Individual | Business | Financial

These Tax Tips are focused on Businesses

Business or Hobby?
Business Eligibility for Schedule C-EZ.
Deductible Home Offices.
Earned Income Tax Credit for Certain Workers
Filing an Extension.
Filing Deadline and Payment Options
Refund, Where's My Return?
Your Appeal Rights
Information about IRS notices
Should you itemize?
Charitable Contributions
Educator Deductions

Business or Hobby?
It is generally accepted that people prefer to make a living doing something they like. A hobby is an activity for which you do not expect to make a profit. If you do not carry on your business or investment activity to make a profit, there is a limit on the deductions you can take.

You must include on your return income from an activity from which you do not expect to make a profit. An example of this type of activity is a hobby or a farm you operate mostly for recreation and pleasure. You cannot use a loss from the activity to offset other income. Activities you do as a hobby, or mainly for sport or recreation, come under this limit. So does an investment activity intended only to produce tax losses for the investors.

The limit on not-for-profit losses applies to individuals, partnerships, estates trusts, and S corporations. For additional information on these entities, refer to business structures. It does not apply to corporations other than S corporations.

In determining whether you are carrying on an activity for profit, all the facts are taken into account. No one factor alone is decisive. Among the factors to consider are whether:

You carry on the activity in a business-like manner,
The time and effort you put into the activity indicate you intend to make it profitable,
You depend on income from the activity for your livelihood,
Your losses are due to circumstances beyond your control (or are normal in the start-up phase of your type of business),
You change your methods of operation in an attempt to improve profitability,
You, or your advisors, have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business,
You were successful in making a profit in similar activities in the past,
The activity makes a profit in some years and the amount of profit it makes, and
You can expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets used in the activity.

Business Eligibility for Schedule C-EZ
Your business may have become eligible to use the abbreviated Schedule C-EZ instead of the longer Schedule C when reporting business profit and loss on your last year’s federal income tax return, according to the IRS. That’s because the deductible business expense threshold for filing Schedule C-EZ of the Form 1040 has doubled to $5,000 from $2,500. This change allows an additional 500,000 small businesses to file the C-EZ rather than Schedule C.

Schedule C-EZ, Net Profit from Business (Sole Proprietorship), is the simplified version of Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business (Sole Proprietorship).

Schedule C-EZ consists of an instruction page and a one-page form with three short parts — General Information, Figure Your Net Profit, and Information on Your Vehicle. The instruction page includes a worksheet for figuring the amount of deductible expenses. If that amount does not exceed $5,000, you should be able to use the C-EZ instead of Schedule C. Contact us to learn more!


Deductible Home Offices
Whether you are self-employed or an employee, if you use a portion of your home exclusively and regularly for business purposes, you may be able to take a home office deduction.

You can deduct certain expenses if your home office is the principal place where your trade or business is conducted or where you meet and deal with clients or patients in the course of your business. If you use a separate structure not attached to your home for an exclusive and regular part of your business, you can deduct expenses related to it.

Your home office will qualify as your principal place of business if you use it exclusively and regularly for the administrative or management activities associated with your trade or business. There must be no other fixed place where you conduct substantial administrative or management activities. If you use both your home and other locations regularly in your business, you must determine which location is your principle place of business, based on the relative importance of the activities performed at each location. If the relative importance factor doesn't determine your principle place of business, you can also consider the time spent at each location.

If you are an employee, you have additional requirements to meet. You cannot take the home office deduction unless the business use of your home is for the convenience of your employer. Also, you cannot take deductions for space you are renting to your employer.

Generally, the amount you can deduct depends on the percentage of your home used for business. Your deduction will be limited if your gross income from your business is less than your total business expenses. Please contact us for more!


Earned Income Tax Credit for Certain Workers
Millions of Americans forgo critical tax relief each year by failing to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal tax credit for individuals who work but do not earn high incomes. Taxpayers who qualify and claim the credit could pay less federal tax, pay no tax or even get a tax refund.

Last year, an estimated 21 million taxpayers received approximately $37.5 billion in EITC. However, the IRS estimates that 25 percent of people who qualify don’t claim the credit and at the same time, there are millions of Americans who have claimed the credit in error, many of whom simply don’t understand the criteria.

