May 2012

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Tax Tips

 
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This newsletter is intended to provide generalized information that is appropriate in certain situations. It is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The contents of this newsletter should not be acted upon without specific professional guidance. Please call us if you have questions.



How to Avoid Penalties on Your Household Helpers

If you employ someone to work for you around your house, it is important to consider the tax implications of this arrangement. While many people disregard the need to pay taxes on household employees, they do so at the risk of paying stiff tax penalties down the road.

As you will see, the rules for hiring household help are quite complex, even for a relatively minor employee, and a mistake can bring on a tax headache that most of us would prefer to avoid.

Who Is a Household Employee?

Commonly referred to as the "nanny tax", these rules apply to you only if (1) you pay someone for household work and (2) that worker is your employee.

  1. Household work is work that is performed in or around your home by baby-sitters, nannies, health aides, private nurses, maids, caretakers, yard workers, and similar domestic workers.

  2. A household worker is your employee if you control not only what work is done, but how it is done.

    If the worker is your employee, it does not matter whether the work is full-time or part-time, or that you hired the worker through an agency or from a list provided by an agency or association. It also does not matter whether you pay the worker on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis, or by the job.

    If the worker controls how the work is done, the worker is not your employee, but is self-employed. A self-employed worker usually provides his or her own tools and offers services to the general public in an independent business.

    Also, if an agency provides the worker and controls what work is done and how it is done, the worker is not your employee.

Example: You pay Betty to baby-sit your child and do light housework four days a week in your home. Betty follows your specific instructions about household and child care duties. You provide the household equipment and supplies that Betty needs to do her work. Betty is your household employee.

Example: You pay John to care for your lawn. John also offers lawn care services to other homeowners in your neighborhood. He provides his own tools and supplies, and he hires and pays any helpers he needs. Neither John nor his helpers are your household employees.

Can Your Employee Legally Work in the United States?

It is unlawful for you to knowingly hire or continue to employ a person who cannot legally work in the United States.

When you hire a household employee to work for you on a regular basis, he or she must complete USCIS Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification. It is your responsibility to verify that the employee is either a U.S. citizen or an alien who can legally work and then complete the employer part of the form. Keep the completed form for your records. Do not return the form to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Tip: Two copies of Form I-9 are contained in the UCIS Employer Handbook. Visit the USCIS website https://www.uscis.gov or call 800-767-1833 to order the handbook, additional copies of the form, or to get more information, or give us a call.

Do You Need to Pay Employment Taxes?

If you have a household employee, you may need to withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, or you may need to pay federal unemployment tax, or both. Refer to this table for details:

If you...

Then you need to...

Will pay cash wages of $1,800 or more in 2012 to any one household employee.

Do not count wages you pay to:

  • your spouse,
  • your child under age 21,
  • your parent, or
  • any employee under age 18 during 2012.
Withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.
  • The combined taxes are generally 13.3% of cash wages.
  • Your employee's share is 5.65%.

(You can choose to pay the employee's share yourself and not withhold it.)

  • Your share is 7.65%.
Have paid or will pay total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter of 2010 or 2011 to household employees.

Do not count wages you pay to:

  • your spouse,
  • your child under age 21, or
  • your parent.
Pay federal unemployment tax.
  • The tax is 0.6% of cash wages.
  • Wages over $7, 000 a year per employee are not taxed.
  • You also may owe state unemployment tax.

If neither of these two contingencies applies, you do not need to pay any federal unemployment taxes. But you may still need to pay state unemployment taxes. (See below for more on this.)

You do not need to withhold federal income tax from your household employee's wages. But if your employee asks you to withhold it, you can choose to do so.

Tip: If your household employee cares for your dependent who is under age 13 or your spouse or dependent who is not capable of self care, so that you can work, you may be able to take an income tax credit of up to 35% (or $1,050) of your expenses for each qualifying dependent. If you can take the credit, then you can include your share of the federal and state employment taxes you pay, as well as the employee's wages, in your qualifying expenses.

State Unemployment Taxes

You should contact your state unemployment tax agency to find out whether you need to pay state unemployment tax for your household employee. You should also find out whether you need to pay or collect other state employment taxes or carry workers' compensation insurance.

Note: If you do not need to pay Social Security, Medicare, or federal unemployment tax and do not choose to withhold federal income tax, the rest of this article does not apply to you.

Social Security and Medicare Taxes

Social Security taxes pays for old-age, survivor, and disability benefits for workers and their families. The Medicare tax pays for hospital insurance.

