Mortgage Debt Forgiveness: 10 Key Points

Canceled debt is normally taxable to you, but there are exceptions.

One of those exceptions is available to homeowners whose mortgage debt is partly or entirely forgiven during tax years 2007 through 2012.

According to the IRS, taxpayers should know these 10 facts about Mortgage Debt Forgiveness:

1. Normally, debt forgiveness results in taxable income. However, under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, you may be able to exclude up to $2 million of debt forgiven on your principal residence.

2. The limit is $1 million for a married person filing a separate return.

3. You may exclude debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as mortgage debt forgiven in a foreclosure.

4. To qualify, the debt must have been used to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence and be secured by that residence.

5. Refinanced debt proceeds used for the purpose of substantially improving your principal residence also qualify for the exclusion.

6. Proceeds of refinanced debt used for other purposes – for example, to pay off credit card debt – do not qualify for the exclusion.

7. If you qualify, claim the special exclusion by filling out Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness, and attach it to your federal income tax return for the tax year in which the qualified debt was forgiven.

8. Debt forgiven on second homes, rental property, business property, credit cards or car loans does not qualify for the tax relief provision. In some cases, however, other tax relief provisions – such as insolvency – may be applicable. IRS Form 982 provides more details about these provisions.

9. If your debt is reduced or eliminated you normally will receive a year-end statement, Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, from your lender. By law, this form must show the amount of debt forgiven and the fair market value of any property foreclosed.

10. Examine the Form 1099-C carefully. Notify the lender immediately if any of the information shown is incorrect. You should pay particular attention to the amount of debt forgiven in Box 2 as well as the value listed for your home in Box 7.

For more information about the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, visit www.irs.gov. IRS Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions and Abandonment’s, is also an excellent resource.

You can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant available on the IRS website to determine if your cancelled debt is taxable. The ITA takes you through a series of questions and provides you with responses to tax law questions.

Please contact us for more information.

Department of Labor and Unpaid Work Hours

The U.S. Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business.

The problem: Everyday practices of 70% of employers result in unpaid “work” hours that the employer has no idea are unlawful, but that do, in fact, violate the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The DOL solution: A huge jump in wage-hour audits. Another 350 investigators are being added, an increase of more than one third, and DOL has proposed $241 million to pay for the expanded enforcement.

Here are some typical examples:

Punching in early (or punching out late). Tony punches in 15 minutes before starting time. The violation: If you are audited, you would have to prove that Tony was not working, because DOL assumes that an employee who has punched in is working.

“Downtime.” Marina’s workday starts at 9, but she has a long drive and must drop off two children in different places, so she ends up getting in a little after 7:30, has breakfast at her desk and reads celebrity magazines. The violation: If a customer happens to call, or Marina suddenly remembers something she must attend to and pulls a file so she won’t forget, she is working and must be paid for the hour or portion of the hour when the client called and she pulled the file.

Chatting during breaks. Bill gets in half an hour early to have a cup of coffee while he talks sports with coworkers. The violation: If, while chatting with coworkers, any business matters happen to creep into Bill’s chats, that is paid work time and all of the workers involved in the conversation must be paid for that time. How does DOL know about this? It doesn’t—unless you are audited, at which time DOL staffers will conduct lengthy interviews with hourly workers.

Checking e-mails from home. Before leaving for work, James, who lives over an hour away, checks his Blackberry (or other device) for business e-mails. The violation: DOL considers this unpaid work time.

How to avoid federal pay violations with hourly employees:

  • Require employees to accurately record all work hours and to submit a timesheet or comparable record that they certify as accurate and submit in a timely manner.
  • Require managers to review these records promptly to identify any inaccuracies.
  • Prohibit employees from reporting to stations before start time.
  • Prohibit employees from working while they are on a lunch break.
  • Discipline employees for improperly clocking in or out.
  • If you pay Jo for working Wednesday from 9-5, but have a series of business e-mails from her between 7-9 a.m. or 6-8 p.m., DOL considers this unpaid work time.
  • Require managers to report any and all suspected off-the-clock work so that it is paid, and steps can be taken to prevent off-the-clock work in the future.
  • If there is a wage-hour audit, have ready accurate, indisputable records of hours worked.

