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Archive for January, 2011

Tax Tips for Self-employed Individuals

Monday, January 24th, 2011

More from the IRS:

If you are in business for yourself, or carry on a trade or business as a sole proprietor or an independent contractor, you generally would consider yourself self-employed and you would file IRS Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business or Schedule C-EZ, Net Profit From Business with your Form 1040.

Here are six things the IRS wants you to know about self-employment:

  1. Self-employment can include work in addition to your regular full-time business activities, such as part-time work you do at home or in addition to your regular job.
  2. If you are self-employed you generally have to pay Self-employment Tax. Self-employment tax is a social security and Medicare tax primarily for individuals who work for themselves. It is similar to the social security and Medicare taxes withheld from the pay of most wage earners. You figure SE tax yourself using a Form 1040 Schedule SE. Also, you can deduct half of your self-employment tax in figuring your adjusted gross income.
  3. If you are self-employed you generally have to make estimated tax payments. This applies even if you also have a full-time or part-time job and your employer withholds taxes from your wages. Estimated tax is the method used to pay tax on income that is not subject to withholding. If you don’t make quarterly payments you may be penalized for underpayment at the end of the tax year.
  4. You can deduct the costs of running your business. These costs are known as business expenses. These are costs you do not have to capitalize or include in the cost of goods sold but can deduct in the current year.
  5. To be deductible, a business expense must be both ordinary and necessary. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your field of business. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your business. An expense does not have to be indispensable to be considered necessary.
  6. For more information see IRS Publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Business, IRS Publication 535, Business Expenses and Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax

How to Get Your Prior Year Tax Information from the IRS

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

From the IRS:

Taxpayers who need certain prior year tax return information can obtain it from the IRS. Here are nine things to know if you need federal tax return information from a previously filed tax return.

  1. There are three options for obtaining free copies of your federal tax return information – on the web, by phone or by mail.
  2. The IRS does not charge a fee for transcripts, which are presently available for the current tax year as well as the past three tax years.
  3. A tax return transcript shows most line items from your tax return as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules.  It does not reflect any changes made after the return was filed.
  4. A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments either you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed. This transcript shows basic data – including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income and taxable income.
  5. To request either transcript online, go to http://www.irs.gov and look for our new online tool called Order A Transcript. To order by phone, call 800-908-9946 and follow the prompts in the recorded message.
  6. To request a 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ tax return transcript through the mail, complete IRS Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript. Businesses, partnerships and individuals who need transcript information from other forms or need a tax account transcript must use the Form 4506T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.
  7. If you order online or by phone, you should receive your tax return transcript within 5 to 10 days from the time the IRS receives your request. Allow 30 calendar days for delivery of a tax account transcript if you order by mail using Form 4506T or Form 4506T-EZ.
  8. If you still need an actual copy of a previously processed tax return, it will cost $57 for each tax year that you order.  Complete Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, and mail it to the IRS address listed on the form for your area.  Copies are generally available for the current year as well as the past six years. Please allow 60 days for actual copies of your return.
  9. Visit http://www.irs.gov to determine which form will meet your needs. Forms 4506, 4506T and 4506T-EZ can be found at http://www.irs.gov or by calling the IRS forms and publications order line at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Two Tax Credits to Help Pay Higher Education Costs

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

From the IRS:

There are two federal tax credits available to help you offset the costs of higher education for yourself or your dependents.  These are the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.

To qualify for either credit, you must pay postsecondary tuition and fees for yourself, your spouse or your dependent. The credit may be claimed by the parent or the student, but not by both. If the student was claimed as a dependent, the student cannot file for the credit.

For each student, you can choose to claim only one of the credits in a single tax year. You cannot claim the American Opportunity Credit to pay for part of your daughter’s tuition charges and then claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for $2,000 more of her school costs.

However, if you pay college expenses for two or more students in the same year, you can choose to take credits on a per-student, per-year basis. You can claim the American Opportunity Credit for your sophomore daughter and the Lifetime Learning Credit for your senior son.

Here are some key facts the IRS wants you to know about these valuable education credits:

1. The American Opportunity Credit

  • The credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student.
  • It is available for the first four years of post-secondary education.
  • Forty percent of the credit is refundable, which means that you may be able to receive up to $1,000, even if you owe no taxes.
  • The student must be pursuing an undergraduate degree or other recognized educational credential.
  • The student must be enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period.
  • Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, coursed related books supplies and equipment.
  • The full credit is generally available to eligible taxpayers who make less than $80,000 or $160,000 for married couples filing a joint return.

2. Lifetime Learning Credit

  • The credit can be up to $2,000 per eligible student.
  • It is available for all years of postsecondary education and for courses to acquire or improve job skills.
  • The maximum credited is limited to the amount of tax you must pay on your return.
  • The student does not need to be pursuing a degree or other recognized education credential.
  • Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, course related books, supplies and equipment.
  • The full credit is generally available to eligible taxpayers who make less than $60,000 or $120,000 for married couples filing a joint return.

You cannot claim the tuition and fees tax deduction in the same year that you claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. You must choose to either take the credit or the deduction and should consider which is more beneficial for you.

For more information about these credits see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education

Eight Facts About Filing Status

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

More good stuff from the IRS:

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

Here are eight facts about the five filing status options the IRS wants you to know so that 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 2010, 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 2008 or 2009, you have a dependent child and you meet certain other conditions.

There’s much more information about determining your filing status in IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information.

Six Important Facts about Dependents and Exemptions

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

From the IRS:

Some tax rules affect every person who may have to file a federal income tax return – these rules include dependents and exemptions. Here are six important facts the IRS wants you to know about dependents and exemptions that will help you file your 2010 tax return.

  1. Exemptions reduce your taxable income. There are two types of exemptions: personal exemptions and exemptions for dependents. For each exemption you can deduct $3,650 on your 2010 tax return.
  2. Your spouse is never considered your dependent. On a joint return, you may claim one exemption for yourself and one for your spouse. If you’re filing a separate return, you may claim the exemption for your spouse only if they had no gross income, are not filing a joint return, and were not the dependent of another taxpayer.
  3. Exemptions for dependents. You generally can take an exemption for each of your dependents. A dependent is your qualifying child or qualifying relative. You must list the social security number of any dependent for whom you claim an exemption.
  4. If someone else claims you as a dependent, you may still be required to file your own tax return. Whether you must file a return depends on several factors including the amount of your unearned, earned or gross income, your marital status, any special taxes you owe and any advance Earned Income Tax Credit payments you received.
  5. If you are a dependent, you may not claim an exemption. If someone else – such as your parent – claims you as a dependent, you may not claim your personal exemption on your own tax return.
  6. Some people cannot be claimed as your dependent. Generally, you may not claim a married person as a dependent if they file a joint return with their spouse. Also, to claim someone as a dependent, that person must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national or resident of Canada or Mexico for some part of the year. There is an exception to this rule for certain adopted children. See IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information for additional tests to determine who can be claimed as a dependent.

For more information on exemptions, dependents and whether you or your dependent needs to file a tax return, see IRS Publication 501. The publication is available at http://www.irs.gov or can be ordered by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).