What To Do If Missing Your W-2 Form

Missing Form W-2?

Most people get their W-2 forms by the end of January. Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, shows your income and the taxes withheld from your pay for the year. You need it to file an accurate tax return.

If you haven’t received your form by mid-February, here’s what you should do:

  • Contact your Employer. Ask your employer (or former employer) for a copy. Be sure they have your correct address.

  • Call the IRS. If you are unable to get a copy from your employer, you may call the IRS at 800-829-1040 after Feb. 23. The IRS will send a letter to your employer on your behalf. You’ll need the following when you call:

  • Your name, address, Social Security number and phone number;
  • Your employer’s name, address and phone number;
  • The dates you worked for the employer; and
  • An estimate of your wages and federal income tax withheld in 2015. You can use your final pay stub for these amounts.

  • File on Time. Your tax return is normally due on or before April 18, 2016. Use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, if you don’t get your W-2 in time to file. Estimate your wages and taxes withheld as best as you can. If you can’t get it done by the due date, ask for an extra six months to file. Use Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to request more time. You can also e-file a request for more time.

  • Correct if Necessary. You may need to correct your tax return if you get your missing W-2 after you file. If the tax information on the W-2 is different from what you originally reported, you may need to file an amended tax return. Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return to make the change.

Know Your IRS “TAXPAYER BILL OF RIGHTS”

Get to Know Your “Taxpayer Bill of Rights”

 

Every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights. The “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” takes the many existing rights in the tax code and groups them into 10 categories. You should be aware of these rights when you interact with the IRS.

IRS Publication #1, “Your Rights as a Taxpayer”, highlights a list of your rights and the agency’s obligations to protect them. Here is a summary of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights:

  1. The Right to Be Informed. Taxpayers have the right to know what is required to comply with the tax laws. They are entitled to clear explanations of the laws and IRS procedures in all tax forms, instructions, publications, notices and correspondence. They have the right to know about IRS decisions affecting their accounts and clear explanations of the outcomes.
  2. The Right to Quality Service. Taxpayers have the right to receive prompt, courteous and professional assistance in their dealings with the IRS and the freedom to speak to a supervisor about inadequate service. Communications from the IRS should be clear and easy to understand.
  3. The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax. Taxpayers have the right to pay only the amount of tax legally due, including interest and penalties. They should also expect the IRS to apply all tax payments properly.
  4. The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard. Taxpayers have the right to object to formal IRS actions or proposed actions and provide justification with additional documentation. They should expect that the IRS will consider their timely objections and documentation promptly and fairly. If the IRS does not agree with their position, they should expect a response.
  5. The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum. Taxpayers are entitled to a fair and impartial administrative appeal of most IRS decisions, including certain penalties. Taxpayers have the right to receive a written response regarding a decision from the Office of Appeals. Taxpayers generally have the right to take their cases to court.
  6. The Right to Finality. Taxpayers have the right to know the maximum amount of time they have to challenge an IRS position and the maximum amount of time the IRS has to audit a particular tax year or collect a tax debt. Taxpayers have the right to know when the IRS concludes an audit.
  7. The Right to Privacy. Taxpayers have the right to expect that any IRS inquiry, examination or enforcement action will comply with the law and be as unobtrusive as possible. They should expect such proceedings to respect all due process rights, including search and seizure protections. The IRS will provide, where applicable, a collection due process hearing.
  8. The Right to Confidentiality. Taxpayers have the right to expect that their tax information will remain confidential. The IRS will not disclose information unless authorized by the taxpayer or by law. Taxpayers should expect the IRS to take appropriate action against employees, return preparers and others who wrongfully use or disclose their return information.
  9. The Right to Retain Representation. Taxpayers have the right to retain an authorized representative of their choice to represent them in their dealings with the IRS. Taxpayers have the right to seek assistance from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic if they cannot afford representation.
  10. The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System. Taxpayers have the right to expect fairness from the tax system. This includes considering all facts and circumstances that might affect their underlying liabilities, ability to pay or ability to provide information timely. Taxpayers have the right to receive assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service if they are experiencing financial difficulty or if the IRS has not resolved their tax issues properly and timely through its normal channels.

IRS TAXPAYER ADVOCATE – 2015 Report to Congress

National Taxpayer Advocate Delivers Annual Report to Congress; Focuses on IRS’s Future Plans for Taxpayer Service

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson recently released her 2015 Annual report to congress, expressing concern that the IRS may be on the verge of dramatically scaling back telephone and face-to-face service it has provided for decades to assist the nation’s 150 million individual taxpayers and 11 million business entities in complying with their tax obligations.  The report reiterates a recommendation the Advocate made in June that the IRS release its “Future State” plan documents, provide additional detail about their anticipated impact on taxpayer service operations, and solicit comments from the public.  The report also recommends that Congress conduct oversight hearings on the plan.

