Taxes are Part of Getting Married

Taxes are not romantic, even to me. However, taxes are part of getting married. A conversation about income taxes should be part of every engaged couples’ wedding plans. Marriage, like many other life events, impacts how a person’s income taxes are filed. 

Before marriage, taxes are usually filed under the “single” filing status. After those wedding bells chime and the “I Dos” are said, each spouse’s income tax filing status changes to “married.” Engaged couples who are newly married, or about to get married, should be aware of these four points before filing their next income tax return:

  • Taxpayers are required to file income tax returns based on their marital status on December 31st, the last day of the tax year. Couples who get married on New Year’s Eve are considered married for the entire year for tax purposes.
  • Married couples can select the “married filing jointly” (MFJ) or “married filing separately” (MFS) filing status, depending on which option means a lower tax bill. Couples can assess their tax situation annually to select the filing status that results in the lower overall tax liability.
  • Filing MFJ or MFS is a choice. However, it’s important to be aware that different tax rules apply for couples selecting the MFS option. Examples include rules related to itemized deductions, the standard deduction, the capital loss limit, and some refundable and non-refundable tax credits.
  • To plan for filing next year’s income tax return, couples can refer to information from their prior-year tax returns to help determine whether using the MFJ or MFS filing status might result in a lower overall tax liability. Hint – MFJ often results in a lower overall income tax bill.

Newly-married couples can reduce tax stress by learning about how the filing status rules apply to them before filing their next income tax return. Want to know more? Check out the IRS’ webpage with the details about income tax filing status and links to more information https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/correct-filing-status

Taxes aren’t romantic, but they are part of getting married. And the IRS has the perfect wedding gift, a helpful checklist for newly married couples – https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/a-tax-checklist-for-newly-married-couples. No thank you note required.

Your Chances of an IRS Audit

Few words strike fear in the hearts of taxpayers like “IRS audit.” People would rather do almost anything other than get an audit notice from the IRS. But what does an IRS audit really mean? What are your chances of an IRS audit? What happens after you are selected for an audit?

An IRS audit can indicate a problem, or not. Basically, an IRS audit is a review of a taxpayer’s tax return and financial documents to determine that income and deductions are reported correctly according to the tax laws. The IRS Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement recently issued the full report of audit actions by income levels. If you’re not up for all the details, here are a few basics about your chances of an IRS audit and what happens if you are selected: 

  • Why is a taxpayer selected for an audit?

Selection for an audit does not always suggest a problem. It can mean that something on a return does not fit a “norm” for similar returns. The IRS also audits returns where information on a return does not match what is reported by a third party, such as interest from a bank account. The IRS could also select a return when performing a “related examination” of business partners or investors whose returns were selected for audit.

  • How does the IRS notify taxpayers of an audit?

Taxpayers are contacted initially by regular mail from the IRS that she or he has been selected for an audit. The IRS notice provides all contact information and instructions, as well as an explanation of the items on the return that do not match or that require additional documentation. All IRS notices include a deadline to reply. Opening and replying on time is an important part of the audit process.

  • How does the IRS conduct an audit?

The IRS manages audits either by mail or through an in-person interview to review the related financial records. In-person interviews could be virtual during COVID-19. Usually, interviews are conducted at an IRS office or at the taxpayer’s home, place of business, or accountant’s office. Mail audit notices will request additional information about certain items shown on the tax return such as income, expenses, and itemized deductions.

  • How far back can the IRS go to audit my return?

Generally, the IRS can include returns filed within the last three years in an audit. If they identify a substantial error, they could add additional years, but not usually more than the last six years. The IRS tries to audit tax returns as soon as possible after they are filed. Accordingly, most audits will be of returns filed within the last two years.

Your chances of an IRS audit are not easy to determine. An IRS audit can indicate a problem, or not. Either way, it’s good to know why you were selected, what could happen next, and how the audit is conducted. No matter what, make sure that you open the IRS notice when it arrives, read all the instructions, and reply by the due date. 

