Gail Dean Kolesar CPA LLC

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Eight Tax Benefits for Parents

Your children may help you qualify for valuable tax benefits, such as certain credits and deductions. If you are a parent, here are eight benefits you shouldn’t miss when filing taxes this year.

1. Dependents. In most cases, you can claim a child as a dependent even if your child was born anytime in 2012.   For more information, see IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information.

2. Child Tax Credit. You may be able to claim the Child Tax Credit for each of your children that were under age 17 at the end of 2012. If you do not benefit from the full amount of the credit, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit. For more information, see the instructions for Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, and Publication 972, Child Tax Credit.

3. Child and Dependent Care Credit. You may be able to claim this credit if you paid someone to care for your child or children under age 13, so that you could work or look for work. See IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses.

4. Earned Income Tax Credit. If you worked but earned less than $50,270 last year, you may qualify for EITC. If you have qualifying children, you may get up to $5,891 dollars extra back when you file a return and claim it. Use the EITC Assistant to find out if you qualify. See Publication 596, Earned Income Tax Credit.

5. Adoption Credit. You may be able to take a tax credit for certain expenses you incurred to adopt a child. For details about this credit, see the instructions for IRS Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses.

6. Higher education credits. If you paid higher education costs for yourself or another student who is an immediate family member, you may qualify for either the American Opportunity Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit. Both credits may reduce the amount of tax you owe. If the American Opportunity Credit is more than the tax you owe, you could be eligible for a refund of up to $1,000. See IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.

7. Student loan interest. You may be able to deduct interest you paid on a qualified student loan, even if you do not itemize your deductions. For more information, see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.

8. Self-employed health insurance deduction – If you were self-employed and paid for health insurance, you may be able to deduct premiums you paid to cover your child. It applies to children under age 27 at the end of the year, even if not your dependent. See IRS.gov/aca for information on the Affordable Care Act.


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Who Should File a 2012 Tax Return?

Who Should File a 2012 Tax Return?

If you received income during 2012, you may need to file a tax return in 2013. The amount of your income, your filing status, your age and the type of income you received will determine whether you’re required to file. Even if you are not required to file a tax return, you may still want to file. You may get a refund if you’ve had too much federal income tax withheld from your pay or qualify for certain tax credits.

You can find income tax filing requirements on IRS.gov. The instructions for Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ also list filing requirements. The Interactive Tax Assistant tool, also available on the IRS website, is another helpful resource. The ITA tool answers many of your tax law questions including whether you need to file a return.

Even if you’ve determined that you don’t need to file a tax return this year, you may still want to file. Here are five reasons why:

1. Federal Income Tax Withheld.  If your employer withheld federal income tax from your pay, if you made estimated tax payments, or if you had a prior year overpayment applied to this year’s tax, you could be due a refund. File a return to claim any excess tax you paid during the year.

2. Earned Income Tax Credit.  If you worked but earned less than $50,270 last year, you may qualify for EITC. EITC is a refundable tax credit; which means if you qualify you could receive EITC as a tax refund. Families with qualifying children may qualify to get up to $5,891 dollars. You can’t get the credit unless you file a return and claim it. Use the EITC Assistant to find out if you qualify.

3. Additional Child Tax Credit.  If you have at least one qualifying child and you don’t get the full amount of the Child Tax Credit, you may qualify for this additional refundable credit. You must file and use new Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, to claim the credit.

4. American Opportunity Credit.  If you or someone you support is a student, you might be eligible for this credit. Students in their first four years of postsecondary education may qualify for as much as $2,500 through this partially refundable credit. Even those who owe no tax can get up to $1,000 of the credit as cash back for each eligible student. You must file Form 8863, Education Credits, and submit it with your tax return to claim the credit.

5. Health Coverage Tax Credit.  If you’re receiving Trade Adjustment Assistance, Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance, Alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance or pension benefit payments from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, you may be eligible for a 2012 Health Coverage Tax Credit. Spouses and dependents may also be eligible. If you’re eligible, you can receive a 72.5 percent tax credit on payments you made for qualified health insurance premiums.


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IRS Announces Abatements of Frivolous Filing Penalty

From the IRS

Taxpayers who have filed all required tax returns and paid all outstanding tax liabilities, including penalties (except for the Sec. 6702 penalty) and related interest, may qualify for a one-time reduction to $500 of any unpaid penalties that the IRS has assessed (Rev. Proc. 2012-43).