The Future State Plan.  Since 2014, the IRS has invested substantial resources to develop a Future State plan, which has involved significant participation by virtually all IRS business units and the engagement of management consultants, at a cost of several million dollars.  To date, the IRS has chosen not to make the plan public.

The Advocate’s report says there are many positive components to the plan, including the stated goal of creating online taxpayer accounts through which taxpayers will be able to obtain information and interact with the IRS.  The report also acknowledges that cuts to the IRS budget – about 19 percent in inflation-adjusted terms since fiscal year (FY) 2010 – have forced the IRS to explore cheaper service options.

Reduced Service Levels.  The Advocate expresses particular concern about IRS intentions regarding what is not stated in the plan.  “Implicit in the plan – and explicit in internal discussion – is an intention on the part of the IRS to substantially reduce telephone and face-to-face interaction with taxpayers,” the report says.  “The key unanswered question is by how much. . .It is incumbent upon the IRS to be much more specific about how much personal taxpayer assistance it expects to provide in its ‘future state.’”

The report says the IRS appears to presume taxpayer interactions with the IRS through online accounts will address a high percentage of taxpayer needs, enabling it to curtail existing taxpayer services without significantly impacting taxpayers.  The Future State plan also calls for expanding the role of tax return preparers and tax software companies in providing taxpayer assistance – an approach that likely would increase compliance costs for millions of taxpayers who now obtain that assistance from the IRS for free.

The IRS Future State plan could transform the role the agency has long played in helping taxpayers comply with their tax obligations, the report says.  The IRS historically has maintained a robust customer service telephone operation that, in every year since FY 2008, has received more than 100 million taxpayer telephone calls, as well as a network of nearly 400 walk-in sites that, in every year for over a decade, has provided face-to-face assistance to more than five million taxpayers.

Online accounts are likely to reduce taxpayer demand for telephone and face-to-face interaction to some degree but are unlikely to be useful in addressing complex account-specific matters, the report says. “This is true for several reasons, including that millions of taxpayers do not have Internet access, millions of taxpayers with Internet access do not feel comfortable trying to resolve important financial matters over the Internet, and many taxpayer problems are not ‘cookie cutter,’ thus requiring a degree of back-and-forth discussion that is better suited for conversation.”  Last year, more than 9 million taxpayers either received post-filing IRS notices proposing to adjust their tax or experienced refund delays, all matters that are account-specific.

Technology improvements often do not reduce demand for personal service to the extent expected, the report says. For example, the IRS over the past decade has increased the individual tax return e-filing rate from 54 percent to 85 percent, enhanced the Where’s My Refund? tool, and added substantial content to IRS.gov, yet the number of taxpayer calls to its customer service lines has increased by 59 percent.  Similarly, the report cites a recent Federal Reserve survey in which 72 percent of mobile banking customers reported they had visited a branch and spoken with a teller an average of two times within the preceding month. The report says customers often use online service as a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, personal service, particularly for complex matters.

In recent years, the IRS has already begun to reduce taxpayer services, including by declaring all but simple tax-law questions “out of scope” for the IRS to answer during the filing season; declaring it will not answer any tax-law questions after the filing season (including questions from millions of taxpayers with proper extensions of time to file); eliminating preparation of tax returns in its walk-in sites; and eliminating an online program that allowed taxpayers to submit questions electronically.

Need for Transparency.  “We believe it is critical that the IRS share its plans in detail with Congress and outside stakeholders and then engage in a dialogue about the extent to which it intends to curtail or eliminate various categories of telephone service and face-to-face service, whether it will provide sufficient support for taxpayers – and how – as it transitions to its future state, and whether it has an adequate ‘Plan B’ if taxpayer demand for telephone and face-to-face service remains higher than the IRS anticipates,” the report says.

In releasing the report, Olson emphasized that Congress has repeatedly shown support for high-quality taxpayer service.  In the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, Congress directed the IRS to “review and restate its mission to place a greater emphasis on serving the public and meeting taxpayers’ needs.”  Added Olson:  “The fact that Congress just last month provided the IRS with an additional $290 million in funding for taxpayer assistance and codified the provisions of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, including The Right to Quality Service, demonstrates that Members of Congress continue to believe taxpayer service should be strengthened, not reduced,” Olson said.

