Tax Breaks for Military Personnel

Military service members have special obligations and take risks while performing their service to our country, which impact their tax situation. As a result, they are entitled to a number of special tax breaks. The following are the predominant tax breaks available to military personnel:

  • Residence or Domicile – A military service member does not lose or acquire a residence or domicile for tax purposes due to being absent or present in any tax jurisdiction in the U.S. solely to comply with military orders. Thus, for example, a member of the military who is a resident of Texas and is assigned under military orders to a duty station in California continues to be treated as a Texas resident and is not subject to California state income tax.
    Another special rule exempts any personal service income of a military spouse from being taxed by any state other than the military spouse’s resident state. For the income to be exempt from the nonresident state’s taxes, the couple must have relocated to another state under military orders. They must also share the same “domicile” or true home outside the duty station state where they intend to return and relocate permanently.
  • Moving Expenses – A member of the Armed Forces on active duty who is required to move because of a permanent change of station can deduct the reasonable unreimbursed expenses of moving themselves and members of their household. They are not subject to the 50-mile distance test or 39-week employment test that civilians are subject to for claiming a moving expense deduction. Reasonable expenses include shipping, a moving van, truck rental, travel expenses (not meals), packing, insurance and storage en route, moving pets, and utility connect/disconnect charges.
  • Combat Pay Exclusion – If a member of the Armed Forces serves in a combat zone as an enlisted person or as a warrant officer for any part of a month, all of the military pay that he or she receives for military service that month is excluded from taxation. For officers, the monthly exclusion is capped at the highest enlisted pay plus any hostile fire or imminent danger pay received.
  • Living Allowances – The basic housing allowance and both housing and cost-of-living allowances abroad, whether paid by the U.S. Government or by a foreign government, are excluded from taxation.
  • Home Mortgage Interest and Taxes – A military taxpayer can deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on his or her tax return as an itemized deduction, even if they are paid with nontaxable military housing allowance pay.
  • Home Sale Gain Exclusion – In order to claim the $250,000 ($500,000 for qualifying married taxpayers) home gain exclusion, taxpayers must generally own and use the home for 2 of the 5 years immediately prior to the home’s sale. A military taxpayer may choose to suspend the 5-year look-back period for up to 10 years when on qualified official extended duty.
    A military taxpayer who sells his or her primary residence and does not meet the 2- of-5-years ownership and use tests due to a move to a new permanent duty station may qualify for a reduced maximum exclusion amount.
  • Reservist Travel Expenses – Armed Forces reservists who travel more than 100 miles away from home and stay overnight in connection with service as a member of a reserve component can deduct travel expenses as an adjustment to their gross income. This differs from the rules for other employees, who may only deduct job-related travel expenses as a miscellaneous itemized deduction (subject to the 2% of AGI limitation). Thus, this deduction can be taken even if the reservist does not itemize his or her deductions.
  • Reservist Early Withdrawal Exception – Qualified reservists are permitted penalty-free withdrawal from IRAs, 401(k)s, and other arrangements if ordered or called to active duty for a period in excess of 179 days and if the distribution is taken during the active duty period.
  • Extension of Deadlines – The time limit for taking care of certain tax matters can be postponed. The deadlines for filing tax returns, paying taxes, filing claims for refund, and taking other actions with the IRS are automatically extended for qualifying members of the military.
  • Uniform Cost and Upkeep – If military regulations prohibit you from wearing certain uniforms when off duty, the costs and upkeep of those uniforms can be deducted, but the deductible expense must be reduced by any allowance or reimbursement that is received.
  • Joint Returns – Generally, a joint return must be signed by both spouses. However, when one spouse may not be available due to military duty, a power of attorney may be used to file a joint return.
  • Tax Forgiveness – When members of the military lose their life in a combat zone or as the result of a terrorist action, their income taxes are forgiven for the year of their death and for any prior year that ends on or after the first day of service in a combat zone.
  • ROTC Students – Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active duty pay – such as pay received during summer advanced camp – is taxable.
  • Transitioning Back to Civilian Life – You may be able to deduct some costs that are incurred while looking for a new job. Such expenses may include travel, resume preparation fees, and outplacement agency fees. Moving expenses may be deductible if your move is closely related to starting work at a new job location and if you meet certain tests.