EITC is based on the amount of your earned income and the number of qualifying children in your household. If you have children, they must meet the relationship, age and residency requirements. And, you must file a tax return to claim the credit.

If you were employed for at least part of last year, you may be eligible for the EITC based on these general requirements:
You earned less than $11,490 ($12,490 if married filing jointly) did not have any qualifying children, and were at least age 25 but under age 65, or
You earned less than $30,338 ($31,338 if married filing jointly) and have one qualifying child, or
You earned less than $34,458 ($35,458 if married filing jointly) and have more than one qualifying child.
There's a lot to know about qualifying for EITC, and this year, the EITC Assistant. Please contact us below for more!

Are you eligible for any of these tax credits?

Taxpayers should consider claiming tax credits for which they might be eligible when completing their federal income tax returns, advises the IRS. A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of taxes owed. Some credits are refundable – taxes could be reduced to the point that a taxpayer would receive a refund rather than owing any taxes. Below are some of the credits taxpayers could be eligible to claim:

  • Earned Income Tax Credit
    This is a refundable credit for low-income working individuals and families. Income and family size determine the amount of the EITC. When the EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who claim and qualify for the credit. For more information, see IRS Publication 596, Earned Income Credit (EIC).
  • Child Tax Credit
    This credit is for people who have a qualifying child. The maximum amount of the credit is $1,000 for each qualifying child. This credit can be claimed in addition to the credit for child and dependent care expenses. For more information on the Child Tax Credit, see Pub. 972, Child Tax Credit.
    Child and Dependent Care Credit
    This is for expenses paid for the care of children under age 13, or for a disabled spouse or dependent, to enable the taxpayer to work. There is a limit to the amount of qualifying expenses. The credit is a percentage of those qualifying expenses. For more information, see Pub. 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.
  • Adoption Credit
    Adoptive parents can take a tax credit of up to $10,390 for qualifying expenses paid to adopt an eligible child. A credit of up to $10,390 may be allowed for the adoption of a child with special needs even if you do not have any qualifying expenses. For more information, see Pub. 968, Tax Benefits for Adoption.
    Credit for the Elderly and Disabled
    This credit is available to individuals who are either age 65 or older or are under age 65 and retired on permanent and total disability, and who are citizens or residents. There are income limitations. For more information, see Pub.524, Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled.
  • Education Credits
    There are two credits available, the Hope Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit, for people who pay higher education costs. The Hope Credit is for the payment of the first two years of tuition and related expenses for an eligible student for whom the taxpayer claims an exemption on the tax return. The Lifetime Learning Credit is available for all post-secondary education for an unlimited number of years. A taxpayer cannot claim both credits for the same student in one year. For more information, see Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.
  • Retirement Savings Contribution Credit
    Eligible individuals may be able to claim a credit for a percentage of their qualified retirement savings contributions, such as contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA or salary reduction contributions to a SEP or SIMPLE plan. To be eligible, you must be at least age 18 at the end of the year and not a student or an individual for whom someone else claims a personal exemption. Also, your adjusted gross income (AGI) must be below a certain amount. For more information, see chapter four in Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).
    There are other credits available to eligible taxpayers. Please contact us so we may realize your specific situation, and offer advice.

Filing an Extension
If you can't meet the April 15 deadline to file your tax return, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file from the IRS. The extension will give you extra time to get the paperwork into the IRS, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due. You will owe interest on any amounts not paid by the April deadline, plus a late payment penalty if you have paid less than 90 percent of your total tax by that date.

You must make an accurate estimate of any tax due when you request an extension. You may also send a payment for the expected balance due, but this is not required to obtain the extension.

To get the automatic extension, file Form 4868, Application for Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, with the IRS by the April 15 deadline, or make an extension-related electronic payment. You can file your extension request by phone or by computer, or mail the paper Form 4868 to the IRS.

You can file Form 4868 by phone anytime through April 15. You will need to provide certain information from your federal income tax return. The special toll-free phone number is 1-888-796-1074. Use Form 4868 as a worksheet to prepare for the call and have a copy of your 2003 federal income tax return available.