Tax “To Do” List for Closing a Business

Data from Yelp Inc., the online reviewer, shows that more than 80,000 businesses permanently closed from March 1st to July 25th of this year. About 800 small businesses filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy from mid-February to July 31st, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. They estimate that total bankruptcies in 2020 could be up 36% from last year.

Closing a business is a tough decision. It’s painful. It also creates a long “To Do” List, including final tax responsibilities. Figuring out everything that needs to be done can be confusing. Fortunately, the IRS recently launched a redesigned webpage to help business owners and self-employed individuals navigate federal tax steps when closing a business.

The IRS’ “Closing a Business” webpage has explanations, instructions, links, and forms for:

  • Filing a Final Return and Related Forms

You must file a final return for the year you close your business. The type of return you file and related forms you need will depend on the type of business you have (e.g., sole proprietor or partnership). 

  • Take Care of Your Employees

If you have employees, you must pay them any final wages owed, make final federal tax deposits, and report employment taxes. You must also provide an IRS Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, to each employee. 

  1. Pay the Tax You Owe

Whether it’s by check or online, all taxes must be paid in full. 

  • Report Payments to Contract Workers

If you have paid any unincorporated contractors at least $600 during the calendar year in which you close your business, you must report those payments.

  • Cancel Your EIN and Close Your IRS Business Account

The employer identification number (EIN) assigned to your business is the permanent federal taxpayer identification number for that business. The IRS will not close your business account until you have filed all necessary returns and paid all taxes.

  • Keep Your Records

How long you need to keep your business records, such as employment tax records, depends on the document. Generally, tax records should be kept for four years and copies of tax returns should be kept permanently.

The IRS’ “Closing a Business” webpage outlines the steps needed to close a business and help take care of any employees. No matter the business type, information on this page https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/closing-a-business helps business owners and self-employed individuals understand what to do after making the tough decision to shut down.

Taxes and the Growing Gig Economy

Smartphones and apps have made it easier for people to find work, or “gigs”, through new online marketplaces. But gig workers may not understand all the tax obligations of their work situation. For example, companies will probably classify them as independent contractors instead of employees, making them responsible for taxes, insurance, and other financial obligations that employers usually take care of. 

The gig economy was growing before COVID-19. Now that work is booming because of even more gigs that are lined up via apps or websites, also called digital platforms. Examples are:

  • Driving a car for booked rides or deliveries, such as Uber and Uber Eats;
  • Renting out property or part of it, such as on Airbnb;
  • Running errands or complete tasks, such as TaskRabbit; or
  • Selling goods online, like on eBay. 

Digital platforms are businesses that match workers’ services or goods with customers. Instead of the customer directly paying the worker, the customer pays the platform, and the platform pays the worker. Platforms are supposed to issue a year-end income report to workers (i.e., on IRS Form 1099-K or 1099-NEC/MISC). Workers that earn income via a digital platform are required to maintain financial records and report all income on her or his income tax return, just like any other freelance worker. 

Knowing about the tax obligations for gig workers is vital because many don’t receive a year-end tax report, like a 1099, for all their work. Income from gig work is generally taxable, regardless of whether workers receive information returns or not. Gig workers also need to know about the business expenses they can deduct to reduce their taxable business income. 

Keeping up with the tax rules is a growing issue as the gig economy grows. The IRS recently launched its Gig Economy Tax Center to help gig workers navigate through what they need to know. Check it out here –  https://www.irs.gov/businesses/gig-economy-tax-center

The Gig Economy Tax Center is designed to make it easier for taxpayers to find information about a variety of topics including filing requirements, quarterly estimated income tax payments, and deductible business expenses. They even produced a video to break it down for you –  https://www.irsvideos.gov/Individual/PayingTaxes/UnderstandingTheGigEconomy.

The gig economy is growing. Gig workers who educate themselves on all the tax rules for reporting income and allowable business expenses can get it all done correctly and quickly, leaving more time for earning income with more gigs.

Need a Tax Payment Plan?

Many people are suffering financial hardship because of the COVID-19 economic downturn. 