If you or your spouse have questions about any of the above or questions related to your designated state of residence for state tax-filing purposes, please give us a call.

Hobby or Business? It Makes a Difference for Taxes

Taxpayers are often confused by the differences in tax treatment between businesses that are entered into for profit and those that are not, commonly referred to as hobbies. The differences are:

Businesses Entered Into for Profit – For businesses entered into for profit, the profits are taxable, and losses are generally deductible against other income. The income and expenses are commonly reported on a Schedule C, and the profit or loss—after subtracting expenses from the business income—is carried over to the taxpayer’s 1040. (An exception to deducting the business loss may apply if the activity is considered a “passive” activity, but most Schedule C proprietors actively participate in their business, so the details of the passive loss rules aren’t included in this article.)

Hobbies – Hobbies, on the other hand, are not entered into for profit, and the government does not permit a taxpayer to deduct their hobby expenses, in excess of any hobby income, on their tax return. Thus, hobby income is reported directly on their 1040, and any expenses not exceeding the income are deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions on their Schedule A, assuming the taxpayer is not claiming the standard deduction, in which case they would be reporting income but not deducting the expenses.

So, what distinguishes a business from a hobby? The IRS provides nine factors to consider when making the judgment. No single factor is decisive, but all must be considered together in determining whether an activity is for profit. The nine factors are:

  1. Is the activity carried out in a businesslike manner? Maintenance of complete and accurate records for the activity is a definite plus for a taxpayer, as is a business plan that formally lays out the taxpayer’s goals and describes how the taxpayer realistically expects to meet those expectations.
  2. How much time and effort does the taxpayer spend on the activity? The IRS looks favorably at substantial amounts of time spent on the activity, especially if the activity has no great recreational aspects. Full-time work in another activity is not always a detriment if a taxpayer can show that the activity is regular; time spent by a qualified person hired by the taxpayer can also count in the taxpayer’s favor.
  3. Does the taxpayer depend on the activity as a source of income? This test is easiest to meet when a taxpayer has little income or capital from other sources (i.e., the taxpayer could not afford to have this operation fail).
  4. Are losses from the activity the result of sources beyond the taxpayer’s control? Losses from unforeseen circumstances like drought, disease, and fire are legitimate reasons for not making a profit. The extent of the losses during the start-up phase of a business also needs to be looked at in the context of the kind of activity involved.
  5. Has the taxpayer changed business methods in an attempt to improve profitability? The taxpayer’s efforts to turn the activity into a profit-making venture should be documented.
  6.  What is the taxpayer’s expertise in the field? Extensive study of this field’s accepted business, economic, and scientific practices by the taxpayer before entering into the activity is a good sign that profit intent exists.
  7. What success has the taxpayer had in similar operations? Documentation on how the taxpayer turned a similar operation into a profit-making venture in the past is helpful.
  8. What is the possibility of profit? Even though losses might be shown for several years, the taxpayer should try to show that there is realistic hope of a good profit.
  9. Will there be a possibility of profit from asset appreciation? Although profit may not be derived from an activity’s current operations, asset appreciation could mean that the activity will realize a large profit when the assets are disposed of in the future. However, the appreciation argument may mean nothing without the taxpayer’s positive action to make the activity profitable in the present.
There is a presumption that a taxpayer has a profit motive if an activity shows a profit for any three or more years within a period of five consecutive years. However, the period is two out of seven consecutive years if the activity involves breeding, training, showing, or racing horses.

All of this may seem pretty complicated, so please call this office if you have any questions or need additional details for your particular circumstances.

Thinking of Tossing Old Tax Records? Read This First

Now that your taxes have been completed for 2016, you are probably wondering which old records can be discarded. If you are like most taxpayers, you have records from years ago that you are afraid to throw away. It would be helpful to understand why the records must be kept in the first place.

Generally, we keep tax records for two basic reasons: (1) in case the IRS or a state agency decides to question the information reported on our tax returns, and (2) to keep track of the tax basis of our capital assets so that the tax liability can be minimized when we dispose of them.

With certain exceptions, the statute for assessing additional taxes is three years from the return due date or the date the return was filed, whichever is later. However, the statute of limitations for many states is one year longer than the federal law. In addition to lengthened state statutes that cloud the recordkeeping issue, the federal three-year assessment period is extended to six years if a taxpayer omits from gross income an amount that is more than 25 percent of the income reported on a tax return. And, of course, the statutes don’t begin running until a return has been filed. There is no limit where a taxpayer files a false or fraudulent return to evade taxes.