Helpful hint: An automated time and attendance system is an easy-to-use tool for staying in compliance with wage-hour regulations. Many such systems are programmed to alert you to potentially costly issues. Some can prevent early punch-ins of more than a few minutes.

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General Tips Offered by IRS

Here are some tips offered by the IRS:

  • Generally, you should retain all documents that impact the tax return, and it is helpful to store the information in a central location.
  • The following records should be retained by individual taxpayers for at least three years:
  • Bills, credit card and other receipts, and invoices
  • Mileage logs
  • Canceled, imaged or substitute checks, or any other proof of payment
  • Other records that support deductions or credits
  • Records relating to property should be retained for at least three years after the property is sold or disposed. Examples include:
  • Homes and improvements
  • Stocks and investments
  • IRA transactions
  • Rental property
  • Small business owners must keep all employment tax records for at least four years. The following documents should be retained by the small business owner:
  • Gross receipts: cash register tapes, bank deposit slips, receipt books, invoices, credit card charge slips, and Forms 1099-MISC and 1099-K.
  • Proof of purchases: canceled checks, cash register tape receipts, credit card sales slips, invoices, account statements and petty cash slips.
  • Documents to verify assets: purchase and sale invoices, real estate closing statements, and canceled checks.

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Ten Things to Know About Capital Gains and Losses

Did you know that almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes is a capital asset?

Capital assets include a home, household furnishings and stocks and bonds held in a personal account. When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you paid for the asset and its sales price is a capital gain or capital loss.

Here are 10 facts from the IRS about how gains and losses can affect your federal income tax return.

1. Almost everything you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset.

2. When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you sell it for and your basis – which is usually what you paid for it – is a capital gain or a capital loss.

3. You must report all capital gains.

4. You may only deduct capital losses on investment property, not on personal-use property.

5. Capital gains and losses are classified as long-term or short-term. If you hold the property more than one year, your capital gain or loss is long-term. If you hold it one year or less, the gain or loss is short-term.

6. If you have long-term gains in excess of your long-term losses, the difference is normally a net capital gain. Subtract any short-term losses from the net capital gain to calculate the net capital gain you must report.

7. The tax rates that apply to net capital gain are generally lower than the tax rates that apply to other income. For 2011, the maximum capital gains rate for most people is 15 percent. For lower-income individuals, the rate may be 0 percent on some or all of the net capital gain. Rates of 25 or 28 percent may apply to special types of net capital gain.

8. If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, you can deduct the excess on your tax return to reduce other income, such as wages, up to an annual limit of $3,000, or $1,500 if you are married filing separately.

9. If your total net capital loss is more than the yearly limit on capital loss deductions, you can carry over the unused part to the next year and treat it as if you incurred it in that next year.

10. This year, a new form, Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, will be used to calculate capital gains and losses. Use Form 8949 to list all capital gain and loss transactions. The subtotals from this form will then be carried over to Schedule D (Form 1040), where gain or loss will be calculated.

For more information about reporting capital gains and losses, see the Schedule D instructions, Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses or Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax. All forms and publications are available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

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Eight Things to Know about Medical and Dental Expenses and Your Taxes

If you, your spouse or dependents had significant medical or dental costs in 2011, you may be able to deduct those expenses when you file your tax return.

Here are eight things the IRS wants you to know about medical and dental expenses and other benefits.

1. You must itemize. You deduct qualifying medical and dental expenses if you itemize on Form 1040, Schedule A.

2. Deduction is limited. You can deduct total medical care expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income for the year. You figure this on Form 1040, Schedule A.

3. Expenses must have been paid in 2011. You can include the medical and dental expenses you paid during the year, regardless of when the services were provided. You’ll need to have good receipts or records to substantiate your expenses.

4. You can’t deduct reimbursed expenses. Your total medical expenses for the year must be reduced by any reimbursement. Normally, it makes no difference if you receive the reimbursement or if it is paid directly to the doctor or hospital.

5. Whose expenses qualify. You may include qualified medical expenses you pay for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. Some exceptions and special rules apply to divorced or separated parents, taxpayers with a multiple support agreement or those with a qualifying relative who is not your child.

