any name changes after a divorce. Go to SSA.gov for more information. The name on a tax return must match SSA records. A name mismatch can cause problems in the processing of a return and may delay a refund.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100, Allen Park 313.388.7180,

Grayling 989.348.4055,  Livonia 734-462-6161,

Royal Oak 248.399.7331, or St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Be Alert to Scammers Who Pose as the IRS

Scammers pretending to be from the IRS continue to target taxpayers. These scams take many different forms. Among the most common are phone calls. Thieves use the IRS name to try and steal money from taxpayers. Identity theft can also happen with such scams.

Taxpayers need to be cautious of phone calls or automated messages from scammers who claim to be from the IRS. These criminals often say the taxpayer owes money. They also demand immediate payment. Scammers also lie to taxpayers and say they are due a refund. They do this to lure their victims into giving their bank account information over the phone. The IRS warns taxpayers not to fall for these scams.

Below are tips that will help avoid becoming a victim during the summer months and throughout the year:

The IRS will NOT:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS first mails a bill to taxpayers who owe taxes. If the IRS assigns a case to a Private Debt Collector (PCA), both the IRS and the authorized collection agency send a letter to the taxpayer. Payment is always to the United States Treasury.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand payment of taxes without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If a taxpayer does not owe any tax, they should:

If a taxpayer is not sure whether they owe any tax, they can view their tax account information on IRS.gov to find out.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100, Allen Park 313.388.7180,

Grayling 989.348.4055,  Livonia 734-462-6161,

Royal Oak 248.399.7331, or St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Helpful Tips to Know About Gambling Winnings and Losses

Taxpayers must report all gambling winnings as income. They must be able to itemize deductions to claim any gambling losses on their tax return.

Taxpayers who gamble may find these tax tips helpful:

  1. Gambling income. Income from gambling includes winnings from the lottery, horseracing and casinos. It also includes cash and non-cash prizes. Taxpayers must report the fair market value of non-cash prizes like cars and trips to the IRS.
  2. Payer tax form. The payer may issue a Form W-2G, Certain Gambling Winnings, to winning taxpayers based on the type of gambling, the amount they win and other factors. The payer also sends a copy of the form to the IRS. Taxpayers should also get a Form W-2G if the payer withholds income tax from their winnings.
  3. How to report winnings. Taxpayers must report all gambling winnings as income. They normally should report all gambling winnings for the year on their tax return as “Other Income.” This is true even if the taxpayer doesn’t get a Form W-2G.
  4. How to deduct losses. Taxpayers are able to deduct gambling losses on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, but keep in mind, they can’t deduct gambling losses that are more than their winnings.
  5. Keep gambling receipts. Keep records of gambling wins and losses. This means gambling receipts, statements and tickets or by using a gambling log or diary.

For help with any income tax question call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100, Allen Park 313.388.7180,

Grayling 989.348.4055,  Livonia 734-462-6161,

Royal Oak 248.399.7331, or St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Keep Your Phone Safe From Identity Thieves

Identity theft can happen to anyone. Knowing how to respond will help you if you ever have to recover your identity.  If your identity gets compromised you put alerts on your credit reports, notifying the bank, contact all your credit card companies, and get a new driver’s license.

There is a lot more to do to protect your digital identity. Whether you’ve lost your device or you want to be prepared, here are some tips you can take to protect your digital identity:

Smart Phone:

  • Lock your phone. Use at least a 6-digit passcode on your device, or use the pattern lock or fingerprint scanner. Set the device to lock when not in use. This is especially important if you use a mobile wallet or money transfer apps.
  • Update it and back it up. Back up your device regularly and make sure automatic updates are turned on. Backing up your phone regularly and automatically makes sure that you’ll still have your stuff – if it disappears.
  • Get help finding your phone. Install and turn on Find My iPhone (iOS) or Find My Device (Android). These apps could help you locate your device if you lose it. If your phone is stolen, these apps also let you remotely issue a command to erase your device – even if a thief turns it off.
  • Alert your wireless provider if your phone is missing. Make the call as soon as you know your device is missing. They can permanently or temporarily disable the SIM card to stop someone from using the device for calls or the internet. It helps, too, if you have a record of your phone’s serial number or IMEI number (a unique identifier for your phone).