If an exception does not apply to you, for federal purposes, most of your tax records that are more than three years old can probably be discarded; add a year or so to that if you live in a state with a longer statute.

Examples – Sue filed her 2013 tax return before the due date of April 15, 2014. She will be able to dispose of most of the 2013 records safely after April 15, 2017. On the other hand, Don files his 2013 return on June 2, 2014. He needs to keep his records at least until June 2, 2017. In both cases, the taxpayers may opt to keep their records a year or two longer if their states have a statute of limitations longer than three years. Note: If a due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday, the due date becomes the next business day.

The big problem! The problem with the carte blanche discarding of records for a particular year because the statute of limitations has expired is that many taxpayers combine their normal tax records and the records needed to substantiate the basis of capital assets. These need to be separated, and the basis records should not be discarded before the statute expires for the year in which the asset is disposed. Thus, it makes more sense to keep those records separated by asset. The following are examples of records that fall into that category:

  • Stock acquisition data – If you own stock in a corporation, keep the purchase records for at least four years after the year the stock is sold. This data will be needed to prove the amount of profit (or loss) you had on the sale.
  • Stock and mutual fund statements (If you reinvest dividends) – Many taxpayers use the dividends they receive from stocks or mutual funds to buy more shares of the same stock or fund. The reinvested amounts add to the basis in the property and reduce gain when it is finally sold. Keep statements at least four years after the final sale.
  • Tangible property purchase and improvement records – Keep records of home, investment, rental property, or business property acquisitions AND related capital improvements for at least four years after the underlying property is sold.

For example, because of the generous $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) home gain exclusion available to most homeowners, some taxpayers have become lax in maintaining home improvement records, thinking the large exclusions will cover any potential appreciation in the home’s value. But that exclusion may not always be enough to cover sale gains, particularly in markets where property values have steadily risen, so records of home improvements are vital. Records can be important, so please use caution when discarding them.

If you sell securities (stocks, bonds or mutual funds) that result in a loss, after you’ve offset any capital gains from other sales, you may end up with a larger loss than can be deducted in one year (maximum $3,000 or $1,500 if married filing separate). In that case, you are allowed to carry over the excess loss to use in future years. When this happens, you will need to keep the purchase and sale records of the securities for four years after filing the return when the last of the carryover loss is used.

Similarly, if you have a net operating loss from a business that is being carried forward to future years, you’ll need to keep the business records from the loss year until four years after the return on which all of the loss was used up.

What about the tax returns themselves? While disposing of the backup documents used to prepare the returns can usually be done after the statutory period has expired, you may want to consider keeping a copy of your tax returns (the 1040 and attached schedules/statements plus your state return) indefinitely. If you don’t have room to keep a copy of the paper returns, digitizing them is an option.

If you have questions about whether or not to retain certain records, give this office a call first; it is better to check before discarding something that might be needed down the road.

Consequences of Filing Married Separate

If you are married and thinking about not filing a joint return with your spouse, you will most likely use the married filing separate (MFS) filing status. If you are considering filing MFS, then you should be aware that the tax code is laced with special restrictions so that married individuals cannot benefit by filing MFS. This article describes some of the more frequently encountered issues when making the choice of filing status. Note: dollar amounts are those for 2017.

Joint & Several Liability – When married taxpayers file joint returns, both spouses are responsible for the tax on that return. What this means is that one spouse may be held liable for all the tax due on a return, even if the other spouse earned all the income on that return. In some marriages, this becomes an issue and causes the spouses to decide to file separately. In other cases, especially second marriages, the couple may want to keep their finances separate. Unless all the income, exemptions, credits and deductions are divided equally, which usually happens in community property states, this generally causes the incomes to be distorted and could easily push one of the spouses into a higher tax bracket and create a greater combined tax than filing jointly. Being in a separate property state, where each spouse claims their own earnings, can also create an uneven allocation of income and a higher tax bracket for one of the spouses.

Exemptions – Taxpayers are allowed a $4,050 tax exemption for each of their dependents. However, the $4,050 allowance cannot be divided between the MFS filers, so only one of the filers can claim a dependent’s exemption, and where there are multiple dependents, the spouses would need to allocate the exemptions between them.