The 4.2% employee social security tax rate that was scheduled to revert to 6.2% on January 1, 2012, was extended to cover wages paid in January and February 2012. Further, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 was signed on February 22, 2012, which means that household employers should continue to use an employee Social Security rate of 4.2% for employee wages paid in 2012. The Medicare rate remains unchanged at 1.45%.

If you withheld the employee social security tax from your household employee's wages at the 6.2% rate (instead of the 4.2% rate) for wages paid in January or February 2012, you should repay the excess withholding to the employee.

Both you and your household employee may owe Social Security and Medicare taxes. Your share is 7.65% (6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax) of the employee's Social Security and Medicare wages. Your employee's share is 4.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax.

You are responsible for payment of your employee's share of the taxes as well as your own. You can either withhold your employee's share from the employee's wages or pay it from your own funds. Note the limits in the table above.

Wages Not Counted

Do not count wages you pay to any of the following individuals as Social Security and Medicare wages:

  1. Your spouse.

  2. Your child who is under age 21.

  3. Your parent.

  4. Note: However, you should count wages to your parent if both of the following apply: (a) your child lives with you and is either under age 18 or has a physical or mental condition that requires the personal care of an adult for at least 4 continuous weeks in a calendar quarter, and (b) you are divorced and have not remarried, or you are a widow or widower, or you are married to and living with a person whose physical or mental condition prevents him or her from caring for your child for at least 4 continuous weeks in a calendar quarter.

  5. An employee who is under age 18 at any time during the year.

  6. Note: However, you should count these wages to an employee under 18 if providing household services is the employee's principal occupation. If the employee is a student, providing household services is not considered to be his or her principal occupation.

Also, if your employee's Social Security and Medicare wages reach $110,000 in 2012 ($106,800 in 2011), then do not count any wages you pay that employee during the rest of the year as Social Security wages to figure Social Security tax. you should however, continue to count the employee's cash wages as Medicare wages to figure Medicare tax. You figure federal income tax withholding on both cash and non-cash wages (based on their value), but do not count as wages any of the following items:

  • Meals provided at your home for your convenience.

  • Lodging provided at your home for your convenience and as a condition of employment.

  • Up to $125 a month in 2012 for transit passes that you give your employee or, in some cases, for cash reimbursement you make for the amount your employee pays to commute to your home by public transit. A transit pass includes any pass, token, fare card, voucher, or similar item entitling a person to ride on mass transit, such as a bus or train.

  • Up to $240 a month in 2012 to reimburse your employee for the cost of parking at or near your home or at or near a location from which your employee commutes to your home.

As you can see, tax considerations for household employees are complex. Therefore, we highly recommend professional tax guidance in these complicated matters. This is definitely an area where it's better to be safe than sorry.

Please contact us for further information.

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What to Do If You Haven't Filed an Income Tax Return

Filing a past due return may not be as difficult as you think.

Taxpayers should file all tax returns that are due, regardless of whether full payment can be made with the return. Depending on an individual's circumstances, a taxpayer filing late may qualify for a payment plan. It is important, however, to know that full payment of taxes upfront saves you money.

Here's What to Do When Your Return Is Late

Gather Past Due Return Information

Gather return information and come see us. You should bring any and all information related to income and deductions for the tax years for which a return is required to be filed.

Payment Options - Ways to Make a Payment

There are several different ways to make a payment on your taxes. Payments can be made by credit card, electronic funds transfer, check, money order, cashier's check, or cash.

Payment Options - For Those Who Can't Pay in Full

Taxpayers unable to pay all taxes due on the bill are encouraged to pay as much as possible. By paying as much as possible now, the amount of interest and penalties owed will be lessened. Based on the circumstances, a taxpayer could qualify for an extension of time to pay, an installment agreement, a temporary delay, or an offer in compromise.

Taxpayers who need more time to pay can set up either a short-term payment extension or a monthly payment plan.

  • A short-term extension gives a taxpayer up to 120 days to pay. No fee is charged, but the late-payment penalty plus interest will apply.
  • A monthly payment plan or installment agreement gives a taxpayer more time to pay. However, penalties and interest will continue to be charged on the unpaid portion of the debt throughout the duration of the installment agreement/payment plan. In terms of how to pay your tax bill, it is important to review all your options; the interest rate on a loan or credit card may be lower than the combination of penalties and interest imposed by the Internal Revenue Code. You should pay as much as possible before entering into an installment agreement.
  • A user fee will also be charged if the installment agreement is approved. The fee, normally $105, is reduced to $52 if taxpayers agree to make their monthly payments electronically through electronic funds withdrawal. The fee is $43 for eligible low-and-moderate-income taxpayers.

