Believe it or not, the IRS is still opening mail and processing tax returns that stacked up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another IRS task that backed up over the last year is sending notices to taxpayers who have outstanding tax balances. If an IRS notice arrives in your mailbox, don’t panic. Open it right away, read it carefully, and verify the contents with your tax records.
Even if the notice is due to an IRS mistake, you need to respond to get your tax records corrected. But what if the notice is accurate and you do owe taxes to the IRS? How can you pay?
The IRS offers several payment options, depending on your situation:
- Pay Now – Paying the full balance online is free if you can have the balance due debited from the bank account of your choice. Paying by credit card is an option but the fees are high, so make sure that you read the fine print first before making your decision. https://www.irs.gov/payments/online-payment-agreement-application
- Short Term Payment Plan – If you can pay the amount due in 120 days or less and the total amount due is less than $100,000, this could be the best option for you. No set-up fee is charged, and you can pay via direct debit from the bank account of your choice. https://www.irs.gov/payments/online-payment-agreement-application
- Installment Agreement – If you need more than 120 days to pay, this option requires a set-up fee of between $31 and $225. Installment Agreements may require some financial information from you, depending on the amount due. https://www.irs.gov/payments/payment-plans-installment-agreements#costs
- Offer in Compromise – The IRS wants to collect all taxes due but does not want to create a financial burden on taxpayers. 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. See if you qualify at https://www.irs.gov/payments/offer-in-compromise.
Other considerations to keep in mind are:
- Payment plan applications are generally easier to get approved for lower tax liabilities due than for large balances.
- The application process differs based on the tax liability outstanding. For example, applications for $10,000 or less are automatically approved as a guaranteed Installment Agreement. Amounts over $50,000 require a more thorough review to determine if assets can be liquidated to pay the taxes due.
The IRS has been catching up with its pandemic backlog, including sending out notices to taxpayers who have outstanding tax balances. If an IRS notice arrives in your mailbox, check it against your records. Really owe what it says? Remember that the IRS offers several payment options, depending on your situation.
If you’ve ever called the IRS with a tax question, you know how challenging it can be. A recent report from the Taxpayer Advocate, an independent entity within the IRS, indicates that those challenges are not going to get better any time soon. Tax return processing delays and taxpayer call answer rates have gone from pretty darned bad in the pre-pandemic years to absolutely abominable now.
For example, at the end of the 2021 tax filing season, the IRS had a backlog of about 35 million tax returns. Pre-pandemic, at the close of the 2019 tax filing season, the IRS had a backlog of 7.4 million returns awaiting manual review. And trying to call the IRS is ridiculous! During the 2021 filing season, only nine percent of the 167 million calls received by the IRS were answered, but only after waiting on hold for an average of 20 minutes.
To help taxpayers get information without the wait, the IRS has updated its website and added features for taxpayers to get answers to general tax questions and to access taxpayer information. These three updates make it quicker and easier to get answers to your tax questions:
- The home page of the IRS website, www.irs.gov, has links to most of the information that taxpayers are looking for, from checking the status of your refund to learning about the latest Stimulus Payment. You can easily file your federal taxes for free, access forms and instructions, and find answers to your tax questions.
- The entire IRS website is available in multiple languages – Spanish, simplified and traditional Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, and Haitian Creole. Just navigate to www.irs.gov and use the drop-down at the top of the screen to adjust to your desired language.
- The IRS Online Account is an online portal that allows individual taxpayers to access their tax account information, including tax balances and payment history; set up payment plans for outstanding balances; and get copies of their tax transcripts. Access the portal and initiate your account at IRS.gov/View Your Account Information.
The IRS is working hard to make it easier for taxpayers to get answers to general tax questions, as well as for specific information about their tax balances and payments. Getting information online is common these days, so it makes sense for the IRS to take advantage of the opportunity to shift some of what would be telephone inquiries to the web.