Itemizing Deductions – To prevent taxpayers from filing MFS and one spouse taking advantage of itemized deductions and the other utilizing the standard deduction, the tax regulations require both to itemize if one of them does.

Social Security Income – When filing a joint return, Social Security (SS) income is not taxable until the modified AGI (MAGI) – which is regular AGI (without Social Security income) plus 50% of the couple’s Social Security income plus tax-exempt interest income and plus certain other infrequently encountered additions – exceeds a taxable threshold of $32,000. However, for married taxpayers who have lived together at any time during the year and are filing married separate, the threshold is zero, generally making more of the Social Security income taxable.

Section 179 Deduction – Businesses can elect to expense, instead of depreciate, up to $510,000 of business purchases, generally including equipment, certain qualified leasehold property and off-the-shelf computer software. The $510,000 cap is reduced by $1 for every $1 that the qualifying purchases exceed $2,030,000 for the year. Married taxpayers are treated as one taxpayer for purposes of the Section 179 expense limit. Thus, they generally must split the limit equally unless they can agree upon and elect an unequal split.

Special Passive Loss Allowance – Passive losses are generally losses from business and rental activities in which a taxpayer does not materially participate. Those losses are not allowed except to offset income from other passive activities. Rental property is an example of a passive activity, and for lower-income taxpayers, a special allowance permits taxpayers who are actively involved in the rental activity to currently deduct a loss of up to $25,000 if their AGI does not exceed $100,000. That $25,000 special loss allowance phases out by 50 cents for each $1 of AGI over $100,000 and is completely eliminated when the AGI reaches $150,000. When filing separately, this special allowance is not allowed unless the spouses live apart the entire year, and then the allowance is reduced to $12,500 each.

Traditional IRA Deduction Phase-Out – If a married taxpayer filing jointly is participating in a qualified employer pension plan, the deductibility of a traditional IRA contribution is phased out ratably for an AGI between $99,000 and $119,000. If the taxpayers file married separate, the phase-out begins at $0 if the taxpayer participates in their employer’s plan, and when the AGI reaches $10,000, no traditional IRA deduction is allowed. So little, if any, IRA deduction will be available to such an MFS filer.

Roth IRA Contribution Phase-Out – Taxpayers may choose to contribute to a non-deductible Roth IRA. However, Roth IRA contributions are ratably phased out for higher-income married filing jointly taxpayers with an AGI between $186,000 and $196,000. For a married taxpayer filing MFS status, that AGI phase-out range drops to $0 through $9,999, virtually eliminating the possibility of a Roth contribution.

Coverdell Education Accounts – Taxpayers are allowed to contribute up to $2,000 per beneficiary to a Coverdell education savings account annually. However for joint filers, the amount that can be contributed ratably phases out for AGIs between $190,000 and $220,000. For married filing separate taxpayers, the phase-out is half that amount, from $95,000 to $110,000.

Education Tax Credits – Taxpayers are allowed a tax credit, called the American Opportunity Tax Credit, of up to $2,500 per family member enrolled at least half-time in college for the cost of tuition and qualified expenses. This credit phases out ratably for higher-income married taxpayers filing jointly with an AGI between $160,000 and $180,000. There is a second higher-education credit called the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides a credit of up to $2,000 per family. This credit also phases out ratably for higher-income married taxpayers filing jointly with an AGI between $112,000 and $132,000.

However, neither credit is allowed for married filing separate taxpayers.

Higher Education Interest – Taxpayers can take a deduction of up to $2,500 for student loan interest paid on higher-education loans. Like other benefits, it is phased out for higher-income married taxpayers filing jointly, in this instance when the AGI is between $135,000 and $165,000. It is not allowed at all for taxpayers filing as married separate.

Education Exclusion For U.S. Savings Bond Interest – Although not frequently encountered, interest from certain U.S. Savings Bonds can be excluded if used to pay higher-education expenses for the taxpayers and their dependents. The exclusion phases out for married taxpayers with an AGI between $117,250 and $147,250. This deduction is not allowed at all when filing married separate.

Premium Tax Credit – For married taxpayers who qualify for the PTC (health insurance subsidy) under Obamacare, if they file married separate, they may be required to repay the subsidy.

