Financial literacy is the education and understanding of various financial areas including topics related to managing personal finance, money and investing.

The main steps to achieving financial literacy include learning the skills to create a budget, the ability to track spending, learning the techniques to pay off debt and effectively planning for retirement. These steps can also include counseling from a financial expert. Education about the topic involves understanding how money works, creating and achieving financial goals and managing internal and external financial challenges.

IRS expands penalty waiver for those whose tax withholding and estimated tax payments fell short in 2018; key threshold lowered to 80 percent

The Internal Revenue Service today provided additional expanded penalty relief to taxpayers whose 2018 federal income tax withholding and estimated tax payments fell short of their total tax liability for the year.

The IRS is lowering to 80 percent the threshold required to qualify for this relief. Under the relief originally announced Jan. 16, the threshold was 85 percent. The usual percentage threshold is 90 percent to avoid a penalty.

“We heard the concerns from taxpayers and others in the tax community, and we made this adjustment in an effort to be responsive to a unique scenario this year,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “The expanded penalty waiver will help many taxpayers who didn’t have enough tax withheld. We continue to urge people to check their withholding again this year to make sure they are having the right amount of tax withheld for 2019.”

This means that the IRS is now waiving the estimated tax penalty for any taxpayer who paid at least 80 percent of their total tax liability during the year through federal income tax withholding, quarterly estimated tax payments or a combination of the two.

Today’s revised waiver computation will be integrated into commercially-available tax software and reflected in the forthcoming revision of the instructions for Form 2210, Underpayment of Estimated Tax by Individuals, Estates, and Trusts.

Taxpayers who have already filed for tax year 2018 but qualify for this expanded relief may claim a refund by filing Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement and include the statement “80% Waiver of estimated tax penalty” on Line 7.  This form cannot be filed electronically.

Today’s expanded relief will help many taxpayers who owe tax when they file, including taxpayers who did not properly adjust their withholding and estimated tax payments to reflect an array of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the far-reaching tax reform law enacted in December 2017. 

The IRS and partner groups conducted an extensive outreach and education campaign throughout 2018 to encourage taxpayers to do a “Paycheck Checkup” to avoid a situation where some might have had too much or too little tax withheld when they file their tax returns. If a taxpayer did not submit a revised W-4 withholding form to their employer or increase their estimated tax payments, they may have not had enough tax withheld during the tax year.

Additional information

Because the U.S. tax system is pay-as-you-go, taxpayers are required, by law, to pay most of their tax obligation during the year, rather than at the end of the year. This can be done by either having tax withheld from paychecks or pension payments, or by making estimated tax payments.

Usually, a penalty applies at tax filing if too little is paid during the year. This penalty is an interest based amount approximately equivalent to the federal interest on the amount not paid in a timely manner. Normally, the penalty would not apply for 2018 if tax payments during the year met one of the following tests: 

  • The person’s tax payments were at least 90 percent of the tax liability for 2018 or
  • The person’s tax payments were at least 100 percent of the prior year’s tax liability, in this case from 2017. However, the 100 percent threshold is increased to 110 percent if a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income is more than $150,000, or $75,000 if married and filing a separate return. 

For waiver purposes only, today’s relief lowers the 90 percent threshold to 80 percent. This means that a taxpayer will not owe a penalty if they paid at least 80 percent of their total 2018 tax liability. If the taxpayer paid less than 80 percent, then they are not eligible for the waiver and the penalty will be calculated as it normally would be, using the 90 percent threshold. For further details, see Notice 2019-25, posted today on IRS.gov.

Like last year, the IRS urges everyone to take a Paycheck Checkup and review their withholding for 2019. This is especially important for anyone now facing an unexpected tax bill when they file. This is also an important step for those who made withholding adjustments in 2018 or had a major life change to ensure the right tax is still being withheld. Those most at risk of having too little tax withheld from their pay include taxpayers who itemized in the past but now take the increased standard deduction, as well as two-wage-earner households, employees with nonwage sources of income and those with complex tax situations.

To help taxpayers get their withholding right in 2019, the updated Withholding Calculator is now available on IRS.gov.

The IRS has many useful resources for anyone interested in learning more about tax reform, including Publication 5307, Tax Reform: Basics for Individuals and Families (PDF), and Publication 5318, Tax Reform What’s New for Your Business (PDF). For other tips and resources, visit IRS.gov/taxreform or check out the Get Ready page on IRS.gov .

Talk About College Early

When you think about college for your child, do you picture sprawling campuses and stimulating classes? Or, do you just picture a bunch of terrifying dollar signs?