So, the next time you have a tax question, you don’t have to wait on hold. Just go to www.irs.gov and get your questions answered more quickly than your call would be answered by an IRS representative.
In late June, the IRS announced its Dirty Dozen Top Tax Scams for 2021. Unfortunately, the top scams don’t change much from year to year. That’s why the IRS works hard annually to communicate the different illegal schemes perpetrated by scammers against millions of people.
This year, the IRS began its “Dirty Dozen” list for 2021 with a warning to tax professionals, taxpayers, and financial institutions to be on the lookout for scams that fall into four categories:
- Pandemic-related scams
- EIP or Refund Theft: Refund fraud and theft remain an ongoing threat. Criminals this year also turned their attention to stealing Economic Impact Payments (EIP) provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
- Unemployment Fraud: Taxpayers who lost their jobs because of the pandemic were eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Unclaimed unemployment benefits claimed by scammers using stolen personal information is reported as taxable income to the taxpayer, not the scammer.
- Personal information cons
- Phishing: Don’t click on links claiming to be from the IRS because it could be a fake email looking to steal personal information. Be wary of any emails with embedded links − they may be nothing more than scams to steal confidential financial information.
- Ransomware: Ransomware is malware that infects a victim’s computer, network or server and looks for and locks critical or sensitive data with its own encryption. In some cases, entire computer networks can be adversely impacted until the ransom is paid.
- Ruses focusing on unsuspecting victims
- Senior Fraud: Seniors are more likely to be targeted by scammers than other people. They are also becoming more comfortable with evolving technologies, such as social media. Unfortunately, that gives scammers another means of taking advantage.
- Threatening Impersonator Phone Calls: A common scam is a bogus threatening phone call from a criminal claiming to be with the IRS. The scammer attempts to instill fear and urgency in the potential victim.
- Schemes that persuade taxpayers into unscrupulous actions
- Unscrupulous Return Preparers: Most tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service, but dishonest preparers pop up every filing season. They commit fraud, harming innocent taxpayers, or talk taxpayers into doing illegal things, like inflating deductions.
- Offer in Compromise Mills: Misleading tax debt resolution companies can exaggerate the chance to settle tax debts for “pennies on the dollar” through an Offer in Compromise (OIC) for a hefty fee. Turns out, an OIC is only available to a small number of qualified taxpayers.
Don’t get caught by one of the IRS “Dirty Dozen” top tax scams. Read about how to protect yourself here – https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-wraps-up-its-2021-dirty-dozen-scams-list-with-warning-about-promoted-abusive-arrangements.
For the second year in a row, the income tax filing deadline is delayed. This year, the filing due date for the IRS and most states is May 17th instead of the “normal” April 15th. Despite the delay, the tax deadline can sneak up on you. If you’re in a panic because you haven’t started gathering your tax documents, you can probably relax.
You can request a tax filing extension to postpone from May 17th to October 15th. You don’t need to provide a reason for needing the extension, but it does take a little time to get it done right and avoid possible underpayment penalties.
Three tips for getting an income tax filing extension:
- You Must Apply
Individuals can request a tax filing extension by filing IRS Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, online at the IRS website, via approved tax software, or in paper form. It must be sent or postmarked no later than midnight on the original due date. The extension is automatically approved if a refund is expected or if the estimated amount due is paid with the extension request.
- Pay Amounts Due
Use the IRS Form 4868 instructions at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4868.pdf to estimate your 2020 income tax liability. Compare your estimated taxes to your tax withholding or quarterly estimated payments and enter the numbers on the extension request. If you owe more in taxes than you’ve paid in, the balance due must be paid with the extension request. Failure to pay the amount due results in an underpayment penalty and interest accrued daily on the unpaid balance.
- Check Your State
Each state has its own set of rules and processes for its residents to request an income tax filing extension. As mentioned above, most states followed the IRS and delayed their 2020 tax filing deadline, but some did not match the IRS’ May 17th deadline. Check your state’s tax department website for deadline updates and links to information about requesting an extension of time to file for 2020.