Earned Income Tax Credit – This is a refundable tax credit that rewards lower-income taxpayers for working and can be as much $6,318 for families with three or more qualifying children. Taxpayers filing as married separate are not qualified for this credit.

Child Care Credit – If both spouses work and incur child care expenses, they qualify for the child care credit. However, for those married filing separate, the credit is not allowed.

Halved Deductions & Credits – Many of the deductions and credits allowed to a married couple filing jointly are cut in half for the married filing separate filing status. They include:

  • Standard Deduction
  • Standard Deduction Phase-Out
  • Alternative Minimum Tax Exemptions
  • Alternative Minimum Tax Exemptions Phase-Outs
  • Child Tax Credit Phase-Out

Head of Household Filing Status – Where a married couple is not filing jointly, one or both spouses may qualify for the more beneficial Head of Household (HH) filing status rather than having to file using the MFS status. A married individual may use the HH status if they lived apart from their spouse for at least the last six months of the year and paid more than one-half of the cost of maintaining his or her home as a principal place of abode for more than one-half the year of a child, stepchild or eligible foster child for whom the taxpayer may claim a dependency exemption. (A nondependent child only qualifies if the custodial parent gave written consent to allow the dependency to the non-custodial parent or if the non-custodial parent has the right to claim the dependency under a pre-’85 divorce agreement.)

As you can see, there are a significant number of issues that need to be considered when making the decision to use the married filing separate status. And these are not all of them, but only the more significant ones. The filing status decision should not be made nonchalantly, as it can have significant impact on your taxes. Please contact this office for assistance in making that crucial decision.

Tax Filing Deadline is April 18th

Just a reminder to those who have not yet filed their 2016 tax return, the tax filing deadline is April 18, 2017 — to either file your return and pay any taxes owed, or file for the automatic six-month extension and pay the tax you estimate to be due. The due date is normally April 15, but the 15th falls on a weekend and the next business day, April 17, is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in Washington D.C., so the due date in 2017 is April 18.

In addition, the April 18, 2017 deadline also applies to the following:

  • Tax year 2016 balance-due payments – Taxpayers that are filing extensions are cautioned that the filing extension is an extension to file, NOT an extension to pay a balance due. Late payment penalties and interest will be assessed on any balance due, even for returns on extension. Taxpayers anticipating a balance due will need to estimate this amount and include their payment with the extension request.
  • Tax year 2016 contributions to a Roth or traditional IRA – April 18 is the last day contributions for 2016 can be made to either a Roth or traditional IRA, even if an extension is filed.
  • Individual estimated tax payments for the first quarter of 2017 – Taxpayers, especially those who have filed for an extension to file their 2016 return, are cautioned that the first installment of the 2017 estimated taxes are due on April 18. If you are on extension and anticipate a refund, all or a portion of the refund can be allocated to this quarter’s payment on the final return when it is filed at a later date. If the refund won’t be enough to fully cover the April 18 installment, you may need to make a payment with the April 18 voucher. Please call this office for any questions.
  • Individual refund claims for tax year 2013 – The regular three-year statute of limitations expires on April 18 for the 2013 tax return. Thus, no refund will be granted for a 2013 original or amended return that is filed after April 18. Caution: The statute does not apply to balances due for unfiled 2013 returns.

If this office is holding up the completion of your returns because of missing information, please forward that information as quickly as possible in order to meet the April 18 deadline. Keep in mind that the last week of tax season is very hectic, and your returns may not be completed if you wait until the last minute. If it is apparent that the information will not be available in time for the April 18 deadline, then let the office know right away so that an extension request, and 2017 estimated tax vouchers if needed, may be prepared.

If your returns have not yet been completed, please call right away so that we can schedule an appointment and/or file an extension if necessary.

Foreign Account Reporting Requirements (FBAR)

U.S. citizens and residents with a financial interest in or signature or other authority over any foreign financial account need to report that relationship by filing FinCEN Form 114 if the aggregate value of the accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during 2016. Failure to file can result in draconian penalties.

CAUTION: Prior to 2016, the Form 114 was not required until the end of June. That due date has been moved up to April 18, 2017 for 2016 reporting. Previously there was no filing extension allowed, but the law that changed the filing date also gave FinCEN the authority to provide a six-month extension. FinCEN announced that an extension to October 16, 2017 will be automatic for anyone who was required to file Form 114 by April 18, 2017 but failed to do so.

