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What to Know About Tax Filing Statuses

The IRS gives 8 important facts about filing statuses. These will help you choose the best status option for your particular situation.

#1: Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your marital status for the entire year, for tax purposes.

#2: If more than 1 filing status applies to you, you may choose the one that gives you the lowest amount of tax due.

#3: The “Single” filing status generally applies to anyone who is unmarried, divorced, or legally separated according to state law.

#4: A married couple may file a joint tax return together. The couple’s filing status would be “Married Filing Jointly.”

#5: If your spouse passed away and you did not remarry during that year, usually you may still file a joint tax return with that spouse for the year of death.

#6: A married couple may elect to file their tax returns separately. Each person’s filing status would generally be “Married Filing Separately.”

#7: The “Head of Household” status generally applies to taxpayers who are unmarried. You must also have paid more than half the cost of maintaining a home for you and a qualifying person to be able to use this filing status.

#8: You may be able to choose “Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child” as your filing status if your spouse died within the past two years, you have a dependent child, and you meet certain other conditions.

Where is my tax refund?

Want to know where your refund is?

More than 90 percent of refunds are issued in less than 21 days. IRS representatives will not provide individual refund information before then. Taxpayers can easily find information about their refund by using the Where’s My Refund? tool. It’s available on IRS.gov and on the Smartphone app, IRS2Go. Where’s My Refund? provides taxpayers with the most up-to-date information available. Taxpayers must have information from their current, pending tax return to access their refund information. Refund information is updated just once a day, generally overnight, so there’s no need to check more than once a day.

 

Beware of Scammers

USA.gov will never request your personal information

Beware: scammers are using the USA.gov name as part of an e-mail phishing scam to collect your personal information on a fake IRS website. Don’t take the bait. USA.gov will never contact you to request your personal information.

If your receive an e-mail that’s supposed to be from a government program, and it seems legitimate, do your homework:

Report all other government imposter phishing e-mail scams to the Federal Trade Commission.

Know your rights when dealing with the IRS

The IRS has adopted a Taxpayer Bill of Rights as proposed by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. It applies to all taxpayers in their dealings with the IRS. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights groups the existing rights in the tax code into ten fundamental rights, and makes them clear, understandable, and accessible.

They include:

For more information visit the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

Fake Charities Among the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for 2015

“When making a donation, taxpayers should take a few extra minutes to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “IRS.gov has the tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations.”

The IRS offers these basic tips to taxpayers making charitable donations:

  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible.
  • Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or passwords to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money. People use credit card numbers to make legitimate donations but please be very careful when you are speaking with someone who called you.
  • Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

Call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance telephone number (1-866-562-5227) if you are a disaster victim with specific questions about tax relief or disaster related tax issues.

Impersonation of Charitable Organizations

Another long-standing type of abuse or fraud involves scams that occur in the wake of significant natural disasters.

Following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Scam artists can use a variety of tactics. Some scammers operating bogus charities may contact people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.

They may attempt to get personal financial information or Social Security numbers that can be used to steal the victims’ identities or financial resources. Bogus websites may solicit funds for disaster victims.

To help disaster victims, the IRS encourages taxpayers to donate to recognized charities.

 

Are you or someone in your household college bound?

Are you or someone in your household college bound? If so, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – and don’t worry, it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds.

The U.S. Department of Education created this video, which leads you step-by-step through the application process. Please note, every school has their own deadline for when the FAFSA is due – so it’s best to get it done sooner rather than later, to be on the safe side.

Figuring out how to pay for higher education can be overwhelming and confusing, but there is lots of help out there to make it simpler for you.

 

Don’t Fall Victim to Promises of Outlandish Refunds

Scam artists routinely pose as tax preparers during tax time, luring victims in by promising large federal tax refunds or refunds that people never dreamed they were due in the first place.

Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony store fronts and even word of mouth to throw out a wide net for victims. They may even spread the word through community groups or churches where trust is high. Scammers prey on people who do not have a filing requirement, such as low-income individuals or the elderly. They also prey on non-English speakers, who may or may not have a filing requirement.