“Pay to Play” Tax System.  Olson characterized the combination of reductions in personal service and the IRS’s plans to direct taxpayers with questions to preparers and other third parties (along with the expansion of user fees, discussed below) as creating a “pay to play” tax system, where only taxpayers who can afford to pay for tax advice will receive personal service, while others will be left struggling for themselves.

Data Security Concerns.  Olson also warned about the consequences of giving tax return preparers more access to taxpayer accounts.  “When you give that access to unregulated preparers or to other third parties, I have significant concerns.  We already see the problems in this population of preparers relating to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), where certain unregulated, untrained preparers prey on vulnerable taxpayers.  Why would we want to give these preparers even more access to taxpayer information?  And yet, if we don’t provide these preparers access to taxpayer accounts, it is very likely the tens of millions of taxpayers who use these preparers won’t be able to or won’t want to utilize their own online accounts, thereby carving a big hole in the IRS’s online strategy.  Thus, through a single-minded emphasis on online accounts, the IRS creates a situation where it will face enormous pressure to open up taxpayer account access to unregulated return preparers.”

Need for More Details and Public Discussion.  Because the contemplated reductions in service are significant yet undefined, Olson called on the IRS in her FY 2016 Objectives Report to Congress to release its plans and solicit taxpayer comments.  The new report again recommends that the IRS immediately publish its plan and seek public comments.  “U.S. taxpayers pay the bills for our government.  U.S. taxpayers deserve a say in how the tax collection agency will treat them,” the report says.

The report also recommends that Congress hold hearings on the future state of IRS operations so it can obtain more specific information about the IRS’s plans and have an opportunity to weigh in.

Said Olson:  “This has been a difficult report to write because while the intent to reduce telephone and face-to-face service has been a central assumption in the Future State planning process, little about service reductions has been committed to writing.  Therefore, it is impossible to describe the scope of contemplated reductions with specificity.  If there is good news here, it is that the IRS has not formally committed itself to the service reductions we understand to be contemplated.  I am hopeful the IRS will make the plan public, present its perspective on tradeoffs, seek public comments, and ultimately make a commitment to continue to maintain existing telephone and face-to-face services for the millions of U.S. taxpayers who rely on them.”

National Taxpayer Advocate to Hold Public Hearings on Taxpayer Service Needs.  “For the IRS to do its job well, it must start from the perspective of what government is about – namely, it is of the people, by the people, and for the people,” Olson wrote.  “The government is funded by taxes paid by the people.  Therefore, the future state vision of the IRS needs to be designed around the needs of the people.”  To assist the IRS in developing a plan that is responsive to the needs of U.S. taxpayers, Olson announced plans to conduct public hearings around the country in the coming months to which she plans to invite groups that represent the interests of individual taxpayers (including elderly, low income, disabled, and limited English proficiency taxpayers), sole proprietors, and other small businesses as well as Circular 230 practitioners and unenrolled tax return preparers to describe what they need from the IRS to help them comply with the tax laws.

OTHER KEY ISSUES ADDRESSED

Federal law requires the Annual Report to Congress to identify at least 20 of the “most serious problems” encountered by taxpayers and to make administrative and legislative recommendations to mitigate those problems.  Overall, this year’s report identifies 24 problems, makes dozens of recommendations for administrative change, makes 15 recommendations for legislative change, and analyzes the 10 tax issues most frequently litigated in the federal courts.

The “most serious problems” discussed in the report are grouped into four sections:

(1) IRS Future State Vision: Implications for Today and Tomorrow; (2) Problems that Undermine Taxpayer Rights and Impose Taxpayer Burden; (3) Problems that Waste IRS Resources and Impose Taxpayer Burden; and (4) Problems that Contribute to Earned Income Tax Credit Noncompliance and Recommendations for Improvement.  The report says that as the IRS has struggled with reduced funding, it has sometimes made short-sighted decisions that have had the effect of creating rework for itself as well as increasing taxpayer burden.

Among the problems addressed are the following:

IRS User Fee Decisions May Impose Heavy Taxpayer Burden.  Like other federal agencies, the IRS is required to consider charging for services that convey “special benefits.”  In the past, the IRS tried to avoid imposing fees that would impair its mission, particularly in the years before it was authorized to retain fee revenue.  Between FY 2010 and FY 2015, however, when the IRS’s appropriation was reduced by about 10 percent (nominally), its user fee revenue rose by 34 percent.  The report suggests that cuts to the agency’s budget have prompted it to consider fees that will impede its mission to help taxpayers voluntarily comply and pay their taxes.