Keep in mind that “financial account” includes securities, brokerage, savings, checking, deposit, time deposit, or other accounts at a financial institution. Commodity futures and options accounts, mutual funds, and even non-monetary assets such as gold are also included. It becomes a “foreign financial account” if the financial institution is located in a foreign country. If you own shares of a foreign stock or a mutual fund that invests in foreign stocks, and the stock or fund is held in an account at a financial institution or brokerage located in the U.S., this is not considered a foreign financial account, and the FBAR rules don’t apply to it. An account maintained with the branch of a foreign bank physically located in the U.S. also is not a foreign financial account.

You may have an FBAR requirement and not even realize it. For instance, perhaps you have relatives residing in a foreign county and they have put you on their bank account in case something happens to them. If the value of the account exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year, you will need to file the FBAR. Or if you are gambling on the Internet, that online casino may be located in a foreign country, and if your account exceeds the $10,000 limit at any time during the year, you will have an FBAR reporting requirement.

You may also have an additional requirement to file Form 8938, which is similar to the FBAR requirement but applies to a wider range of foreign assets with a higher dollar threshold. If you are married filing jointly, you must file Form 8938 if the value of certain financial assets exceeds $100,000 at the end of the year or $150,000 at any time during the year. If you live abroad, the thresholds are $400,000 and $600,000, respectively. For other filing statuses, the thresholds are half of those amounts. The penalty for failing to file the 8938 is $10,000 per year, and if the failure continues for more than 90 days after you receive an IRS notice of failure to file, the penalty can go as high $50,000.

As you can see, not complying with the foreign account reporting requirements can have some very nasty repercussions. Please call this office with questions or if you need assistance in meeting your foreign account reporting obligations.

Checking the Status of Your Federal Tax Refund is Easy

If your 2016 federal return has already been filed and you are due a refund, you can check the status of your refund online.

Where’s My Refund?” is an interactive tool on the IRS web site at IRS.gov. Whether you have split your refund among several accounts, opted for direct deposit into one account, or asked the IRS to mail you a check, “Where’s My Refund?” will give you online access to your refund information nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you e-file, you can get refund information within 24 hours after the IRS has acknowledged receipt of your return. Generally refunds for e-filed returns are issued within 21 days, however not before February 15 for returns with the earned income tax credit and/or the additional child credit. If you file a paper return, refund information will be available within four weeks. When checking the status of your refund, have your federal tax return handy. To access your personalized refund information, you must enter:

  • Your Social Security Number (or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number);
  • Your Filing Status (Single, Married Filing Joint Return, Married Filing Separate Return, Head of Household, or Qualifying Widow(er)); and
  • The exact refund amount shown on your tax return.

Once you have entered your personal information, one of several responses may come up, including the following:

  • Acknowledgement that your return has been received and is in processing.
  • The mailing date or direct-deposit date of your refund.
  • Notice that the IRS has been unable to deliver your refund, on account of an incorrect address. You can update your address online using the “Where’s My Refund?” feature.

The quickest refunds are via direct deposit. Allow additional time for checks to be processed through the mail.

“Where’s My Refund?” also includes links to customized information based on your specific situation. The links guide you through the steps to resolve any issues affecting your refund. For example, if you do not get the refund within 28 days from the original IRS mailing date shown on “Where’s My Refund?,” you can start a refund trace online.

If you have questions related to your refund, please give this office a call.

Use Direct Deposit for Faster Refunds

Want your tax refund quicker? Don’t wait around for a paper check. Have your federal (and state, if applicable) tax refund deposited directly into your bank account. Selecting Direct Deposit is a secure and convenient way to get your money into your pocket more rapidly. Even for taxpayers whose refunds will be delayed until after February 15, because they have an earned income credit or additional child tax credit, Direct Deposit is the quickest way to obtain a refund.