Rushing at the last minute is stressful and causes mistakes, especially with an already stressful activity like filing your income tax returns. Get more time to file your 2020 federal income tax return by requesting a tax filing extension. Go to the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/extension-of-time-to-file-your-tax-return for details and help estimating any taxes you owe with the extension request.
Tax rule changes in recently-passed Congressional bills in response to the pandemic are head-spinning. Overall, these changes provide targeted financial support and tax relief for people who have suffered financial hardship because of COVID-19. The IRS just came out with guidance on one of these changes, an enhanced Child Tax Credit. Temporary changes to the Child Tax Credit are intended to provide relief to taxpayers with eligible dependent children and bridge the financial gap until the American economy recovers.
The enhanced Child Tax Credit is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law in March 2021. Formally called Child Tax Credit Improvements for 2021, families need to know about its valuable provisions:
- Child Tax Credit increases are in effect for 2021 only.
- The Child Tax Credit is increased from $2,000 to $3,000 per eligible child, for children who are age 6 and older.
- For children under the age of 6, the Child Tax Credit is increased to $3,600 per eligible child.
- The age for qualifying children has also been increased from children under age 17 to children under age 18. This change allows more children to be considered eligible for the Child Tax Credit.
- The Child Tax Credit is fully refundable, meaning that eligible taxpayers could receive a tax refund that exceeds her or his tax federal withholding.
- Income limitations for the Child Tax Credit remain at $200,000 for single taxpayers and $400,000 for married filing joint. The income limitation for the Additional Child Tax Credit is phased out by $50 for every $1,000 of modified adjusted gross income more than the threshold (e.g., $150,000 married filing joint).
- Advance payments of one-half of the eligible Child Tax Credit will be issued in equal periodic payments from July to December 2021. Any eligible Child Tax Credit not paid in advance will be received when the taxpayer files her or his 2021 income tax return.
Guidance on the new tax rules for the enhanced Child Tax Credit is fresh off the presses. The IRS plans to post more information on its website (www.irs.gov), along with a portal for taxpayers to change personal information that may impact the amount of the advance payments, like the birth of a child or a change in which separated or divorced parent claims the child as an eligible dependent.
These enhancements to the Child Tax Credit for 2021 are temporary. Knowing the valuable rule changes can help to bridge the financial gap for many American families.
Legislation recently passed by Congress for COVID-19 relief contains some tax rule changes that are intended to encourage taxpayer spending. One change that took effect January 1, 2021, temporarily increases the business deduction for meals from 50% to 100% until the end of 2022. The deduction increase could provide business owners the incentive to enjoy a not-from-home meal while conducting business activities.
As usual, the temporary rules are not simple. The IRS guidance recently announced the details and definitions needed by taxpayers to follow the rules while also doubling their business meal deductions:
- The temporary rules apply to any expense paid or incurred after December 31, 2020, and before January 1, 2023, for food or beverages provided by a restaurant.
- The term “restaurant” means a retail business that “prepares and sells food or beverages for immediate consumption.” The food or beverages can be consumed on the restaurant’s premises, carried out, or delivered. However, a restaurant does not include a business that primarily sells pre-packaged food or beverages not for immediate consumption, like a grocery store or a vending machine.
- An employer may not treat an on-site eating facility as a restaurant under the temporary rules, either employer-operated or operated by a third party.
Those temporary rules are in addition to all the other rules that aren’t changing for 2021 and 2022, including:
- Business owners also need to be present for the meal and be engaged in conducting business activities. Alternatively, the business owner must be represented by an individual who is connected to the business, such as an employee or contractor.
- Meals cannot be lavish or extravagant under the circumstances.
- As always, a documented record must be kept of the date, amount, business purpose and attendees at the meal.
Not simple at all. But it could be worth your time to learn about the temporary rules for deducting business meal expenses. It could double your business meal deduction! Need more details? The IRS has it for you here – https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-21-25.pdf.