As an example, the IRS collects revenue when delinquent taxpayers agree to pay their liabilities voluntarily, even if they can only pay in installments over time rather than in a single lump-sum.  Under an installment agreement, tax is collected without draining IRS enforcement resources.  Yet the IRS charges taxpayers a user fee for entering into installment agreements and is actively considering increasing the fee.  The report says such fees exacerbate the “pay to play” aspects of the IRS Future State (discussed above) and expresses concern that increasing user fees may have the effect of deterring taxpayers from using IRS services that promote compliance, thereby reducing voluntary compliance and potentially costing the government more in tax than it would earn in user fees.

In a Dec. 4 memorandum to the Commissioner, the Advocate conveyed concerns about specific user fees that are under consideration; the memorandum is published in the report but has been substantially redacted at the request of the IRS.  The report recommends the IRS estimate the effect of proposed fee increases on demand for services, make its analysis public before adopting the increases, and refrain from charging fees that will have a significant negative impact on its service-oriented mission, voluntary compliance, or taxpayer rights.

Form 1023-EZ Process Allows Unqualified Entities to Obtain Tax-Exempt Status.  Since July 2014, the IRS has addressed backlogs in its inventory of applications for tax-exempt status by allowing certain organizations to use Form 1023-EZ, Streamlined Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3).  Form 1023-EZ adopts a “checkbox approach” that requires applicants merely to attest, rather than demonstrate, that they qualify for exempt status.  In particular, Form 1023-EZ does not solicit any narrative regarding an organization’s planned activities, any organizing documents (such as articles of incorporation or bylaws), any financial data, or any explanatory material.  The IRS approves about 95 percent of applications submitted on Form 1023-EZ.  However, the IRS’s own data show it approves only about 77 percent of applications when it requests documentation.

Similarly, TAS conducted a research study, published in Volume 2 of the report, that examined a representative sample of organizations in 20 states that make articles of incorporation viewable online and whose Form 1023-EZ application had been approved by the IRS.  It found, among other things, that 37 percent do not meet the organizational test for qualification as a Section 501(c)(3) organization.  In other words, these organizations received favorable determination letters from the IRS even though they are not eligible for exempt status under the law.  The report recommends that the IRS revise Form 1023-EZ to require applicants to submit their organizing documents, a description of actual or planned activities, and past or projected financial information, and that the IRS review this information before deciding whether to approve exemption applications.

IRS Anti-Fraud Filters Delay Refunds for Hundreds of Thousands of Legitimate Taxpayers, with One Major Program Having a False Positive Rate of 36 Percent.  The IRS operates several programs that filter tax returns to ferret out improper refund claims, including returns showing bogus wage or withholding amounts and returns suspicious for identity theft.  While these are critical programs, the filters have high “false positive” rates, causing substantial refund delays for hundreds of thousands of legitimate taxpayers.  For example, the false positive rate was about 36 percent during FY 2015 in the Taxpayer Protection Program (TPP), which freezes returns the IRS suspects may reflect identity theft.  The IRS sends notices to taxpayers whose returns have been flagged by TPP filters and instructs the taxpayers to authenticate their identities online or by phone.  Yet for three consecutive weeks during the filing season, the IRS answered fewer than 10 percent of taxpayer calls on that telephone line, making it extra ordinarily difficult for affected taxpayers to get their returns unfrozen and receive their refunds.  For other anti-fraud programs, the IRS currently does not track the false positive rate.  The report recommends that the IRS begin tracking the false positive rate of all screening programs, monitor and adjust filters and rules quickly if they are not effectively zeroing in on fraud, and establish maximum false positive rates for each process and filter.

Other issues analyzed in the “most serious problems” section of the report include the adequacy of taxpayer service for taxpayers living abroad, the whistleblower program, the IRS’s administration of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, victim assistance in tax-related identity theft cases, and several issues relating to EITC compliance, including the need for better taxpayer education and assistance in the pre-filing environment, more effective use of audits, and greater emphasis on the role tax return preparers can play to promote compliance.

New TAS Research Studies. Volume 2 of the report contains four new research studies, including a study examining whether organizations that obtained Section 501(c)(3) status on the basis of Form 1023-EZ applications meet the requirements for exempt status and a study designed to gain a better understanding of the needs of underserved Hispanic taxpayers.  The report also contains two studies that look at IRS enforcement programs.

One study examined the impact of audits on the subsequent compliance of self-employed individuals.  The results of the study “provide robust evidence that audits have important long-term revenue implications,” the report says.  However, the study found a significant disparity in results when it attempted to differentiate the subsequent behavioral responses of (seemingly) compliant taxpayers and (seemingly) noncompliant taxpayers.  It found that (seemingly) non-compliant taxpayers who were audited increased their reporting compliance of taxable income by about 120 percent three years later, while (seemingly) compliant taxpayers who were audited subsequently reported less income.