6. Types of expenses that qualify. You can deduct expenses primarily paid for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, or treatment affecting any structure or function of the body. For drugs, you can only deduct prescription medication and insulin. You can also include premiums for medical, dental and some long-term care insurance in your expenses. Starting in 2011, you can also include lactation supplies.

7. Transportation costs may qualify. You may deduct transportation costs primarily for and essential to medical care that qualify as medical expenses. You can deduct the actual fare for a taxi, bus, train, plane or ambulance as well as tolls and parking fees. If you use your car for medical transportation, you can deduct actual out-of-pocket expenses such as gas and oil, or you can deduct the standard mileage rate for medical expenses, which is 19 cents per mile for 2011.

8. Tax-favored saving for medical expenses. Distributions from Health Savings Accounts and withdrawals from Flexible Spending Arrangements may be tax free if used to pay qualified medical expenses including prescription medication and insulin.

For additional information, see Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses or Publication 969, Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans, available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

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Tax Law Changes for 2011 Federal Tax Returns

Before you file your 2011 federal income tax return in 2012, you should be aware of a few important tax changes that took effect in 2011.

Check www.IRS.gov before you file for updates on any new legislation that may affect your tax return.

Due date of return. File your federal tax return by April 17, 2012. The due date is April 17, instead of April 15, because April 15 is a Sunday and April 16 is the Emancipation Day holiday in the District of Columbia.

New forms. In most cases, you must report your capital gains and losses on the new Form 8949, Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets. Then, you report certain totals from that form on Schedule D (Form 1040). If you had foreign financial assets in 2011, you may have to file the new Form 8938, Statement of Foreign Financial Assets, with your return.

Standard mileage rates. The 2011 rates for mileage are different for January 1 through June 30 than for July 1 through December 31. For business use of your car, you can deduct 51 cents a mile for miles driven the first half of the year and 55 ½ cents for the second half. Medical and moving mileage are both 19 cents per mile for the early half of the year and 23 ½ cents in the latter half.

Standard deduction and exemptions increased.

  • The standard deduction increased for some taxpayers who do not itemize deductions on IRS Schedule A (Form 1040). The amount depends on your filing status.
  • The amount you can deduct for each exemption has increased $50 to $3,700 for 2011.

Self-employed health insurance deduction. This deduction is no longer allowed on Schedule SE (Form 1040), but you can still take it on Form 1040, line 29.

Alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption amount increased. The AMT exemption amount has increased to $48,450 ($74,450 if married filing jointly or a qualifying widow(er); $37,225 if married filing separately).

Health savings accounts (HSAs) and Archer MSAs. The additional tax on distributions from HSAs and Archer MSAs not used for qualified medical expenses increased to 20 percent. Beginning in 2011, only prescribed drugs or insulin are qualified medical expenses.

Roth IRAs. If you converted or rolled over an amount from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA or designated Roth in 2010 and did not elect to report the taxable amount on your 2010 return, you generally must report half of it on your 2011 return and the rest on your 2012 return.

Alternative motor vehicle credit. You can claim the alternative motor vehicle credit for a 2011 purchase only if the vehicle is a new fuel cell motor vehicle.

First-time homebuyer credit. The credit expired for most taxpayers for 2011. Some military personnel and members of the intelligence community can still claim the credit in 2011 for qualified purchases.

Health coverage tax credit. Recent legislation changed the amount of this credit, which pays qualified health insurance premiums for eligible individuals and their families. Participants who received the 65 percent tax credit in any month from March to December 2011 may claim an additional 7.5 percent retroactive credit when they file their 2011 tax return.

Mailing a return. The IRS changed the filing location for several areas. If you’re mailing a paper return, see the Form 1040 instructions for the correct address.

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Five Tips for Recently Married or Divorced Taxpayers with a Name Change

If you changed your name after a recent marriage or divorce, the IRS reminds you to take the necessary steps to ensure the name on your tax return matches the name registered with the Social Security Administration.

A mismatch between the name shown on your tax return and the SSA records can cause problems in the processing of your return and may even delay your refund.

Here are five tips from the IRS for recently married or divorced taxpayers who have a name change.

1. If you took your spouse’s last name — or if you hyphenated your last names, you may run into complications if you don’t notify the SSA. When newlyweds file a tax return using their new last names, IRS computers can’t match the new name with their Social Security number.