Accounts:

  • Turn on two-factor authentication. That means you’ll give your password and a second way to prove that you’re you. This extra layer of security makes it much harder for thieves to get into your accounts and lock you out. Many providers give several options to authenticate your identity, so be sure you have a backup method (like one-time use codes or a backup email address) in case you don’t have access to your device to receive texts or phone calls.
  • Know which devices have access to your accounts. Many social media sites and email providers, and some phone operating systems, let you view the logins for your devices from the settings menu. You can remove devices from the account, and log out of the site remotely using a computer or another device. That’s handy if ever you lose your phone, tablet, or laptop.
  • Check your log-in and account notifications. Many email and social media accounts can notify you if a new device connects to your account, or if someone tried to change your passwords.
  • When in doubt, change your passwords. If you’ve lost your device, change your passwords. Many of us set our devices to remember passwords – which could mean that someone who gets your phone could get access to your accounts and personal information. So: if you lose your phone, change your email, social media, online banking, shopping, and other passwords right away.

For more tips on what to do to protect yourself from identity thieves, check out ftc.gov/idtheft.

For help with tax planning, please call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,

Grayling 989.348.4055,     Livonia 734-462-6161,

Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    or    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Check Withholding Now to Avoid Surprises at Tax Time

The federal income tax is a pay-as-you-go system. Employers generally withhold tax from workers’ wages. Taxpayers also often have taxes withheld from certain other income including pensions, bonuses, commissions and gambling winnings.

People who do not pay tax through withholding, like the self-employed, generally pay estimated tax. In addition, those who earn income such as dividends, interest, capital gains, rent and royalties are usually required to make estimated tax payments.

Each year, because of life events like changes to household income or family size, some people get a larger refund than they expect while others find they owe more tax.

To prevent a tax-time surprise, the IRS offers these tips:

  • New Job. When starting a new job, an employee must fill out a Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. Employers use this form to calculate how much federal income tax to withhold from regular pay, bonuses, commissions and vacation allowances. The IRS Withholding Calculator tool on IRS.gov is easy for taxpayers to use to figure how much tax to withhold to avoid surprises.
  • Estimated Tax. People who have income not subject to withholding may need to pay estimated tax. Those expecting to owe $1,000 or more than taxes withheld from their wages may also need to make estimated tax payments to avoid penalties. The worksheet in Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, helps to figure the tax.
  • Life Events. A change in marital status, the birth of a child or the purchase of a new home can change the amount of taxes a taxpayer owes. The Managing Your Taxes After a Life Event page on IRS.gov provides resources to explain the tax impact of these changes. In most cases, an employee can submit a new Form W–4 to their employer anytime.

For help with tax planning, please call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,

Grayling 989.348.4055,     Livonia 734-462-6161,

Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    or    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Ten Things to Know about Identity Theft and Your Taxes

Learning you are a victim of identity theft can be a stressful event. Identity theft is also a challenge to businesses, organizations and government agencies, including the IRS. Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. Many times, you may not be aware that someone has stolen your identity. The IRS may be the first to let you know you’re a victim of ID theft after you try to file your taxes. The IRS combats tax-related identity theft with a strategy of prevention, detection and victim assistance. The IRS is making progress against this crime and it remains one of the agency’s highest priorities. Here are ten things to know about ID Theft:

1. Protect your Records.  Do not carry your Social Security card or other documents with your SSN on them. Only provide your SSN if it’s necessary and you know the person requesting it. Protect your personal information at home and protect your computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software. Routinely change passwords for Internet accounts.

2. Don’t Fall for Scams.  The IRS will not call you to demand immediate payment, nor will it call about taxes owed without first mailing you a bill. Beware of threatening phone calls from someone claiming to be from the IRS. If you have no reason to believe you owe taxes, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.

3. Report ID Theft to Law Enforcement.  If your SSN was compromised and you think you may be the victim of tax-related ID theft, file a police report. You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant. It’s also important to contact one of the three credit bureaus so they can place a freeze on your account.

4. Complete an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit.  Once you’ve filed a police report, file an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit.  Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.