A second study examined the IRS’s “collectability curve.”  The IRS generally assigns delinquencies to Taxpayer Delinquent Account (TDA) status within four to five months after it assesses a liability and sends the taxpayer a series of notices.  However, the volume of TDAs may delay collection actions from occurring for some time.  The study found that the IRS is most successful at collecting liabilities soon after TDA assignment.  While dollars continue to be collected throughout the life of the 10-year statutory collection period, the payment rate slows considerably.  These findings are similar to the results reported by private collection agencies, but run counter to some IRS procedures that prioritize collecting larger accounts, even though many “smaller accounts” become “larger accounts” simply because the IRS delays collection, allowing penalties and interest to continue to accrue and ultimately making them more difficult to resolve.

FAMILY COMPUTER SECURITY

COMPUTER SECURITY – Talk to Your Family about Security Online and at Home

For families with children and aging parents, it’s important to make sure everyone guards their personal information online and at home.

The IRS, state revenue departments and the tax industry have teamed up to combat identity theft in the tax arena. Especially in families that use the same computer, students should be warned against turning off any security software in use or opening any suspicious emails. They should be instructed to never click on embedded links or download attachments of emails from unknown sources.

Identity thieves are just one of many predators plying the Internet. And, actions by one computer user could infect the machine for all users. That’s a concern when dealing with personal financial details or tax information.

Kids should be warned against oversharing personal information on social media. But oversharing about home addresses, a new family car or a parent’s new job gives identity thieves a window into an extra bit of information they need to impersonate you.

Aging parents also are prime targets for identity thieves. If they are browsing the Internet, they made need to the same conversation about online security, avoiding spam email schemes and oversharing on social media.

They may also need assistance for someone to routinely review charges to their credit cards, withdrawals from their financial accounts. Unused credit cards should be canceled. An annual review should be made of their credit reports to ensure no new accounts are being opened by thieves, and reviewing the Social Security Administration account to ensure no excessive income is accruing to their account.

Seniors also are especially vulnerable to scam calls and pressure from fraudsters posing as legitimate organizations, including the Internal Revenue Service, and demanding payment for debts not owed. The IRS will never make threats of lawsuit or jail or demand that a certain payment method, such as a debit card, be made.

Fraudsters will try to trick seniors, telling them they have won a grand prize in a contest or that a relative needs money – anything to persuade a person to give up personal information such as their Social Security number or financial account information.

Some simple steps – and a conversation – can help the young and old avoid identity theft schemes and scammers.

APPLICABLE LARGE EMPLOYERS (ALE) – Health Information Reporting

APPLICABLE LARGE EMPLOYERS – Eight (8) Things ALEs Should Know about Information Reporting and Health Coverage Offers

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires “Applicable Large Employers” (ALE) to file information reporting returns with the IRS and employees. ALEs are generally those employers with 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees in the preceding calendar year.

The vast majority of employers are not ALEs and are not subject to this health care tax provision.  However, those who are must use IRS Form 1094-C, Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns, and IRS Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage, to report the information about offers of health coverage  and enrollment in health coverage for their employees.

Here are Eight (8) things ALEs should know about the information returns they must file at the beginning of 2016.

  1. Form 1095-C is used to report information about each employee who was a full-time employee of the ALE member for any month of the calendar year.
  2. Form 1094-C must be used to report to the IRS summary information for each employer, and to transmit Forms 1095-C to the IRS.
  3. ALEs file a separate Form 1095-C for each of its full-time employees, and a transmittal on Form 1094-C for all of the returns filed for a given calendar year.
  4. Employers that offer employer-sponsored self-insured coverage use Form 1095-C to report information to the IRS and to employees about individuals who have minimum essential coverage under the employer plan.
  5. The information reported on Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C is used in determining whether an employer owes a payment under the employer shared responsibility provisions.
  6. Form 1095-C is used by the IRS and the employee in determining the eligibility of the employee for the premium tax credit.
  7. An ALE may satisfy this requirement by filing a substitute form, but the substitute form must include all of the information required on Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C and satisfy all form and content requirements as specified by the IRS.
  8. Forms 1094-C and 1095-C, or a substitute form must be filed regardless of whether the ALE member offers coverage, or the employee enrolls in any coverage offered.