2. If you recently divorced and changed back to your previous last name, you’ll also need to notify the SSA of this name change.

3. Informing the SSA of a name change is easy. Simply file a Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, at your local SSA office or by mail and provide a recently issued document as proof of your legal name change.

4. Form SS-5 is available on SSA’s website at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/, by calling 800-772-1213 or at local offices. Your new card will have the same number as your previous card, but will show your new name.

5. If you adopted your spouse’s children after getting married and their names changed, you’ll need to update their names with SSA too. For adopted children without SSNs, the parents can apply for an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number – or ATIN – by filing Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions with the IRS. The ATIN is a temporary number used in place of an SSN on the tax return. Form W-7A is available on the IRS.gov website or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

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What to Do If You Are Missing a W-2

Make sure you have all the needed documents, including all your Forms W-2, before you file your 2011 tax return.

You should receive an IRS Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, from each of your employers. Employers have until Jan. 31, 2012 to issue your 2011 Form W-2 earnings statement.

If you haven’t received your W-2, follow these four steps:

1. Contact your employer If you have not received your W-2, contact your employer to inquire if and when the W-2 was mailed. If it was mailed, it may have been returned to the employer because of an incorrect or incomplete address. After contacting the employer, allow a reasonable amount of time for them to resend or issue the W-2.

2. Contact the IRS If you do not receive your W-2 by Feb. 14, contact the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040. When you call, you must provide your name, address, Social Security number, phone number and have the following information:

  • Employer’s name, address and phone number
  • Dates of employment
  • An estimate of the wages you earned, the federal income tax withheld, and when you worked for that employer during 2011. The estimate should be based on year-to-date information from your final pay stub or leave-and-earnings statement, if possible.

3. File your return You still must file your tax return or request an extension to file by April 17, 2012, even if you do not receive your Form W-2. If you have not received your Form W-2 in time to file your return by the due date, and have completed steps 1 and 2, you may use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Attach Form 4852 to the return, estimating income and withholding taxes as accurately as possible. There may be a delay in any refund due while the information is verified.

4. File a Form 1040X On occasion, you may receive your missing W-2 after you file your return using Form 4852, and the information may be different from what you reported on your return. If this happens, you must amend your return by filing a Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Form 4852, Form 1040X and instructions are available on this website or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

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IRS Launches New Online Search Tool

The IRS today launched a new online search tool to help users more easily find information about tax-exempt organizations.

Users can now go to one location on IRS.gov to search for:

  • Organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions (formerly listed in electronic Publication 78). Users may rely on this list in determining deductibility of contributions, just as they did with Pub. 78
  • Organizations whose federal tax exemption automatically revoked for not filing a Form 990-series return or notice for three consecutive years (Auto-Revocation List)
  • Form 990-N (e-Postcard) filers and their submissions

EO Select Check offers improved search options. Users can now look for organizations eligible to receive deductible charitable organizations (Pub. 78 data) by Employer Identification Number (EIN), which wasn’t possible previously. And this data is now updated monthly instead of quarterly.

In addition, the Auto-Revocation List may now be searched by EIN, name, city, state, ZIP code, country, exemption type, and revocation posting date, rather than only by state.

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Eight Facts to Help Determine Your Correct Filing Status

Determining your filing status is one of the first steps to filing your federal income tax return.

There are five filing statuses: Single, Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Separately, Head of Household and Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child. Your filing status is used to determine your filing requirements, standard deduction, eligibility for certain credits and deductions, and your correct tax.

Some people may qualify for more than one filing status. Here are eight facts about filing status that the IRS wants you to know so you can choose the best option for your situation.

1. Your marital status on the last day of the year determines your marital status for the entire year.

2. If more than one filing status applies to you, choose the one that gives you the lowest tax obligation.

3. 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 return together. The couple’s filing status would be Married Filing Jointly.

5. If your spouse died during the year and you did not remarry during 2011, usually you may still file a joint return with that spouse for the year of death.

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

7. Head of Household 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 qualify for this filing status.

8. You may be able to choose Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child as your filing status if your spouse died during 2009 or 2010, you have a dependent child, have not remarried and you meet certain other conditions.

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