  • Speed – When combining e-file with direct deposit, the IRS will likely issue your refund in no more than 21 days.
  • Security – Direct Deposit offers the most secure method of obtaining your refund. There is no check to lose. Each year, the U.S. Post Office returns thousands of refund checks to the IRS as undeliverable mail. Direct Deposit eliminates undeliverable mail and is also the best way to guard against having a tax refund check stolen.
  • Easy – Simply provide this office with your bank routing number and account number when we prepare your return and you’ll receive your refund far more quickly than you would by check.
  • Convenience –  The money goes directly into your bank account. You won’t have to make a special trip to the bank to deposit the money yourself.
  • Eligible Financial Accounts – You can direct your refund to any of your checking or savings accounts with a U.S. financial institution as long as your financial institution accepts direct deposits for that type of account and you provide valid routing and account numbers. Examples of savings accounts include: passbook savings, individual development accounts, individual retirement arrangements, health savings accounts, Archer MSAs, and Coverdell education savings accounts.
  • Multiple Options – You can deposit your refund into up to three financial accounts that are in your name or your spouse’s name if it is a joint account. You can’t have part of the refund paid by paper check and part by Direct Deposit. With the split refund option, taxpayers can divide their refunds among as many as three checking or savings accounts at up to three different U.S. financial institutions. Check with your bank or other financial institution to make sure your Direct Deposit will be accepted.
  • Deposit Can’t Be to a Third Party’s Bank Account – To protect taxpayers from scammers, Direct Deposit tax refunds can only be deposited into an account or accounts owned by the taxpayer. Therefore, only provide your own account information and not account information belonging to a third party.
  • Fund Your IRA – You can even direct a refund into your IRA or myRA account.

To set up a Direct Deposit, you will need to provide the bank routing number (9 digits) and your account number for each account into which you wish to make a deposit. Please have these numbers available at your appointment.

For more information regarding Direct Deposit of your tax refund and the split refund option, we would be happy to discuss your options with you at your tax appointment.

Do I Have to File a Tax Return?

Do I have to file a tax return? This is a question many taxpayers ask during this time of year, and the question is far more complicated than people believe. To fully understand, we need to consider that there are times when individuals are REQUIRED to file a tax return, and then there are times when it is to individuals’ BENEFIT to file a return even if they are not required to file.

When individuals are required to file:

  • Generally, individuals are required to file a return if their income exceeds their filing threshold, as shown in the table below. The filing thresholds are the sum of the standard deduction for individual(s) and the personal exemption for the taxpayer and spouse (if any).
  • Taxpayers are required to file if they have net self-employment income in excess of $400, since they are required to file self-employment taxes (the equivalent to payroll taxes for an employee) when their net self-employment income exceeds $400.
  • Taxpayers are also required to file when they are required to repay a credit or benefit. For example, taxpayers who underestimated their income when signing up for health insurance through a government Marketplace and received a higher advance premium tax credit than they were entitled to, are required to repay part of it. Therefore, they must file a return even if their income is less than the filing threshold amount.
  • Filing is also required when a taxpayer owes a penalty, even though the taxpayer’s income is below the filing threshold. This can occur, for example, when a taxpayer has an IRA 6% early withdrawal penalty or the 50% penalty for not taking a required IRA distribution.
2016 – Filing Thresholds
Filing Status Age Threshold
Single Under Age 65
Age 65 or Older
$10,350
11,900
Married Filing Jointly Both Spouses Under 65
One Spouse 65 or Older
Both Spouses 65 or Older
$20,700
21,950
22,200
Married Filing Separately Any Age 4,050
Head of Household Under 65
65 or Older
$13,350
14,900
Qualifying Widow(er)
with Dependent Child
Under 65
65 or Older
$16,650
17,900

When it is beneficial for individuals to file: There are a number of benefits available when filing a tax return that can produce refunds even for a taxpayer who is not required to file:

  • Withholding refund – A substantial number of taxpayers fail to file their return even when the tax they owe is less than their prepayments, such as payroll withholding, estimates, or a prior overpayment. The only way to recover the excess is to file a return.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – If you worked and did not make a lot of money, you may qualify for the EITC. The EITC is a refundable tax credit, which means you could qualify for a tax refund. The refund could be as high as several thousand dollars even when you are not required to file.
  • Additional Child Tax Credit – This refundable credit may be available to you if you have at least one qualifying child.
  • American Opportunity Credit – The maximum for this credit for college tuition paid per student is $2,500, and the first four years of postsecondary education qualify. Up to 40% of the credit is refundable when you have no tax liability, even if you are not required to file.
  • Premium Tax Credit – Lower-income families are entitled to a refundable tax credit to supplement the cost of health insurance purchased through a government Marketplace. To the extent the credit is greater than the supplement provided by the Marketplace, it is refundable even if there is no other reason to file.