Impersonating the IRS is a favorite way for scammers to intimidate their victims. Who isn’t afraid of the IRS? It’s gotten even worse recently with all those tempting Economic Impact Payments and other COVID-19 funding just waiting to be stolen. Email phishing scams allow criminals to hit thousands of potential victims in seconds, and then sit back and watch how much money they can reel in.
At the end of March, the IRS warned about another IRS impersonation scam that targets educational institutions, including students and staff who have “.edu” email addresses. The scam emails display the IRS logo and use various subject lines to get potential victims’ attention, such as “Tax Refund Payment” or “Recalculation of your tax refund payment.”
The phishing emails ask people to click a link and submit a form to claim their refund. Who wouldn’t want a refund, right? The problem is, the link asks for all kinds of personal information, like:
- Social Security number
- First Name
- Last Name
- Date of Birth
- Prior Year Annual Gross Income (AGI)
- Driver’s License Number
- Current Address
- State/U.S. Territory
- ZIP Code/Postal Code
- Electronic Filing PIN
The IRS would never ask for personal information. So, what should you do with a scam email?
Resist temptation to open or reply to any suspicious email, no matter how enticing. And don’t even think about clicking on a link in a suspicious email!
- Report to Authorities and Delete
Report phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint and to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at [email protected]. Forward tax-related emails to the IRS at [email protected]. After reporting, delete the original email.
Need more protection and detection help? The IRS has it for you here – https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/tax-scams-how-to-report-them and the Federal Trade Commission has more for you here – https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/?pid=A.
Keeping up with tax rule changes was never easy. But the flurry of tax changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been absolutely head-spinning. A few of those changes impact the rules for required minimum distributions (RMDs) from retirement accounts. RMD rules are how the IRS prevents taxpayers from avoiding tax payments on retirement funds that were invested pre-tax, or before any taxes were paid on the income used for the retirement investment.
On December 20, 2019, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (aka “Secure Act”) was signed into law. The Secure Act changed IRA distributions and contributions in three big ways:
- Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Age Increase
Under prior tax law, RMDs had to begin no later than April 1 following the year in which a person turned age 70½. For taxpayers who were not already age 70½ by December 31, 2019, the age to start taking RMDs is extended to 72. Distributions don’t have to be postponed to 72; it’s just an option. What’s better – waiting or not – depends on individual circumstances.
- Contribution Age Restrictions Repealed
Before the Secure Act, workers over age 70½ were not eligible to make contributions to an IRA. That contribution age limit has been eliminated. Yea! Slight damper on that celebration, though – the same rules about who can and cannot deduct a traditional IRA contribution apply, regardless of age.
- Inherited IRA “Stretch Distributions” Eliminated for Non-Spouses
Traditional IRAs that are inherited by someone other than the owner’s spouse can no longer be distributed over the life of the beneficiary. Distributions now must be taken within a ten-year period after inheritance. This new rule eliminates the options for non-spouse beneficiaries to use inherited traditional IRAs as part of his or her own retirement planning.
So, what does this mean for 2021 RMDs?
- Individuals who reached 70½ in 2019 or earlier and were not required to take an RMD for 2020 are required to take an RMD for 2021 by December 31, 2021.
- Individuals who did not reach age 70½ in 2019 will reach age 72 in 2021 will have their first RMD due by April 1, 2022, and their second RMD due by December 31, 2022.
- To avoid having both amounts included in their income for the same year, the taxpayer can make the first withdrawal by December 31, 2021, instead of waiting until April 1, 2022. After the first year, all RMDs must be made by December 31.
Tax rules are always changing. Keeping up is always challenging. For help to meet the challenge, checkout the IRS website – HTTPS://WWW.IRS.GOV/NEWSROOM/TAX-TIME-GUIDE-IRS-REMINDS-TAXPAYERS-OF-RECENT-CHANGES-TO-RETIREMENT-PLANS.