It’s important to have the money conversation early — even before your kid starts thinking about applications or majors.

Clearly outline what you can and cannot pay for. Talk about scholarships and financial aid if needed. In other words, discuss the budget.

Teaching financial literacy means being transparent. If you truly cannot afford the college of your child’s dreams, that’s okay. Just make sure you discuss this!

It’s time to secure your financial future by making a plan to save this tax time

It’s time to secure your financial future by making a plan to save this tax time.

Yes, it’s tax season again. As you gather your tax records and prepare to file, take another step towards building financial security for yourself or your family. Like a lot of people, a tax refund can be the largest single check they’ll receive this year. Saving any portion of that refund could help you prepare for unexpected expenses throughout the year. Maybe it can help you reach a much larger savings goal.

Studies have shown that setting aside only $500 can cover emergency expenses. Perhaps, you just want to catch up on some bills, save for a big-ticket purchase, or just treat you and/or your family to something special. Whatever your financial goal is, tax time is the perfect opportunity to put some money aside.

What do you do now? Here are a few basic steps to take.

1. Estimate your income tax refund. How much do you think you may get back as a refund based on what you received last year? Keep the changes to the 2018 tax laws in mind. Check to see how these changes could impact your refund this calendar year.

2. Identify and prioritize your bills and debts, like rent and utilities, as well as bills you would like to pay off or pay down early.

3. Plan for any special purchases. If there are any large purchases you would like to make with part of your refund, now is the time to allow for them.

4. Calculate what money remains. Take time to add up your expenses, any payments, and planned purchases to see what you may have left over out of your refund.

5. Plan, plan and plan some more. Take the time to make a solid and do-able plan to save. It’s a good idea to set a goal to save a portion, large or small, of what’s left over from your income tax refund. A good starting point is at least 25.0% or perhaps it’s a stated amount like $500 of your refund. Whatever percentage or amount that you choose is okay. Just make a plan that leads to a savings goal.

6. Lastly, make a decision as to where you want to put your savings. Will it be a separate bank account? Or another financial instrument? Or an investment in stocks/bonds? Or perhaps stored on a prepaid card with a “stash” feature.

Final note. If you have an account you want to use for your new savings, make sure to have both your account and routing numbers available when you file your return as the IRS can often directly deposit your refund into this account for you.

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Tax Time Guide: Seniors who turned 70½ last year must start receiving retirement plan payments by April 1

The Internal Revenue Service today reminded taxpayers that, in most cases, Monday, April 1, 2019, is the date by which persons who turned age 70½ during 2018 must begin receiving payments from Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and workplace retirement plans.

This news release is part of a series called the Tax Time Guide, a resource to help taxpayers file an accurate tax return. Additional help is available in Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, and the tax reform information page.

Two payments in the same year

The payments, called required minimum distributions (RMDs), are normally made by the end of the year. Those persons who reached age 70½ during 2018 are covered by a special rule, however, that allows first-year recipients of these payments to wait until as late as April 1, 2019, to get the first of their RMDs. The April 1 RMD deadline only applies to the required distribution for the first year. For all following years, including the year in which recipients were paid the first RMD by April 1, the RMD must be made by Dec. 31.

A taxpayer who turned 70½ in 2018 (born July 1, 1947, to June 30, 1948) and receives the first required distribution (for 2018) on April 1, 2019, for example, must still receive the second RMD by Dec. 31, 2019.  To avoid having both amounts included in their income for the same year, the taxpayer can make their first withdrawal by Dec. 31 of the year they turn 70½ instead of waiting until April 1 of the following year.

Types of retirement plans requiring RMDs

The required distribution rules apply to owners of traditional, Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) and Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees (SIMPLE) IRAs but not Roth IRAs while the original owner is alive. They also apply to participants in various workplace retirement plans, including 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans.

An IRA trustee must either report the amount of the RMD to the IRA owner or offer to calculate it for the owner. Often, the trustee shows the RMD amount on Form 5498 in Box 12b. For a 2018 RMD, this amount is on the 2017 Form 5498 normally issued to the owner during January 2018.

Some can delay RMDs

Though the April 1 deadline is mandatory for all owners of traditional IRAs and most participants in workplace retirement plans, some people with workplace plans can wait longer to receive their RMD. Employees who are still working usually can, if their plan allows, wait until April 1 of the year after they retire to start receiving these distributions. See Tax on Excess Accumulation in Publication 575. Employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations with 403(b) plan accruals before 1987 should check with their employer, plan administrator or provider to see how to treat these accruals.