Under Sec. 6702, a $5,000 penalty is imposed for filing a frivolous tax return or for making a specified frivolous submission to the IRS, which includes a frivolous request for a collection due process hearing, an offer-in-compromise, an installment agreement, or a taxpayer assistance order. The IRS has the discretion to reduce this penalty under Sec. 6702(d).

To promote compliance with the Code, the IRS has determined that taxpayers who abandon any frivolous positions and meet these other requirements in the revenue procedure will qualify for relief, effective Nov. 5, 2012:

    The request must be made on Form 14402, IRC 6702(d) Frivolous Tax Submissions Penalty Reduction, which must be signed under penalties of perjury.
    Taxpayers must pay at least $250 of the reduced penalty with the form, except for taxpayers who have installment agreements.
    Taxpayers who are currently paying a full payment installment agreement can pay the reduced penalty as part of the agreement.
    Taxpayers must file the request before the IRS files suit to collect the full penalty or to reduce any assessment of the penalty to judgment.
    Taxpayers must be in full compliance by having filed any tax returns for any type of tax for all tax periods for six years before the request, including individual returns and returns for any entity for which the taxpayer has a controlling interest.
    Taxpayers must have either paid in full all tax liabilities, penalties, interest, and additions to tax (other than the Sec. 6702 penalty) for all types of tax and all periods for which the statute of limitation remains open or have entered into and be in compliance with a full payment installment agreement.
    Taxpayers who are employers must have made all required deposits of employment taxes for the current and prior two quarters.

The IRS will not grant penalty relief to a taxpayer (1) who previously had Sec. 6702 penalty reductions; (2) who has an offer-in-compromise pending or is currently participating in a partial payment installment agreement; (3) who has entered into a closing agreement that includes the penalty; (4) who submits a frivolous return or submission after applying for penalty relief; or (5) who is currently in bankruptcy, whether or not the taxpayer is seeking to have the penalty discharged in the bankruptcy proceedings.

The penalty relief does not apply to any Sec. 6702 penalty that has already been paid. The IRS must give taxpayers written notice whether their request has been accepted. If the IRS denies a request, it will not be subject to administrative appeal.


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IRS Offers Tips to Help Taxpayers with the January 30 Tax Season Opening

The IRS will begin processing most individual income tax returns on Jan. 30 after updating forms and completing programming and testing of its processing systems. The IRS anticipated many of the tax law changes made by Congress under the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), but the final law requires some changes before the IRS can begin accepting tax returns.

The IRS will not process paper or electronic tax returns before the Jan. 30 opening date, so there is no advantage to filing on paper before then. Using e-file is the best way to file an accurate tax return, and using e-file with direct deposit is the fastest way to get a refund.

Many major software providers are accepting tax returns in advance of the Jan. 30 processing date. These software providers will hold onto the returns and then electronically submit them after the IRS systems open. If you use commercial software, check with your provider for specific instructions about when they will accept your return. Software companies and tax professionals send returns to the IRS, but the timing of the refunds is determined by IRS processing, which starts Jan. 30.

After the IRS starts processing returns, it expects to process refunds within the usual timeframes. Last year, the IRS issued more than nine out of 10 refunds to taxpayers in less than 21 days, and it expects the same results in 2013. Even though the IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days, some tax returns will require additional review and take longer. To help protect against refund fraud, the IRS has put in place stronger security filters this filing season.

After taxpayers file a return, they can track the status of the refund with the “Where’s My Refund?” tool available on the IRS.gov website. New this year, instead of an estimated date, Where’s My Refund? will give people an actual personalized refund date after the IRS processes the tax return and approves the refund.

“Where’s My Refund?” will be available for use after the IRS starts processing tax returns on Jan. 30. Here are some tips for using “Where’s My Refund?” after it’s available on Jan. 30:

  • Initial information will generally be available within 24 hours after the IRS receives the taxpayer’s e-filed return or four weeks after mailing a paper return.
  • The system updates every 24 hours, usually overnight. There’s no need to check more than once a day.
  • “Where’s My Refund?” provides the most accurate and complete information that the IRS has about the refund, so there is no need to call the IRS unless the web tool says to do so.
  • To use the “Where’s My Refund?” tool, taxpayers need to have a copy of their tax return for reference. Taxpayers will need their social security number, filing status and the exact dollar amount of the refund they are expecting.