5. Understand IRS Notices.  Once the IRS verifies a taxpayer’s identity, the agency will mail a particular letter to the taxpayer. The notice says that the IRS is monitoring the taxpayer’s account. Some notices may contain a unique Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) for tax filing purposes.

6. IP PINs.  If a taxpayer reports that they are a victim of ID theft or the IRS identifies a taxpayer as being a victim, they will be issued an IP PIN. The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that a victim of ID theft uses to file a tax return. In 2014, the IRS launched an IP PIN Pilot program. The program offers residents of Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C., the opportunity to apply for an IP PIN, due to high levels of tax-related identity theft there.

7. Data Breaches.  If you learn about a data breach that may have compromised your personal information, keep in mind not every data breach results in identity theft.  Further, not every identity theft case involves taxes. Make sure you know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps before contacting the IRS.

8. Report Suspicious Activity.  If you suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, you can visit IRS.gov and follow the chart on How to Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity.

9. Combating ID Theft.  Over the past few years, nearly 2,000 people were convicted in connection with refund fraud related to identity theft. The average prison sentence for identity theft-related tax refund fraud grew to 43 months in 2014 from 38 months in 2013, with the longest sentence being 27 years.   During 2014, the IRS stopped more than $15 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft.  Additionally, as the IRS improves its processing filters, the agency has also been able to halt more suspicious returns before they are processed. So far this year, new fraud filters stopped about 3 million suspicious returns for review, an increase of more than 700,000 from the year before.

10. Service Options. Information about tax-related identity theft is available online. We have a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and a phone number available for victims to obtain assistance.

For help with your taxes, please call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,

Grayling 989.348.4055,     Livonia 734-462-6161,

Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    or    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600

Plan Ahead for Tax Time When Renting Out Residential or Vacation Property

Summertime is a time of year when people rent out their property. In addition to the standard clean up and maintenance, owners need to be aware of the tax implications of residential and vacation home rentals.

Receiving money for the use of a dwelling also used as a taxpayer’s personal residence generally requires reporting the rental income on a tax return. It also means certain expenses become deductible to reduce the total amount of rental income that’s subject to tax.

Dwelling Unit.  This may be a house, an apartment, condominium, mobile home, boat, vacation home or similar property. It’s possible to use more than one dwelling unit as a residence during the year.

Used as a Home.  The dwelling unit is considered to be used as a residence if the taxpayer uses it for personal purposes during the tax year for more than the greater of: 14 days   or 10% of the total days rented to others at a fair rental price. Rental expenses cannot be more than the rent received.

Personal Use.  Personal use means use by the owner, owner’s family, friends, other property owners and their families. Personal use includes anyone paying less than a fair rental price.

Divide Expenses. Special rules generally apply to the rental of a home, apartment or other dwelling unit that is used by the taxpayer as a residence during the taxable year. Usually, rental income must be reported in full, and any expenses need to be divided between personal and business purposes. Special deduction limits apply.

How to Report. Use Schedule E to report rental income and rental expenses on Supplemental Income and Loss. Rental income may also be subject to Net Investment Income Tax. Use Schedule A to report deductible expenses for personal use on Itemized Deductions. This includes such costs as mortgage interest, property taxes and casualty losses.

Special Rules.  If the dwelling unit is rented out fewer than 15 days during the year, none of the rental income is reportable and none of the rental expenses are deductible. Find out more about these rules; see Publication 527, Residential Rental Property (Including Rental of Vacation Homes).

Use IRS Free File.  Renting a vacation home can be complicated and IRS Free File can make filing a tax return easier. IRS Free File is available until Oct. 16. Taxpayers earning $64,000 or less can use brand-name tax software. Those earning more can use Free File Fillable Forms, an electronic version of IRS paper forms. Free File is available only through the IRS.gov website. You can get forms and publications on IRS.gov/forms at any time.

Avoid scams. The IRS will never initiate contact using social media or text message. First contact generally comes in the mail. Those wondering if they owe money to the IRS can view their tax account information on IRS.gov to find out.

For help with your taxes, please call one of our offices:

Plymouth 734.454.4100,    Allen Park 313.388.7180,

Grayling 989.348.4055,     Livonia 734-462-6161,

Royal Oak 248.399.7331,    or    St. Clair Shores 313.371.6600