IRS online tools and publications can help

Many answers to questions about RMDs can be found in a special frequently asked questions section at IRS.gov. Most taxpayers use Table III (Uniform Lifetime) to figure their RMD. For a taxpayer who reached age 70½ in 2018 and turned 71 before the end of the year, for example, the first required distribution would be based on a distribution period of 26.5 years. A separate table, Table II, applies to a taxpayer married to a spouse who is more than 10 years younger and is the taxpayer’s only beneficiary. Both tables can be found in the appendices to Publication 590-B.

Taxpayers can find answers to questions, forms and instructions and easy-to-use tools online at IRS.gov. They can use these resources to get help when it’s needed, at home, at work or on the go.

IRS extends April 15, other upcoming deadlines for Alabama storm victims, provides other tax relief

Victims of Sunday’s tornadoes and severe storms in Alabama have until July 31, 2019, to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments, the Internal Revenue Service announced today.

The IRS is offering this relief to any Major Disaster Declaration area designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as qualifying for individual assistance. Currently, this only includes Lee County, Alabama, but taxpayers in localities added later to the disaster area, including those in other states, will automatically receive the same filing and payment relief. The current list of eligible localities is always available on the disaster relief page on IRS.gov.

“The IRS moved swiftly to provide this relief for those affected by this terrible tragedy,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “With the regular deadline just a few weeks away, we want storm victims to focus on their families and recovering, rather than worrying about the tax deadline. IRS employees stand ready to support the disaster recovery effort as they have done many times in the past.”

The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting on March 3, 2019. As a result, affected individuals and businesses will have until July 31, 2019, to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period. This includes individual income tax returns and payments normally due April 15, 2019. Eligible taxpayers will also have until July 31, 2019 to make 2018 IRA contributions.

The July 31, 2019, deadline also applies to quarterly estimated income tax payments due on April 15 and June 17, 2019 and the quarterly payroll and excise tax returns normally due on April 30, 2019. It also applies to tax-exempt organizations, operating on a calendar-year basis, that have a Form 990 information return  due on May 15, 2019. Businesses, including corporations, S corporations and partnerships, that have a 2018 return due during this period also have the extra time.

In addition, penalties on payroll and excise tax deposits due on or after March 3, 2019, and before March 18, 2019, will be abated as long as the deposits are made by March 18, 2019.

The IRS disaster relief page has details on other returns, payments and tax-related actions qualifying for the additional time.

The IRS automatically provides filing and penalty relief to any taxpayer with an IRS address of record located in the disaster area. Thus, taxpayers need not contact the IRS to get this relief. However, if an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date falling within the postponement period, the taxpayer should call the number on the notice to have the penalty abated.

In addition, the IRS will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area. Taxpayers qualifying for relief who live outside the disaster area need to contact the IRS at 1-866-562-5227. This also includes workers assisting the relief activities who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization.

Individuals and businesses in a federally declared disaster area who suffered uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related losses can choose to claim them on either the return for the year the loss occurred (in this instance, the 2019 return normally filed next year), or the return for the prior year (2018). This means that eligible taxpayers who haven’t yet filed their 2018 return can claim a loss, and those who have already filed can choose to do so by filing an amended return. Be sure to include the disaster declaration number, FEMA 4419, on any return. See Publication 547 and Publication 5307 for details.

The tax relief is part of a coordinated federal response to the damage caused by tornadoes and severe storms and is based on local damage assessments by FEMA. For information on disaster recovery, visit disasterassistance.gov.

Tax Time Guide: IRS publication helps small businesses, self-employed understand what’s new for taxes

The Internal Revenue Service wants business owners and the self-employed to know that a publication on IRS.gov has information they can use to learn which recent tax-law changes impact their bottom line.

This news release is part of a series called the Tax Time Guide, a resource to help taxpayers file an accurate tax return. Additional help is available in Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, and the tax reform information page.

Publication 5318, Tax Reform: What’s New for Your Business, is a 12-page electronic document. Pub. 5318 provides a general overview of many of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes enacted in December 2017 that impact business taxes.