IRA REMINDERS – IRA Year-End Planning

IRA Year-End Reminders

Individual Retirement Accounts, or IRAs, are important vehicles for you to save for retirement. If you have an IRA or plan to start one soon, there are a few key year-end rules that you should know. Here are the top year-end IRA reminders from the IRS:

  • Know the contribution and deduction limits. You can contribute up to a maximum of $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older) to a traditional or Roth IRA. If you file a joint return, you and your spouse can each contribute to an IRA even if only one of you has taxable compensation. You have until April 18, 2016, to make an IRA contribution for 2015. In some cases, you may need to reduce your deduction for your traditional IRA contributions. This rule applies if you or your spouse has a retirement plan at work and your income is above a certain level.

  • Avoid excess contributions.  If you contribute more than the IRA limits for 2015, you are subject to a six percent tax on the excess amount. The tax applies each year that the excess amounts remain in your account. You can avoid the tax if you withdraw the excess amounts from your account by the due date of your 2015 tax return (including extensions).

  • Take required distributions.  If you’re at least age 70½, you must take a “Required Minimum Distribution”, or RMD, from your traditional IRA. You are not required to take a RMD from your Roth IRA. You normally must take your RMD by Dec. 31, 2015. That deadline is April 1, 2016, if you turned 70½ in 2015. If you have more than one traditional IRA, you figure the RMD separately for each IRA. However, you can withdraw the total amount from one or more of them. If you don’t take your RMD on time you face a 50 percent excise tax on the RMD amount you failed to take out.

  • IRA distributions may affect your premium tax credit. If you take a distribution from your IRA at the end of the year and expect to claim the PTC, you should exercise caution regarding the amount of the distribution.  Taxable distributions increase your household income, which can make you ineligible for the PTC.  You will become ineligible if the increase causes your household income for the year to be above 400 percent of the Federal poverty line for your family size. In this circumstance, you must repay the entire amount of any advance payments of the premium tax credit that were made to your health insurance provider on your behalf.

 

How to Protect Your Computer Online

How to Protect Your Computer Online

Scammers, hackers and identity thieves are looking to steal your personal information – and your money. But there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourself, like keeping your computer software up-to-date and giving out your personal information only when you have a good reason.

We all have a role to play to protect your tax account. There are just a few easy and practical steps you can take to protect yourself as you conduct your personal business online.

Here are some best practices you can follow to protect your tax and financial information:

  1. Understand and Use Security Software.  Security software helps protect your computer against the digital threats which are prevalent online. Generally, your operating system will include security software or you can access free security software from well-known companies or Internet providers. Other options may have an annual licensing fee and offer more features. Essential tools include a firewall, virus/malware protection and file encryption if you keep sensitive financial/tax documents on your computer. Security suites often come with firewall, anti-virus and anti-spam, parental controls and privacy protection. File encryption to protect your saved documents may have to be purchased separately. Do not buy security software offered as an unexpected pop-up ad on your computer or email! It’s likely from a scammer.
  2. Allow Security Software to Update Automatically.  Set your security software to update automatically. Malware – malicious software – evolves constantly and your security software suite is updated routinely to keep pace.
  3. Look for the “S” for Encrypted “https” Websites.  When shopping or banking online, always look to see that the site uses encryption to protect your information. Look for https at the beginning of the web address. The “s” is for secure. Unencrypted sites begin with an http address. Additionally, make sure the https carries through on all pages, not just the sign-on page.
  4. Use Strong Passwords.  Use passwords of at least 10 to 12 characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use your name, birthdate or common words. Don’t use the same password for several accounts. Keep your password list in a secure place or use a password manager. Don’t share your password with anyone. Calls, texts or emails pretending to be from legitimate companies or the IRS asking you to update your accounts or seeking personal financial information are generally scams.
  5. Secure Your Wireless Network.  A wireless network sends a signal through the air that allows you to connect to the Internet. If your home or business wi-fi is unsecured it also allows any computer within range to access your wireless and steal information from your computer. Criminals also can use your wireless to send spam or commit crimes that would be traced back to your account. Always encrypt your wireless. Generally, you must turn on this feature and create a password.
  6. Be Cautious When Using Public Wireless Networks.  Public wi-fi hotspots are convenient but often not secure. Tax or financial Information you send though websites or mobile apps may be accessed by someone else. If a public Wi-Fi hotspot does not require a password, it probably is not secure. If you are transmitting sensitive information, look for the “s” in https in the website address to ensure that the information will be secure.
  7. Avoid Phishing Attempts.  Never reply to emails, texts or pop-up messages asking for your personal, tax or financial information. One common trick by criminals is to impersonate a business such as your financial institution, tax software provider or the IRS, asking you to update your account and providing a link. Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust. Go directly to the organization’s website. Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through unsecured channels.