For the latest information about the Jan. 30 tax season opening, tax law changes and tax refunds, visit IRS.gov.

Additional IRS Resources:


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Simplified home-office deduction safe harbor announced

By Sally P. Schreiber, J.D.
January 15, 2013

On Tuesday, the IRS released Rev. Proc. 2013-13, which gives taxpayers an optional safe-harbor method to calculate the amount of the deduction for expenses for business use of a residence during the tax year under Sec. 280A, beginning with the current tax year.

Individual taxpayers who elect this method can deduct an amount determined by multiplying the allowable square footage by $5. The allowable square footage is the portion of the house used in a qualified business use, but not to exceed 300 square feet. The maximum a taxpayer can deduct annually under the safe harbor is $1,500. The IRS may update the $5 allowance from time to time.

Electing the safe-harbor is done on a timely filed original tax return (instead of on Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, which is used for the actual expense method), and taxpayers are allowed to change their treatment from year-to-year. However, the election made for any tax year is irrevocable.

No depreciation is allowed for the years in which the safe harbor is elected, but it is permitted in the years in which the actual expense method is used. The revenue procedure has detailed examples of how depreciation is calculated in a year subsequent to a year the safe-harbor method is used.

To use the sale-harbor method, taxpayers must continue to satisfy all the other requirements for a home-office deduction, including the requirement that the space in the residence used as an office be used exclusively for that purpose and the limitation that an employee qualifies for the home-office deduction only if the office is for the convenience of the taxpayer’s employer.

The deduction under the safe-harbor method cannot exceed the amount of gross income derived from the qualified business use of the home minus business deductions, and a taxpayer cannot carry over any excess to another tax year. If a taxpayer uses the actual expense method for calculating the deduction and has had his or her deduction limited by the gross income limitation in that year, the taxpayer can deduct this amount in the next year he or she uses the actual expense method, but cannot use the disallowed amount in a year he or she elects the safe harbor. This limit on carryovers for the safe-harbor method means taxpayers must be careful before electing it to be sure they will not lose any of their deduction.

Taxpayers sharing a home (for example, roommates or spouses, regardless of filing status), if otherwise eligible, may each use the safe harbor method provided by the revenue procedure, but not for qualified business use of the same portion of the home. The revenue procedure contains detailed rules for use of the home for part of the year. It allows taxpayers who have a qualified business use of more than one home for a tax year to use the safe harbor for only one home, but it permits them to use the actual expense method for the other homes.  


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What the New Tax Law Means for You: A look at the provisions of the new law and the fiscal challenges ahead

Will the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, signed by the president on January 2, raise your taxes? That’s the $600 billion question, and the answer depends on your specific financial circumstances. The nation’s top earners will owe significantly more than they did under the previous tax law. And most people, regardless of income, will find themselves paying a bit more in 2013.
But considering the massive tax hikes that would have gone into effect if Congress hadn’t acted, the law is worth noting for what it doesn’t do: It doesn’t touch broad elements of the Bush-era tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. And unlike the temporary extension of those cuts two years ago, this time the rules are permanent. There are no more “automatic” tax hikes looming. However you may view its specific provisions, the new law adds a sense of stability to the tax structure.
That said, few experts see this law as the ultimate fix for the nation’s deficit problem. It leaves unanswered many questions about the combination of further tax increases and spending cuts that may be necessary if the nation is to reduce its long-term debt.
Here’s a look at the major provisions of the new law, some of the key questions Merrill Lynch clients have been asking their advisors, and a summary of the fiscal challenges ahead. The best way to understand the new tax picture may be to consider three main areas of change: income, investments and wealth transfer.