The system will give you a confirmation number to verify that the extension request has been accepted. Put this confirmation number on your copy of Form 4868 and keep it for your records. Do not send the form to the IRS. As this is the area of our expertise, please contact us for more detailed information on how to file an extension properly!


Filing Deadline and Payment Options
If you're trying to beat the tax deadline, there are several options for last-minute help. If you need a form or publication, you can download copies from the Forms page on our web site. If you find you need more time to finish your return, you can get a four-month extension of time to file using Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. And if you have trouble paying your tax bill, the IRS has several payment options available.

You can get an automatic extension of time to file by using IRS e-filing options — by phone or personal computer, or through an authorized e-file tax professional — or by paying part or all of any estimated amount of tax due using a credit card. You can pay your tax using a credit card either by phone or over the Internet. You can also get an extension by mailing a paper Form 4868 to the IRS.

The extension will give you extra time to get the paperwork to the IRS, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due. You have to make an accurate estimate of any tax due when you request an extension. You can also send a payment for the expected balance due, but this is not required to get the extension. However, you will owe interest on any amounts not paid by the April 15 deadline, plus a late payment penalty if you have paid less than 90 percent of your total tax by that date.


Refund, Where’s My Return?
Are you expecting a tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service this year? If you file a complete and accurate paper tax return, your refund should be issued in about six to eight weeks from the date IRS receives your return. If you file your return electronically, your refund should be issued in about half the time it would take if you filed a paper return — even faster when you choose direct deposit.

You can have a refund check mailed to you, or you may be able to have your refund electronically deposited directly into your bank account. Direct deposit into a bank account is more secure because there is no check to get lost. And it takes the U.S. Treasury less time than issuing a paper check. If you prepare a paper return, fill in the direct deposit information in the “Refund” section of the tax form, making sure that the routing and account numbers are accurate. Incorrect numbers can cause your refund to be misdirected or delayed. Direct deposit is also available if you electronically file your return.

A few words of caution — some financial institutions do not allow a joint refund to be deposited into an individual account. Check with your bank or other financial institution to make sure your direct deposit will be accepted.

You may not receive your refund as quickly as you expected. A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example, a name and Social Security number listed on the tax return may not match the IRS records. You may have failed to sign the return or to include a necessary attachment, such as Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Or you may have made math errors that require extra time for the IRS to correct.

To check the status of an expected refund, use "Track My Refund" an interactive tool available on our links page. Simple online instructions guide you through a process that checks the status of your refund after you provide identifying information from your tax return. Once the information is processed, results could be one of several responses.


Your Appeal Rights
Are you in the middle of a disagreement with the IRS? One of the guaranteed rights for all taxpayers is the right to appeal. If you disagree with the IRS about the amount of your tax liability or about proposed collection actions, you have the right to ask the IRS Appeals Office to review your case.

IRS Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer, explains some of your most important taxpayer rights. During their contact with taxpayers, IRS employees are required to explain and protect these taxpayer rights, including the right to appeal.

The IRS appeals system is for people who do not agree with the results of an examination of their tax returns or other adjustments to their tax liability. In addition to examinations, you can appeal many other things, including:
Collection actions such as liens, levies, seizures, installment agreement terminations and rejected offers-in-compromise
Penalties and interest
Employment tax adjustments and the trust fund recovery penalty
Appeals conferences are informal meetings. The local Appeals Office, which is independent of the IRS office that proposed the disputed action, can sometimes resolve an appeal by telephone or through correspondence.

The IRS also offers an option called Fast Track Mediation, during which an appeals or settlement officer attempts to help you and the IRS reach a mutually satisfactory solution. Most cases not docketed in court qualify for Fast Track Mediation. You may request Fast Track Mediation at the conclusion of an audit or collection determination, but prior to your request for a normal appeals hearing. Fast Track Mediation is meant to promote the early resolution of a dispute. It doesn't eliminate or replace existing dispute resolution options, including your opportunity to request a conference with a manager or a hearing before Appeals. You may withdraw from the mediation process at any time.

When attending an informal meeting or pursuing mediation, you may represent yourself or you can be represented by an attorney, certified public accountant or individual enrolled to practice before the IRS.