Scammers build false hope by duping people into making claims for fictitious rebates, benefits or tax credits. They charge good money for very bad advice. Or worse, they file a false return in a person’s name and that person never knows that a refund was paid.

Scam artists also victimize people with a filing requirement and due a refund by promising inflated refunds based on fictitious Social Security benefits and false claims for education credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), or the American Opportunity Tax Credit, among others.

The IRS sometimes hears about scams from victims complaining about losing their federal benefits, such as Social Security benefits, certain veteran’s benefits or low-income housing benefits. The loss of benefits was the result of false claims being filed with the IRS that provided false income amounts.

While honest tax preparers provide their customers a copy of the tax return they’ve prepared, victims of scam frequently are not given a copy of what was filed. Victims also report that the fraudulent refund is deposited into the scammer’s bank account. The scammers deduct a large “fee” before paying victims, a practice not used by legitimate tax preparers.

The IRS reminds all taxpayers that they are legally responsible for what’s on their returns even if it was prepared by someone else. Taxpayers who buy into such schemes can end up being penalized for filing false claims or receiving fraudulent refunds.

Taxpayers should take care when choosing an individual or firm to prepare their taxes. The IRS has a list of tips and other resources to help taxpayers select a qualified tax professional.

 

Identity Theft a Major Concern on the IRS Annual “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams to Avoid

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued a filing season alert warning taxpayers to watch out for identity theft at tax time, one of the year’s “Dirty Dozen” tax scams. The IRS continues to aggressively pursue the criminals that file fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number.

“We remain dedicated to stopping tax-related identity theft and protecting taxpayers, and we are making important progress on that front. Taxpayers still need to be extremely careful and do everything they can to avoid becoming a victim,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

The Dirty Dozen is compiled annually by the IRS and lists a variety of common scams taxpayers may encounter any time during the year. Many of these con games peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or hire someone to do so. This year for the first time, the IRS will issue the individual Dirty Dozen scams the next 12 business days to raise consumer awareness.

“Scams can be sophisticated and take many forms. We urge people to protect themselves and use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues,” Koskinen said. “Keep your personal information safe and secure. Taxpayers should protect their computers and only give out their Social Security numbers when absolutely necessary.”

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. While the IRS has made significant strides over the past several years to address this issue, it remains a top concern for the IRS, which is why identity theft remains on the Dirty Dozen again list this year as the IRS works to protect taxpayers and help victims.

As a result of these aggressive efforts to combat identity theft from 2011 through October 2014, the IRS has stopped 19 million suspicious returns and protected over $63 billion in fraudulent refunds.

For 2015, the IRS will continue to increase both the number and efficiency of the identity theft data models and filters that are used to identify potentially fraudulent returns. These pre-refund filters stop the vast majority of fraudulent returns. Additionally, the IRS continues to expand its partnerships with financial institutions to identity and stop fraudulent refunds.

IRS Criminal Investigation continues its robust efforts, and in Fiscal Year 2014, the IRS initiated 1,063 identity theft-related investigations. Criminal Investigation enforcement efforts resulted in 748 sentencings as compared to 438 in FY 2013, an increase of 75 percent. Our incarceration rate rose to 87.7 percent as compared to 80.6 percent in FY 2013. The courts imposed significant jail time with the average months to serve in FY 2014 at 43 months as compared to 38 months in FY 2013 with the longest sentencing being 27 years.

Fighting identity theft is an ongoing battle as identity thieves continue to create new ways of stealing personal information and using it for their gain. Identity theft cases are among the most complex handled by the IRS. The IRS is continually reviewing processes and policies to minimize the incidence of identity theft and to help those who find themselves victimized. The IRS is working hard to streamline its internal process, but more work remains.

In an effort to help victims, the IRS has issued approximately 1.5 million Identity Protection PINs (IP PINs.) The IP PIN is a unique, six-digit number that is assigned annually to victims of identity theft with resolved cases for use when filing their federal tax return. The IP PIN will allow these individuals to avoid delays in filing returns and receiving refunds.
This year, the IRS will continue its IP PIN pilot program that allows taxpayers who filed tax returns last year from Florida, Georgia or the District of Columbia to opt into the IP PIN program. Additionally, the IRS is offering approximately 1.7 million taxpayers the opportunity to opt in to the IP PIN program in instances where the IRS has identified indications of identity theft on their accounts.
The IRS understands that identity theft is a frustrating, complex process for victims. While identity thieves steal information from sources outside the tax system, the IRS is often the first to inform a victim that identity theft has occurred. The IRS is working hard to resolve identity theft cases as quickly as possible.