What Will Happen If You Don't File Your Past Due Return or Contact the IRS

It's important to understand the ramifications of not filing a past due return and the steps that the IRS will take. Taxpayers who continue to not file a required return and fail to respond to IRS requests for a return may be considered for a variety of enforcement actions.

If you haven't filed a tax return yet, please contact us. We're here to help!

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Employee or Independent Contractor - Which Is It?

If you hire someone for a long-term, full-time project or a series of projects that are likely to last for an extended period, you must pay special attention to the difference between independent contractors and employees.

Why It Matters

The Internal Revenue Service and state regulators scrutinize the distinction between employees and independent contractors because many business owners try to categorize as many of their workers as possible as independent contractors rather than as employees. They do this because independent contractors are not covered by unemployment and workers' compensation, or by federal and state wage, hour, anti-discrimination, and labor laws. In addition, businesses do not have to pay federal payroll taxes on amounts paid to independent contractors.

Caution: If you incorrectly classify an employee as an independent contractor, you can be held liable for employment taxes for that worker, plus a penalty.

The Difference Between Employees and Independent Contractors

Independent Contractors are individuals who contract with a business to perform a specific project or set of projects. You, the payer, have the right to control or direct only the result of the work done by an independent contractor, and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result.

Example: Sam Smith, an electrician, submitted a job estimate to a housing complex for electrical work at $16 per hour for 400 hours. He is to receive $1,280 every 2 weeks for the next 10 weeks. This is not considered payment by the hour. Even if he works more or less than 400 hours to complete the work, Sam will receive $6,400. He also performs additional electrical installations under contracts with other companies that he obtained through advertisements. Sam Smith is an independent contractor.

Employees provide work in an ongoing, structured basis. In general, anyone who performs services for you is your employee if you can control what will be done and how it will be done. A worker is still considered an employee even when you give them freedom of action. What matters is that you have the right to control the details of how the services are performed.

Example: Sally Jones is a salesperson employed on a full-time basis by Rob Robinson, an auto dealer. She works 6 days a week, and is on duty in Rob's showroom on certain assigned days and times. She appraises trade-ins, but her appraisals are subject to the sales manager's approval. Lists of prospective customers belong to the dealer. She has to develop leads and report results to the sales manager. Because of her experience, she requires only minimal assistance in closing and financing sales and in other phases of her work. She is paid a commission and is eligible for prizes and bonuses offered by Rob. Rob also pays the cost of health insurance and group term life insurance for Sally. Sally Jones is an employee of Rob Robinson.

Independent Contractor Qualification Checklist

The IRS, workers' compensation boards, unemployment compensation boards, federal agencies, and even courts all have slightly different definitions of what an independent contractor is, though their means of categorizing workers as independent contractors are similar.

One of the most prevalent approaches used to categorize a worker as either an employee or independent contractor is the analysis created by the IRS. The IRS considers the following:

  1. What instructions the employer gives the worker about when, where, and how to work. The more specific the instructions and the more control exercised, the more likely the worker will be considered an employee.

  2. What training the employer gives the worker. Independent contractors generally do not receive training from an employer.

  3. The extent to which the worker has business expenses that are not reimbursed. Independent contractors are more likely to have unreimbursed expenses.

  4. The extent of the worker's investment in the worker's own business. Independent contractors typically invest their own money in equipment or facilities.

  5. The extent to which the worker makes services available to other employers. Independent contractors are more likely to make their services available to other employers.

  6. How the business pays the worker. An employee is generally paid by the hour, week, or month. An independent contractor is usually paid by the job.

  7. The extent to which the worker can make a profit or incur a loss. An independent contractor can make a profit or loss, but an employee does not.

  8. Whether there are written contracts describing the relationship the parties intended to create. Independent contractors generally sign written contracts stating that they are independent contractors and setting forth the terms of their employment.

  9. Whether the business provides the worker with employee benefits, such as insurance, a pension plan, vacation pay, or sick pay. Independent contractors generally do not get benefits.

  10. The terms of the working relationship. An employee generally is employed at will (meaning the relationship can be terminated by either party at any time). An independent contractor is usually hired for a set period.

  11. Whether the worker's services are a key aspect of the company's regular business. If the services are necessary for regular business activity, it is more likely that the employer has the right to direct and control the worker's activities. The more control an employer exerts over a worker, the more likely it is that the worker will be considered an employee.

Minimize the Risk of Misclassification

If you misclassify an employee as an independent contractor, you may end up before a state taxing authority or the IRS.

Sometimes the issue comes up when a terminated worker files for unemployment benefits and it's unclear whether the worker was an independent contractor or employee. The filing can trigger state or federal investigations that can cost many thousands of dollars to defend, even if you successfully fight the challenge.