Some of those people owed more money to the IRS when they filed their 2019 income tax return, but they didn’t have the funds to pay. Interest and penalties on unpaid tax balances keep adding to your tax debt, whether you have money or not. 

So, what do you do if you owe the IRS? Here is what you need to know:

  • Extended Payment Options – The IRS offers two ways for taxpayers to extend their tax payments over time:
  1. Short-term Payment Plan – If you can pay within 120 days, this option charges no fees and makes it easy to apply online. You’ll get an immediate notification of whether your application is approved. Interest and penalties continue to accrue until the tax is paid in full.
  2. Installment Agreement – Used when you need more than 120 days to pay, this option requires a set-up fee (e.g., $31-149 online and $107-225 via phone). Installment Agreements may require more information from you, depending on the balance due. Payments can be debited from your bank account, paid online, or by check. Credit card payments cost additional fees.

More details and a link to apply are at https://www.irs.gov/payments/payment-plans-installment-agreements#costs.

  • Tax Debt Amount Matters – Payment plan applications are generally easier to get approved for lower tax liabilities due than for large balances. Applications for $10,000 or less are automatically approved as a guaranteed Installment Agreement. For applications of amounts from $10-25,000, the approval is not guaranteed, and full payment must be made within six years. Tax debt payment plan applications for $25,000 up to $50,000 require information about your income, assets, and monthly expenses. Over $50,000 means a more thorough asset review to determine if anything can be liquidated to pay the tax due.
  • Offer in Compromise – A growing number of taxpayer households are suffering from long-term job loss, eviction, and medical issues with no insurance coverage. The IRS wants to collect all tax due but does not want to create an undue burden on taxpayers’ ability to provide for their basic needs. An Offer in Compromise allows you to settle your tax debt for less than the full amount owed if paying your full tax liability would create a financial hardship based on your assets, income, and expenses. See if you qualify at https://www.irs.gov/payments/offer-in-compromise.

Taxpayers who cannot pay their taxes due to the IRS in full have options to catch up. Depending on the amount due and your ability to pay, the IRS has extended payment plans and other mechanisms to avoid placing additional undue burdens on taxpayers who have already suffered financial hardship.

Tax Help for the Gig Economy

“Gig Economy” is in the news all the time these days. It’s also known as the sharing, on-demand or access economy. What does that term mean? The Gig Economy is a labor market that is made up of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to a traditional job as an employee. The Gig Economy can benefit workers and businesses by making work more adaptable to the needs of the moment and demand for flexible lifestyles. At the same time, the gig economy can come with significant downside risk, mostly for workers.

On an interesting side note, the term “Gig Economy” derives from a term used in the 1920s by jazz musicians as a shortened version of the word “engagement.” It now refers to any aspect of musical performance. More broadly, “gigging” means having paid work, often as a freelancer.

In effect, workers in a Gig Economy are more like entrepreneurs than traditional workers. While this may mean greater freedom of choice for the individual worker, it also means more responsibility. The security of a steady job with regular pay, benefits, and a daily routine is rapidly disappearing. Workers must take a much larger share of the economic responsibility for taxes, insurance and other financial obligations that employers usually take care of.

When it comes to taxes, there are a lot of rules and quite a bit to know. How can you keep up with it all? The Internal Revenue Service has created a new Gig Economy Tax Center on its website to help Gig Economy workers meet their tax obligations by getting the information to figure it out, all in one place. Whether renting out a spare bedroom or providing car rides, workers need to understand the rules so they can stay compliant with their taxes and avoid expensive surprises at tax filing time.

Educating Gig Economy workers about their tax obligations is vital because many don’t receive W-2s, 1099s or other information returns for their work in the Gig Economy. However, income from these sources is generally taxable, regardless of whether workers receive information returns or not. Workers who are gigging also need to know about the business expenses they can deduct to reduce their taxable business income.