TAXES ON INCOME
The biggest change in the new tax law is a new, higher income tax rate for individuals whose taxable income is more than $400,000, or for couples filing jointly whose taxable income exceeds $450,000. Those taxpayers will now pay a top rate of 39.6%, up from 35%. Because 2013 also ushers in a new 3.8% Medicare surtax on investment income, along with a 0.9% wage surtax for high earners (both part of the 2010 health care law), many people in the new top income bracket will now see an effective tax rate of nearly 45%.
Some proposals had called for higher rates on taxable incomes above $200,000 for individuals or $250,000 for couples. Taxpayers who fall below the $400,000/$450,000 threshold will see no increase in their income tax rates (but note, taxpayers could still be subject to the Medicare surtax, as described above).
Payroll taxes. This is where most Americans will feel the impact of the new tax law. After a two-year “holiday,” during which Social Security and other FICA taxes were reduced to 4.2%, the FICA payroll tax now will rise to its previous level of 6.2% on the first $113,700 of wages—meaning a smaller paycheck for most workers.
Alternative minimum tax (AMT). The individual AMT—an alternative way to calculate taxes that, in some cases, can steeply increase the amount owed—was put in place decades ago to target a handful of extremely wealthy people. But because it was not indexed for inflation, the AMT expanded to include millions of Americans. The new law puts a permanent “patch” on the AMT, preventing an estimated 27 million taxpayers in 2013 alone from qualifying for it.

TAXES ON INVESTMENT INCOME
The tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends rises under the new law from 15% to 20% for taxpayers in the new top bracket—that is, individuals with taxable income above $400,000 and couples with taxable income of more than $450,000. For those making less, rates will generally stay at 15%. However, couples whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds $250,000, along with individuals whose MAGI is more than $200,000, may also be subject to the new 3.8% Medicare surtax. In practical terms, this means individuals with MAGI above $200,000 (or $250,000 for couples), but taxable income below $400,000 ($450,000 couples) could be subject to taxes on qualified dividend/long-term capital gains of 18.8%. Individuals over $400,000 ($450,000 couples) could pay 23.8%.

TAXES ON WEALTH TRANSFER
Starting this year, the top estate tax rate climbs from 35% to 40%. But many estates won’t be affected, because the amount that can be exempted from estate or gift taxes remains at $5 million (adjusted annually for inflation) instead of plunging to $1 million—which would have been the qualifying amount if Congress hadn’t acted. For 2013 the exemption will stand at $5.25 million, which means a married couple’s combined exemption amount will equal $10.5 million. Even those paying the higher rate have some relief, as the top rate had been scheduled to rise to 55%.
As with estate taxes, the top tax rate on gift taxes and generation skipping taxes (GST) will go from 35% to 40%. But the combined exemption stays at $5 million, adjusted for inflation, resulting in a $5.25 million exemption amount for 2013. This preserved exemption means you can continue to pass along up to that amount (indexed for inflation) either during your lifetime or at your death without owing federal tax on the amount you transfer. For GST, the law likewise maintains the $5 million exemption and extends several tax-related allocation provisions that had been scheduled to disappear at the end of 2012.
Prior to passage of the new law, some lawmakers had also proposed tightening and restricting some popular wealth transfer strategies, such as dynasty trusts or grantor-retained annuity trusts. These strategies are not affected.
There are several other key provisions in the new tax code. They include:
• Limits on itemized deductions and personal exemptions. The so-called Pease limitations have been reinstated in 2013. Individual taxpayers with taxable incomes above $250,000 ($300,000 for couples) will see their itemized deductions reduced by up to 3% of their total taxable income in excess of those thresholds. The law also phases out personal exemptions for these taxpayers.
• Tax “extenders.” The bill extends through 2013 the rule providing that individuals will not be taxed on forgiven mortgage debt. The deal also reinstates for 2012 and extends through 2013 a number of tax provisions that expired at the end of 2011. These include the ”active financing exception” rule that defers U.S. tax on certain income earned by foreign financial subsidiaries; the CFC “look-through” rule; the New Markets Tax Credit; the provision increasing the amount of employer-provided mass transit benefits that may be provided tax-free; and the IRA charitable contribution rule allowing individuals to make charitable contributions directly from IRAs without paying tax. The tax credit for production of wind energy also is extended for one year, available for projects where construction has commenced by December 31, 2013. The deal also extends 50% bonus depreciation through 2013.
• Tax-free distributions to charities from IRAs. The law extends through the end of 2013 a provision allowing individuals who are age 70½ or older to make tax-free distributions from their IRAs directly to public charities, up to a maximum of $100,000 annually. Among special transition rules contained in the law, taxpayers may count distributions made in January 2013 as made on December 31, 2012. Additionally, taxpayers may count distributions they received from their IRA in December 2012 as charitable distributions, so long as the money is transferred to charity before February 1 of this year.
• Charitable contributions of real estate conservation easements. The law extends through the end of 2013
the special rule for contributions of capital gain real property for conservation. This rule allows the contribution to be taken against 50% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. In addition, the new law extends the special rule for contributions by certain corporate farmers and ranchers.
• Student loan interest deduction. The law permanently suspends the 60-month limitation on the $2,500 above-the-line student loan interest deduction, which would have been reinstated if Congress failed to act. It also permanently expands the modified adjusted gross income range for phaseout of the deduction. The law also repeals a restriction against deducting voluntary interest payments.