DON’T PROCRASTINATE! There is a three-year statute of limitations on refunds, and after it runs out, any refund due is forfeited. The statute is three years from the due date of the tax return. So the refund period expires for 2016 returns, which were due in April of 2017, on April 15, 2020.

For more information about filing requirements and your eligibility to receive tax credits, please contact this office.

Tax Benefits for Single Parents

If you are a single parent dealing with the complicated tasks of working and raising a family, there are some tax benefits and issues you should be aware of.

Filing Status – Just because you are single or widowed does not mean you have to file your tax returns using the single filing status. Tax law provides two far more beneficial filing statuses that you might qualify for. These statuses provide higher standard deductions and more beneficial tax rates:

Head of Household – If you are unmarried and pay more than half the cost of maintaining a household that is the principal place of abode for your qualified child or children for more than one-half of the year, then you qualify for the head of household status. Qualified children generally include your children, grandchildren, foster children or stepchildren under the age of 19 or a full-time student under the age of 24 who is not self-supporting. This is true even if you allow the other parent to deduct the dependency exemption for the child.

Qualified Widow – If you are widowed, you may qualify for the head of household status discussed just above. However, if your spouse passed away in one of the two prior years, you have a child or stepchild (not including a foster child or grandchild) whom you can claim as a dependent and who lived with you the whole year, and you paid more than half the cost of keeping up the home, you can use the higher standard deduction for married individuals filing jointly. In comparison, in 2016, the standard deduction for marrieds filing jointly is $12,600, which is twice the amount for a single individual.

Child Support – Any child support you receive from the non-custodial parent is tax-free to you. Child support is also not included in household income for the purposes of determining the premium tax credit if you are otherwise qualified and obtain your health insurance through a government marketplace.

Alimony – In most cases alimony payments received from your former spouse must be included in your income and are subject to tax. However, you can treat the alimony as earned income for purposes of making an IRA contribution of as much as $5,500 ($6,500 for those age 50 and over).

Exemptions – You are entitled to an exemption allowance of $4,050 for yourself and each of your children and others whom you claim as dependents on your tax return. Generally, the custodial parent will be the one eligible to claim a child’s exemption allowance. The value of the exemptions you claim is subtracted from your gross income when you are figuring out the amount of your taxable income. For example, if you are in the 25% tax bracket, each exemption allowance you deduct saves you $1,013 of tax. However, if you allow the non-custodial parent to claim the exemption of a qualified child, then you forego the $4,050 exemption allowance for that child.

Releasing the exemption of a child to the noncustodial parent must be done in writing and to IRS’s specifications as to required information. The noncustodial parent must then attach the written form to his or her return. The release can be for one year, for specified years or for all future years. If the exemption for the child is released, then the noncustodial parent will be able to claim the child tax credit (discussed below). Note: If a child is older and attending college, keep in mind when relinquishing the child’s exemption that the partially refundable tuition credit goes to the one who claims the child.

Child Care Credit – If your child or children are under age 13, and you are working or attending school, you may qualify for the non-refundable child and dependent care credit, which is based upon the amount of your earnings from working (or imputed income if attending school) and the amount of child care expenses, up to $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children. The credit can be as much as $1,050 for one child and $2,100 for two.

Child Tax Credit – You are also entitled to a non-refundable tax credit of $1,000 for each child under the age of 17 that you claim as a dependent. However, this credit begins to phase out for those filing as head of household with incomes in excess of $75,000. Some taxpayers with lower income may qualify for some portion of this credit to be refundable.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – If you are working, you may also qualify for the EITC. This refundable credit is available to lower-income taxpayers and is based on your income and the number of children you have, up to three. The maximum credits for 2016 are $506 with no children, $3,373 with one, $5,572 with two, and $6,269 with three or more. The credit is totally phased out at incomes of $14,880 with no children, $39,296 with one, $44,648 with two, and $47,955 with three or more.

As you can see, there are a number of tax benefits that apply to single parents. Please consult with this office to be sure you are not missing out on one or more of the benefits available to you. If you are a custodial parent, before releasing your child’s exemption to the noncustodial parent, you may wish to contact this office so the tax impact on your return(s) can be determined.