The IRS’ Gig Economy Tax Center is designed to make it easier for taxpayers to find information about a variety of topics including filing requirements, quarterly estimated income tax payments, and deductible business expenses. But the information can still be daunting. Get help from a qualified tax professional if you don’t feel comfortable navigating it yourself. The IRS can help with that, too. https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional

New IRS Standard Mileage Rates for 2020

Do you use your personal vehicle for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes? If yes, you could qualify you for an income tax deduction. How much you can deduct and how you report the expense depends on your particular situation. The rules say that qualified deductible vehicle expenses can total the greater of actual expenses or a standard rate. Both expense options are based on the number of miles driven for business, charitable, medical or moving.

Most people choose to use the standard rate because it’s easier and usually results in a larger deduction amount. The standard mileage rate is determined each year by the Internal Revenue Service based on data about the cost of operating and maintaining a vehicle, including passenger cars, vans, pickups and panel trucks.

The IRS recently issued the new standard mileage rates for 2020 to calculate the deductible costs of operating a vehicle for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes. Beginning on January 1, 2020, the standard mileage rates were reduced or stayed the same. Here are the details:
 

  • 57.5 cents per mile driven for business use, down 0.5 cents from the rate for 2019,
  • 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down 3 cents from 2019, and
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations. The charitable rate is set by statute and remains unchanged.

Even at the lower rates, that standard mileage rate can really add up. Remember that you always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using your vehicle instead of using the standard mileage rates. Also remember that you have to track your mileage by category (e.g., business and personal) for each vehicle no matter which method you use.

Taking vehicle deductions for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes involves a lot of tracking, but the effort can be worth it. There are apps you can put on your phone to help. Once you get your system down, you’ll see that those deductions can add up and reduce the bottom line on your tax bill.

Taxes and LLCs

Regular readers of my blog posts know I’ve addressed LLCs and taxes before. Questions about how to file taxes for an LLC still come up all the time, including last week at my Start-Up with Financial Success workshop at BizLaunch/Arlington Economic Development. So I decided to pull up a blog from “the Archives” and update it to share again.

Piece of paper that says "TAX" with hand holding pen

The first question I ask new tax clients who own a business is, “What type of business do you have?” The response I often get is “I have an LLC.” That answer isn’t enough information for me to know how and when to file their business taxes. I need to ask more questions at that point, like “and how do you operate for tax purposes?” Answering that one can be tough. 

An LLC is a state-defined limited liability legal business structure. Business owners often form an LLC to protect their personal assets in case their business is sued. An LLC can file business income taxes in one of three different ways, depending on the circumstances:

  1. Sole Proprietorship

Individual business owners that have not incorporated are, by default, a Sole Proprietor. Sole Proprietors report income and expenses on a separate form filed with the owner’s individual income tax return, IRS Schedule C, “Profit or Loss from Business.” A separate Schedule C must be filed for each business that the owner operates. Net business profits are subject to income tax and the employer and employee portions of Medicare and Social Security taxes (i.e., 15.3% in 2019).

  1. Partnership

Two or more individuals in business together without incorporating are, by default, a Partnership. Partnerships are considered a separate tax entity and are required to file a separate income tax return, IRS Form 1065, “U.S. Return of Partnership Income.” Partners receive an IRS Form K-1 for each one’s pro-rata share of non-wage income and expenses, based on the operating agreement (a MUST). Partners are responsible for tracking the basis of their shares to determine how distributions are taxed.

  1. Subchapter S Corporation

Qualifying businesses can take the Subchapter-S election and avoid the double taxation of a C Corp. A number of rules apply to see if a business owner(s) qualifies. Sub-S Corps are also considered a separate tax entity and are required to file a separate income tax return, IRS Form 1120S, “U.S. Income Tax Return for an S corporation.” Shareholders receive an IRS Form K-1 for their share of non-wage income and expenses, based on the operating agreement (again, a MUST). Owner/employees earn wages and get a W-2.

Determining how your LLC operates for tax purposes is not easy. It depends on the circumstances and many rules apply. Need more information? The IRS has you covered, as usual. Check out their tax information, tools and resources for business and self-employed individuals at https://www.irs.gov/businesses.