NEW IRS GUIDANCE – “ABLE” Program Administration

New IRS Guidance – Simplify ABLE Program Administration

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced three (3) changes to the proposed rules for new tax-favored “Achieving a Better Life Experience” (ABLE) accounts for eligible disabled individuals that will be included in the final regulations when issued. These changes will make it easier for states to offer and administer ABLE programs.

States, program administrators and other interested commenters identified the three areas for change this summer during a 90-day comment period and at an Oct. 14 public hearing on the proposed implementation regulations. The new law, enacted last December, authorizes states to offer specially designed ABLE accounts to people who become disabled before age 26.

IRS Notice 2015-81, posted on IRS.gov, fully describes these changes. They include:

  • Categorization of distributions not required: ABLE programs need not include safeguards to determine which distributions are for qualified disability expenses, nor are they required to specifically identify those used for housing expenses. Commenters noted that such a requirement would be unduly burdensome and that, in any case, the eventual use of a distribution may not be known at the time it is made. Designated beneficiaries will still need to categorize distributions when determining their federal income tax obligations.
  • Contributors’ TINs not required: ABLE programs will not be required to request the taxpayer identification numbers (TINs) of contributors to the ABLE account at the time when the contributions are made, if the program has a system in place to reject contributions that exceed the annual limits. However, if an excess contribution is deposited into a designated beneficiary’s ABLE account, the program will need to request the contributor’s TIN. For most people, the TIN is their Social Security number (SSN).
  • Disability diagnosis certification permitted: Designated beneficiaries can open an ABLE account by certifying, under penalties of perjury, that they meet the qualification standards, including their receipt of a signed physician’s diagnosis if necessary, and that they will retain that diagnosis and provide it to the program or the IRS upon request. This means that eligible individuals with disabilities will not need to provide the written diagnosis when opening the ABLE account, and ABLE programs will not need to receive, retain, or evaluate detailed medical records.

Until the Final Regulations are issued, taxpayers may rely on the guidance in Notice 2015-81. More information on ABLE accounts, including the Proposed Regulations issued in June, can be found at irs.gov/Tax Benefit for Disability:IRC Section 529A.

Recognizing the special financial burdens faced by families raising children with disabilities, ABLE accounts are designed to enable people with disabilities and their families to save for and pay for disability-related expenses. Contributions totaling up to the annual gift tax exclusion amount, currently $14,000, may be made to an ABLE account each year (subject to a cumulative limit), and distributions, including earnings, are tax-free to the designated beneficiary if used to pay qualified disability expenses. These expenses can include housing, education, transportation, health, prevention and wellness, employment training and support, assistive technology and personal support services and other disability-related expenses.

How to Protect Your Personal Tax Data

IRS, States and Tax Industry Announce New Steps to Help Public Protect Personal Tax Data

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), state tax administrators and the private-sector tax industry recently announced a new campaign aimed at encouraging more people to protect their personal and financial data online and at home.

The “Taxes. Security. Together.” campaign is designed to raise public awareness that even routine actions on the Internet and their personal devices can affect the safety of their financial and tax data. The education campaign will complement the expanded series of protections the IRS, states and tax industry are putting in place for the start of the 2016 filing season to address tax-related identity theft.

“Identity thieves are evolving, and so must we. Everyone has a part to play,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The IRS, the states and the tax industry are putting in place even tougher safeguards for 2016. But, we need the public’s help. We need people to join with us and take an active role in protecting their personal and financial data from thieves.”

The campaign — which will continue through the April tax deadline — was announced today at an event hosted by the Federation of Tax Administrators, comprised of state revenue departments across the nation. The effort is part of the Security Summit, a collaborative effort started in March between the states, the IRS and the tax industry.

The joint consumer campaign includes several components, including YouTube videos, consumer-friendly Tax Tips each week and local events across the country. Several IRS publications have been added or updated to help taxpayers and tax professionals. The information will also be shared across IRS.gov, state web sites and platforms used by the tax software community and others in the tax community.

“The governments and industry are taking new steps to protect taxpayers. To build on this even further, we are joining forces to share important information across our websites – whether it’s at the state level, in the tax industry or at the IRS. This is an unprecedented collaborative effort for tax administration,” said David Sullivan, Tax Administrator for the Rhode Island Division of Taxation and immediate past president of the Federation of Tax Administrators.

It is clear that increasingly sophisticated identity thieves have access to excessive amounts of personal and financial data, which they buy and sell on the black market, and use this data to file fraudulent tax returns using victims’ names and Social Security numbers. While the IRS, states and tax industry are taking new steps to toughen their systems to protect taxpayers, there are also things people can do as well.