The IRS offers the following tips as ways to protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft:

• Don’t carry your Social Security card or any documents that include your Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
• Don’t give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
• Protect your financial information.
• Check your credit report every 12 months.
• Review your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually.
• Secure personal information in your home.
• Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing passwords for Internet accounts.
• Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.

For more information, see the special identity theft section on IRS.gov, as well as IRS Fact Sheet 2015-1, IRS Combats Identity Theft and Refund Fraud on Many Fronts, and IRS Fact Sheet 2015-2, Identity Theft Information for Taxpayers and Victims.

Phishing Remains on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2015 Filing Season

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers to watch out for fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. These “phishing” schemes continue to be on the annual IRS list of “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for the 2015 filing season.

“The IRS won’t send you an email about a bill or refund out of the blue. Don’t click on one claiming to be from the IRS that takes you by surprise,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “I urge taxpayers to be wary of clicking on strange emails and websites. They may be scams to steal your personal information.”

Compiled annually, the “Dirty Dozen” lists a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter anytime but many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or find people to help with their taxes.

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

Stop and Think before Clicking

Phishing is a scam typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial theft.

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

It is important to keep in mind the IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS has information online that can help you protect yourself from email scams.

Six Tips on Who Should File a 2014 Tax Return

Most people file their tax return because they have to, but even if you don’t, there are times when you should. You may be eligible for a tax refund and not know it. This year, there are a few new rules for some who must file. Here are six tax tips to help you find out if you should file a tax return:

  1. General Filing Rules. Whether you need to file a tax return depends on a few factors. In most cases, the amount of your income, your filing status and your age determine if you must file a tax return. For example, if you’re single and 28 years old you must file if your income was at least $10,150. Other rules may apply if you’re self-employed or if you’re a dependent of another person. There are also other cases when you must file. Go to IRS.gov/filing to find out if you need to file.
  2. New for 2014: Premium Tax Credit. If you bought health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2014, you may be eligible for the new Premium Tax Credit. You will need to file a return to claim the credit. If you purchased coverage from the Marketplace in 2014 and chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit sent directly to your insurer during the year you must file a federal tax return. You will reconcile any advance payments with the allowable Premium Tax Credit. Your Marketplace will provide Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, to you by Jan. 31, 2015, containing information that will help you file your tax return.
  3. Tax Withheld or Paid. Did your employer withhold federal income tax from your pay? Did you make estimated tax payments? Did you overpay last year and have it applied to this year’s tax? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you could be due a refund. But you have to file a tax return to get it.
  4. Earned Income Tax Credit. Did you work and earn less than $52,427 last year? You could receive EITC as a tax refund if you qualify with or without a qualifying child. You may be eligible for up to $6,143. Use the 2014 EITC Assistant tool on IRS.gov to find out if you qualify. If you do, file a tax return to claim it.
  5. Additional Child Tax Credit. Do you have at least one child that qualifies for the Child Tax Credit? If you don’t get the full credit amount, you may qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit.
  6. American Opportunity Credit.  The AOTC is available for four years of post secondary education and can be up to $2,500 per eligible student.  You or your dependent must have been a student enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period. Even if you don’t owe any taxes, you still may qualify. However, you must complete Form 8863, Education Credits, and file a return to claim the credit. Use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you can claim the credit. Learn more by visiting the IRS’ Education Credits Web page.

The instructions for Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ list income tax filing requirements. You can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on IRS.gov to see if you need to file. The tool is available 24/7 to answer many tax questions.

If you found this Tax Tip helpful, please share it through your social media platforms. A great way to get tax information is to use IRS Social Media. You can also subscribe to IRS Tax Tips or any of the e-news subscriptions.

Additional IRS Resources:

 

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