Publication 5318 includes sections on:

  • Qualified Business Income Deduction
  • Depreciation
  • Business related losses
  • Business related exclusions and deductions
  • Business credits
  • S corporations
  • Farm provisions
  • Miscellaneous provisions

 A few key provisions include:

Qualified Business Income Deduction

Many individuals, including owners of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations and beneficiaries of trusts and estates, may be entitled to a deduction of up to 20 percent of qualified business income (QBI), plus up to 20 percent of their qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership (PTP) income. Generally, this deduction is the lesser of the combined QBI, REIT dividend, and PTP income amounts, or 20 percent of taxable income minus the taxpayer’s net capital gain. Claimed on Form 1040, Line 9, the new deduction is generally available to eligible taxpayers whose 2018 taxable incomes fall below $315,000 for joint returns and $157,500 for other taxpayers. The deduction may also be available for those whose incomes are above these levels but additional limitations may apply.

Temporary 100-percent expensing (bonus depreciation)

Businesses can write off most depreciable business assets in the year they placed them in service. The 100-percent depreciation deduction (bonus depreciation) generally applies to depreciable business assets and certain other property. Machinery, equipment, computers, appliances and furniture generally qualify. The deduction is generally allowable for qualifying property acquired and placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2023. For more information, see Publication 946, How to Depreciate Property.

Expensing depreciable business assets

A taxpayer may elect to expense the cost of any section 179 property and deduct it in the year the property is placed into service. The new law increased the maximum deduction from $500,000 to $1 million. It also increased the phase-out threshold from $2 million to $2.5 million. After 2018, the $1 million and $2.5 million thresholds will be adjusted for inflation.

Business related losses

For most taxpayers, a net operating loss (NOL) arising in tax years ending after Dec. 31, 2017 can only be carried forward. Certain NOLs of farming businesses and insurance companies (other than life insurance) can still be carried back two years. The deduction of NOLs arising in tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, is limited to 80 percent of taxable income, determined without any NOL deduction. This 80-percent limitation does not apply to insurance companies (other than life insurance). Rules for existing or pre-2018 NOLs remain the same.

Taxpayers can find answers to questions, forms and instructions and easy-to-use tools online at IRS.gov. No appointment required and no waiting on hold.

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Be vigilant against phone scams; Annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ list continues

As the April filing deadline approaches, the Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers to be alert to tax time phone scams where aggressive criminals pose as IRS agents in hopes of stealing money or personal information.

Phone scams or “vishing” (voice phishing) continue to pose a major threat. The scam has cost thousands of people millions of dollars in recent years, and the IRS continues to see variations on these aggressive calling schemes.

Phone scams again made the IRS’ Dirty Dozen list, an annual compilation of some of the schemes that threaten taxpayers not only during filing season but throughout the year.

The IRS is highlighting each of these scams on consecutive days to help raise awareness and protect taxpayers. The IRS also urges taxpayers to help protect themselves against phone scams and identity theft by reviewing safety tips prepared by the Security Summit, a collaborative effort between the IRS, states and the private-sector tax community.

“Taxpayers should be on the lookout for unexpected and aggressive phone calls purportedly coming from the IRS,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “These calls can feature scam artists aggressively ordering immediate payment and making threats against a person. Don’t fall for these.”

Beginning early in the filing season, the IRS generally sees an upswing in scam phone calls threatening arrest, deportation or license revocation, if the victim doesn’t pay a bogus tax bill. These calls most often take the form of a “robo-call” (a text-to-speech recorded voicemail with instructions to call back a specific telephone number), but in some cases may be made by a real person. These con artists may have some of the taxpayer’s information, including their address, the last four digits of their Social Security number or other personal details.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the federal agency that investigates tax-related phone scams, says these types of scams have cost 14,700 victims a total of more than $72 million since October 2013

How do the scams work?

Criminals make unsolicited calls and leave voicemails with urgent callback requests claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill by sending cash through a wire transfer, prepaid debit card or gift card.

Many phone scammers use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. The phone scammers may alter or “spoof” their caller ID to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers may use IRS employee titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate.

The IRS also reminds taxpayers that scammers often change tactics. Variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue year-round and tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike. Tax scams can be more believable during the tax filing season when people are thinking about their taxes.

Here are some things the scammers often do, but the IRS will not do. Taxpayers should remember that any one of these is a tell-tale sign of a scam.

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without giving taxpayers the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Call about an unexpected refund.

For taxpayers who don’t owe taxes or don’t think they do:

  • Please report IRS or Treasury-related fraudulent calls to phishing@irs.gov (Subject: IRS Phone Scam).
  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately. The longer the con artist is engaged; the more opportunity he/she believes exists, potentially prompting more calls.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page. Alternatively, call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

IRS kicks off annual list of most prevalent tax scams: Agency warns taxpayers of pervasive phishing schemes in its ‘Dirty Dozen’ campaign

Kicking off the annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams, the Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers of the ongoing threat of internet phishing scams that lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.