“People handle some of their most sensitive personal and financial information when they prepare their taxes on their home computer. But when they sit down, we want to help make sure they are preparing their taxes on a device that is secure. Tax time is two months away, but it’s not too early for people to make sure they are doing the right things to protect themselves,” said Bernie McKay, an executive vice president at Intuit, one of more than 20 members of the tax industry participating in the Summit process.

The IRS, states and tax industry are urging the public to take active steps to protect themselves. The partners are encouraging people to:

  • Use security software to protect computers. This includes a firewall and anti-virus protection. If tax returns or sensitive data are stored on the computers, encrypt the files. Use strong passwords.
  • Beware of phishing emails and phone scams. A common way for identity thieves to steal names and Social Security numbers, passwords, credit card numbers, bank account information is to simply ask for it. Clever criminals pose as trusted organizations that you recognize and send spam emails, calls or texts. Their email may ask you to update a bank account or tax software account and provide a link that to a fake website that is designed solely to steal your logon information. They may call posing as the IRS threatening you with jail or lawsuits unless you make an immediate payment. They may provide an attachment which, if you download, will infect your machine and enable the thief to access sensitive files or track your key strokes.
  • Protect personal information. Do not routinely carry your Social Security number. Properly dispose of old tax returns and other sensitive documents by shredding before trashing. Check your credit reports and Social Security Administration accounts at least annually to ensure no one is using your good credit or using your SSN for employment. Oversharing on social media also gives identity thieves even more personal details.

“These are all basic, common sense steps that you no doubt have heard many times if you are a regular Internet user. But there are 150 million households that file taxes, and problems still happen. Security software still gets turned off. And there are still, on a regular basis, victims who are tricked by these clever phishing schemes. Not only can this harm the individuals attacked, this can have a direct impact on tax administration,” Koskinen said.

The partners are asking all tax preparers and businesses to share information with employees, clients and customers.

In March, Koskinen convened an unprecedented meeting of IRS, state tax officials and the tax industry to determine what additional steps could be taken. On October 20, the Security Summit participants provided an update to the public.

For the 2016 filing season, there will be new standards for logging onto all tax software products such as minimum password requirements, new security questions and standard lockout features. The software industry will provide more than 20 additional data elements from the tax return submission to the IRS and, in turn, to the states to help identity fraudulent returns. All parties agreed to information sharing on a weekly basis to help quickly identify and adjust to new and emerging tax-related fraud schemes.

The IRS also continues to work to help victims of identity theft and pursue criminals using identity information to file fraudulent tax returns. IRS Criminal Investigation has worked on thousands of identity theft cases. Since 2013, nearly 2,000 identity thieves have been convicted, with the average sentence running well over three years.

IRS REMINDER – Plan Now to Use Health “Flexible Spending Arrangements” (FSA) in 2016

IRS REMINDER – Plan now to Use Health Flexible Spending Arrangements in 2016

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently reminded eligible employees that now is the time to begin planning to take full advantage of their employer’s health flexible spending arrangement (FSA) during 2016.

FSAs provide employees a way to use tax-free dollars to pay medical expenses not covered by other health plans. Because eligible employees need to decide how much to contribute through payroll deductions before the plan year begins, many employers this fall are offering their employees the option to participate during the 2016 plan year.

Interested employees wishing to contribute during the new year must make this choice again for 2016, even if they contributed in 2015. Self-employed individuals are not eligible.

An employee who chooses to participate can contribute up to $2,550 during the 2016 plan year. Amounts contributed are not subject to federal income tax, Social Security tax or Medicare tax. If the plan allows, the employer may also contribute to an employee’s FSA.

Throughout the year, employees can then use funds to pay qualified medical expenses not covered by their health plan, including co-pays, deductibles and a variety of medical products and services ranging from dental and vision care to eyeglasses and hearing aids. Interested employees should check with their employer for details on eligible expenses and claim procedures.

Under the use or lose provision, participating employees often must incur eligible expenses by the end of the plan year, or forfeit any unspent amounts. But under a special rule, employers may, if they choose, offer participating employees more time through either the carryover option or the grace period option.

Under the carryover option, an employee can carry over up to $500 of unused funds to the following plan year—for example, an employee with $500 of unspent funds at the end of 2016 would still have those funds available to use in 2017. Under the grace period option, an employee has until 2½ months after the end of the plan year to incur eligible expenses—for example, March 15, 2017, for a plan year ending on Dec. 31, 2016. Employers can offer either option, but not both, or none at all.

Employers are not required to offer FSAs. Accordingly, interested employees should check with their employer to see if they offer an FSA.