WHAT LIES AHEAD
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 averted a potential fiscal crisis, but there’s more to be done in order to assure long-term stability to the U.S. economy. Here are some of the major challenges ahead:

YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT TAXES
In addition to the provisions we’ve detailed above, here are some of the biggest concerns about the new tax laws that clients have been asking their advisors.

Will surviving spouses still be able to use the “portability provision” to give more to their heirs?
Yes. The portability provision, which lets a surviving spouse take advantage of any leftover portion of a deceased spouse’s estate tax exemption, has been permanently extended under the new law.

What impact does the law have on Social Security and other payroll taxes?
Over the past two years Congress implemented a “payroll tax holiday,” lowering the employee’s share of FICA taxes from 6.2% to 4.2%. Under the new law, the rate goes back up to 6.2%, so most employees will see somewhat smaller paychecks.

Medicare surtax apply to all taxpayers?
The 3.8% Medicare surtax on investment income (interest, dividends, capital gains, etc.) passed as part of the 2010 health care law and takes effect this year. It applies only to individuals whose MAGI is more than $200,000 a year and couples whose MAGI is more than $250,000. When added to the new 39.6% income tax rate for individuals with taxable income of more than $400,000 and couples earning more than $450,000, the surtax means that those highest earners will have an effective marginal tax rate of 43.4% on certain investment income.

Will I still be able to convert from a traditional 401(k) to a Roth 401(k)?
Actually, the new law makes direct conversions easier for employees whose companies allow such transfers by lifting age restrictions and certain other former requirements. Keep in mind that a Roth conversion triggers income taxes on some or all of the amount transferred to the new account. One reason Congress lifted the restrictions was in order to raise revenue.

Will special tax credits for individuals and businesses still be available?
The new law extends more than 50 provisions retroactively for 2012 and ahead through the end of 2013. These include a host of personal credits, such as the child tax credit, the earned income credit and qualified tuition deductions. Business extenders include bonus depreciation, work opportunity tax credits, research credits and others.


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Tax-Free Transfers to Charity Renewed For IRA Owners 70½ or Older; Rollovers This Month Can Still Count For 2012

IR-2013-6, Jan. 16, 2013

WASHINGTON — Certain owners of individual retirement arrangements (IRAs) have a limited time to make tax-free transfers to eligible charities and have them count for tax-year 2012, the Internal Revenue Service said today.

IRA owners age 70½ or older have until Thursday, Jan. 31, to make a direct transfer, or alternatively, if they received IRA distributions during December 2012, to contribute, in cash, part or all of the amounts received to an eligible charity.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, enacted Jan. 2, extended for 2012 and 2013 the provision authorizing qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) — otherwise taxable distributions from an IRA owned by someone, 70½ or older, paid directly to an eligible charitable organization. Each year, the IRA owner can exclude from gross income up to $100,000 of these QCDs. First available in 2006, this provision had expired at the end of 2011.

The QCD option is available regardless of whether an eligible IRA owner itemizes deductions on Schedule A. Transferred amounts are not taxable and no deduction is available for the transfer. QCDs are counted in determining whether the IRA owner has met his or her IRA required minimum distributions for the year.

For tax year 2012 only, IRA owners can choose to report QCDs made in January 2013 as if they occurred in 2012. In addition, IRA owners who received IRA distributions during December 2012 can contribute, in cash, part or all of the amounts distributed to eligible charities during January 2013 and have them count as 2012 QCDs.

QCDs are reported on Form 1040 Line 15. The full amount of the QCD is shown on Line 15a. Do not enter any of these amounts on Line 15b but write “QCD” next to that line. Details are on IRS.go