There are ways to reduce the risk of an investigation or challenge by a state or federal authority. At a minimum, you should:

  • Familiarize yourself with the rules. Ignorance of the rules is not a legitimate defense. Knowledge of the rules will allow you to structure and carefully manage your relationships with your workers to minimize risk.

  • Document relationships with your workers and vendors. Although it won't always save you, it helps to have a written contract stating the terms of employment.

If you have any questions about how to classify your employees, please give us a call. We can help guide you in the right direction in the eyes of the IRS.

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Turn Your Vacation Into a Tax Deduction

Tim, who owns his own business, decided he wanted to take a two-week trip around the US. So he did--and was able to legally deduct every dime that he spent on his "vacation". Here's how he did it.

1. Make all your business appointments before you leave for your trip.
Most people believe that they can go on vacation and simply hand out their business cards in order to make the trip deductible.

Wrong.

You must have at least one business appointment before you leave in order to establish the "prior set business purpose" required by the IRS. Keeping this in mind, before he left for his trip, Tim set up appointments with business colleagues in the various cities that he planned to visit.

Let's say Tim is a manufacturer of green office products looking to expand his business and distribute more product. One possible way to establish business contacts--if he doesn't already have them--is to place advertisements looking for distributors in newspapers in each location he plans to visit. He could then interview those who respond when he gets to the business destination.

Example: Tim wants to vacation in Hawaii. If he places several advertisements for distributors, or contacts some of his downline distributors to perform a presentation, then the IRS would accept his trip for business.

Tip: It would be vital for Tim to document this business purpose by keeping a copy of the advertisement and all correspondence along with noting what appointments he will have in his diary.

2. Make Sure your Trip is All "Business Travel."
In order to deduct all of your on-the-road business expenses, you must be traveling on business. The IRS states that travel expenses are 100% deductible as long as your trip is business related and you are traveling away from your regular place of business longer than an ordinary day's work and you need to sleep or rest to meet the demands of your work while away from home.

Example: Tim wanted to go to a regional meeting in Boston, which is only a one-hour drive from his home. If he were to sleep in the hotel where the meeting will be held (in order to avoid possible automobile and traffic problems), his overnight stay qualifies as business travel in the eyes of the IRS.

Tip: Remember: You don't need to live far away to be on business travel. If you have a good reason for sleeping at your destination, you could live a couple of miles away and still be on travel status.

3. Make sure that you deduct all of your on-the-road -expenses for each day you're away.
For every day you are on business travel, you can deduct 100% of lodging, tips, car rentals, and 50% of your food. Tim spends three days meeting with potential distributors. If he spends $50 a day for food, he can deduct 50% of this amount, or $25.

Tip:The IRS doesn't require receipts for travel expense under $75 per expense--except for lodging.

Example: If Tim pays $6 for drinks an the plane, $6.95 for breakfast, $12.00 for lunch, $50 for dinner, he does not need receipts for anything since each item was under $75.

Tip: He would, however, need to document these items in your diary. A good tax diary is essential in order to audit-proof your records. Adequate documentation shall consist of amount, date, place and business reason for the expense.

Example: If, however, Tim stays in the Bates Motel and spends $22 on lodging, will he need a receipt? The answer is yes. You need receipts for all paid lodging.

Tip: Not only are your on-the-road expenses deductible from your trip, but also all laundry, shoe shines, manicures, and dry-cleaning costs for clothes worn on the trip. Thus, your first dry cleaning bill that you incur when you get home will be fully deductible. Make sure that you keep the dry cleaning receipt and have your clothing dry cleaned within a day or two of getting home.

4. Sandwich weekends between business days.
If you have a business day on Friday and another one on Monday, you can deduct all on-the-road expenses during the weekend.

Example: Tim makes business appointments in Florida on Friday and one on the following Monday. Even though he has no business on Saturday and Sunday, he may deduct on-the-road business expenses incurred during the weekend.

5. Make the majority of your trip days business days.
The IRS says that you can deduct transportation expenses if business is the primary purpose of the trip. A majority of days in the trip must be for business activities, otherwise, you cannot make any transportation deductions.

Example: Tim spends six days in San Diego. He leaves early on Thursday morning. He had a seminar on Friday and meets with distributors on Monday and flies home on Tuesday, taking the last flight of the day home after playing a complete round of golf. How many days are considered business days?

All of them. Thursday is a business day, since it includes traveling - even if the rest of the day is spent at the beach. Friday is a business day because he had a seminar. Monday is a business day because he met with prospects and distributors in pre-arranged appointments. Saturday and Sunday are sandwiched between business days, so they count, and Tuesday is a travel day.