The IRS warns taxpayers, businesses and tax professionals to be alert for a continuing surge of fake emails, text messages, websites and social media attempts to steal personal information. These attacks tend to increase during tax season and remain a major danger of identity theft.

To help protect taxpayers against these and other threats, the IRS highlights one scam on 12 consecutive week days to help raise awareness. Phishing schemes are the first of the 2019 “Dirty Dozen” scams.

“Taxpayers should be on constant guard for these phishing schemes, which can be tricky and cleverly disguised to look like it’s the IRS,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Watch out for emails and other scams posing as the IRS, promising a big refund or personally threatening people. Don’t open attachments and click on links in emails. Don’t fall victim to phishing or other common scams.”

The IRS also urges taxpayers to learn how to protect themselves by reviewing safety tips prepared by the Security Summit, a collaborative effort between the IRS, state revenue departments and the private-sector tax community.

“Taking some basic security steps and being cautious can help protect people and their sensitive tax and financial data,” Rettig said.

New variations on phishing schemes

The IRS continues to see a steady stream of new and evolving phishing schemes as criminals work to victimize taxpayers throughout the year. Whether through legitimate-looking emails with fake, but convincing website landing pages, or social media approaches, perhaps using a shortened URL, the end goal is the same for these con artists: stealing personal information.

In one variation, taxpayers are victimized by a creative scheme that involves their own bank account. After stealing personal data and filing fraudulent tax returns, criminals use taxpayers’ bank accounts to direct deposit tax refunds. Thieves then use various tactics to reclaim the refund from the taxpayer, including falsely claiming to be from a collection agency or the IRS. The IRS encourages taxpayers to review some basic tips if they see an unexpected deposit in their bank account.

Schemes aimed at tax pros, payroll offices, human resources personnel

The IRS has also seen more advanced phishing schemes targeting the personal or financial information available in the files of tax professionals, payroll professionals, human resources personnel, schools and organizations such as Form W-2 information. These targeted scams are known as business email compromise (BEC) or business email spoofing (BES) scams.

Depending on the variation of the scam (and there are several), criminals will pose as:

  • a business asking the recipient to pay a fake invoice
  • as an employee seeking to re-route a direct deposit
  • or as someone the taxpayer trusts or recognizes, such as an executive, to initiate a wire transfer.

The IRS warned of the direct deposit variation of the BEC/BES scam in December 2018, and continues to receive reports of direct deposit scams reported to phishing@irs.gov. The Direct Deposit and other BEC/BES variations should be forwarded to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IRS requests that Form W-2 scams be reported to: phishing@irs.gov (Subject: W-2 Scam).

Criminals may use the email credentials from a successful phishing attack, known as an email account compromise, to send phishing emails to the victim’s email contacts. Tax preparers should be wary of unsolicited email from personal or business contacts especially the more commonly observed scams, like new client solicitations.

Malicious emails and websites can infect a taxpayer’s computer with malware without the user knowing it. The malware downloads in the background, giving the criminal access to the device, enabling them to access any sensitive files or even track keyboard strokes, exposing login victim’s information.

For those participating in these schemes, such activity can lead to significant penalties and possible criminal prosecution. Both the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), which handles scams involving IRS impersonation, and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division work closely with the Department of Justice to shut down scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

Tax professional alert

Numerous data breaches across the country mean the tax preparation community must be on high alert to unusual activity, particularly during the tax filing season. Criminals increasingly target tax professionals, deploying various types of phishing emails in an attempt to access client data. Thieves may use this data to impersonate taxpayers and file fraudulent tax returns for refunds.

As part of the Security Summit initiative, the IRS has joined with representatives of the software industry, tax preparation firms, payroll and tax financial product processors and state tax administrators to combat identity theft refund fraud to protect the nation’s taxpayers.

The Security Summit partners encourage tax practitioners to be wary of communicating solely by email with potential or existing clients, especially if unusual requests are made. Data breach thefts have given thieves millions of identity data points including names, addresses, Social Security numbers and email addresses. If in doubt, tax practitioners should call to confirm a client’s identity.

Reporting phishing attempts

If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited email or social media attempt that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), they should report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov. Learn more by going to the Report Phishing and Online Scams page on IRS.gov.

Tax professionals who receive unsolicited and suspicious emails that appear to be from the IRS and/or are tax-related (like those related to the e-Services program) also should report it to: phishing@irs.gov.

The IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.