If you and the IRS appeals officer cannot reach agreement, or if you prefer not to appeal within the IRS, in most cases you may take your disagreement to federal court. But taxpayers can settle most differences without expensive and time-consuming court trials.

For more information on the appeals process, please contact us!


Information about IRS notices
It’s a moment any taxpayer dreads. An envelope arrives from the IRS — and it’s not a refund check. But don't panic. Many IRS letters can be dealt with simply and painlessly.

Each year, the IRS sends millions of letters and notices to taxpayers to request payment of taxes, notify them of a change to their account or request additional information. The notice you receive normally covers a very specific issue about your account or tax return. Each letter and notice provides specific instructions explaining what you should do if action is necessary to satisfy the inquiry. Most notices also give a phone number to call if you need further information.

Most correspondence can be handled without calling or visiting an IRS office, if you follow the instructions in the letter or notice. However, if you have questions, call the telephone number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice, or call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. Have a copy of your tax return and the correspondence available when you call so your account can be readily accessed.

Before contacting the IRS, review the correspondence and compare it with the information on your return. If you agree with the correction to your account, no reply is necessary unless a payment is due. If you do not agree with the correction the IRS made, it is important that you respond as requested. Write an explanation why you disagree, and include any documents and information you wish the IRS to consider. Mail your information along with the bottom tear-off portion of the notice to the address shown in the upper left-hand corner of the IRS correspondence. Allow at least 30 days for a response.

Sometimes, the IRS sends a second letter or notice requesting additional information or providing additional information to you. Be sure to keep copies of any correspondence with your records. If you've received a notice and are confused about what to do next, please contact us and we can help!


Should you itemize?
Whether to itemize deductions on your tax return depends on how much you spent on certain expenses last year. According to the IRS, money paid for medical care, mortgage interest, taxes, contributions, casualty losses, and miscellaneous deductions can reduce your taxes. If the total amount spent on those categories is more than the standard deduction, you can usually benefit by itemizing.

For current year itemized returns, you have a choice of claiming a state and local tax deduction for either sales or income taxes. The IRS will provide optional tables for use in determining the deduction amount, relieving taxpayers of the need to save receipts throughout the year. Sales taxes paid on motor vehicles and boats may be added to the table amount, but only up to the amount paid at the general sales tax rate. Check a box on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, to indicate whether your deduction is for sales or income taxes.

The standard deduction amounts are based on your filing status and are subject to inflation adjustments each year. For last year, they were:
Single — $5,150
Married Filing Jointly — $10,300
Head of Household — $7,550
Married Filing Separately — $5,150
The standard deduction amount is more for taxpayers age 65 or older and for those who are blind. It is generally less for those who can be claimed as a dependent on some other taxpayer’s return. This is often complicated, contact us so that we may lead you in the correct direction.


Charitable Contributions
When preparing to file your federal tax return, don't forget your contributions to charitable organizations. Your donations can add up to a nice tax deduction if you itemize on IRS Form 1040, Schedule A.

Here are a few tips to help make sure your contributions pay off on your tax return:

You cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates, the value of your time or services and the cost of raffles, bingo, or other games of chance.

To be deductible, contributions must be made to qualified organizations.

Organizations can tell you if they are qualified and if donations to them are deductible. IRS.gov has an exempt organization search feature to help you see if an organization is qualified. IRS Publication 78, Cumulative List of Organizations, lists all charitable organizations except those most recently granted tax exempt status. Pub. 78 is available online and in many public libraries. Alternatively, contact us for more!


Educator Deductions
If you are an educator, you may be able to deduct up to $250 of expenses you paid for purchases of books and classroom supplies, even if you don’t itemize your deductions, according to the IRS. These out-of-pocket expenses may lower your current year tax bill.

The Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004 reinstated the educator expense deduction. Expenses incurred any time this year may qualify for the deduction, not just those since the Act was signed.

The deduction is available if you are an eligible educator in a public or private elementary or secondary school. To be eligible, you must work at least 900 hours during a school year as a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide.

You may subtract up to $250 of qualified expenses when figuring your adjusted gross income. Qualified expenses are unreimbursed expenses you paid or incurred for books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment, and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom. For courses in health and physical education, expenses for supplies are qualified expenses only if they are related to athletics. If you are an educator, contact us today!

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