Since Tim accrued six business days, he could spend another five days having fun and still deduct all his transportation to San Diego. The reason is that the majority of the days were business days (six out of eleven). However, he can only deduct six days worth of lodging, dry cleaning, shoe shines, and tips. The important point is that Tim would be spending money on lodging, airfare, and food, but now most of his expenses will become deductible.

Consult us before you plan your next trip. We'll show you the right way to legally deduct your vacation when you combine it with business. Bon Voyage!

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Six Tips for People Who Pay Estimated Taxes

If you have income that is not subject to withholding you may need to pay estimated taxes to the IRS during the year. Whether you need to pay estimated taxes is dependent upon your financial circumstances, what you do for a living (if you're self-employed for example), and the types of income you receive. Here are six tips from the IRS that explain estimated taxes and how to pay them.

1. If you have income from sources such as self-employment, interest, dividends, alimony, rent, gains from the sales of assets, prizes or awards, then you may have to pay estimated tax.

2. As a general rule, you must pay estimated taxes in 2012 if both of these statements apply:

1) You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting your tax withholding (if you have any) and tax credits, and

2)You expect your withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of 90 percent of your 2012 taxes or 100 percent of the tax on your 2011 return. Special rules apply for farmers, fishermen, certain household employers and certain higher income taxpayers.

3. Sole Proprietors, Partners, and S Corporation shareholders generally have to make estimated tax payments if they expect to owe $1,000 or more in taxes when they file a return.

4. To figure estimated tax, include expected gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions and credits for the year. You'll want to be as accurate as possible to avoid penalties and don't forget to consider changes in your situation and recent tax law changes.

5. For estimated tax purposes the year is divided into four payment periods or due dates. These dates are generally April 15, June 15, Sept. 15 and Jan. 15 of the next or following year.

6. The easiest way to pay estimated taxes is electronically through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or EFTPS, but you can also figure your tax using Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals and pay any estimated taxes by check or money order using the Estimated Tax Payment Voucher, or by credit or debit card.

Give us a call today if you need help making estimated payments.

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Filing Amended Returns: The Facts

What if you've already filed your return, but realized that you were eligible for a deduction or credit that you didn't take, or worse--discovered an error and need to "fix it" on your return?

Fortunately, there's an easy answer: file an amended return. Here's what you need to know if you're considering filing an amended federal income tax return.

1. When you need to amend an income tax return, use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. You can use Form 1040X to correct previously filed Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ.

2. An amended return cannot be e-filed. You must file a paper return.

3. Generally, you do not need to file an amended return to correct math errors. The IRS will automatically make that correction. Also, do not file an amended return because you forgot to attach tax forms such as W-2s or schedules. The IRS normally will send a request asking for those.

4. Be sure to enter the year of the return you are amending at the top of Form 1040X. Generally, you must file Form 1040X within three years from the date you filed your original return or within two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.

5. If you are amending more than one tax return, prepare a 1040X for each return and mail them in separate envelopes to the appropriate IRS campus. The 1040X instructions list the addresses for the campuses.

6. If the changes involve another schedule or form, you must attach that schedule or form to the amended return.

7. If you are filing to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original refund before filing Form 1040X. You may cash that check while waiting for any additional refund.

8. If you owe additional 2011 tax, file Form 1040X and pay the tax before the due date to limit interest and penalty charges that could accrue on your account. Interest is charged on any tax not paid by the due date of the original return, without regard to extensions.

Give us a call today if you need assistance filing an amended return.

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How to Spot an IRS Impersonation Scheme

The IRS does not send taxpayers unsolicited e-mails about their tax accounts, tax situations, or personal tax issues. If you receive such an e-mail, most likely it's a scam.

IRS impersonation schemes flourish during filing season. These schemes may take place via phone, fax, Internet sites, social networking sites, and particularly e-mail.

Many impersonations are identity theft scams that try to trick victims into revealing personal and financial information that can be used to access their financial accounts. Some e-mail scams contain attachments or links that, when clicked, download malicious code (a virus) that infects your computer or directs you to a bogus form or site posing as an IRS form or Web site.

Some impersonations may be commercial Internet sites that consumers unknowingly visit, thinking they're accessing the genuine IRS Web site, IRS.gov. However, such sites have no connection to the IRS.

If you want to know whether a site is legitimate or if you think you have been the victim of identity theft or fraud, please contact us. We definitely don't want you to get scammed.

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Tax Due Dates for May 2012

May 10

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the first quarter of 2012. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

Employees - who work for tips. If you received $20 or more in tips during April, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

May 15

Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in April.


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